That IS the question.
You may have heard conflicting information about whether or not it's best to have your floors trowel-filled during the sanding process of your hardwood installation or refinishing project; While some professionals insist on applying it to your flooring, others avoid it like the plague. The decision is ultimately best left to the homeowner, depending on their desired end-result, but it is important that they understand the benefits as well as the limits of trowel-filling before choosing which route to go. In the next few paragraphs, I intend to explain what trowel filler does for the overall look of your flooring, what it doesn't do, and why we at Hamilton Hardwood recommend you have an opinion, either way.
First of all, just what is trowel-filler, exactly? Trowel-filler, or 'trowel,' as it's commonly referred to in the industry, is simply a filler that is applied to surface of your hardwood after your flooring has been rough sanded, much like the way spackle is applied to drywall, for the purpose of filling in all of the tiny cracks, nail holes, and imperfections in your hardwood. The trowel-filler is then sanded off during fine sanding, yielding a flush, smooth, table-top surface for stain, sealer and finish to be applied to. Trowel-fillers are typically water-based, non-toxic, pet and eco-friendly, and contain no harsh solvents. Furthermore, they receive natural, light, dark, white and gray stains in a manner consistent with your hardwood for optimal blending. Having trowel-filler applied to your flooring is crucial if you desire floors that look flawless and new, and many companies include this service at no extra cost, Hamilton Hardwood included.
With all of those listed benefits, it's hard to imagine why a hardwood expert would recommend you not have your floors trowel-filled, right? So, what's the catch? When asking this question, the responses you receive will most definitely vary, but the main reason will likely hear is that, unfortunately, trowel-filler is often only a temporary fix. Your flooring, being a natural, porous material, will expand and contract seasonally. In the summertime, when humidity is high, your flooring will swell up, forcing some of the trowel-filler out of their little cracks and onto your flooring. Because this happens gradually, you will likely not even notice the eviction of the cracks, but in times that you do, it can easily be remedied with a quick sweep or vacuum. Being that, over the years it will likely eventually come out, some pros do not see the purpose in applying it in the first place. Another reason- one they won't tell you- is because it's an added cost of labor, time, and materials, often at no upcharge. Trowel-filling is widely considered a step in the process, not an option, and many companies believe skipping this step, except for in instances when skipping it is requested by the homeowner, is an example of "cutting corners." It's fair to also mention that some homeowners might opt against having their floors filled because, perhaps, brand-new looking flooring doesn't go with the style or décor of their home. Older, antique homes, as well as customers looking for a natural, unpolished, and/or rustic look may opt to skip the trowel-filler for aesthetic purposes.
If brand-new, polished, perfect looking flooring appeals to your tastes, we at Hamilton Hardwood insist on applying trowel-filler to any and all flooring projects. Our reasoning is because, if it's going to come out over time anyway, homeowners might as well enjoy the look while it lasts! Further, because the trowel-filler is applied in between the rounds of rough sanding and fine sanding, we are more easily able to see where our machines have already passed, allowing for a smoother, more consistent sanding. Here are a few photos that show what finished flooring looks like- with and without trowel-filler- for you to reference.
It is ultimately best to consult with your hired professional before deciding whether or not to have your flooring trowel-filled. Feel free to post questions in the comments, or contact me directly at (248) 802-5501 with any further inquiries. Happy filling... or not!
Peace, Love & Wood,