When it comes to wood floors, homeowners often face the decision of whether to refinish their existing floors or replace them entirely. Both options have their pros and cons in terms of cost, effort, and end results. This article will examine the factors that determine which choice is more cost-effective for your home.
Evaluating Your Existing Floors
The first step is to objectively assess the condition of your current wood floors. Here are some questions to consider:
- What type of wood are they made of? Softer woods like pine are easier to refinish than harder woods like maple.
- How worn is the finish? If it’s peeled and scratched, refinishing may be difficult.
- Are there permanent stains, pet damage, or moisture issues?
- Is the subfloor underneath in good shape?
If your floors are in relatively good shape overall, refinishing will likely be cheaper than full replacement. But if they are severely damaged, replacement may be the better option.
Cost of Refinishing
Refinishing hardwood floors involves sanding off the top layer of worn finish, making repairs as needed, and applying new stain and sealant. Here are typical costs:
|Refinishing Task||Average Cost|
|Sanding floors||$3-5 per sq.ft.|
|Stain application||$1-2 per sq.ft.|
|Adding sealant (polyurethane)||$2-3 per sq.ft.|
|Total refinishing cost for 500 sq.ft. floor||$2,500-$4,000|
Factors that increase costs:
- More sanding needed for thicker finish layers
- Filling gaps, squeaks, and damage
- High-quality stains and sealants
- Moving furniture and applicances
You can refinish floors yourself to save on labor costs. Renting a floor sander costs about $50-100 per day. However, getting professional-quality results takes skill and practice.
Cost of New Wood Flooring
Installing new solid or engineered hardwood costs $4-12 per square foot on average. Here’s an overview of new wood flooring costs:
|New Wood Flooring Costs||Low End||High End|
|Solid oak, maple, cherry||$8/sq.ft.||$12/sq.ft.|
|Exotic woods like Brazilian cherry||$10/sq.ft.||$15+/sq.ft.|
|Labor for installation||$3/sq.ft.||$5/sq.ft.|
|Total for 500 sq.ft. floor||$3,500||$8,500+|
Other costs to consider:
- Removing old flooring: $1-3 per sq.ft.
- Prepping and leveling subfloor: $1-2 per sq.ft.
- Trim, transitions, and accessories
Usually the biggest factor in the cost of new wood floors is the type of material you choose. Exotic woods will cost more than domestic species. Also, solid wood planks are more expensive than engineered wood.
Which is More Cost Effective?
Whether it’s cheaper to refinish or replace your floors depends on their current condition, the species of wood, and your goals for appearance and functionality.
Here are some general guidelines on when to refinish vs. replace:
- Refinish – For floors in good structural condition made of wood like oak, maple, fir. Refinishing can restore the appearance at a lower cost.
- Replace – For deteriorated floors with damage beyond sanding or inexpensive softwoods like pine. The time and cost to refinish these woods may exceed replacement.
- Refinish or replace – If the floor has many deep scratches, gaps, and stains that are difficult to sand out. Refinishing could take many attempts and still not achieve the desired appearance.
- Replace – If you want to change the color or species of wood floor completely. It’s very difficult to go from a dark floor to a light floor, for example.
- Refinish – To touch up pre-finished floors. This causes less disruption than replacement.
Here is a comparison of estimated costs for a 500 sq.ft. floor:
|Refinish Cost||New Floor Cost|
|Oak floor in good condition||$2,500||$5,000+|
|Heavily worn oak floor||$4,000||$5,000|
|Pine floor with pet stains||$3,500||$3,500|
As you can see, refinishing can offer big cost savings over replacement in many scenarios. But for more damaged floors or when changing wood species, installation of new floors may be comparable or cheaper.
Weighing Other Factors
Price shouldn’t be the only consideration when deciding whether to refinish or replace wood floors. Here are some other factors to think about:
- Time – Refinishing takes 1-3 days. Replacement can take a full week.
- Dust – Refinishing creates a lot of dust. Replacement has moderate dust.
- Furniture – Both projects require emptying the room. For refinishing, you may also need to cover furniture.
- Disruption – Refinishing allows you to stay in the home. Replacement requires more demolition.
- Results – Refinishing reuses existing flooring for a like-new appearance. Replacement lets you change color or wood type.
- Longevity – A refinished floor may need recoating every 5-10 years. New floors can last 30 years or longer before replacement.
If you can’t bear having your home under construction for a full replacement, refinishing is faster. But if you want to fully change the look of your floors, replacement gives you more options.
Refinishing hardwood floors generally costs 50-75% less than full replacement. But for certain flooring situations, installation of new wood floors may make more economic sense and achieve your goals for appearance and functionality.
To decide whether refinishing or replacement is more cost effective for your home, carefully evaluate the condition of your existing floors, the pricing for each option, and secondary factors like project duration and results. An experienced flooring contractor can also give you helpful advice tailored to your specific floors.
With some thoughtful analysis of all the costs, benefits, and drawbacks, you can determine whether refinishing your current wood floors or replacing them completely is the right choice for your home and budget.