September 12, 2022

Hardwood Floor Refinishing 101 – What Every Homeowner Should Know

One of the things most homeowners love about their hardwood floors is their beauty and elegance when first installed. Their timeless appeal is something that’s attractive to nearly everyone and certainly adds value to your home. But over time, hardwood floors can begin to show signs of wear and tear, taking away from their natural beauty. This is why refinishing hardwood floors every so often is important. Plus, hardwood floor refinishing can also prevent more serious damage from occurring that may require flooring replacement. This is why any homeowner with hardwood floors should have a good understanding about the refinishing process. With a sound knowledge of what hardwood flooring refinishing entails, you can make better choices about how you approach it. With this in mind, the following provides important details to consider when refinishing hardwood floors in your home. 

How Often Should Hardwood Floors Be Refinished? 

Knowing when you should consider refinishing hardwood floors varies on many factors. Naturally, the age of your floors and the number of times they have been refinished in the past affect this decision. Most of the time, hardwood floor refinishing sands away about 1/16” of a solid hardwood plank’s thickness. Thus, thinner planks will be able to tolerate fewer refinishes. On average, a 3/4” thick solid hardwood planks can be refinished 4-6 times during its lifespan. In contrast, an engineered hardwood flooring, which is layered and not solid, may only tolerate a single refinishing. In this regard, checking the manufacturer’s guidelines is important. 

Assuming you have solid planks, hardwood floor refinishing generally occurs every 7-10 years. Of course, this too varies based on traffic in your home, hardwood damage, and the presence of discolorations. In most cases, dents, scratches and water stains are indications for refinishing hardwood floors. The same is the case for sunlight damage that has caused fading, especially in an uneven fashion. When hardwoods start showing these types of blemishes, it’s best to go ahead and think about refinishing. Not only will this restore your hardwood floor’s beauty, but it can also prevent damage that may be irreversible. 

What’s Involved in Hardwood Floor Refinishing? 

As you might have guessed, hardwood floor refinishing is a multi-step process that requires extensive preparation. In essence, refinishing requires stripping the outer protective coating off your hardwood floors. It also then sands down below the surface in an effort to recreate a smooth surface that’s elegant and ready for staining. Because of this, refinishing hardwood floors makes a dusty mess that requires protecting yourself and the rest of your home. That means that not all air ducts, windows, doorways and A/C units should be covered with plastic. But it also means anyone involved should wear protective eyewear and face masks. And of course, before getting started, everything in the room must go. That means furniture, curtains, pictures and baseboard flooring trim. 

Once the room is prepped where you’ll be refinishing hardwood floors, it’s important to identify any protruding nails that might damage the sander. These are generally driven into the hardwood using a nail set. Likewise, a large drum sander and handheld detail sander is required, which is best rented. Several sanding passes are made using medium-to-light and coarse-to-fine sanding pads. After clean-up, your hardwood flooring will then be ready for staining (if desired) and sealing. Several options for sealants exist, ranging from polyurethane to varnish, that offer different pros and cons. Once dry, you will have successfully finished refinishing hardwood floors in your home. And generally speaking, you can expect this entire process to take 3-5 days. 

When to Refinish and When to Replace 

Before deciding to take on such a big project as refinishing hardwood floors, it’s important to determine if replacement is needed. If scratches and dents are too deep, then sanding and hardwood floor refinishing may not be the answer. Likewise, as noted, if the type of hardwood flooring lacks thickness, refinishing may be a poor choice. The same applies if your hardwood floors have already been refinished multiple times already. In these instances, it’s worth getting a professional opinion before committing to a refinishing project. This would be money and time well spent if any doubts are present. 

In addition to these issues, there are some tell-tale signs that refinishing hardwood floors isn’t the best choice. For example, hardwood stains that are excessively dark or black from water damage generally cannot be repaired by hardwood refinishing. The same is true when hardwood planks show cupping, gaps, and splits. No amount of sanding and refinishing will solve these problems, and plank or entire flooring replacement should be explored. Obviously, the best approach is to invest in hardwood refinishing before such damage occurs. But if that’s not the case, then you should invest in flooring replacement rather than an unrewarding refinishing project. 

DIY or Hiring a Professional? 

In this day and age, it’s pretty simple to access the information you need for most DIY projects. This is certainly true when it comes to refinishing hardwood floors as many DIY tutorials and videos exist. But watching hardwood refinishing on YouTube isn’t the same as having hands-on experience. And it’s not uncommon at all for a refinishing project to go south fast. From flooring damage from a drum sander, to uneven staining, to improper sealant applications, errors occur regularly. In these instances, the money spent on the DIY project is lost. And extra costs are then incurred to fix the additional damage in addition to refinishing the flooring. 

This is not to say that homeowners might not be able to be successful in refinishing hardwood floors in their home. However, it’s hard to beat the experience and expertise of a flooring professional trained in hardwood floor refinishing. Plus, in most instances, the cost-savings from a DIY effort is not that impressive. Regardless which choice you make, it’s important to regularly plan hardwood floor refinishing in your home. By investing in refinishing hardwood floors periodically, most floors will retain their beauty for as much as a century. And that’s pretty impressive for any type of flooring.