Everyone with hardwood floors knows that direct sunlight can be a problem for your floors. Most of us have moved a rug or a piece of furniture and noticed the covered part of the floor is either lighter or darker than the surrounding wood.
The longer the wood has been covered up, the more noticeable the difference in color is. Why does this happen and what can be done about it?
Let’s start off discussing why it happens.
Fading, bleaching and darkening in hardwood floors because of sun exposure is a pretty complex subject. Ultimately, color deterioration in hardwood floors is the result of overexposure from 3 things: ultra violet (UV) light, visible light and the infrared (IR) light which causes solar heat.
UV light has the most impact on color change of the actual wood. Wood is extremely photosensitive – which means it reacts to sunlight. You only have to put a piece of unfinished wood out in direct sunlight for a short time with part of it covered to see how the sun’s ultra violet rays affect it.
How fast a timber reacts to UV light depends on the species.
For example many tropical, exotic woods used in flooring, like Brazilian Cherry or Tigerwood, react to UV exposure very fast and they turn a much darker shade. On the other hand domestic woods, like Red Oak, Maple and Hickory, generally bleach out and become lighter, and at a much slower rate.
And it’s not only the wood itself that is subject to discoloration – the type of finish on the floor can also play a big part in how the wood will react.
Infrared light, combined with UV light and visible light, reacts with the finish and slowly turns the finish darker or yellowish. That’s why over a long period of time certain types of hardwood floors with oil based polyurethane finish turn that orangey/yellow color that no-one likes.
Think of how the sun reacts with wood it in terms of our skin.
Direct exposure to sunlight affects different types of skin in different ways. Some of us get darker or tanned in the sun’s rays fast and others much slower, while others will burn very quickly. The type and quality of sunblock used can also play a part in those slowing down those outcomes, but not indefinitely as it will eventually wear off or start or break down. Ultimately, overexposure of harmful rays on all kinds of skin will cause damage.
It’s the same with the paint, rubbers and seat fabrics in your car, with your curtains and blinds, carpet and rugs, the tiles or shingles on your roof, as well as the fabric on your sofa… and yes, your hardwood floors.
Unfortunately the issue of fading and color change from exposure to direct sunlight does not have a single fix-all solution. But there are a number of different steps you can take, that if done all together, will greatly minimize the amount of direct sunlight your hardwood floor receives and slow the process down.
Some are affordable and easy, others not so much.
Here’s the list starting with the easiest and most affordable…
From time to time, rearrange your furniture and floor coverings to allow sunlight to hit the previously covered areas of your floors. This will equalize the UV and IR light exposure and even out the fading process so a consistent color will be achieved within the entire room.
If it’s not possible to move furniture, consider removing at least the area rugs during the sunnier months and replacing them in the darker winter months.
It makes sense that if you can keep sunlight off your floor it won’t fade as much. Drapes, curtains, shutters or blinds are some of the best defenses against fading hardwood floors. If you keep them closed on the side of your house when the sun is hitting the windows it will drastically cut down on any UV and infrared light reaching the floor.
If you have mini blinds or other types of horizontal louvers and you don’t want to shut them completely, position the slats so that they angle upwards allowing the sunlight to be directed towards the walls and ceiling instead of towards the floor.
Upgrade: There is also the option of motorized screens, shades and blinds that can be fitted to the inside or outside of windows. While these will be a bigger investment initially, they make up for it in convenience. You can set a timer so they will automatically extend during the hotter part of the day (when you’re most likely at work) and then retract afterwards to allow more light in when the UV and IR rays are not so strong.
Finish manufacturers are continually trying to find solutions to this problem of fading and color change. Unfortunately at the moment there isn’t a finish that can completely stop this process. That’s the case with prefinished as well as site finished.
There are finishes though that will slow the fading process down and it’s definitely worth looking into using one of these products.
The best finishes to slow down fading at the moment are high-end water-based systems. We use and suggest Pallmann finishes for this purpose because they help reduce ambering and fading, and at the same time are extremely durable.
Staining: If you’re going to have your floors stained then ask for a pigment based stain instead of a dye stain. Pigment stains are more colorfast than dyes. A floor with a pigment based stain and a high-end professional water-based finish will keep its color far longer than a dyed floor with an oil-based finish.
The next step up is to apply a specialty film to your windows. These thin multi-layered films are designed to drastically cut down the UV and IR light while allowing different percentages of visible light to come in. There are endless brands and companies that manufacture and install these coverings so do your research well before committing. 3M is one of the biggest and most reputable, you can see some of the options they have available here .
One of the best ways of stopping the sun’s harmful rays from damaging your floors is by blocking them before they even get to your windows. Awnings work great in this regard. You can get them in retractable or stationary designs and there are many different types of materials and styles to suite all kinds of houses.
If you are doing an extensive renovation and are swapping out windows, or you’re building a new home, you should look into low-E (low-emissivity) glass windows. These windows have special coatings that do a great job limiting the amount of UV and IR light that passes through the panes. There are a few different types of low-e glass windows and you need to talk to a glass professional to see which ones are suited to your home.
Instead of going into a big discussion about them here I’ll let you watch a video that explains the basics of how they work…
If you follow the 6 suggestions above you should be able to greatly reduce the fading of your floors and furnishings. The added bonus of most of those suggestions is that they also offer great energy savings during our hot summers and cold winters, which over time will help defray the initial cost.
If you’ve tried moving and/or removing the rugs and furniture and it isn’t helping blend the areas together as quickly as you like, or if the color difference is very dramatic, then the only option you have is sanding and refinishing the floors. This is the fastest and best solution to the problem.
We definitely suggest putting into practice some of the suggestions above first before having them refinished so it doesn’t happen again so quickly.
Fading is an inevitable part of having hardwood floors.
Unless you install hardwood flooring in a room with no windows, or you completely board over your windows, there is no way to completely avoid Ultra Violet and Infrared light exposure. All you can do is delay the process.
What you can do though is 1) minimize the amount of damaging light your hardwood floors are subjected to and 2) balance the amount of light each part of your floor gets so all areas blend well together as the whole floor changes slowly over time.
Updated July 2022