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The decision to replace hardwood floors can be one you put a lot of thought into. Hardwood floors are arguably one of the most high-quality and value-adding features you can have in your home. If you’re concerned about resale value, having hardwoods is one of the things that a lot of buyers will specifically look for, so they’re an investment likely to give you a strong return whether you want to sell in the near term or it’s just something you want to keep in mind for the future.

Hardwood floors look high-end, offer durability, and are relatively low-maintenance.

There’s a sense of timelessness, and they’re also excellent for maintaining indoor air quality because it’s easy to remove dirt, dust, and other contaminants.

There are situations, however, where you may face a choice—should you refinish or replace hardwood floors? You could find yourself dealing with this question when you’ve just moved into a new home, and the previous owners didn’t maintain the floors well. It could be that your home is older and the floors are original and simply have a lot of inevitable wear and tear, or something more significant, like water damage. 

If you have original hardwoods, you may be hesitant to replace them, but some homeowners find it’s the only option that ultimately makes sense.

Refinishing vs. Resurfacing

Maybe your wood floors need a facelift, but you aren’t sure exactly what that will entail. There are two different options.

The first is technically refinishing. It includes sanding your floors to remove the finish top layer; then, there’s staining and sealing the wood. It’s an intensive process that will take at least several days. Refinishing can improve your appearance if you have old wood that’s dull but otherwise in good condition.

Resurfacing is when you sand off the top layer of the finish and apply a new one, which tends to be less expensive and time-consuming. The old boards aren’t stripped, sanded, and refinished in this process—instead, you need to go over them with one pass of a sanding machine and apply a protective finish.

Is Refinishing Hardwood Floors Worth It?

Depending on the flooring you’d choose as a replacement, refinishing your hardwoods may be more cost-effective than replacing them, but not always the best choice. 

Refinishing hardwoods is very labor-intensive, tedious, and can take a long time. It’s not an optimal DIY project unless you know what you’re doing. There are several steps, including sanding the floors, patching them, staining them, and adding a topcoat.

Refinishing leads to tons of dust and odors, and there are horror stories about permanently sticky or tacky floors when they’re done incorrectly. 

If you’re refinishing and have deep gaps and gashes, you may not get the desired result. Also, your wood is compressed if you refinish your floors in the winter, and during the summer, it expands. If it’s cold and dry and you fill in the gaps between your boards, the filler material will probably squeeze out when it’s hot and humid outside.

If you’re going to try to refinish your floors yourself, or even if you hire a professional, things can and do go wrong. There’s a lot of room for error with refinishing.

There’s also only so much you can do with refinishing. You’re not going to get a completely new look or be able to overcome severe damage.

A scenario that many homeowners find themselves in is trying first to refinish floors, hoping it will give them what they want. Then, after living with it for a bit, they end up replacing the floors anyway, so they’ve paid twice.

When Is Resurfacing or Refinishing the Best Option?

Refinishing could be optimal if you have surface problems with your floors, like scratches or minor dents. If you like the overall look of your floors, but you’d rather have a new stain, you might resurface or refinish, and if you have a few damaged planks, you might want to refinish them for blending so everything is cohesive.

When Do You Need to Replace Hardwood Floors?

Situations, where it’s optimal to replace hardwood floors include:

  • Your planks are splitting or buckling because of water damage. You might also need to inspect the frames and subfloors below in this situation. If there’s a structural issue, your floors need to be replaced after it’s fixed. 
  • You have planks that move and wiggle, which create gaps in the floorboards.
  • You have engineered floors with very deep gashes on the wear layer.
  • Termite infestations will likely require you to replace your floors after working with a pest control provider.
  • Hardwoods can be refinished several times before they need a replacement. Still, if yours have already undergone refinishing in the past, the grooves in the planks may start to show, as well as the nails, indicating a replacement is best.
  • You might not like your floors’ look, feel, or overall texture.

Other Factors to Consider Before You Replace Hardwood Floors

If you’re weighing the difference between refinishing and replacing hardwood floors, you can also think about:

  • Your budget. Replacing your floors will be more expensive because you’ll have to take out the old flooring, get rid of it, and you’ll have to buy the new planks and either install them yourselves or pay for installation. Refinishing is more affordable, but beautiful flooring is an excellent long-term investment.
  • How much time do you have? Replacing hardwoods can be a faster and easier process than refinishing. Refinishing floors is a process, and you won’t be able to use the space for a period of time. New floor installation can be done quickly, with minimal disruption to your daily life. Professional floor installers can be in and out especially quickly.
  • Upgrading your flooring can make it more functional. For example, vinyl plank may work better for your home and family. Vinyl plank works especially well in places that are high humidity or prone to moisture. Using solid hardwood in these regions can cause warping, so you might want to get rid of your old hardwoods, replacing them with something more modern and suited to your lifestyle. 
  • You might want an aesthetic change. For example, if you have older hardwoods, they’re probably a basic oak plank. You might want wider planks or something with more character or a new material, like bamboo. You won’t be able to achieve this through refinishing. 

It’s common to assume that you should refinish your hardwoods if you want to upgrade them, but that’s not necessarily the right choice for every homeowner. There are a broad set of considerations ranging from your budget and how much time you can dedicate to the project to the look you want to achieve.

If you’d like to learn more about your flooring options, contact our staff at Dalton. We can talk with you about the right flooring choice for your needs and home and what you might expect with the installation process.

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