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While cleaning and polishing hardwood floors will help to retain their beauty, over the years there will be diminishing returns on this superficial fix. Eventually, your hardwood may become so worn that replacement starts to seem like the only option. Before you take this drastic and expensive step, however, consider hardwood floor refinishing. Refinishing restores the richness and beauty of wood at a fraction of the cost of installing new flooring, and if you're a capable do-it-yourselfer, the savings will be even greater.
Is Refinishing Right For My Floors?
If refinishing sounds like an intriguing option, you should first determine whether your flooring is a good candidate. The following advice should help you to do so, although prior to making a final decision, you may want to consult a professional.
- Perform a Water Test: How your flooring reacts to water is a good indication of its condition. If drops of water slowly absorb into the floor it means the finish is still in decent shape and may simply need to be waxed and buffed. If water quickly seeps into the floor, however, it means the wood is exposed and needs to be refinished.
- Measure Flooring Thickness: Hardwood floors can be refinished multiple times, but there needs to be enough material to work with. Refinishing involves sanding away a top portion of the wood, if the wood is too thin, it's possible to sand the floor away completely. You can check the thickness of your flooring by removing a register vent and taking a measurement. 3/4" is a safe amount of wood to work with, especially if you're doing the work yourself. Pros can usually operate with a thinner margin of error.
- When Replacement is the Better Option: Not only excessively thin floors, but also damaged hardwood, may be beyond refinishing. While replacing a few stained, buckled, warped, or cracked boards as part of the refinishing process is still cheaper than installing new floors, if a significant number of boards are damaged or no longer feel sturdy underfoot, replacement may be the way to go.
DIY Wood Floor Refinishing
The purpose of this section is not to guide you step-by-step through the refinishing process (sites that include This Old House do a good job of that), but rather to help you decide whether hiring a contractor is worth the extra money.
The major tools needed for the job are a floor buffer, a shop vacuum, an orbital sander, a drum sander, a floor edger, and a respirator. A handful of smaller items, including sandpaper, a long-handled roller, paintbrushes, polyurethane, and hardwood floor cleaner, are also required. Whichever tools you don't own can be rented.
In a nutshell, hardwood floor refinishing involves sanding the wood down and placing two or three coats of finish on it. No matter who does the work, you or a pro, the rooms where the floor is being refinished could be out of commission for up to a week. Of course, a professional team can perform the work much faster than you can working in your spare time. Hiring a pro, then, can significantly reduce the disruption to your home and family's routine. Furthermore, professionals have top-quality equipment and years of experience, which typically equate to a job that's not only done more quickly, but also more thoroughly.
And don't forget that the longer it takes you to complete the job, the more money you will spend on equipment rental. Dragging the work out over weeks, or even months, could result in exorbitant rental fees. Of course, your busy schedule may only permit refinishing over the long term (unless you schedule it around a vacation or you're retired). In this case, borrowing equipment from friends and/or family is more economical. If renting, try to get all the work requiring rental tools done as quickly as possible.
Hardwood Refinishing Costs
- Hiring a professional to refinish hardwood floors might cost $3 to $5 per square foot, or $600 to $1,000 for 200 square feet.
- Most refinishing jobs cost $1,000 to $3,000.
- A cheaper option that involves scuff-sanding (rather than sanding down to bare wood) and applying a fresh finish coat might only cost $1 to $3 per square foot.
- Refinishing stairs costs about $25 to $50 per stair. Hardwood floor repairs will also add to the project cost.
- Renting the necessary equipment for hardwood floor refinishing costs $150-$200 per day. Miscellaneous items might cost you another $50 to $100.