Whether you’re moving into a fixer-upper or just looking to spruce up your existing space, refinishing hardwood floors can add warmth and beauty to almost any home.
The cost to refinish hardwood floors depends on where you live, the type of wood, how large an area you’re planning to refinish and the condition of your floors.
But, even before you start getting bids on your project, you need to determine whether your floors truly need to be refinished (sanding off the existing finish down to bare wood) or whether they should simply be “screened and recoated” (sprucing up an existing coat of polyurethane by lightly sanding the old finish and top-coating it).
Screen and recoat
Anita Howard, chief operating officer and a spokeswoman for the National Wood Flooring Association, says if homeowners regularly maintain their hardwood floors, they may never have to refinish them.
Polyurethane is used as a protective coating for many wood floors. Over time, that coating is worn away by day-to-day use. Every few years, before the protective coat has grown too thin, it must be refreshed with a new coat. The floors first must be cleaned. The finish layer is then abraded so the new finish has something to hold onto, and then the new coat of finish is applied.
This process, also known as “pad and recoat,” costs significantly less than total floor refinishing at around $1,000 to $1,400 for 800 square feet.
If you decide to hire a professional to refinish your floors, you’ll want to start by asking friends and neighbors for recommendations and then do some comparison shopping. Ask potential hires:
- How much experience do you have?
- Who will do the actual work? The business owner may be a salesman but not a refinisher. Determine the competency of the individuals who will be doing the work — and ask who will be supervising them.
- Can you provide references? Not only do you want to talk to those references, you should take the time to visit businesses or residences where the contractor has done work. Be wary of contractors who won’t put you in touch with past clients.
- Who is responsible for moving heavy furniture and appliances? How will you protect built-in cabinetry and shelving?
- Who is responsible for cleanup and debris removal at the completion of the project?
- How will you protect the rest of my home from dust?
- What are the conditions of payment and to what extent do you guarantee your work?
Costs for this job will vary greatly, depending on material costs, delivery costs, disposal fees and labor costs. According to the vendor-neutral, online home source Homewyse, the average professionally completed refinishing job costs $3.32 to $3.70 per square foot in 2014. That figures out to $2,656 to $2,960 to refinish 800 square feet of hardwood floors.
Note: If your floors are made of cumaru, ipe, wenge or some other type of exotic lumber, it’s likely you’ll be charged more. Some exotic woods are extremely reactive to changes in moisture; others are so hard they can burnish when you’re trying to sand them. Additionally, the dust of some exotic species actually makes people ill and must be handled with extreme care.
If you’re short on cash and long on patience and skill, you may want to refinish your floors yourself. Be warned: It’s a messy and time-consuming job. That said, it can be done.
You’ll need a drum sander to tackle the task. Because floor refinishing isn’t something you’ll be doing very often, this is one tool it makes more sense to rent than buy. Many hardware and home improvement stores rent these machines for about $60 per day (figure $120 for a weekend of sanding). Drum sanders are big and noisy and, if not handled correctly, can gouge a floor in mere seconds; ask the staff where you rent the machine for advice and best practices.
Beyond this rental fee, you’ll need to invest in a claw hammer ($25), belt sander for getting into the spots the drum sander can’t reach ($60 to $100), sandpaper for both sanders ($60), shop vac for cleanup ($70 to $170), nail set to countersink nails ($10), paint roller, roller covers and extension pole for applying varnish ($50), water-based polyurethane clear varnish (4 gallons will cover 800 square feet at a cost of $165 to $360), painter’s rags for dust cleanup ($13 for 5 pounds), safety glasses ($8) and respirator ($30).
Sure, you might have some of this equipment on hand, but if you had to start from scratch, it would likely cost you $600 to $915 to refinish 800 square feet of hardwood floors yourself.