When to Refinish and When to Replace Your Hardwood Floors


You know this much: you don’t like the look of your wood floors. Maybe they are dull, discolored or stained. Maybe nails are sticking out or the space between the planks starts to look like moon craters. You want better looking floors, but what are your options? Can you keep your floors and work with what you have? Or do you have to strip them down, haul them away and start over by installing new wood? Here are a few ways to look at the problem.

Condition of Your Existing Floors

Of course, working with what you have is almost always the least expensive option. If this is your only criteria, the choice is simple. It only remains to see if refinishing is possible. Hardwood floors are funny things. It often happens that apparently deeply damaged floors only need some TLC to regain their beauty and luster, while wood that seems a contender for simple refinishing has to be replaced. Here is where the advice of an expert is important, so give some thought to consulting a professional hardwood flooring company.

The good news is that in the vast majority of cases, floors can be refinished and new installation is not necessary. Damaged planks can be replaced and seamlessly matched to your existing floors. Holes and scratches can be filled in or sanded out. Build-up can be removed. Depending on what you can live with, the appearance of stains can be brought to an acceptable level. Even the squeaks of old floors can be reduced to silence by lubricating the wood, filling the gap between the joist and the subfloor, or using screws on loose boards.

But there are times when your floors have lived their life and must be replaced. This happens when they have already been generously sanded along the years. Remember that wood can take only a certain amount of sanding in its lifetime (about 6 to 8 sanding cycles). If your floors have reached the magic number, sanding them one more time may not be an option because there is not much wood left. Oversanding can easily lead to cracking, and sanding wood floors that are 1/8” thick or less may not even be possible.

Other symptoms of floors that need to be replaced are warped planks, separation between the floor boards, exposed tongue and groove or nails sticking out. If the subfloor needs major repairs, installing new floors makes sense.

Cosmetic Changes vs. Quality Floors

Look at your “old-versus-new” choice this way. Refinishing your floors is a cosmetic option, meant to improve the appearance of what you already have. Replacing them gives you a fresh start with highquality wood that begins a new life and is given the chance to last for generations. Refinishing gives your old floors new luster, but they will still have the look of well-preserved old wood. Replacing them breathes new life into your house and may completely change its appearance.

Preserving the Original Beauty

This one is a no-brainer. If you have an old house with antique floors, you may want to keep the original wood intact; it gives the house its unique charm. If you choose to restore its luster, it is best that you do not do the work by yourself. You would probably avoid the DIY route when restoring the 18th-century painting you have found in the attic. Do the same when it comes to your antique floors.

Your Expectations

Beyond any other technical considerations, your choice comes down to this question: how do you expect your floors to look? Even when refinished, your decades-old floors will not have the new look of the ones installed yesterday. It is up to you to choose between beautifully preserved old-world charm and fresh planks.

If you are going for a modern look, prefer another type of wood of a different consistency or durability, or want to change the direction of the planks or the entire style of your floors, installing new floors is your answer.

Cost and Time

If you like your floors to look brand-new and are feeling generous with your money, go with replacing your floors: it is generally the most expensive option. Surprisingly enough, it is sometimes the least time consuming one. Installing new floors requires careful measurements, stripping away the old wood and bringing in the new. Provided that “new” means finished wood, the process can be quickly completed.

On the other hand, refinishing* requires sanding, edge sanding, filling nicks and gouges, dusting, wiping, staining and repeated coating. Don’t forget the time it takes for the top coat to completely dry. Your extra money may actually buy you not only new floors, but precious time.

*This process involves a rough, medium and fine sanding with our top-of-the-line Hummel floor sanding machines. We then buff the entire floor and scrape all the corners so it can then be either stained or finished. We include water popping at no extra charge. We do this additional step to attain a deeper, more consistent color to the floor. We then apply the stain and three coats of water-based finish with our premium plan.