Q: We are planning to have our old hardwood floors refinished. We have a small grand piano in fine shape and do not want it damaged from wood dust. We could store it in our kitchen, which does not have hardwood floors. Or should we move it to a different floor in the house or wrap it somehow to protect it?
A: To protect your piano, you clearly need to keep it away from dust. But why stop there? There is a lot you can do to protect not only your piano but everything else in your house, as well as the workers who will be refinishing your floors.
Sanding a floor used to mean showering everything inside the house with fine wood dust. Homeowners would complain that piles of it were still showing up in closets and drawers weeks after they thought they had cleaned everything. But since the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified sawdust as carcinogenic in 1995, manufacturers have redesigned sanders and linked them to better vacuum systems. With a little work, you can find a floor-sanding company that delivers what marketers call “dustless” service. You still might get dust in your house, but you will find a lot less of it.
Many dustless companies connect their sanders to tubing that carries the dust to bags outside, thanks to vacuums mounted on trailers. Others use indoor vacuums equipped with filters that trap even the extremely fine particles that cause the most lung damage. To locate these contractors, start with the “find a professional” service on the National Wood Flooring Association’s website, woodfloors.org. Then call a few companies and ask what equipment they use, as well as the questions you’d use to screen any contractor, such as how much experience they have and whom they list as references.
“Hire someone who is certified,” said Tom Peotter, a technical representative for the association. “Certified means they have gone through the schools and we’ve shown them the best way to do it. But it doesn’t always mean they have the best equipment. You have to ask.” He said he would be surprised if your calls don’t quickly turn up contractors who have good sanders and vacuums, such as those made by Bona.
Hiring a company with good equipment will go a long way toward minimizing dust. But the National Wood Flooring Association still urges crews to wear respirators while they are sanding, Peotter said, because it is inevitable that some dust will get into the air. Thus, homeowners are smart to still protect valuable items. There is no way to sand around a piano without moving it, so moving it into a room with a floor that won’t be sanded is the least you could do. But will you need to use your kitchen during the work and the time it takes for the new floor finish to cure? If your kitchen is a typical size, it might be pretty hard to cook and clean up with a piano sitting in the middle of it. And because even dustless sanding is likely to leave some dust in your house, you would probably still need to protect the piano in some way.
Covering it with plastic might work, but the plastic could trap moisture, cautioned Rick Butler, a piano technician in the Washington area (240-396-7480; rickbutler.org). “The piano couldn’t breathe properly,” he said. “The plastic could trap heat, or moisture in the summer. It’s better than nothing but not ideal.”
The best option is to move the piano to a dust-free place, he said. Perhaps surprisingly, hiring piano movers to put your piano into temporary storage would cost only a little more than hiring the same crew to move the piano from one room to another in your house. Empire Piano Movers in Rockville (888-431-8570; empirepianomovers.com) charges $145 to move a piano from one room to another, and another $145 to move it back, said Stephen Swancer, the owner. To put a piano into storage, the company charges $225 each way, plus $2 a day for storage.
If you need to move furniture and other items less sensitive than a piano out of the way, storing them in a room that won’t be sanded makes sense. To minimize dust getting on them, close doors and cover gaps under doorways with towels rolled into snake shapes. Cover doorways that you will need to use with zippered plastic, such as ZipWall ZipDoor Commercial Door Kit for Dust Containment, $36 on Amazon.com.
You can also cover individual items with plastic. To minimize the risk of condensation forming on wooden items covered with plastic, follow Swancer’s advice for situations in which the only way to protect a piano from dust is to cover it with plastic: First drape a blanket or other cloth over the wood, then top that with the plastic.