Okay, back to the floors. For those of you who are as familiar (ahem!) with the refinishing process as I was, it starts with sanding and lots of sawdust infiltrating every cranny of your house. It was clear that we would be staining the downstairs because of all the water damage and markings on the dull floors, so next came the stain. As much as I wanted to use something water-based, Andy recommended an oil-based stain because of its durability. I pouted. He assured me it was just one coat and would get sandwiched between many more layers of stuff. (I think he explained the refinishing process to me about five times. Lesson 6: Patience is a virtue for all involved.)

Andy added a coat of BonaKemi DriFast Sealer—a low-VOC product. Bona is a family-owned company that was founded right around the time my house was born (in 1918) and its products are GreenGuard-certified for Indoor Air Quality and the organization's more stringent Children and Schools program. Andy and John Fitzgerald (another terrific floor guy I spoke with) both use and love this product, which is oil-modified (meaning it is still petroleum-based).

I suggested to Andy that we give one more product a shot—an AFM Safecoat finish of Polyureseal BP, which is a water-based clear gloss. AFM Safecoat products are marketed as ideal for people with chemical sensitivities, and they have gotten props for this including Scientific Certification Systems' Indoor Advantage Gold certification and qualification for LEED green building standards.

Certifications are frustrating because there are so many of them, but some oversight is better than none. And, in that same vein, some improvement is better than none. Both the BonaKemi and AFM Safecoat products emit odors for which I was unprepared. Jay Watts, the vice president of AFM, explained to me in an e-mail, "Clear-urethane-type coatings traditionally have stronger application and curing emissions than other coatings. They actually harden or cure over a seven- to 10-day period. During the first days after the install, the fumes are at their zenith. With good ventilation, the air quality can be successfully monitored and the curing kept on track. Typically the odors will dissipate dramatically after 36 to 48 hours with low declining emissions through that hardening process."

Simran Sethi is an award-winning journalist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. For more information on Sethi, visit


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