Archive | April, 2012

Wood Floors Part of Grand Renovation at Ayres Hall

It’s likely that grand ideas were always circulating in Brown Ayres’ mind as he strode the University of campus paths during his tenure as 12th president from 1904 until his death in 1919. When he took the helm of the school, it was already more than 100 years old. To help modernize his university, thus bringing it in line with its newly acquired national identity as a multidisciplinary research and education institution, Brown Ayres wanted to build a grand structure at the top of The Hill—the college’s geographic focal point—that would replace three smaller structures already there. Though Brown Ayres would not live to see the culmination of his plans, his dream was realized in Ayres Hall, a neo-Gothic behemoth made from brick and mortar—and ¾-inch beech wood floors—that served as a physical projection of educational prowess.

In recent years, though, it was Ayres Hall that was deemed antiquated. In pockets throughout the entire building, the beech flooring bore decades of damage from spilled paint, plaster and water, in addition to wear from the foot traffic of thousands of students. An ancient HVAC system left the hall
too hot and stifling for modern sensibilities. Classrooms were short on conveniently placed outlets, leaving teachers in a lurch when they needed to use AV equipment. The building was missing elevators, as well, and the fourth floor—”the tower”—had been closed since the 1970s by order of the fire marshal for being out of code. Ayres Hall was badly in need of a renovation.

As part of a comprehensive $23 million renovation project, was the renovation of the wood floors throughout the 100,000-square-foot building. Other interior renovations included lowering ceilings to accommodate utilities, enclosing stairways to conform with fire codes, expanding and upgrading bathrooms, upgrading lighting with energy-saving features, relocating door handles to conform with ADA requirements, and a plethora of other upgrades, both large and small. On the façade, the hall’s original red tile roof was removed and reinstalled, four clocks originally left out of the building due to lack of funds were added, and the original window trim was refurbished, among other improvements.

Renovating an old educational building is nothing new. “I found that the majority of classrooms had original wood flooring that was covered with carpet or vinyl over the years. “I put a proposal together insisting they refurbish the wood flooring in lieu of tearing out and replacing it with concrete or some other floor covering. Plus, we found that, overall, it was cheaper to renovate the existing hardwood.

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The Case for Dyes

Talk about changing the color of a wood floor, and most wood flooring professionals immediately think about standard wood floor stains (in their palette of browns, with maybe a white or a black thrown in once in awhile). But for an upper echelon of contractors, coloring a floor isn’t limited to golden oak or nutmeg. In fact, any color imaginable—from blue to black to bright red—is at their disposal, because they have mastered the art of applying dyes. And when combining dyes with bleach and stains, a multitude of effects can be achieved.

Using dyes isn’t for the faint-hearted. Using them correctly requires a flawless sand job and a well-honed application technique. But once mastered, dyes can open the door to a whole new clientele—designers, architects, and anybody else willing to pay a premium for a unique look that comes with expertise.

Why use dyes instead of tried-and-true stains? As Sunshine Hardwood Flooring puts it, “Your color options go from 15 to endless.” With the right combination of products, you can make a white oak floor look like Ipé, or make the same floor look like it’s been installed in a castle for 500 years. If a designer hands you a random piece of wood that’s been sitting in a window for 15 years and asks if you can match it, you can. If a homeowner hates the existing floors in a house they just bought, instead of ripping them out you can make them look completely different. And because dyes color the wood without obscuring the grain, they have a different, more natural look when compared with a typical oil-modified stain, say contractors who use them.

Creating these effects isn’t easy and it isn’t quick, so these jobs need to be priced accordingly. And, if something goes wrong and you have to back up and redo a few steps, those steps are extremely time-consuming, so Sunshine Hardwood Flooring, when useing dyes suggest pricing these jobs with a comfortable cushion, including even more time than what’s expected.

A positive is that the customers asking for these floors are often more concerned with style than budget, and if they are confident you can deliver the colors they want, you’ve got your foot in the door to some lucrative jobs. As another contractor puts it, “They want exact color matches. Whether it costs $3 or $23 a square foot, that’s the least of their concerns.”

Being this picky about color can mean many rounds of creating samples. It isn’t unheard of to spend 50 hours just creating different samples until the color is just right. That’s why, if they aren’t working for a regular customer or aren’t sure they’re getting the job, many contractors charge a fee per sample ($200 or more per sample is typical) that is credited to the job if Sunshine Hardwood Flooring ends up doing the work. Of course, keeping meticulous notes on color ratios is essential. It’s easy to lose track of what was used for what sample when you’re combining different amounts of many different dyes to achieve one perfect color.

A Common Step: Bleaching

Dyes are often used in conjunction with bleaching the wood floor. Bleaching once or more before dyeing can strip the natural color of the wood away, adding yet another method to create another look for the same wood floor. Some species are greatly affected by the bleach—it can remove the red tones from red oak, for example—while others won’t look much different after bleaching (a cumaru floor is still going to look pretty much like cumaru, even after it’s bleached).
Using bleach before dye is often done to achieve a weathered, aged look. Done correctly, it can give the floor a patina that is difficult to achieve otherwise on a brand-new floor. Although Sunshine Hardwood Flooring has successfully used household bleach, most recommend using actual wood bleach, which comes in two parts. It’s applied with a finish applicator and then usually has to be neutralized with an application of whatever is recommended (usually water or a water/vinegar mix). The floor then needs to dry overnight before being dyed.

Some notes of caution about using bleach: If you scuff or mar the surface of the wood after bleaching, you’ll reveal the real color of the wood, so be careful with the floor before the dye application. Also, be aware that bleaching the floor does degrade the structure of the wood—an effect that is more severe for some species than others.

The Final Step

Once the floor is successfully dyed, there are seemingly endless options as to what to do next, except for two things: coating directly over water-based dyes with water-based finish or coating directly over an oil-based dye with an oil-based finish. In both cases the finish will reactivate the dye and pull the color.
When Sunshine Hardwood Flooring needs to go directly from the dye to a sealer or finish coat, waterborne or otherwise, a common method is to use a universal sealer as the first coat. The shellac-based product goes on in a super-thin layer and dries extremely quickly, allowing other finishes to go over it without abrading.

Because of the custom nature of dyed floors, including those with hand-scraped or aged effects, many times Sunshine Hardwood Flooring will opt for one of the many hard wax or natural oil products that are now available. Many of these products are available in different colors, which further adds to the spectrum of looks that can be achieved. Be sure to test the finish first, as some of those products may reactivate some dyes.
Very frequently, before any finish goes on the floor, Sunshine Hardwood Flooring will choose to use a traditional wood floor stain, neutral or otherwise, directly over the dye. The conventional wisdom is that dyes aren’t colorfast, and the oil-based stain helps protect the dye from fading. Stains are also used to help the dye appear more uniform. The Hardwood Flooring Co. also uses finishes with UV inhibitors to help protect the dyes from fading.

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Sunshine Hardwood Flooring is a wood flooring contractor in Ada County that specializes in hardwood floor installation, dustless hardwood floor refinishing, custom wood floor makeovers and historically accurate repairs for older homes.