How to Decide Whether Your Hardwood Flooring Needs Refinishing or Replacing

Flooring
Carpentry
Small Projects and Repairs
By Contractors.com Team August 30, 2021

Making decisions is a big part of being a homeowner. From the initial design of your home to future renovations, remodel, or improvement projects you will make, you inevitably become a pro at choosing between tile, textures, pattern, and sizes. However, before becoming well seasoned, it is easy to make mistakes when the time comes to choose as you may not be sure what exactly your home needs.

Hardwood flooring is a classic flooring choice and is a beloved installation in many homes. However, natural hardwood is not as popular as it used to be a few decades ago thanks to the introduction of all kinds of alternative flooring options - a large portion of which are a bit less maintenance intensive. However, hardwood is still appreciated to this day and many homeowners refuse to replace hardwood floors with anything else. 

When the time comes to decide whether to refinish hardwood flooring or replace it, a lot of homeowners have a very difficult time choosing what to do. Refinishing hardwood flooring means to shave off the top layer and give it a new coat of lacquer or ‘finish’. Recoating also falls into the category of revitalizing your hardwood floors without replacing them and involves a less intensive shave-down than a rifinish (effectively costing less time and money) Replacing speaks for itself and there are signs you can look for in order to decide whether to refinish or replace hardwood floors.

When to Refinish

The most important factor to consider when choosing between a refinish and replacement is the condition of the floor itself. On the one hand, you do not want to spend time and money refinishing a floor that is way past saving. On the other hand, replacing real wood flooring that is still in good condition is a waste of good wood. 

The Benefits of Refinishing

Refinishing hardwood breathes new life into the lumber without the need to replace the floor entirely. It is a cost-effective way to freshen up the interior, fix floor damage, and keep the natural wood flooring well-maintained. 

Refinishing natural wood floors also gives you the opportunity to update the finish of the flooring, giving you more control over its condition. Some finishes are more impact resistant, others offer extra insulation to keep the floor warm when the weather gets cold. A few finishes are even waterproof. Whichever you choose, refinishing your flooring gives you the opportunity to update them for a longer life protected from the elements.

It’s also a relatively easy project to do yourself. Other than dust and the smell of finish enveloping your house for a few days, there are few difficulties when it comes to DIY floor refinishing. You can always pay a professional $4 to $8 per square foot refinished, or you can do it yourself and expect to pay $300 to $400 for 250 square feet, which is slightly less than the size of the average living room. This is a much cheaper alternative to replacing the floorboards entirely. 

Here’s when it might be a better idea to recoat or refinish:

Scratches

Reasons Why You Should Refinish Your Hardwood Floors

Reasons Why You Should Refinish Your Hardwood Floors

A single line in the corner of the room is not going to be a big deal. You can easily hide the obscure ones with a piece of furniture or even ignore it.  However, if your floor has scratches and scrapes all over its surface they will become visible and distracting with enough sunlight in the room. 

Light scratches are very easy to take care of. All it takes is a little extra coat of wood finish and maybe some light sanding. For the deeper gashes, you may need to resurface a larger area of the floor or even replace entire boards. 

Losing Color

A benefit of hardwood flooring that was not mentioned above is how good it looks. The natural hue of the wood adds a lot of vibrant color to any interior and makes it look warmer. Each type of hardwood, from Brazilian cherry wood to classic oak hardwood flooring, has its own unique color. Unfortunately, due to constant wear and tear, this color can begin to fade and the floorboards begin to turn grey.

This is when you know that a refinish may be required. By sanding the older top layers you can bring out the color and vibrancy of the inner layers of the wood, making your floors look as good as new. Applying the right finisher coat should also help bring out the natural color of your wooden flooring.

Check the Layers

What the Inside of Your Floorboard Can Tell You About Your Floors

What the Inside of Your Floorboard Can Tell You About Your Floors

The most crucial step to refinishing hardwood floor boards is examining them beforehand. There are all kinds of aspects of flooring at play, from the lumber used to its coloration.

Knowing the nuances of your flooring can help you make more informed decisions when it needs to be properly refurbished. A very easy way to learn more about your floor is to have a visual understanding of what it looks like on the inside. You do not need to remove a floorboard to do this — all you need to do is take a sharp utility knife and cut a little piece of the floorboard. Make sure that the piece is not from the very surface of the lumber, but rather contains all the layers. 

Look at the piece or give it to a woodworker if possible. See if the layers are straight, the wood isn’t warped, and the wood fibers are not flaking off. Think of it as a cake: a slice out of a freshly baked cake should look completely smooth, with even layering. But once the cake sits in your fridge for a couple of days it begins to sag and the layers become uneven. The same thing applies to floorboards. Visualizing the layers will help you understand the condition of your flooring.

When to Replace

Before you replace a single floorboard, the most important step to take is hiring a flooring specialist or a woodworker to take a look. As much as you might think the floor is beyond salvation, there may still be a chance to save even a portion of what’s left. Get a specialist to look at the floorboards and give you a definite answer. Once they confirm that there is no way to save even a section of the floor, you have the green light to begin demolitions.

Replacing flooring is slightly more costly than having it refinished as it includes both the price of materials and labor. Usually, replacing hardwood floors costs from $6 to $12 per square foot, with a 200 square foot space costing around $1,500. These prices will vary depending on what part of the country you live in but it’s always going to be a bit more expensive than refinishing the floors.

Benefits of Replacing

Much like refinishing, replacing natural wood floors comes with its own set of advantages. First, by replacing the flooring you give yourself the opportunity to experiment with new materials. There are plenty to choose from, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. As good as natural flooring may be, you may want a change of pace. 

Here’s when you know it's time to replace your hardwood floors:

Water Damage

One of the biggest dangers to natural wood is water damage. Once moisture gets into the floorboards, it starts to rot and warp the lumber, possibly causing mold to develop as well. Water is the natural enemy of wood flooring, which is why so many finishes these days put so much emphasis on being waterproof. 

If you have noticed that your flooring has warped or developed rot from moisture, then the best course of action would simply be to replace it. Not only will this give you a fresh start with your floor, but will also keep the damage from spreading to other areas of your home.

Stained and Muted Floorboards

The Color of Your Wood Can Fade and There's Only So Many Years You Can Revitalize It With a Recoat

The Color of Your Wood Can Fade and There's Only So Many Years You Can Revitalize It With a Recoat

While most of the time you can bring back the color of your wooden flooring by refinishing it, in some cases the lumber has simply gotten too old. Even refinishing may not restore the color and the floor will remain muted and dull.

By replacing the floorboards you have the opportunity of restoring the color and making the room look more vibrant thanks to the richer hue. Replacing flooring also lets you try out new colors which is perfect when you are remodeling a room and are looking for a floor that matches the rest of the new interior.

Floorboards Are Getting Thin

There’s only so much refinishing you can do before the floorboards are at the thickness of a toothpick. At some point restoring hardwood floors is simply not an option because the boards are far too thin. 

When there are few floorboard layers left to work with your next best option would be to, naturally, replace the floorboards. The last thing you want is the floor caving in and cracking into pieces because they were too thin to hold up. 

Mind the Subfloor

Be Sure to Check the State of Your Subfloor Before You Replace Your Hardwood

Be Sure to Check the State of Your Subfloor Before You Replace Your Hardwood

While the floorboards are usually the culprit of the squeaking, there is a good chance that the subflooring takes part of the blame as well. Many homeowners have replaced their floorboards thinking that they were the cause of their creaky wooden floors only to be unpleasantly surprised when this failed to fix the problem. Ask a flooring contractor to check the underflooring so you can pinpoint what is making the squeaks.

It could be a simple matter of replacing the underlayment or some of the joists which may have come loose over time. It is very much possible to replace these yourself, though it’s recommended to have a professional do the installations for optimal results.

Benefits of Hardwood Flooring

Why do homeowners get hardwood floors in the first place? For centuries hardwood was the most popular flooring type. It still holds this position to this very day despite the many alternatives that are on the market, such as engineered wood or vinyl flooring. 

Durability

Floors take a lot of wear and tear over the years. Dropped items, sunlight, liquid spills, mud tracked from the outside, and pets scratching up the place is just a short list of various things your floor withstands on a regular basis. Despite all these dangers, however, hardwood flooring is highly durable. With the right coating and finish your hardwood floors will last for years to come before needing any serious maintenance.

Low-Maintenance

Why People Still Love Hardwood Floor

Why People Still Love Hardwood Floor

Speaking of maintenance: hardwood floors require very little of it. Thanks to the sealers and protective layers applied to the surface, the wood planks stay whole for many years before needing refinishing. Replacing wooden floors is an even rarer ordeal because of how long they last. It will take your wooden flooring decades before they need to be replaced.

Easy to Clean

The problem with carpets is that they act like a sponge. Every little spill, every piece of food that you drop, and every little streak of mud that you bring home is a hassle to wash out. You can use all kinds of home cleaning remedies and hacks to clean out the carpet, but some stains will live with you forever. Hardwood flooring is very easy to clean by contrast. Since it is a smooth, even surface, a dry then wet clean is all you need to keep them looking and sounding flawless.

Sustainable and Green

There is a great abundance of flooring types in the United States but none are as sustainable and environmentally friendly as hardwood flooring. Not only does it cost very little energy to produce, but wood is also one of the most renewable materials out there. There is also the factor of what to do with old or damaged flooring. Some fake wood flooring includes natural wood blended with wax and other chemicals, so they are partially renewable. But these are nowhere near as biodegradable or recyclable as natural wood.

Written by
Contractors.com Team

Written by Contractors.com Team