Pros’ guide to properly refinished floors

Must-knows when job entails repainting walls, ceilings

Q: I love the Sweat Equity column, especially the exotica about French drains. My question is more mundane, I’m afraid, but important to me. It’s a sort of "project management" query.

I live in a Berkeley, Calif., brown shingle. The living room walls and ceiling badly need painting.

But the living room also has an old carpet, beneath which we believe is a hardwood floor that could be refinished into something nice.

Which project should we do first: the paint job or the floor? If we paint first, and the rug gets messed up, that’s OK. But does the process of sanding and refinishing the floor somehow mess up the look of those new walls with dust, etc.?

A: French drains — exotica? It’s just digging a trench and putting some gravel over a perforated pipe to channel water away from the foundation.

Your "chicken or the egg" question has more heft. Your concern about sanding dust on the newly painted walls is well taken. Likewise, there is a concern about plaster grit from the painting preparation process marring freshly refinished hardwood flooring.

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Here’s how we suggest you go about the project to end up with the best of both worlds: a freshly painted room and a pristine hardwood floor.

First verify that you have hardwood underneath the carpet. Lift a corner of the carpet and see what’s underneath. You’ll probably need a pair of pliers to pull the carpet off the tack strip. The typical Berkeley brown shingle has oak hardwood flooring. It was cheaper than carpet back then and allowed the occupant to choose area rugs to suit his or her taste.

Presuming there is hardwood under the rug, leave the rug down. Because you’ll be filling, sanding and priming first, the old carpet can live its last days as a drop cloth. Then seal off the room by taping plastic sheeting over the doorways.

Patch the walls and ceiling. "V" out any cracks with a teardrop paint scraper and fill them with Spackle or patching plaster, and sand the patches smooth. Next, repair any dings in the woodwork by sanding the edges of any chips smooth. Prime any bare wood with quick-drying primer.

A word of caution here: Even if the trim has been painted recently, in all likelihood many of the previous coats are lead paint. Lead is toxic and poses a health risk. In the next few weeks we plan to do a detailed treatment of dealing with lead paint, but for now you can find information about the right way to remediate lead paint at www.aclppp.org, the Internet home of the Alameda County Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

Now it’s time to take up the old rug and along with it a lot of the grit and sanding dust from the patching. Give the floor and walls a quick vacuum to get even more dust. This completes the paint prep work.

With the paint prep done, switch gears and have the floor sanded and refinished. It’s best to call a professional. They have the tools and the experience that even an outstanding do-it-yourselfer can’t match.

After the floor finish has cured — give it at least three days — cover it with a layer of thick construction paper made for protecting floors during construction. Tape the edges to the floor with a low-adhesive painter’s tape, and make sure to tape any seams. Then wash the walls and wood trim with a solution of trisodium phosphate. Rinse with clear water and allow it to dry. Prime any patches. Finally apply two coats of high-quality latex paint in the color of your choice.

We are aware that some paint manufacturers tout a paint that is a primer and finish in one. But since we have no experience with these products, we’re hesitant to recommend them.

We’d let the paint dry a day or two before removing the paper to reveal a freshly painted room and a handsome new floor.

Tip: Remove all switch and outlet plates and cover the switches and plugs with a strip of blue painters’ tape before painting.                                  

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