Sunday, April 27, 2014

Patch job

In the four years since we installed our brown-paper floor in the big room downstairs, we've been generally happy with it. It looks cool, feels reasonably comfortable to walk on, and doesn't require much more maintenance than occasionally running a broom over it. So far, we've found only two flaws in it:
  1. Rough treatment, such as dragging furniture across it, can occasionally leave small tears and dings in the paper surface. They're usually not big enough to be particularly noticeable, but over the past four years, we've accumulated a fair number of them.
  2. Over time, the finish gradually dulls. I knew going into the project that this was likely to happen: the sources I consulted said that the floor would need a fresh coat of poly "every couple of years" to restore it. Since this room doesn't get heavy use, we've managed to stretch that out to four years, but it was definitely getting to the point where it needed doing.
So we decided to set aside this weekend to rectify these two problems. First, we moved all the smaller pieces of furniture out of the room, stashing them in the shop or the bathroom. Then we cleaned the floor throughly and, as we went along, marked all the little dings and scratches we could find with sticky notes to indicate where patches were needed. We determined that most of the patches would be at the end of the room closest to the stairs (which makes sense, since that's where the table lives, and most of the tears in the floor have come from chairs being scraped across it), so we moved all the big pieces to that end of the room. Then we got out the big roll of paper we originally used to assemble the floor—which still had plenty left on it—and started tearing and crumpling pieces to put down patches, just as we did when we first laid the floor. Fortunately, since we only needed a patch here and a patch there, putting them down took much less time than doing the entire room. We put down all the patches and then spread a fresh coat of poly over the floor at the far end of the room. We left all that to dry while we headed off to check out the Rutgers Day festivities in New Brunswick.

When we got home that evening, I went down to check on the floor and made an interesting discovery. Although we were using exactly the same paper we used the first time, and exactly the same water-based oil-modified polyurethane finish, the patches looked very noticeably different from the rest of the floor. In some spots they appeared darker, in others lighter, but it was always quite obvious which parts were freshly patched and which were four years old. It's possible that the floor itself has faded somewhat from sun exposure in the years since we installed it; the area where we had a mat down in front of the door looks a bit darker than the rest. Or perhaps the polyurethane has darkened with age; the contents of the new can we bought looked quite a bit lighter than the old stuff, so that might be another reason. But whatever the reason, the new patches definitely stood out against the unfinished floor. Which is odd, because we've patched the floor before, not that long after installing it, and you can't tell the patches from the rest of the floor except by size.

Fortunately, as we put down a fresh coat of poly over the entire area this morning, the differences between the freshly patched bits and the rest of the floor became less obvious. It all just came out looking darker and glossier. It's not clear how it will look once everything dries, but we're hoping that the new patches will just blend into the overall mottled appearance of the floor. If worse comes to worst, we can always peel them up and redo them, but more likely, once the furniture is back in place, they won't even be noticeable unless you're looking for them.

So all in all, the maintenance on this paper floor isn't too bad. It took us a little time for cleanup on Friday evening; most of Saturday morning to move the furniture, lay down the patches, and coat one end of the floor; most of Sunday morning to coat the rest of the floor; and most likely we'll wait until Monday evening to move all the furniture back, just to make sure it's good and dry (though it should be safe to walk on after just a couple of hours. So all told, that's about seven hours of work once every four years, which works out to less than two hours per year. The bottom line: with a few reasonable precautions (like pads on the chair legs), a brown-paper floor really is reasonably low-maintenance. So for anyone out there who's been thinking about trying it but not sure how it would hold up over the long term, there's your answer.
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