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The Ultimate Guide to Updating Hardwood Flooring

If the thought of redoing your floors has you pacing back and forth (thus wearing out your floors even more), then pull up a chair and relax. Sure, this is a big undertaking, but it’s also a project in which you have tons of great options, and one that can increase your home’s livability and value. So let’s talk through this project step by step.

The Bottom Line on What’s Underfoot

If you’ve even casually tuned in to home improvement and decorating shows over the last few years, you’ve seen the verdict on carpet: It’s just not as popular as it used to be. In addition to being prone to staining and wearing out, carpet is a magnet for dust and dander, which makes it less desirable to people with pets, kids, allergies, or all three. Hard floors look better longer and are easier to keep clean, and that makes them a clear favorite for many homeowners.

When it comes to adding to your home’s value, the gold standard (so to speak) is hardwood. A study by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) showed that refinishing hardwood floors yields a 147% cost recovery, meaning that if the project costs you $1,000, you can expect to increase the value of your house by $1,470. The second-best return on investment? Installing new hardwood floors, with an estimated cost recovery of 118%.

Of course, these aren’t cheap projects. The NAR study estimates that for an average-sized home (2,495 square feet), the cost of having hardwood floors installed could run $5,500, while having a professional refinish those floors could cost $3,400. But if you want to enhance your home’s livability and value without breaking the bank, you may be able to refinish existing wood floors yourself, and there are plenty of flooring options that mimic the look of wood while improving on some of wood’s shortcomings. (For example, if you live in a flood-prone or humid climate, you may have concerns about hardwood warping.)

In fact, you probably have way more possibilities overall than you think.


If you have — and want to keep — existing hardwood floors, you’re in luck, because this is the easier and more cost-effective option. As mentioned above, the cost to refinish will run you about $3,400 for a professional to do the job. (Of course, this is a ballpark estimate. Your cost will depend on the materials you choose, the condition of your existing floor, labor costs in your area, and other factors.)

Step 1: Sand

The first step of the process is to sand to remove the current stain and finish. This process has evolved significantly to be less intrusive and messy than it used to be, which is a huge benefit if you will be living in your house while the floors are done. Modern sanding equipment produces less dust, so you won’t have to empty cabinets and closets.

Step 2: Stain (optional)

If you’re keeping your wood the same color, you will then move on to sealing it. (More on that later.) But if you want to stain your floors to a new color, be sure you test the stain in several different discreet spots to see how the finished floor will look. Different woods absorb stain very differently, so the color your neighbor used on his oak floors won’t necessarily look the same on your maple wood.

Step 3: Seal

Once the sanding and staining are over, there are two polyurethane (poly) finishing options to seal your floors: oil-based and water-based. Oil-based poly is less expensive, but it has a very strong odor, a longer drying time, and has the potential to yellow over time. In fact, the noxious fumes of oil-based poly require use of a respirator while applying it, and residents and pets should stay out of the house while the finish is being laid. The smell may linger for some time after.

Water-based poly has been perfected to now be as strong or stronger than oil-based while being more environmentally friendly. People and pets can stay in the house while the finish is being applied, and because of the shorter drying time and less fumes, multiple coats can be applied in one day. Best of all, the floors can be walked on (in socks, not shoes) within 4-6 hours after the last coat. And while water-based poly is more expensive up front, it creates a floor that’s easier to maintain: Just buff and recoat worn areas, with no sanding needed. Most owners are now opting for water-based poly because of these advantages.


If you’ve decided you want to replace your flooring, you have a wide array of options from choosing a new hardwood to going with a less expensive fabricated option.

Flooring TypeWhat It IsProsCons
HardwoodSolid wood finished with polyurethane ·  Adds most value to home
·  Long lasting
·  Can be refinished multiple times before wearing down
·  Expensive
·  Can be damaged by water
·  May be prone to scratching (depending on finish)
Engineered WoodThin layer of hardwood over high-quality plywood·  Best mimics look of hardwood (because of top layer)
·  Easy to DIY
·  More water resistant than hardwood
·  Only stands up to one refinishing
·  May fade over time
·  Variable quality
LaminateFiberboard flooring topped with a clear plastic layer·  Less expensive than wood or engineered wood
·  Easy to clean
·  Wide variety of colors and styles
·  Can be damaged by water
·  Chips easily
·  Doesn’t mimic look of wood as well as other options
Luxury Vinyl Planking (LVP)Synthetic polymer flooring that comes in planks and mimics the look of wood·  Durable
·  Water- and fade-resistant
·  Easy to maintain
·  Some brands more expensive than laminate
·  Lower ROI than wood

When it comes to color and finish, you’ll face almost as many choices as if you were shopping for carpet. Cherry, oak, and maple are timeless classics, but newer woods are offering a wider range of options. Bamboo is light in its natural finish but can be stained darker, wenge is dark brown, and Sydney blue gum is (oddly enough) a deep, reddish brown.

What About Carpet?

If you’re going to be in your house awhile and really want carpet, go for it! Just note that it likely won’t add to your home’s resale price. Bad carpet will drag a home’s asking price down, but new carpet won’t necessarily net a higher price.

The bottom line? With all these options, there’s no reason to feel down when you look down.




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