Costs to Refinish vs Installing New Hardwood Floors

Costs to Refinish vs Installing New Hardwood Floors

Your once beautiful hardwood floors are now damaged and worn, so you might be considering the cost to refinish hardwood floors vs. installing a new floor. It’s true that one of the main benefits of owning a long-lasting hardwood is the ability to refinish it. However, this may not always be the best or most cost-effective option depending on your situation.

Let’s look at some of the reasons you might choose replacement over refinishing. We will also look at the approximate costs associated with these projects, the impact on your home life, and the environment.

Know Your Floor

Arguably, the most important thing to consider when looking at the cost to refinish hardwood floors vs. installing new floors is the type of floor you have. Getting to know your hardwood floor is the first step.

If your floor is old and worn and came with the house or you just bought a fixer-upper, you may not have the slightest idea what kind of hardwood you’re working with. That’s OK because there are several methods to figure it out.

The easiest is to find a floor vent you can lift to get a look at a cut edge of the wood. Does the cut edge of the flooring look like a layer cake with either defined layers or a thicker base with a thin veneer? Then it’s engineered.

On the other hand, a solid hardwood plank is one type of wood all the way through and is typically ¾ to 1 inch thick.

With this method, it can be easy to mistake a subfloor or plywood buildup as flooring. So, another option is to remove a plank from the floor. It’s best to take it from a closet or other inconspicuous place in case it gets further damaged.

With your plank removed, it’s easier to get a look at its construction and to identify the species. If you still aren’t sure, you can take the plank into a flooring shop to have it identified.

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The Damage

Now that you’ve figured out what type of floor you have, let’s assess the damage. As much as you may not want to, take a good long look at your floor. How bad is it, really?

Sometimes, a hardwood floor isn’t really all that damaged. It just looks that way from years of improper cleaning methods, products, and heavy dirty foot traffic. The best case scenario is that your floor can come back to life with a little TLC.

It doesn’t hurt to try out a few new cleaning tips. You can check out our article on How to Clean Hardwood Floors for additional guidance.

If after a proper cleaning with a hardwood vac and dust mop, your floor still looks past it’s prime with visible traffic patterns, scratches, minor discoloration, scuffs, and minor dents, you may want to consider refinishing it.

However, if your floor has major gouges, large dents, is water damaged, wavy, buckling, splitting, or showing other signs of extensive structural damage, you might want to start shopping for a new floor.

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Pros and Cons of Refinishing

You may have always wanted a hardwood floor for this very reason. The ability to refinish a floor is very appealing to many homeowners, but is it always the best option?

As we mentioned above, there are a lot of problems that a quality floor refinish can fix. Keep in mind that these are surface problems such as scratches, minor dents and gouges.

The major pro here is that you get to keep your floor intact. If you like the general look of your floor but want a clean slate, different texture, updated color, or to just have it restored, refinishing it is a great option.

Refinishing also allows you to replace some problem planks if there are a few small areas. The new finish application can help blend the repair into the rest of your floor.

It’s also important to understand the difference between refinishing and screening. Screening is a process that buffs off the top of the finish layer to get rid of surface damage, then a new protective coating is applied.

On the other hand, refinishing strips off all the layers including the stain right down to the bare wood so that new stain and layers of protective coatings can be reapplied.

As much as refinishing can bring a floor back to life, there are also lots of things it can’t do.

Unfortunately, you can’t sand away water damage or split and buckling planks. You will have to replace those. Also, if it is gouged well into the wear layer of an engineered floor, you cannot finish that.

Another con is that refinishing your floor is a dusty, dirty, smelly process that can make a home unlivable during the project. Kids, pets, and people with breathing problems are particularly susceptible to the dust and fumes.

Using eco-friendly, water-based finish products can cut down on the hazardous fumes. However, there are those that argue these types of finishes do not perform as well over time as the long-used solvent-based alternatives.

Depending on the cure times of the finish products you use, you may not have access to the space again for several days or more. This may mean staying with friends or renting a hotel room.

Also keep in mind that there are some floors you should not refinish. Some of these include certain bamboo floors, roto-peeled veneer engineered floors, 1/8th inch veneer engineered floors, floors finished with aluminum oxide, or floors that have been refinished previously.

You can only sand down a floor so many times before it’s compromised. If you aren’t sure how much life it has left, call in a professional to give you an assessment.

Furthermore, if your floor happens to still be under warranty, refinishing or screening it will void the manufacturer’s warranty.

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Pros and Cons of Replacement

There are many reasons you may opt to replace your hardwood floor. Replacing your hardwood floor allows you to change the species, direction, and overall look of your floor. It gives you the option to upgrade to some of the latest styles and technologies.

Replacement is also the best option if your floor has been extensively damaged, especially by moisture, mold, or pet messes. These are issues refinishing can’t fix.

With a prefinished hardwood floor, you have a pretty good idea of how it’s going to look in your home. That is as opposed to a stain application which can achieve some less than desirable results that are difficult to fix.

Another benefit of replacing your floor is the ability to have access to the space almost immediately upon completion. Many people successfully live in their home during this type of flooring project. You are also able to shuffle furniture from room to room if need be.

Still, replacing a whole home full of hardwood can be a challenge for a family like any other renovation project.

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Cost

The cost to refinish hardwood floors vs. installing a new floor is highly variable depending on your situation. At first glance, it may seem like refinishing is the most cost-effective option. In many cases, you would be right.

You can expect to pay anywhere from $2-$5 per square foot for a basic sand and refinish project. It starts to get more expensive if your floor is in bad condition, need planks replaced, want to upgrade the finish, or the floor needs other repairs.

Also, not included in this cost are things like furniture moving and removal and replacement of your baseboards if needed.

The cost to replace your hardwood floors is typically more than it costs to refinish them depending on a few factors. The hardwood flooring material can cost $2 per square foot and up plus labor averaging at $3 to $5 to install the wood. This cost doesn’t typically include removing your old floor, furniture moving, removing and reinstalling baseboards.

Trims, transitions, and underlayment are also additional charges that vary widely.

However, a handy homeowner could tackle the installation of a new hardwood floor themselves. That would help you save a bundle on labor costs. This would make the replacement floor cost comparable to the refinish option.

Not to say that an intrepid DIYer couldn’t also attempt to refinish their hardwood floor. However, it’s one project that many argue you should leave to the pros.

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Conclusion

As you can see, there are many different factors to consider that come with the cost to refinish hardwood floors vs. installing new floors.

If you are looking for a cost-effective way to rejuvenate the old floors you know and love, refinishing is a great option. However, if your floor has damage beyond repair, you don’t want to endure the mess of a refinish project, or you’re ready for a change of scenery, there are many beautiful flooring products on the market at price points to fit just about any budget.

If you’re still unsure, it never hurts to reach out to a flooring professional in your area to help you better consider your options.

Have you refinished your floor with success, or did you opt to replace it? Tell us in the comments.

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Sarah Williamson

About Sarah Williamson

Sarah is a self-described “flooring nerd” with over a decade of building industry experience including installation, estimation, and sales. She thrives on finding unique solutions to interior design challenges and sharing her love of creating inspired spaces through writing.

14 thoughts on “Costs to Refinish vs Installing New Hardwood Floors”

  1. Avatar

    Thank you for telling me that refinishing our hardwood floor can be a good choice if it has been extremely damaged. Our family has lived in this house for decades now and the flooring is probably the area that we have least focused on. It might be better to hire professionals who can treat our flooring better and make it as good as new again.

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    In most cases, refinishing is preferred over other options. In the case of buffing & recoating (if the condition of your floors allows and no sanding is required), this is even more beneficial.

    Regards,
    Andrew

  3. Avatar

    My wife and I are planning to hire a hardwood refinishing service this weekend. We found out yesterday that underneath the vinyl floors of the home we just bought were hardwood floors. I like that you said that the refreshing process is dusty, dirty, and smelly, which we’d have to find a place to live temporarily while it’s getting done. I’ll try to talk to my parents later if we can crash in their place for a while the floors are getting refinished. Thanks for this!

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    Very good and mostly accurate article Sarah. First your price estimates are fair and accurate, depending on the area you live. Here in LA we are at the higher end of that scale. I would just advise readers to the be careful about any floor that is sold for $2/sqft. You really do get what you pay for with wood floors. I agree with Steven above too. I run a hardwood floor installation and refinishing company in Los Angeles and all of our equipment is dustless. The days of rooms being filled with dust because of using old sanding machines with bags are long gone. At least for most professionals. A new installation will always be dustier and messier than a sand and finish from a pro with the proper equipment, because of cutting and ripping up the old flooring, and all the cutting and nailing for the install. And there are many finishes available now that have very little VOC’s and smell. Some hardwax oils have zero VOC’s. Appreciate you putting out good info about our trade Sarah.

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    I am currently looking dor a residential hardwood floor contractor that can help me fix my hardwood flooring issue, as part of my home renovation plan this year. I like that you mentioned how the replacement is the best option for me since my hardwood floor has been extremely damaged by molds. It’s great that you also noted that this specific issue won’t get fixed by a simple refinishing. With that, I shall start looking for residential hardwood flooring services.

  6. Avatar

    I’m remodeling a 1908 apartment and the existing floor in the kitchen (underneath 4 layers of linoleum) is tongue and groove oak that’s in relatively good condition – there are nail holes from the subflooring that was installed on top but otherwise no significant damage. I was planning to tile the kitchen floor and was wondering if it makes sense to remove the existing oak flooring for use in other parts of the apartment and install plywood and then tile? Thanks.

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    Some of this article is just wrong. Having your flooring refinished by a modern company means little to no dust left in the property. I run a floorcare business and all our wooden floor sanding equipment is dustless. Granted some rental machines are still running on 40 year old tech, but the machines us pros use is not. Refinishing is almost always cheaper than replacing and more sustainable in terms of resources. The client can get a standard finish applied or ask for a custom finish that will be unique.

    1. Avatar

      I was wondering, not sure my handyman knows enough. He is telling me it would cost more, take too long to do and will be messy. I want to remove the laminate, that was installed by the previous owner, I have no idea how the old hardwood floor looks like. It has the original floor from 1942, would like to have that instead of replacing it..

    2. Avatar

      Good evening Mr. Fletcher,
      Could you email me at escalerajermel (at) hotmail [dot] com. My wife and I are in Waldorf, Maryland and are looking to have our wood floors redone. I do not know where you’re located or maybe you know of a reputable business in the Southern Maryland area just out of Washington DC.

      Thank you

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