4 Things to Know before Refinishing Hardwood Floors

4 Things to Know before Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Photo of hardwood flooring with text 4 Things to Know before Refinishing Hardwood FloorsThe verdict is in. Carpet is out. Homebuyer surveys show that hard-surface flooring is more in demand than carpet. If you have hardwood in your house, that’s good news for you. It adds value to your home.

But not all hardwood flooring is created equal. If you have an older home, you might be able to peel back the carpet to find hardwood floors. But if they’ve been covered for years by dingy carpeting, they’re probably not the gleaming wood floors you see on Pinterest or other home design websites.

Even if you have hardwood flooring that’s not been covered up, it might be showing the effects of the wear and tear that occurs with any lived-in home. The natural response to either case is to refinish whatever hardwood flooring exists in your home. That’s fair, but here are four things you should know before refinishing hardwood floors.

It’s messy

If you have existing hardwood that can be refinished, it will need to be sanded. That sounds great, and the end product is likely to be gorgeous if done correctly. However, the in-between is very messy.

Sanding floors creates dust that you’ve never encountered before. It can be super-fine dust, hanging in the air for what seems like days. Most floor sanders come equipped with bags to catch the dust created, and your house will still be covered in it. Any floor-sanding project should include sealing off rooms in the rest of the house and expectations of a lot of cleanup afterward.

Not all hardwood floors can be refinished

If you have a 40-year-old home, you most likely have solid hardwood floors that can be sanded down almost to your heart’s content. But if you have a newer home, your “hardwood” floors might actually be what’s known as engineered hardwood.

Engineered hardwood consists of planks of composite materials with a thin layer of real wood veneer laid on top. It’s basically particle board except for the top layer of veneer.

Some engineered hardwood can be sanded, but it depends on how thick the veneer layer is. If it’s a quarter-inch thick, you can probably sand it once (even if the manufacturer claims it can be sanded twice). If it’s thinner than a quarter-inch, the veneer layer is probably not thick enough to sand.

It’s tricky

You can rent a drum-type floor sander and tackle the chore yourself, but know that going this route is one of those “buyer beware” experiences.

Drum sanders are aggressive. If you sand for just seconds too long in one spot, you risk putting indentations in the floor that are nearly impossible to remove. If you’re attempting to sand engineered hardwood with a thin veneer, sanding a split second too long can damage a floor beyond repair.

Also, you will need to rent an edging sander to go along with the drum sander. The former gets along the baseboards where the main sander cannot reach. Even so, there will be corners and nooks of your floor that you will need to sand by hand. Refinishing hardwood floors is not a quick nor easy job.

There are cheaper alternatives

If the going rate in your area for refinishing a floor is, say, $4 per square foot, it would be irresponsible to not consider a less-expensive alternative. You can get luxury vinyl tile (LVT) planks that look like hardwood for around half the price, and you can probably install them yourself.

LVT is a floating-floor alternative, which means you can put it down directly on top of existing flooring. It doesn’t need to be nailed into anything, and it literally snaps together. If you have a tape measure and a miter saw, you can install LVT.

You might have to pop off, then re-hang, existing baseboards (or install shoe mold afterward) to make LVT appear seamless, but it’s a legitimate challenger to refinished hardwood floors.

Of course, hard-surface flooring is a matter of personal preference. Real hardwood flooring can be a true dollar-added improvement to most homes. But when it comes to refinishing hardwood floors in order to arrive at that value-added feature, it’s important to consider several factors.

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