Hardwood floors are often warm and beautiful and reflect abundance in a way that other floors cannot. Wood floors can be softer on the feet than other hard floors such as tile or concrete and easier to keep clean than carpet. Hardwood adds an element of elegance to any home and it is surprisingly durable and easy to care for with regular maintenance. 

Many people are electing to pull up the carpet or that old linoleum and see what wood lies beneath. Others notice the effects of years of foot traffic, spills, friction and bare spots that can lead to rot or unsightly stains on their already existing wood floors and would like a new-looking floor without replacing.

Refinishing hardwood floors involves taking the floor down to the bare wood by removing all existing coating and then adding a new finish. Note that refinishing hardwood floors differs from re-coating, which is just adding another protective layer to the already existing floor finish. 

If it is time to refinish hardwood floors in your home, the first question you may consider is whether this is a do-it-yourself project or best left to a professional. This article explores what is involved in refinishing hardwood floors, the possible differences between DIY and pro, as well as the potential costs.

WHAT STEPS ARE INVOLVED IN REFINISHING HARDWOOD FLOORS?

Refinishing hardwood floors is more than just sanding and refinishing. Here we discuss the necessary and optional steps of screening, sanding, staining, and finishing to eliminate any surprise steps along the way.

INSPECTION

inspection

Consider an inspection to evaluate the health of your hardwood floors even if you intend to DIY your floors. An expert in refinishing hardwood floors can let you know what type of floor you are dealing with and whether it is thick enough to withstand another refinishing. True hardwood floors can usually withstand a dozen refinishing processes through their lifetime while a floor with a veneer cannot usually be refinished.

PREPARATION

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Preparation of the area being worked is necessary to ensure an easy process. All furniture and other objects should be relocated to another room. All cracks, outlets, and underneath of doors should be sealed and any fixtures should be covered with tarps and taped to protect them from dust. Screening or sanding produces a lot of dust, so if you DIY be sure to wear a mask and protect other areas of the house by sealing entries.

SCREENING

blank wall

Screening may be an option for hardwood floors that have some worn polyurethane coating, no wax, and where the wood is still in good shape. This technique, also known as buffing, works by removing the coating without removing any wood. It involves using special non-clogging circular sanding discs with a series of different grits.

REMOVE WAX AND OILS

Heavy layers of wax and oils will make sanding difficult, if not impossible, to do correctly. It is best to remove these prior to starting.

SANDING

sanding

If any wax is present, if the existing polyurethane is damaged or the wood is stained, sanding is a better option than screening. Sanding involves using a high-quality drum sander to remove all existing coating and a thin layer of the wood itself. Sanding hardwood floors requires great care to not gorge the existing wood or end up with a floor that is too thin.

FILLING AND REPAIR

repair

Filling in is important to allow for a smooth finish. If there are any holes or scratches that are found after sanding, now is when those spots are filled in and then hand sanded. If the floor is severely damaged with holes, deep gouges, or has buckled boards, it must be repaired prior to refinishing.

CLEANING

Following sanding, the entire room must be cleaned to remove all dust particles.  Any dust left behind will end up in the finish and change the look of the floor for the worse.

STAINING

Staining is an optional step for hardwood floor owners who want to change the color or tone of their wood. Once the wood is bare, staining the wood occurs in several applications with resting time and sanding in between.

FINISHING

Finishing the floor is the final step in refinishing hardwood floors, and it is essential for the longevity of hardwood floors as bare wood is left open to rot and damage. 

Finishing is the process of applying the coating that will protect the wood. There are three main options to consider when choosing which floor finish is best, but also consider the level of shine desired and best brand to use. It usually needs several coats to ensure longevity.

POLYURETHANE 

Polyurethane is the most popular finish possible because of its ease and longevity. There are two options for polyurethane finishes; oil and water based. Oil-based polyurethane is easy to work with allowing for the correction of mistakes along the way. It dries in about 24 hours and will turn an amber color over time.

WATER

Water finish is eco-friendly and economical with low odors and VOCs but can be less durable. Water-based polyurethane coating dries faster and stays

clear over time allowing the true wood color to show for years. It requires care while applying as it cannot be worked while drying.

ACID-CURED

 Acid cured finish is very tough over time and dries very fast, but it is a two-part process that involves volatile oils. Acid-curing can be dangerous. 

Be prepared to leave the home and not risk a spark from even a light switch while drying.

SHOULD I REFINISH THE FLOORS MYSELF OR HIRE A PROFESSIONAL?

The decision regarding whether to refinish hardwood floors yourself or hire a professional should be considered carefully. Hiring a professional provides expertize and reassurance, but may come at an increased cost. If you are planning to refinish hardwood floors yourself, it helps to know what tools you will need and what risks you are assuming by doing it yourself before you start. Remember, a professional inspection even if DIY is the plan will help inform your choice by letting you know how extensive the project may be.  

HIRING A PROFESSIONAL

Hiring a professional to refinish hardwood floors is often the easiest option. Some of the considerations when hiring a professional are listed here.

  • Experience and references
  • Workers, time, and materials costs
  • Is moving of furniture, room prep, and clean-up included
  • Expected length of job
  • How will payment be collected

WHAT IS NEEDED FOR DIY?

Gathering all needed supplies ahead of time will make the process easier. Here is a list of needed items, including some detail items you may forget for refinishing hardwood floors.

  • An orbital or drum sander (rental)
  • An edger (rental)
  • A smaller belt sander
  • Sandpaper for sanders
  • A vacuum machine such as a Shop Vac
  • Wood finish about one gallon per 200 square feet
  • Tape, drop cloths
  • Rollers and extenders, brushes
  • Repair items (wood putty, putty knife, claw hammer, nails)
  • Safety items (masks, safety goggles, respirator, knee pads)
  • Clean up items (rags, mop, shop vac, trash bags)

RISKS OF DIY

Choosing to tackle your floor refinishing project does involve risks that need to be kept in mind. Some risks assumed when a non-professional undertakes refinishing hardwood floors include the following:

  • Gouging floors
  • Inconsistent scratch pattern
  • Permanent floor damage
  • A too thin floor
  • Dust and debris
  • Skipping steps such as removing finish or filling gaps
  • An uneven or nondurable floor finish

THE COST COMPARISON OF DIY OR HIRING A PROFESSIONAL

millennial lining up

Many factors will change the cost of refinishing hardwood floors whether you DIY or hire a professional. Total costs for either can change depending on the geographic location, existing floor material and condition, square footage, stairs, and other accessibility issues, other floor covering removal, type and quality of existing coating, and the number of finishes needed.

COST OF HIRING A PROFESSIONAL

Hiring a certified professional to refinish hardwood floors usually costs about $3-$5 per square foot. For a 1000 square foot area, this equates to $3000-$5000. This cost is for the basic refinishing of a hardwood floor and does not include extras such as removal of furniture, repairs, specialty or exotic woods, premium coatings, or unexpected floor needs.

COST OF DOING IT YOURSELF

DIY can cost as little as $0.50 per square foot, especially if you already have some items on hand. If you are starting from scratch with a floor that does not need much in the way of repairs and you use an economical finish, you can expect to pay about $1-$2 per square foot. Doing it yourself will cost about $500-$2000 for a 1000 square foot area.

final thoughts

Refinishing hardwood floors is a big, but necessary job. Maintaining hardwood floors ensures their beauty and durability and will lead to a lifetime of enjoyment.  If you have the time to learn the process and time to devote to all the steps, DIY hardwood floor refinishing can be a cost-effective and satisfying process. If the uncertainty or potential risks are at all intimidating, hiring a professional may be the best way to go.