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Hardwood Floors and Sunlight

If you have hardwood floors in your home then you know that direct sunlight streaming through your windows can be a big issue for your floors. Most of us have experienced moving furniture or an area rug and noticed the covered flooring is now either darker or lighter than the rest of the surrounding wood. The longer a part of the wood floor is kept covered and away from sunlight, the more noticeable the color difference becomes.

Why does this happen? And more importantly, what can be done about it?

Why do Hardwood Floors Fade?

Fading of hardwood floors due to sun exposure is quite an in-depth subject. Basically, fading and bleaching, as well as darkening in hardwood floors is caused by overexposure of three types of light: visible light, ultra violet light (UV) and infrared light.

UV light is the biggest culprit when it comes to fading of hardwood floors. Wood is very photosensitive, which means it reacts when direct sunlight comes into contact with it. If you put a piece of wood outside during the day, in direct sunlight, with half of it covered, you will be able to see how quickly the sun’s UV rays affect it. When your floors are exposed to sunlight day-in and day-out, it is easy to see why they fade or darken so much.

Whether your floors will go lighter or darker and the speed of the happening depends a lot on the species of wood your floors are made from. Exotic imported woods like Brazilian Cherry will react to UV exposure very fast and tend to darken, compared to domestic woods like red oak, which will react at a much slower rate and tend to lighten in color.

And it’s not only the wood that reacts to the sun’s rays, the finish on the floor can also have a lot to do with with how the floor will react and change color. For example many older homes have oil based polyurethane on the floors. Over time, the three types of light – infrared light, ultra violet light and visible light – will react with this type of finish and slowly transform it into that dark orangey yellowish color that everybody wants to get rid of.

In simple terms, wood reacts to overexposure of sunlight much the same way our skin reacts. If our skin isn’t protected with shade or by applying a sun block, it changes color and gets damaged – some skin goes darker slowly and some goes red very fast! All skin gets damaged from too much sun though, just as wood does.

So What Can Be Done to Stop My Hardwood Floors From Fading?

There are a number of different things you can do to limit the amount of direct sunlight your hardwood floor is exposed to. Some are simple and free, while others will take a bit more time and investment.

The list below starts with simple and free and then goes up from there…

1. Rearrange your furniture and rugs:

Every so often move your furniture and floor coverings around so sunlight reaches the previously covered-up parts of your floors. This will even out the ultra violet and infrared light exposure so the fading process is more consistent throughout the room.

If it’s not possible to move furniture because of space and design restrictions, then at least consider changing up the location of the area rugs during the sunnier months – maybe even removing them completely and then putting them back for the darker and colder winter months.

2. Window coverings:

Curtains, blinds, and shutters are some of the best defenses against fading hardwood floors. The best part is, most likely you have them installed already. Keep them closed on the sunniest side of your house during the worst part of the day. This will drastically cut down on any UV and infrared light reaching the floor. If you have horizontal louvers you can adjust the slats so they angle upwards allowing the sunlight to be directed towards the walls and ceiling instead of towards the floor – that way you still get light inside without direct damage to your floors.

3. Upgrade your finish:

The top hardwood floor finish manufacturers are working hard trying to find solutions to fading and color change. Unfortunately, there isn’t a factory or site applied finish that can completely stop the fading process, at the moment. They are getting better though and a number of finish systems are available that have been designed to slow the fading process down. The high-end water-based finish systems have the best UV inhibitor technology currently, and as a bonus they are extremely durable as well. Ask us which ones we recommend when we’re visiting you for an estimate. Yes, these high-end finishes may be 2-3 times more expensive, but the finish isn’t a huge part of the overall cost in a floor refinishing project, so if you are going to have your floors refinished anyways, this option is definitely worth considering.

4. Specialty window films:

The next step up is to apply a specialty ultra violet and infrared blocking film to your windows. These multilayer films are designed to filter out the damaging types of light while allowing the safer visible light to pass through. You’ll need to do your research well because there are endless brands and businesses that manufacture and install them and they all claim to be the best. 3M seems to be one of the better companies to maybe start with them.

5. Install awnings:

One of the best ways of stopping the sun’s harmful rays from damaging your floors is by blocking them before they even reach your windows. This is what awnings are great for. They come in retractable or fixed designs and in many different kinds of materials and styles to suit every type of home. You can even get remote controlled ones that automatically extend during the sunny part of the day and then retract afterwards. Of course this is a more expensive option… but it’s also one of the most effective in protecting your floors.

What if my hardwood floors are already faded?

If you’ve already tried the free option of rearranging your furniture and area rugs for a few months and the fade lines are still very visible to the point you can’t live with them – then the only option you have is to start over by sanding the floors bare again. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Unfortunately, sunlight damage and fading is an unavoidable part of having hardwood floors. Unless you totally block out your windows so no sunlight can get in at all (which would be very impracticable), there is no way to completely avoid ultra violet and infrared light exposure.

The best thing to do is to try and delay the fading process as long as you can by minimizing the amount of damaging sunlight your hardwood floors are subjected to, and then balancing the amount of light different parts of your floor are subjected to so all areas blend well together as the floor slowly changes color over time.

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