Hardwood Floors – Refinish or Replace?

Hardwood floors have a great timeless appeal and add value to a home upon resale.  They are, however, expensive to install, although in theory, hardwood floors will never need to be replaced and won’t need to be refinished for many, many years, making them a great option for today’s homes.

But what if you have hardwood floors that aren’t your style or are worn and tired looking?  Should you simply refinish or replace them altogether?

 

This is the discussion we’ve been having in our home for the last month, so I’m sharing our decision-making process with you today including the factors that we took into consideration, as well as the pros and cons of each.

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Factors to Consider

 

1. Is Refinishing an Option?

It’s important to note that not all wood floors can be refinished.  The refinishing process requires that the floors be sanded bare so that they can accept wood stain.  If the floors have been refinished several times before, or if they are thin engineered floors, there might not be enough thickness left to withstand the sanding process.  Usually, though, solid hardwood floors can be refinished 5-6 times without any issue.

 

The floor’s existing quality will also play a role as to whether it can be refinished.  If the floor has been badly damaged, is warped, full of termites, has structural issues, etc. refinishing might not be an option.  On the other hand, scratches, dings, dents, basic wear and tear, or even a few boards that need to be replaced, are easy issues to fix during the refinishing process and shouldn’t stop you from refinishing if that is your goal.

 

2. Cost

Cost is a big factor in the decision to refinish or replace.  Refinishing a floor is almost always substantially less than replacing it because replacing involves additional costs for demolition, new wood, and installation.  I received estimates for both options and was surprised that refinishing cost 1/4 the price of new floors.  The most economical approach to updating your flooring will always be to refinish, versus replace.

 

3. Time

While refinishing is less expensive, it takes a lot more time to do compared to replacing.  Refinishing is a messy and smelly process, despite efforts for dust containment and low VOC products.  The refinishing process can take 4-5 days the majority of which you cannot walk on the floors.  Obviously, this make living in a home during the refinishing process almost impossible.  Replacing the floor, on the other hand, takes much less time and if you’re using a prefinished flooring, you can walk on it just as soon as it’s installed!

 

4. Look & Style

While updating the color of existing wood floors can make a world of difference in their appearance, refinishing cannot change the basic look and style of the floor.  If you are unhappy with the species of wood, the width of the wood planks, or the direction the flooring runs, you’ll need to replace.  For example, 2 1/4″ oak is currently out of fashion in favor of wide plank flooring, which tends to help make a room look larger.

One other aesthetic issue to consider are gaps.  Small gaps can be repaired with refinshing, but large areas will require new boards to be put down which will increase the cost.  If you have a significant number of gaps to cover, you might need to replace.

For example, the previous owners of my home who installed the wood floors did a very big NO-NO!  They had the new wood floors put down WITHOUT removing the baseboards.  Why is this an issue?

  1. The height of the baseboards is cut in half since the bottom have is now essentially underneath the floor, which negates the whole point of a baseboard.  This happens most with new floors that are thicker than the old.
  2. You cannot get a clean finish where the floor and the baseboards meet, leaving a gap along the edge.  The easiest way to deal with this gap is to add a small piece of trim {known as a Quarter Round} to the bottom of the baseboard to hide the gap.

I removed the heater vent so you can see exactly what’s happening beneath my floors and the issues that are caused when you install new floors without removing baseboards…

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Refinishing my floors will improve their current look, but even after I replace the baseboards, I’ll still be left with gaps because the floors were essentially cut too short.  The most economical fix will be to install Quarter Round again.

 

5. Return on Investment

Whether you’ll recoup your money really depends on your existing floors, the area in which you leave, the price range of your home, how many linear feet you’ll be updating, etc. so this is something each individual needs to take into account when deciding whether to refinish or replace.  A new floor might greatly improve the appearance of your home’s interior, but whether you’ll get a good return on investment will depend on the factors mentioned above.

 

Refinishing

Pros

  • Less expensive
  • Provides an instant color update and/or restores it to its original glory

Cons

  • More time-consuming
  • Won’t fix structural issues
 

 

 

Replacing

Pros

  • Less time-consuming
  • Ability to get the exact look you want

 

Cons

  • More expensive

 

 

 

Assuming your existing wood floors are able to be refinished, the real debate comes down to whether the desire to fix any aesthetic issues outweighs the additional cost of replacing.  If not, then refinish is a great option.

 

In my own home, we’ve decided to refinish our existing floors because I’d rather take the difference in cost and apply that money toward updating something else in my home, like the master bath.  For me, that will generate a better return on investment and while the refinishing won’t provide me with the wide plank flooring I love, I still think it will give me the look I’m after.  With any luck, we’re starting this project mid-February so I’ll keep you posted!

 

Tidbits&Twine - Signature

 

 

 

5 comments on Hardwood Floors – Refinish or Replace?

  1. Donna
    January 15, 2016 at 5:18 AM (1 year ago)

    I’ve had prefinished floors installed on two occasions and neither company took off baseboards. I see your point, they used quarter round to finish, but I think it would create a mess to remove the baseboards possibly damaging dry wall.

    Reply
  2. Garden, Home and Party
    January 15, 2016 at 9:21 AM (1 year ago)

    Kim,
    Great post, as usual. We had a water leak 2 years ago and our hardwood floors are in all rooms except the bedrooms. Insurance covered have them completely refinished and repaired, which was great but…we had to move every stick of furniture out and we had to stay out of our house for 3 nights, 4 days. It all worked out and now that it’s been two year, I can say it was relatively painless for the new, fresh look we have. We had the stain color changed during the process and I love the change it made in our house.
    Good luck with your refinishing.
    Karen

    Reply
  3. Velia
    January 15, 2016 at 9:49 PM (1 year ago)

    Thank you for the informational post. Like you, I too like the wider plank flooring and will installing hardwoods on two carpeted rooms. Too replace all the existing hardwood flooring would be very costly, so we will probably purchase unfinsh floorng and have the entire flooring refinshed and stain. It will be a huge undertaking but the end results will be lovely.

    Reply
  4. Floor sanding Mitcham
    March 30, 2017 at 9:35 PM (3 months ago)

    Great Post! Thank you for sharing such an informative post, it was a great help. Looking forward to read such more posts.

    Reply
  5. sustainable hard wood
    May 5, 2017 at 2:15 AM (2 months ago)

    Refinishing is for selected ones. So if you are going for replacement, all these factors to be considered up front. Keeping these in consideration list, help you chose the best of best.

    Reply

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