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Q.I'm building a new home for a couple who want to finish their hardwood floors with wax, the way it used to be done. When they recently refinished the polyurethane-topped floors in their existing home, they were upset that they had to move all their furniture into storage and swore, "Never again." I'm trying to talk them out of the wax finish, and I'd appreciate some feedback from a flooring expert. Can a wax finish protect floors for the long term?

A.Floor finisher Michael Purser, owner of the Rosebud Co. in Atlanta, responds: Whether wax will provide the protection most homeowners want depends on how the floors are treated. I consider wax not a finish but a cosmetic product applied to the surface of wood to enhance its appearance. And it absolutely has to be applied over a surface that is well sealed. That used to be done with shellac or sanding sealers. Since neither of those products is used much these days, a penetrating sealer is usually applied several times before the floor is waxed. The most common complaint with wax is that it doesn't provide enough protection and requires a lot of work to keep the floors looking attractive. Most common household liquids will easily damage a paste wax.

As far as doing it "the way it used to be done," I would point out that people used to cook on wood stoves and wash their clothes by hand. Because of the inefficiency and labor involved, few homeowners wish to return to those good old days. Likewise, most homeowners today dislike products that require any more maintenance than is necessary or provide inadequate protection. Urethane products have become popular because they're durable and make little work for the owner.

If the homeowners want the floors waxed, I would make sure that they are thoroughly informed and that they sign off on some document that spells out the potential problems and expenses of this kind of floor before I apply the wax.