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Hardwood floors add warmth and depth to any living space, and they're relatively easy to clean and maintain as long as they receive the attention they need. One of the primary maintenance issues with wood floors is bare wood exposure, which can lead to rot and decay. Most homeowners spend between $1,008 and $2,234 on refinishing although that depends on whether they refinish or recoat the floor. Both refinishing and recoating can ensure that floors are properly protected from damage and decay. Before getting bids, though, homeowners should determine whether they need to refinish or recoat. The difference between the two processes is important, even though the two methods appear to be similar.
Recoating hardwood floors simply includes adding an additional protective layer on top of the floor's existing finish. Refinishing, however, involves sanding the floor's current finish down to the original bare wood and then adding a protective layer. As with any home improvement project, the cost of refinishing hardwood floors varies based on location, floor material, floor condition and other factors.
The average cost to refinish hardwood floors is $970 to $1,250 per 300 square feet -- the average reported size of a kitchen in 2012. That cost can easily rise depending on the specific floors, their condition and extra enhancements. Any variations from standard or straightforward refinishing projects add to the overall cost. Some of these variations include:
Along with getting an accurate quote from any potential flooring contractors, be sure to assess the following labor costs and considerations before beginning a hardwood refinishing or recoating project:
How many workers will it take to get the job done?
Who will be doing the work?
How long will the job take?
Is moving furniture included or does the homeowner need to do that beforehand?
What is the procedure for cleanup of dust and debris?
There are several steps involved in the process of refinishing and recoating, and many depend on the particular home and flooring situation. The following are the basic steps involved:
#1 Screening the Floor
Not all floors can be screened, so this step may or may not be on the list for a particular flooring project. If the floor in question qualifies, though, this step could be the only one necessary before applying a new coat of polyurethane finish on the floors. Screens are clog-resistant sanding disks, and the process of screening removes the floor finish without cutting into the wood itself. This step should only be done on a floor with a non-waxed polyurethane finish floor. Screening can only occur when the floor's finish is worn, scratched or dull, but the wood beneath has not been damaged or stained. This process is also called buffing and tends to cost around $1 to $2 per square foot, totaling $200 to $250 to complete a slightly worn room measuring 15x15 feet, or 225 square feet.
#2 Sanding the Wood
When there is a wax coating on top of the floor's polyurethane finish or when the wood underneath the finish has been damaged or stained, the finish must be sanded down. During this step, the existing finish on top of the hardwood floors is sanded down to just bare wood. Though it's possible for homeowners to rent a sander and take on this step themselves, the risk of leaving large gouges in the floor is relatively high for a DIY project. This task is best left to the professionals.
#3 Staining the Hardwood
This step might not be required if the color of the hardwood floors is already fine. If homeowners desire a different hardwood floor color or tone, though, it's time to call in a professional to stain the floor. This step generally requires several applications in addition to sanding in between coats. This typically adds time and cost to the overall project.
#4 Finishing or Coating
The most common finish is polyurethane, which resists nearly everything and can withstand heavy traffic. Both types of polyurethane finish are durable but have a few distinct differences. An oil-based finish will turn an amber color over time, while a water-based finish will remain clear, keeping the wood the same color over time. Water-based finish dries faster, which can be a bonus if there's a time restriction or deadline. This type of finish cannot be worked on when wet, though, so hardwood professionals must take care not to make mistakes when working with water-based finishes. Oil-based finish takes around 24 hours to dry, and it's easy to fix mistakes along the way with this type of finish. A final distinction is the cost. Water-based polyurethane runs around $40 per gallon, while oil-based polyurethane is around $25 per gallon.
Other options for finish are water and acid-cured. Water-based finishes are more eco-friendly with low odors and VOCs, but they are not as durable as other finishes. An acid-cured finish leaves an exceptionally tough coating through a two-part process. A bonus for the acid-cured finish is that it dries extremely fast, so it's possible to apply two coats in a single day. Most brands of acid-cured finish produce a volatile odor that forces homeowners to leave the home until the project is finished, in addition to avoiding using light switches and turning off pilot lights.
From finish quality to hardwood type, several factors can increase the cost of refinishing hardwood floors. Here are some of the most common factors that increase the cost of a refinishing project:
Exotic wood: If the floors are made from exotic lumber, expect to pay a premium price since exotic floors are more difficult to work with. For instance, some exotic woods will have extreme reactions when their moisture levels change, while others can burnish during sanding because of their hardness. Other exotic woods' dust can make people physically ill and therefore must be handled with extreme and expert care.
Increased square footage: Of course, the more square feet included in a project, the more it will cost. The cost of refinishing an average 15x15 (225 square feet) room is $340 to $900, costing anywhere from $1.50 to $4.00 per square foot.
Quality of previous finish: The finish that is currently on the hardwood floors can be a major factor in the work required to refinish or recoat the floors. A project originally imagined as a recoating project only can become a more involved refinishing project if the coating currently on them is low quality.
Stairs: Refinishing stairs costs extra, generally $25 to $45 per step.
Refinishing hardwood floors can be a DIY job, but it comes with many risks and potential hidden costs. For example, if your floor has been sanded down several times, the wood could be too thin for another refinishing and will need to be replaced. You should keep these hazards in mind before you embark on a DIY refinishing. Here are some other considerations involved in a DIY refinishing project:
Renting a Commercial Sander
Commercial drum floor sanders are available to rent from many home improvement stores for an average of $60 per day. Most hardwood floor recoating or refinishing projects take two or more days, which drives up the rental cost to $120 for a weekend project. Home Depot rents drum floor sanders nationwide for an average of $55 per day. Lowe's has rentals in select stores in the states of Arizona, Florida, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee. While rental prices vary by store, Lowe's asserts that all available equipment rentals range from $25 to $65 per day. Local hardware stores may also offer equipment rental, so it is worth checking with local stores in addition to national chains.
In addition to a sander, homeowners will need a long list of materials to get the job done. Some of these are common materials that most people have at home, but many are specialized, single-use materials that homeowners will need to purchase for the project. Depending on how many items are needed, it might cost more to do this as a DIY project than to hire a professional. The following materials and supplies are all necessary for hardwood refinishing or recoating:
Edger ($37 per day rental)
Belt sander for hard-to-reach spots ($60 to $100)
Sandpaper for both sanders ($60)
Hand scraper ($35)
Nail set ($10)
Varnish application materials: paint roller, roller covers and extension pole ($50)
Water-based polyurethane clear varnish [four gallons to cover 800 square feet ($165 to $360)
Painter's rags for dust cleanup ($13 for five pounds)
Safety goggles ($8)
Claw hammer ($25)
Shop vacuum ($70 to $170)
Stain ($27 to $40 per gallon)
Knee pads ($10 per pair)
Paintbrush ($1 to $5 each)
Trash bags ($25 for a box of 50)
All DIY home improvement projects come with risks, and refinishing wood floors is no exception. If done incorrectly, homeowners could end up gouging their floors, resulting in a more expensive and time consuming task than the original job. Homeowners can also end up with more dust and debris due to spending more time on the project than a professional would. Some other risks include:
Leaving an inconsistent scratch pattern with the belt sander
Not getting anything out of the floor because the floor is too old
Failing to take off the finish enough before starting to sand
Not filling in the cracks between the hardwood
Spending more money than expected on additional repairs or refinishing
Because of the delicate nature of wood floors and the need to do the project right without making mistakes or causing damage, refinishing hardwood floors is a job that's usually best left to the professionals. The cost of renting and buying equipment for the job could easily end up costing even more than hiring a professional in the first place.
When you look at all the scratches and marks to repair in your hardwood floor, you might think it's easier to replace them rather than taking the time to refinish them. However, there's a lot of benefits to refinishing the floors. These include:
Cost: The cost to refinish the floors is far less than replacing them. The cost to install a wood floor is about $4,000 -- $2,000 more than refinishing.
Age: The age of your floor can be a huge factor, especially if you only installed it a few years ago. You don't want to pull it up because it has as few scratches and start over again.
Quality: This comes down to what kind of wood you had installed. If it's natural wood, then you should make it last as long as you can. If it's pre-fabricated wood, then it's not going to last as long either way.
Sometimes it might behoove you to replace the flooring and that comes into play in situations with:
Water damage: Refinishing cannot do a lot to fix water damage, especially to a natural wood floor. If your kitchen or bathroom is flooded, it's going to do irreparable damage to the floor and subfloor.
Structural integrity: If your wood floor starts bubbling or cracking, then you have more than scratches to deal with. This is when you need to replace it.
Green upgrades: Sometimes the wood you install isn't eco-friendly, and you might consider replacing it with eco-friendly alternatives like bamboo. Wait until it reaches maximum age if possible.
Thinness: You can only refinish a wood floor so many times, as aforementioned. Then it gets too thin from repeated sanding. That's when you replace it.