Refinish or Replace Hardwood Floors? How to Determine the Fate of Your Flooring

January 15, 2019

Posted in Joshua Chapman

Refinish, refinish, refinish! In almost every case it is preferable to refinish rather than replace hardwood floors. Part of the appeal of hardwood is that it lasts so long. A quality hardwood floor can be sanded down and refinished at least six times, and up to ten times before you need to replace it. You can change the color, closely match and replace warped, stained, or termite ingested planks, silence squeaky boards, and fill gaps or patch knots. With all of these easy solutions, why would anyone choose to replace hardwood floors? Well, here are the cases when a complete rehaul becomes a better option.

How Much Time Do You Have to Refinish or Replace Hardwood Floors?

Refinishing a floor takes a lot of time. You’ll need to remove all of the furniture from the room. The wood needs to be sanded bare. If you need to make a structural or cosmetic repair, you must do so before staining and coating. During the week that all of this is going on, nothing else can happen in that room. Dogs cannot walk through and sniff everything, children cannot bounce their balls, dust is everywhere, and the smell is enough to kill you. Well not really, but you get the idea. All of this time and trouble is reason enough for some homeowners to prefer having the old floor ripped out to put in something fresh and new.

Consider the Aesthetics of Your Current Flooring

The number one reason homeowners choose to replace hardwood floors is to change the overall look. But, maybe you like your flooring. Or, maybe you’ve got plain, old, oak planks and you’d like to upgrade to an exotic species. Here are some crucial aesthetic factors to consider:

Are Your Hardwood Floors Aesthetically Appealing?


  • Fashion – Parquet kitchen tiles that once were cute aren’t very fashionable today; the modern approach involves using wide planks to make a room seem more spacious.
  • Species – The oak that is prevalent in American homes pales in comparison to designer applications of Brazilian Tigerwood and cork.
  • Artistry – Implementing a creative herringbone border, an artistic inlay or pattern warrants laying down a new canvas.
  • Direction – Many installations feature diagonal placement of the wood making the room seem more spacious.

Are you attached to the look and feel of your home, other than some cosmetic damage to some of the flooring? Then, you may want to refinish your floors rather than go to the trouble of replacing them.

Can All Hardwood Floors Be Refinished?

You may be on the fence about your decision to refinish your hardwood floors because you wonder if your floors are a candidate for refinishing. The truth is, not all hardwood floors can be refinished. Although most common problems can be addressed and fixed without replacing the entire floor, there are some exceptions. Consider the following to make an informed decision.

What Flooring Damage Can’t Be Refinished Away?

  • Structural Damage – These problems need to be addressed directly, which usually requires ripping up the floor to get a good look at the frame of the floor. If you think you may be looking at underfloor damage, you may not be able to sand, stain, and refinish your existing flooring.
  • Movement – Refinishing the floor with boards that wiggle and move around a lot will only make things worse. You’ll end up with even bigger gaps between the floorboards and an unsightly mess.
  • Severe Flooring Damage – If more than 30% of the boards have sustained damage such as warping, chipping, ugly stains, or termite infestation, the time, effort, and money spent replacing that much of the floor would be exceedingly cumbersome — a replacement would make more sense.

“Termite treatments are one of the costly pest control jobs due the urgency and great damage involved.”

-Alexander Crawley, Australian pest professional and entomology consultant

  • Extreme Wear – If the floor has been refinished too many times before, you will begin to see the grooves in the planks and nails. Even if this is only visible in some areas, sanding the wood down will no doubt reveal more problems, making replacement more of a requirement than a choice.

If you’re still not sure, consult a flooring professional who can tell you whether or not it’s time to toss out your old flooring.

How Much Will a New Floor Cost?

The advantages of hardwood flooring are limitless. At the top of the list is comparable cost over time. Although a significant investment may be required to install hardwood flooring initially, it is unlikely that you will ever have to replace it.

It can be sanded down and refinished five, six, even seven times. And, if maintained properly, you won’t have to do it for 20 years. Refinishing a floor may be messy and troublesome, but most homeowners learn to live with it. After all, it costs five times as much to replace hardwood floors than it does to refinish them. For some people that is reason enough.

Here’s How to Replace Your Hardwood Floors:

If, after considering everything above, you have made the decision to replace rather than refinish your hardwood floors, here’s what you can do.

How to Replace Your Hardwood Floors

What You Will Need to Replace Hardwood Floors:

  • Vacuum Cleaner
  • Broom
  • Mop
  • Tar Paper or Roofing Felt
  • Hardwood Planks
  • Pneumatic Flooring Stapler or Nail Gun
  • Rubber Mallet
  • Miter Saw
  • Awl
  • Hammer
  • Baseboard

Pre-Installation Preparation for Hardwood Flooring Replacement:

  1. Hardwood planks should be allowed to adjust to the temperature and humidity of your house anywhere from 48 hours to 2 weeks. Learn more about Humidity for Wood Floors.
  2. Remove any and all debris from the subfloor that cannot be vacuumed up. Check for any nails or staples left over from the previous flooring.
  3. In order to remove dust, vacuum the subfloor. Follow up the vacuuming with sweeping and mopping the subfloor.

Hardwood Flooring Replacement Steps:

  1. Install a moisture barrier between the subfloor and the wood planks. The tar paper or roofing felt should be stapled to the subfloor.
  2. Do a dry run. Lay out your wood planks, but don’t nail anything down. In addition to getting a feel for how the flooring works, a dry run will enable you to avoid sudden color shifts and figure out which planks need cutting in order to fit properly.
  3. Lay the first row of planks 3/8 in away from the wall, tongue side facing the wall. Staple or nail the planks down every 6-8 inches.
  4. The next rows should go down about the same as the first. Tap the planks on the groove side with the rubber mallet to make sure you get a good fit.
  5. Use an awl and hammer to tap down any raised nail heads.
  6. Install baseboard around the walls to finish up

For more instruction or education in the Denver area, check out Macwoods’ hardwood flooring installation classes.

Final Thoughts

In the end, the decision to repair and refinish or replace hardwood is up to you, the homeowner. Using the advice above, the hope is that you will be confident in your choice, no matter what route you take. Let us help you select the best hardwood floors for your home.

This post was originally published on August 13, 2013, and has been updated to be more informative for readers.