Hardwood: Refinish Or Replace?

Hardwood: Refinish Or Replace?

When properly cared for,  hardwood flooring can last more than 100 years. Appropriate upkeep allows the material’s natural durability to do what it does best. Hardwood floors are a great investment; they increase a property’s resale value and are easy to maintain with regular dusting, cleaning, and the occasional polishing.

Hardwood’s durability ensures a long life with your flooring. With that being said, it’s not too often that you will need to replace a hardwood floor in a home since it’s such a resilient material. Even better, there’s another option to consider before replacing the floor entirely.

Signs of Water Damage

Unfortunately, water and wood do not play well together. Flooding, appliances malfunctioning, toilets overflowing, or just nasty acts of nature and bad luck can get water into places where it doesn’t belong.  When wood floors are exposed to water, damage is inevitable.

Is the damage bad enough to call in hardwood floor experts, or will the floor recover on its own? It’s hard to tell sometimes. Depending on the type of hardwood floor you have, damage and the repair process will be different. Here are some types of water damage to keep an eye out for:

Cracking and Peeling If it only affects the finish, this damage may be repairable by simply sanding and refinishing the surface.

Cupping When the edges of each plank rise. Cupping means that the hardwood floor still has a lot of moisture in it.

Crowning When the floor has dried completely, it will usually crown or rise in the middle of each plank. This gives it a rounded, pillowed appearance. Crowning will require sanding and refinishing to repair.

Buckling Buckling is the most severe sign of water damage and usually occurs when the moisture has totally permeated the wood. If the leak isn’t immediately discovered and the water is allowed to sit on the wood for an extended period of time, it will seep in slowly and buckling will occur. Buckling is the wood plank itself warping and twisting. If your planks are twisted or bent upward, the floor will have to be removed and replaced.

So, is it better to refinish hardwood floors or replace them?

This is dependent on a number of factors. First, look at the condition of your hardwood and decide whether it’s worth saving. Are you deeply attached to it? Does it really tie the room together? Next, take a look at your budget. Like with any other project, it’s wise to get an idea of how much you’re willing to invest in both time and money before starting.

In general, it will almost ALWAYS be less expensive to refinish your hardwood floors. If you opt to replace your floor, you will need to pay for additional wood as well as ripping up and hauling away the existing floor. If the damage to your floor is minimal or limited to certain areas (due to pet accidents, water stains, etc.), these sections can be replaced and refinished without the expense and hassle of installing a brand new floor.

If it’s less expensive to refinish hardwood floors, why would you consider new flooring? Here are some reasons and benefits to getting new hardwood floors.

If your floors are very old and have been refinished many times, it may be time for a new floor. This is not referring to, say, vintage oak floors that have been dinged and scratched up. Instead, this refers to floors that have been in place for over 100 years and refinished at least five times. If you can see the tongue where the boards fit together, it’s time for a new floor. If your floors are rather bouncy and/or don’t seem very sturdy, it’s time for a new floor. This happens more often with pine floors, as pine is a softer wood. To offer some perspective, pine has a Janka hardness rating of 620, while red oak has a Janka hardness rating of 1,220.

Refinishing – PROS

    •   It’s less expensive than replacing the floors.

    •   Refinishing can easily change the color, texture, and “look” of the floors.

    •   If just a few boards are warped or damaged, you can replace those boards and refinish the rest of the floor for a seamless, integrated look at a lower price.

Refinishing – CONS

    •   Refinishing can be a messy, time-consuming process.

    •   Refinishing can lead to logistical problems, particularly if it’s a big job and you want to continue to live at your house during the process.

    •   The chemicals used in certain refinishing jobs can be irritating and can create pollution problems and inhalation hazards.

    •   Not appropriate for all jobs.

Replacing Hardwood Floors – PROS

    •   Often takes less time and leaves less mess than the refinishing process.

    •   The way to go if you want to change the direction of the wood, change the design (e.g. from parquet to regular planks), or change the species of wood used.

    •   Great if your floors are really old and decayed – or if they are soft and pliable.

    •   Ideal if budget is not a concern.

Replacing Hardwood Floors — CONS

    •   Replacing your floors can be up to five times as expensive as refinishing them.

    •   Replacement may not be necessary, especially if you only have a few boards that are damaged or warped.


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David has written and made videos about flooring products and installation since 2011 at Floors To Your Home (.com), where he is also the PPC Manager, a Researcher, a Website & Marketing Strategy Team member, Videographer, Social Strategist, Photographer and all around Resource Jito. In my spare time I shoot and edit video, put together a podcast, explore film history, and mix music (as in ‘play with Beatles multi-tracks’). Connect with  W. David Lichty


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