Hardwood floors can be a source of timeless beauty in homes. They aren’t just beautiful, either. Hardwood floors have some serious practical benefits, such as their durability and resistance to allergens. It’s no wonder, then, that hardwoods have become especially popular for modern homeowners, which has motivated some to pull up that old carpet to see what’s underneath. Finding old hardwoods can feel like you’ve discovered a goldmine, but typically the floors will need to be refinished.
It isn’t just hardwood floors that have been hidden away for decades that need to be refinished. As we’ll see, there are many occasions, including normal wear and tear, that call for refinishing your wood floors. When it comes time to breathe new life into your floors, you may have many questions related to the best way to refinish hardwood floors. We’re going to answer some of those common questions in this article. We’ll also talk about when refinishing your floors isn’t the best course of action and you should, instead, replace them with new floors you love.
When Should You Refinish Hardwood Floors?
First, let’s talk about when you should refinish your hardwood floors. In some cases, it may be obvious. For example, if you live in an older home and decided to take up old carpet only to discover real hardwood floors underneath, it’s likely that these old hardwoods will need to be refinished. If you currently have exposed hardwoods in your home, then the answer may be less apparent. Here are a few indicators that it’s time to refinish those hardwoods:
- The floor is scratched or dented: Normal foot traffic, kids playing with toys and pets can all lead to wear and tear that will eventually merit refinishing your hardwood floors. If you see scratches or even small dents, this is a good sign that your floors should be sanded down and refinished. You’ll see those scratches and dents disappear in no time.
- The floor is discolored: Another sign you may need to refinish your hardwood floors is if they’re discolored. Discoloration usually occurs because there’s too much direct sunlight hitting your floors. Your floors can also become discolored from water damage. If your floors have been severely water damaged, then they should be replaced rather than refinished.
- The finish doesn’t match your style: It isn’t just damage that should warrant refinishing your floors. Since floors can be stained in a variety of colors and shades, your floors may not match the rest of your furniture or your preferences. When this is the case, don’t just put up with what you have. You can refinish those floors and choose a perfect stain or a beautiful natural finish.
How Much Does It Cost to Refinish Hardwood Floors?
With any home improvement project, expense tends to be a concern. Sure, you would love to see beautifully refinished hardwoods throughout your home, but what is it going to cost you? The answer depends on a few different factors, including:
- Whether you DIY or hire a professional
- What kind of hardwood floors you have
- What condition the floors are in
- How much area the floor covers
- Whether you need to refinish stairs
Though all of these factors can substantially affect the cost to refinish wood floors, a good reference point is that it typically costs between $3 and $5 per square foot to refinish hardwood floors. This includes the cost of labor and materials to have a professional sand down your floors and refinish them.
Especially the lower end of that estimate may seem like a great price, but it can quickly get expensive if you’re refinishing a large area, and especially if you’re refinishing your whole home. If your home is 1,500 square feet, for instance, and you want to refinish the floors throughout your entire house, that could cost anywhere from $4,500 to $7,500.
If you’re looking to sell your house and want to make it more appealing by refinishing your hardwood floors, the good news is that, according to the National Association of Realtors, refinishing hardwood floors is the interior home project that yields the highest return on your investment when it comes to increasing the resale value of your house. You should completely recoup your costs.
If you’re not looking to sell and you’re concerned about cost, you could forgo hiring a professional and do the job yourself. This is certainly a viable option if you want to refinish your hardwood floors on a budget. We’ll talk more about the pros and cons of DIY next.
Should You DIY or Hire a Professional?
If you’re concerned about the cost to refinish your hardwood floors, you may be wondering how feasible it is to tackle the job yourself. If you enjoy taking on home improvement projects and have the time, then you may want to go the DIY route.
However, it’s important to understand precisely what you’re getting into before you choose to take on the job yourself. Especially if you’re planning to refinish the floors in more than one room, let alone your entire house, you may want to think twice about trying it on your own.
As tends to be the case for many of us when we decide to try a project on our own, you may end up running into problems due to your lack of professional experience. Unlike smaller-scale DIY projects, making mistakes in the refinishing process could lead to irreparable damage.
If you’re planning to do it yourself to save money, keep in mind that you’ll have to purchase materials and rent an industrial sander. Most DIYers will still come out ahead financially compared to if they have hired a professional, but it may not be by as much as you expect. Find out exactly what you would have to spend either way to determine whether the savings are worth the hassle.
When you hire a professional, you can expect to spend more, but you will also benefit from their expertise. When you hire a trusted professional, you can rest easy knowing that your floors are in good hands. You can also literally rest easy if you hire someone who takes care of all the prep work, such as moving furniture.
How Do You Refinish Hardwood Floors?
If you decide to refinish your hardwood floors yourself, you’ll want to become well-educated on the process. The basic steps come down to the prep work, removing the old finish, sanding, staining and finishing. Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps:
1. Clear the Area
To prep for refinishing your floors, you’ll need to clear the room you plan to work in. This doesn’t just include furniture and other objects on the floor. You should also remove wall hangings and curtains so the room is completely clear. Using a plastic tarp, cover windows and doorways. This keeps dust from spreading throughout your home.
2. Remove the Old Finish
In some cases, your next step will be to buff, or screen, the floor. This step involves using a screen, a sanding disk that is designed to resist clogging, to remove the old finish. Note that this step only applies to certain situations. Floors that were previously finished with a non-waxed polyurethane and were not stained can and should be screened. You should also only screen if the wood itself is in good shape, even if the finish is scratched or dull.
3. Sand the Floor
Once the old finish is removed, you can start sanding. If your floors are in good shape and were not finished with a wax coating, then you may not have to sand them. However, any time you’re dealing with floors that are coated with wax or are scratched, then you need to sand them down to get them smooth. You can rent a sander to do this job yourself, but be careful not to gouge the floor or sand unevenly.
If you want to make it easier to see where you’ve sanded and where you still need to cover, make some marks at certain intervals on your floor with a pen or pencil. As you sand over an area, the mark should get erased, so anywhere you see a mark is an area you haven’t been over yet. This tip can be especially helpful once you’ve sanded off the top layer with stain and are going over the floor again.
4. Stain the Floor
When you’re left with a floor that is just smooth, bare wood, you now have the option to stain the floor. If your floors are made from a high-end wood like mahogany, walnut, cherry or maple, then you may want to think twice before you stain them. These exotic woods tend to have a beautiful color on their own and don’t take stain very well. If you have a more typical wood flooring material, like red or white oak, then you can decide whether you want to leave the natural color or opt for a stain that will make your floors look more like one of the high-end woods previously mentioned.
If you choose to stain your floor, you can select any color that works well with your decor. You may need to apply several coats of stain and sand the floors in between each coat. It’s usually a good idea to call in the professionals if you want to stain your floors.
5. Protect the Floor With a Coating
Finally, you’ll want to protect your floors to preserve the beautiful appearance you achieved through refinishing. There are a few different options for coatings you can apply to protect your floors. Most people use a polyurethane finish, which comes in both water- and oil-based options. Water-based polyurethane costs more, but it stays clear, whereas the oil-based polyurethane will become warmer in color over time. A water-based finish will also dry faster, which can be convenient, but it can also be a downside if you want to fix imperfections as you go.
Polyurethane isn’t the only option for protecting your floors. You can also consider an acid-cured finish, which is especially durable, though it produces a strong odor. You can also use a non-polyurethane water-based finish, which doesn’t have a foul odor and is low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The downside to a water-based finish is that it isn’t as durable.
How Often Do You Refinish Hardwood Floors?
When you invest the time and money to refinish your floors, your next question will probably be how often hardwood floors should be refinished. The answer depends on how old and how thick the floors are and on how much wear and tear your floors experience.
Every type of wood is different, so if you have access to the manufacturer’s instructions, you should consult those to see how often the floors should be refinished. Keep in mind that, if you have engineered hardwood, which is made from bonded layers of thin wood planks, you can still refinish it, but it can’t handle being refinished as often as solid plank hardwood floors can.
A rule of thumb to go by is that most hardwood floors need to be refinished every seven to 10 years. If you have kids and pets, your floors may be ready to be refinished after just three to four years. Pay attention to the appearance of your floors and determine when they show enough wear that they should be refinished. If your floors have reached the end of their lifespan, then you will need to replace them instead of repair them.
When Should You Replace Your Floors Instead of Refinish Them?
Refinishing your hardwood floors isn’t always the option, or it may not be an option at all. So, how can you determine when you need to replace your floors? Refinishing won’t be enough if your floors are:
- Too thin: Some hardwood floors are only one-quarter of an inch thick, which is too thin to be sanded and refinished. Even if your floors started out thicker, they become thinner each time they’re refinished, so they will eventually become too thin to be refinished again. If you’re not sure how thick your wood floor is, remove a section of trim or an air vent so you can see a cross-section of the floor.
- Water damaged: Spilling a glass of water on the floor and drying it up does not constitute water damage. Serious water damage tends to come from flooding due to severe weather or a plumbing issue. Whatever causes it, when your floors are water damaged, they need to be disposed of and replaced. Water causes wood to rot, so refinishing it isn’t enough to restore it.
- Structurally Damaged: Scratches are one thing, but if you have more severe damage that goes beneath the surface, then you need to replace your floors. This type of damage could include cracks, deep gouges or warping. Any of these issues won’t be remedied by refinishing the floors. In some cases, you may be able to replace only a section of your floor and refinish the rest.
- Unstable: Some floors may also have issues like gaps between boards, loose boards or too much movement when you walk across the floor. When a floor isn’t securely constructed, then you have underlying issues a professional needs to look at. They may be able to fix the floor so that you can refinish it, but in other cases, you’ll need to replace the floor.
Explore Your Flooring Options With 50 Floor
When refinishing your hardwood floors isn’t enough and it’s time to put in new flooring, you enjoy the benefit of getting to choose floors that fit in perfectly with your lifestyle and preferences. However, the options can feel overwhelming. Should you put in new hardwood, laminate, tile, vinyl or carpet? Once you make that big decision, there are endless options for customization.
Rather than wander through hardwood and flooring stores searching for the right option, let 50 Floor come to you. We bring the options to your home to make selecting the best flooring for your space a simple and enjoyable experience. When you choose a new floor, we go to work to install it and even take care of clearing the area and removing your old hardwood floors.
If you want to turn the task of replacing your flooring into a fun and easy experience, schedule an appointment with 50 Floor today.