Cost To Refinish vs. Install New Hardwood Floors

Cost to refinish vs installing new hardwood floors

One of the beauty's about hardwood floors is not only do they look beautiful and taken care of properly, can last for years, but theoretically, if they've sustained scratching and scuffing, you can have a professional refinish them rather then replace them, or even do refinish them yourself. 

Understanding wood flooring 

Before going much further into the pros and cons of refinishing hardwood flooring, or in contrast, having new hardwood floors installed, you should understand the types of wood used in hardwood floors.

There are basically two types of wood used for a wood floor: traditional wood floors, composed of woods such as cherry, teak or oak, and engineered hardwood flooring.

Engineered hardwood floors are planks of wood that have real wood veneer chemically bonded atop cheaper wood that is layered like a cake below the veneer. Providing there are no major dents, warping, water damage or damaged floor planks, you can refinish your traditional hardwood floors yourself, (although it takes quite a lot of work) but you should call in a pro if you have engineered flooring.

Some engineered hardwood flooring has a thicker veneer on the outside and therefore can be sanded and refinished, but most don't. 

If you are not sure whether you have engineered flooring or traditional hardwood floors, the easiest way to determine which you have is to pull a baseboard out and use a small mirror to see the edge of a flooring plank.

Pick an inconspicuous area such as a closet to do this, because if that doesn't work you may have no choice but to actually pull up a plank. Hence the inconspicuous spot to minimize the impact. 

If you discover you have engineered flooring, let a pro contractor decide if it's possible to refinish the surface. Sometimes, a wood floor made of engineered wood has a thicker veneer and can be sanded and refinished, but most times, the veneer is a 1/8 inch thick or less covering, and can't be refinished.

To Refinish or replace? 

Let's say you discover that you have hardwood floors, so you have the option of either to refinish or replace your floors. Assuming you wish to have a contractor do either, how much will it cost to refinish your hardwood floor? In comparison, how much will it cost you to replace your hardwood floor? Before you jump into it, you may want to try giving your floors a good cleaning to see if they truly need to be refinished or replaced.

Make sure to sweep, vacuum with a hardwood vac, and follow that with a dry mop. If after this your floors still look bad, it may be time to consider a change. 

Typically, mid-range cherry, oak or teak floors will cost you from $5 to $10 per square foot to have a contractor do the job, plus another $4 to $8 a square foot for the installation charges. So for an average house, you are looking at a range of between $4,000 and $6,000.

On the other hand, if your hardwood flooring is in relatively good condition, but you want all the scuffs removed so it looks as good as news, a typical contractor can refinish your hardwood for around $2000 to $2300. 

To refinish a floor, contractors frequently buff your wood floor all the way down to the bare wood, remove all the dust, and then coat your floor with a new coat of polyurethane. 

It's also possible, at this stage, to change directions, by having your contractor create a different colored stain, either lighter or darker, from what you had before. So obviously, a refinish is cheaper than to replace your hardwood, but be honest in your assessment before choosing to refinish rather than replace your wood floor.

A refinished sagging floor will still be a sagging floor despite the fresh update, so don't let cost alone make up your mind. 

Do it yourself projects 

Most people won't either attempt to install flooring themselves or attempt to refinish their wood floors, but for the handyman with patience and skill, the prospect of saving a few thousand dollars on labor costs is too much to resist.

Of the two, installing flooring is decidedly the hardest. You need to know how to measure the room in order to order your flooring, how to check the sub-floor to avoid squeaks, how to add a vapor barrier to the subfloor, how to place the flooring, how to use a pneumatic nail gun to staple the boards together, and how to fill in any gaps between boards. 

With the possible exception of a floating floor in which you install the wood flooring over a thin, foam-rubber pad, do it yourself flooring installation is not for the faint of heart.

Refinishing, on the other hand, provided you are very meticulous and careful, is a task that many people do successfully complete.

To refinish a room in your house, you tape down air conditioning vents and windows and then begin by buffing and sanding with several different levels of gritted buffer pads, and sandpaper. 

Those who decide to refinish their floors frequently rent an orbital sander and work on sanding their floors to bare wood by using grits of 30-40 for the initial sand, then switching to a 50-60 grit sandpaper, followed by a third sanding of 80-100 grit. 

Between each layer of sanding, the room should be carefully vacuumed out, and during the dust the grounded floor kicks up is rather toxic, so you should wear a respirator mask while doing the grinding, and you should wear safety goggles as well. 

The real danger in doing it yourself is making grooves in the floor by not being able to control the sander, bubbles in the polyurethane that will harden and make the end effect look terrible, and associated expenses. 

Concerning expense, figure on $60 a day to rent a commercial sander, $30 on sandpaper, another $30 or more for a belt sander, the cost of respirators, shop vacuums, and up to $160 for water-based polyurethane and stain at close to $30 per gallon, plus varnish applicators, and before you know it, you're already into the project for $500 or more before you even get started. 

Interruptions in living in your house 

The first thing to know about either having new floors installed, or to have your floors refinished, is that you will likely be displaced from your home temporarily.

If a contractor is refinishing your wood floors, it will typically take their workers around 2 days or more to refinish the floor, then add stain and polyurethane varnish. The layers of varnish take time to dry and seal, and basically, the house will be unlivable. 

You can expect to be "out of home" for even longer, as much as 10 days, if you have new flooring installed. 

Why so long? The fundamental reason is that hardwood flooring needs a good 7 days to acclimate to the humidity of your home before its installed. 

Typically, a contractor will move the boxes of hardwood planks into your house, remove them from the boxes and any plastic wrap, and let the wood "breathe" in their future home. Without following this acclimation process, your new hardwood flooring installation can either cause the wooden planks to expand or shrink significantly leading to a really negative looking floor. 

Depending on the type of wood, some specialty hardwoods need to acclimate for up to two weeks. 

Once your flooring has had a chance to breathe, depending upon the size of the job, it may take the installers from one to three days to complete the installation. So plan on staying at a hotel or at a friends house for several days if you plan on having work done on your floors. 

Another consideration is what to do with your furniture. Whether you are having a complete no install done, or a refinish, you'll need to hire someone, ( or get a buddy to help you) transfer your furniture into a moving van, and then keep everything in a storage unit while the work is done. You can't expect the contractor to do the work for you.

Do hardwood floors add to home value? 

One question many homeowners ask, is whether wood floors add to home value?

And the answer is, it depends.

Overall, realtors report that modern hardwood floor installations, particularly in the

bathrooms and kitchens, can up to 2.5 percent of home value. But there is a caveat. If everyone in your neighborhood has hardwood floors, you may not score many points for a "wow" value on your home. And in addition, on average, people who remodel their homes with hardwood floors only recover around 70 to 80 percent of the costs. 

So if you're planning on selling your home in the next few years, look for greater returns on your investment such as snazzy lighting and new paint. However, if your house already has hardwood floors, a refinish may be just the thing to make it sparkle in the eyes of a buyer. 

Hire an experienced contractor 

Unless you are the rare DIY expert, chances are whether it's a refinish job or a completely new install, you'll need to vet contractors carefully to enjoy the best experience in updating your home. 

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