Hardwood Floor Resurfacing Vs. Refinishing: Explained

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Hardwood floors need some attention from time to time so they can retain their good health and appearance.

A common way to do so is to refinish or resurface the floors depending upon how much damage they have received and what type of repairs are being demanded.

Many homeowners confuse both of these procedures to be the same but this is not the reality.

Resurfacing hardwood floors involves stripping and repairing planks for structural repairs while refinishing entails sanding floors and applying a new finish for cosmetic enhancements. Resurfacing addresses underlying issues, whereas refinishing improves appearance.

Hardwood Floor Resurfacing Vs. Refinishing: Explained

However, there are some other major differences and important points regarding their difference and application.

All of these are mentioned below so make sure you read thoroughly.

What Is Hardwood Floor Resurfacing?

Hardwood floors resurfacing is the process of restoration of hardwood floors in a structural way through sanding and reapplying the sealant.

It involves improving the floors’ appearance and ensuring that structural stability is not disturbed.

What Is Hardwood Floor Resurfacing?

While other methods, such as refinishing, involve only superficial operations, resurfacing asks for the floors to be stripped down and repaired to give a more in-depth treatment and a lasting permanent solution.

You would be needed to resurface your hardwood floors in various situations, such as:

  • When the floorboards have become loose.
  • When there is lifting in the planks.
  • When the nails/screws/adhesive have lost their grip.
  • When the subflooring structure is damaged.

Resurfacing mainly refers to repairing hardwood floors to the point where they are taken out of the flooring structure, sanded down, stained, and then placed again.

The biggest difference is the attention to detail while resurfacing, which involves treating all the planks individually.

Moreover, it also promotes the reinstallation of nails and screws, and if the floors were glued to the surface, the process would have to be repeated, and the previous adhesive would be scraped off to apply the new one.

Once this process has been completed, the floors can be refinished/restained/re-sealed.

Resurfacing is a more complex solution used when the floor planks have received too much damage or have been refinished a few times but still show signs of damage or wear and tear.

Each plank is ground and leveled separately to make it smooth and even.

Moreover, if need be, the subflooring structure will also be paired similarly and reinstalled after repair so your hardwood floors have a solid base underneath them.

Resurfacing old hardwood floors is time-consuming, very expensive, and complex. In addition, this is a task that professionals can only complete, and you can’t expect to DIY it at your home.

Why Your Floors Might Need To Be Resurfaced?

Why Your Floors Might Need To Be Resurfaced?

Here are a few pointers which might indicate that your floors need to be resurfaced:

  1. Your hardwood floors shake when you walk on them.
  2. The floors have started to warp, possibly crowning, and lifting is also taking place to the extent where the planks are coming off.
  3. The subfloor has deteriorated and can’t hold onto the planks anymore, causing lifting, warping, and other problems.
  4. The hardwood floors have buckled and they are not even surfaces anymore.
  5. If you have engineered/synthetic wood, you won’t be able to sand it down as they are a composite material with many layers. The top layer is mostly veneer to prevent decay, because of which sanding becomes ineffective. Besides, engineered or synthetic wood is very thin and is mostly treated, which can result in toxic fumes when sanded.
  6. The thin structure of engineered or synthetic wood makes it hard to refurbish, making it unsuitable for restorations.
  7. If the hardwood floors are extensively damaged, restoration can’t help them return to their original form.
  8. The flooring has become unstable and poses threats of collapsing under your feet at any time. This can be experienced in the form of severe shaking and vibrations when you walk on the floors.
  9. Extreme movements between the boards make the floor feel like a boat on the water and deny any stability on the platform.
  10. If the floor has been sanded many times, causing a condition known as “no meat left in the wood”, where all the possible shavings have been sanded off, and the nails and grooves are getting exposed at this point. Generally, if 30% of the floor has been sanded off (30% of the thickness), you mustn’t move to further sanding or refinishing.

How Many Times Can You Resurface Hardwood Floors?

Although the type and thickness of wood determine the limit for resurfacing, the hardwood planks can generally be resurfaced around 10 times.

You can easily restore your hardwood floors cheaply up to 10 times with this technique; however, other factors might also affect this number.

How Many Times Can You Resurface Hardwood Floors?

The number of times you have refinished your floors is also a major factor in deciding how much resurfacing capacity is left in the wood.

As both procedures involve sanding, once the wooden planks have reached their limit, they can’t be sanded down again, so resurfacing would be impossible.

However, if the resurfacing procedure does not call for much sanding and focuses more on repairs in the structure and proper reinstallation, you should not worry about how often the wood has been refinished.

What Is Hardwood Floor Refinishing?

Refinishing hardwood floors is a basic cosmetic procedure to renew the finish of your floorings.

It does not involve any structural changes and is hence only a superficial procedure. Simply put, you can call it a facelift to your existing hardwood floors.

Refinishing involves the removal of the existing varnish, seal, and stain, as the surface of the wood needs to be exposed for further proceedings.

I have written a comprehensive article on removing varnish from hardwood floors without sanding that you may find helpful if you want to do this without refinishing.

What Is Hardwood Floor Refinishing?

This is followed by sanding the entire floor using sandpaper or sanding machines, which grind down the surface of the wooden planks to make them smooth even after the damage they have retained.

This also exposes the wood and makes the natural grain appear more fuller.

Once this is completed, a cleaning session removes all the sawdust and shavings from the floor, and the surface is cleaned spotlessly.

You can also clean your hardwood floors without refinishing if you are on a budget.

In addition, the floor is now coated with a fresh stain which can be of a different color to change the look.

Finally, the floor is sealed using a varnish or a sealant to add additional protection and save the wood from any unwanted damage.

As this procedure is fairly superficial and does not require any boards to be stripped off or changes in the structure or the subflooring, it can also be applied to many other types of floorings.

For instance, tile, laminate, and vinyl are excellent examples of floors that are often refinished for a better appearance.

However, the process might be different for all of them, but it certainly does follow the same principles. Another factor to note is that there is a limit to refinishing your hardwood floors.

You can’t possibly refinish the floors multiple times without repercussions; while the hardwood floors can be refinished 6-7 times, engineered hardwood does not share the same capacity and can only be refinished 2-3 times before it becomes too weak and thin.

As it is a cosmetic job and doesn’t require any structural changes, you can take this as a DIY project and easily execute all the steps yourself.

Although hiring a professional is still possible, it is optional, and you can save yourself some money by completing the project.

What Is The Difference Between Refinishing And Resurfacing Hardwood Floors?

The main difference between refinishing and resurfacing your hardwood floors is that refinishing requires the floors to be sanded down and stained at once while resurfacing involves taking out the boards, doing structural repairs, and then sanding the boards individually, followed by reinstalling and finishing the planks once again.

As a general rule of thumb, floors showing signs of scratching, scuff marks, minor dents, and general wear and tear can be cured easily by refinishing.

What Is The Difference Between Refinishing And Resurfacing Hardwood Floors?

Refinishing floors with such signs can restore their shine and original appearance with little effort.

Besides, refinishing is more complex and costly and can be done by the homeowner themselves. (Learn to make hardwood floors shine like they are wet without refinishing.)

This is because it only involves the removal of the primary layer, which is the stain and the finish, and does not require the boards to be extracted.

However, when the floors have received extensive damage and are noticeably in degraded condition, you might need to resurface the floors.

This involves restructuring the floors, and if necessary, the subflooring can also be repaired for better results. Resurfacing is lengthy, time-consuming, costly, and requires professional attention.

Furthermore, as a structural repair, resurfacing might also involve reinstalling nails and screws or changing the fastening methods for your hardwood floors.

Besides, it includes individual attention to the boards for optimum results and repairs. You are responsible for choosing the right treatment for your hardwood floors.

If you think you might not be able to decide correctly, try consulting with a professional or a flooring specialist to determine what’s best for your floors.

Why Your Floors Might Need To Be Refinished?

Hardwood floors must be refinished once they show excessive scratches or dents and become dull permanently.

Why Your Floors Might Need To Be Refinished?

Certain signs you must look for will tell you it is time to refinish your hardwood floors. These indicators include:

  • A high number of scratches and scuff marks on the surface are becoming prominent by the day.
  • Dents or dings caused by falling heavy objects, increased traffic, or pet claws do not go away after the wood conditioning processes.
  • A worn-out look that makes your hardwood floors appear dull and does not go away even after numerous cleaning and polishing sessions.
  • Spillages get absorbed quickly as the finish is worn out and can’t offer protection.
  • The floors are becoming dull and hazy, and regular cleaning/polishing sessions are not significantly affected.
  • Your floors have received an immense amount of traffic or are expected to receive much traffic for an extended time.

If you find these signs on your hardwood floors, please know these are only indicators of a new finish requirement.

Observing these signs would mean that your hardwood floors require refinishing; however, resurfacing might be optional at this point.

A simple sanding session and reapplication of your preferred stain or sealant will be good enough to counter these factors.

When Can Hardwood Not Be Refinished?

If there is too much movement between the floor planks, it is not suitable to refinish them. The first step in refinishing is sanding; due to the movement, even grinding the boards won’t be possible.

This can result in uneven sanding and textures in your planks, which is not a good idea.

In addition, if there is some structural issue in the platform and the subflooring needs to be repaired, it is not preferred to refinish the floors at this point as it might not be needed.

When Can Hardwood Not Be Refinished?

Besides, refinishing the floors with subflooring issues can result in further damage and, in most cases, would yield no positive results.

Lastly, you can only sand your hardwood floors until 30% of the thickness has been ground down. Once you reach this limit, further sanding and refinishing are unsuitable as there aren’t many wood fibers beneath the top layer to support.

Refinishing the hardwood floors at this point will also cause cracking and breaking as the wood structure is now weak and can’t bear much.

As mentioned earlier, this limit varies on the type and thickness of the wood. Hardwood is usually thicker and stronger; hence it allows you to refinish the floors 6-7 times, while other types, such as engineered wood, are not as thick and have a veneer coating on top.

Once that coating is thin enough, the boards are prone to breakage and other damage, due to which you must not refinish them any further.

Hardwood Floor Resurfacing Vs Refinishing: Estimated Cost

Type of Service Estimated Cost Per Square Foot
Hardwood Floor Resurfacing$1.50 – $4.00
Hardwood Floor Refinishing$3.00 – $8.00

The cost of refinishing or resurfacing is a major factor in deciding what type of process you need for your hardwood floors.

The budget you have for this procedure would determine whether your hardwood floors can get a facelift and be okay or need structural repairs to prevent damages of bouncy floors.

The cost of both these procedures depends mainly upon the size of flooring that you want to resurface or refinish (in square feet) and the type of materials you are getting.

However, there are other factors, too, such as the shape of the floors, labor costs, and more.

Talking figuratively, refinishing your hardwood floors will cost you around $3 to $8 per square foot; and beware that this includes all costs such as material costs, labor costs, etc.

However, you can also opt for a simple recoat rather than refinishing, which will cost you only $1 – $3 per square foot.

It won’t be a surprise that resurfacing costs way more than refinishing, mainly due to the complexity and difficulty of the process.

The process involves repairs and replacement of old and damaged boards, contributing an additional sum to the overall budget.

Furthermore, the overall budget can also be affected by the damage your hardwood floors receive. For instance, if your floors only need new nails and a better installation technique, the bill won’t be too much.

But if the subflooring needs to be repaired, the planks need to be sanded down, and the installation process needs to be done again properly, the cost of these repairs would be too much compared to the previous costs.

On average, resurfacing can cost you between $12 to $20 per square foot, depending upon the damage level and the replacement costs (if any).

However, this cost is still way less than replacing hardwood floors, ranging from $2500 to $7000 for a normal-sized room.

If you are going to replace your floor with laminate, I encourage you to read this article “Is It Cheaper To Refinish Hardwood Floors Or Replace With Laminate?” before you make your decision.

Final Thoughts

Resurfacing and refinishing are both effective repair and restoration methods for your hardwood floors.

Both of them have their own purpose and are applied in different situations. Hence, they are to be used according to the situation and one should not be given leverage over the other.

Preferably, you must not let the situation of hardwood floors worsen to the point where they need resurfacing.

Refinishing is, however, a routine process and will be required every few years depending upon the usage and the traffic received by hardwood floors.

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