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REAL ESTATE

How Much Does It Cost to Refinish Hardwood Floors?

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Applying Clear Polyurethane to Hardwood (BanksPhotos)

Few home improvement projects refresh a space like refinishing hardwood floors. Just think: Years or decades of scratches, scuff marks, gouges, and random blood stains (hey, no judgments!) can be sanded away so your floor essentially looks as good as new.

In fact, experts estimate that hardwood floors should be refinished once every 10 years -- or every two to five if they get major traffic from kids or pets. But this face-lift is not cheap, which leaves homeowners wondering: Just how much does it cost to refinish hardwood floors?

The cost of hiring a professional

Like everything else in the home remodeling world, the costs here depend on your location, your type of floor, its current condition, and (of course) its square footage. But here are some ballpark estimates if you hire a pro:

  • To completely refinish a hardwood floor -- meaning sand it down to bare wood, then apply several coats of new finish -- expect to pay $1.50 to $4 per square foot, or $340 to $900 for a 15-by-15-foot room.
  • If your floor is slightly worn but otherwise in good condition, you could get by on just recoating it without sanding. This will typically cost $1 per square foot, or $225.
  • For a custom job involving stains and other finishes, expect to pay $3.75 to $5 per square foot, or $850 to $1,125.

 

Labor is the major variable when figuring the cost of refinishing hardwood floors, because the price of skilled labor varies throughout the country. For instance, HomeWyse says refinishing a 15-by-15-foot room in ritzy Scarsdale, NY, costs $611.92 to $789.42, while the cost in Mobile, AL, is $473.45 to $608.02.

The cost of refinishing floors yourself

If you want to refinish floors yourself, you'll have to rent a commercial drum sander for about $60 a day. You will also have to buy stains and sealants, which will typically cost between $125 and $225, according to CostHelper.

While the DIY version sounds tempting, know that refinishing hardwood floors is not as easy as it might look. (And let's get real: Does it even look all that easy?) Refinishing hardwood floors can be a dusty, time-consuming job, even with machines that capture most of the mess.

Also keep in mind that you must remove everything on the floor -- furniture, rugs, pianos, wall units -- which can be difficult, backbreaking work. Then, you must cover everything in your house to prevent it from getting layered in sawdust, which will happen even if you screen off the refinishing area.

What to look for in a professional

Like anything else, you get what you pay for when hiring a hardwood refinishing professional. Whereas anyone who can rev up a sander can remove the top coats of a floor, only an experienced refinisher can control the process to create a smooth, even surface. And applying stain without drips and lines between brushstrokes takes skill.

The Hardwood Manufacturers Association advises homeowners to hire a certified wood refinisher to make sure the floor face-lift is done appropriately, says HMA executive vice president Linda Jovanovich. These professionals are tested and certified by the National Wood Flooring Association.

When hiring a pro and evaluating how much it costs to refinish hardwood floors, ask the following:

  • How many years of experience do you have, and can you supply at least three references?
  • Does the quoted price include moving heavy furniture and appliances, or will I have to pay extra to hire movers?
  • Who is responsible for cleanup after the job? If the refinisher also cleans, what will the cleanup entail?
  • What warranty does the refinisher offer?
  • How much deposit does the refinisher require, and what are the conditions of further payments?

 

How to prepare

Refinishing is a hurry-up-and-wait process. Between each coat of stain or sealant, you must wait several hours before you can walk on the floors, maybe 24 hours if you live in high-humidity areas. That lag time could put your kitchen or bedroom out of commission for days.

And even though stains and sealers don't emit all the VOCs they once did -- you can buy low- or no-VOC floor products. And if you're particularly nose-sensitive, the smell will send you running to the nearest Motel 6. So you may want to add that to the cost of refinishing hardwood floors, too.

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