Cost to Refinish Hardwood Floors and Stairs

I remember my father refinishing the hardwood floors years ago.  It was a messy job he did himself to save money.  Thank goodness today he has someone do it for him.  Knowing the cost to refinish hardwood floors is pricey whether you do it yourself or have someone else do the work, we have researched the costs involved in this home project.

It is usually $1.50-$3 per square foot if you do-it-yourself and $2-$5 per square foot if you hire a contractor.  So why is it so expensive to refinish hardwood floors?  First, let’s break down the cost if you are taking on this job yourself so you can see what you might be getting yourself into.

Tools and Supplies

You will need a floor sander to refinish your floors.  If the floors are not in good shape, use a drum sander and then a vibrating sander to smooth out the floor after using the drum sander.  Otherwise use just the vibrating sander although an edger sander may also be needed near the wall.  Drum and vibrating floor sanders cost thousands of dollars so if you are doing the hardwood floors yourself, you will want to rent one from Home Depot or United Rentals.  Floor edgers can run from $500 into the thousands so it is also recommended you rent them.

The cost for a drum floor sander is $49 to $100 per day or $187 to $300 per week.  Vibrating sanders are $13-$35 per day or $29-$140 per week.  Edging sanders are $15 or less per day and $60 or less per week.

Once the sanding is done, you can use a polyurethane coating to stain the floor.  Water-based polyurethane runs $40 per gallon and oil-based polyurethane runs $25 per gallon.  You will then need to finish the floor with a gloss or which produces the shine and runs about $50 per gallon.

Other Cost Considerations

Most of the cost to refinish a hardwood floor is due to the sanding.  Besides, renting the sanders you will need a dust mask to make it easier to breath.  A box fan is also helpful to attract the sand to the area of the room where you locate the fan.  Make sure to use plastic sheeting and tape at the entrances of the room to prevent sand and dust from the rest of the house.   Of course, a broom or vacuum will be needed for clean up.

Dust mask -$5 to $30.  The more expensive masks are also used for dirt bike riding.

Box fan – $15-$40

Plastic sheeting – $7 and up depending on the size

Broom, shop vacuum, or vacuum $5-$25 for brooms and $50-$500 for vacuums

Safety goggles – $2 and up

Ear protection $5 to $30

Cost of Going Green While Refinishing

Refinishing hardwood floors is a dirty job.  So, if you want to go green through this process first start with a high-quality dust mask and respirator.  The mask filters out the dust as you do the sanding and the respirator helps with the fumes from chemicals.  The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) studied the process of refinishing hardwood floors to determine the health hazards.  While refinishing floors, workers were exposed to higher than NIOSH recommended levels of wood dust.  As a result of the study, NIOSH recommends wearing a NIOSH approved N95 respirator.  The particulate respirator masks are generally available for under $50.

Other recommendations from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Home Guide is to purchase oil-based stains which are natural rather than being made of urethane and acrylic.  The gloss can be either oil or water based and it is not difficult to find a finish which is plant based. You can find a list of plant-based stains and finishes here.  Most of the stains will be about double the price of a less eco-friendly stain.

Having someone else refinish your hardwood floors

Whether you do-it-yourself or have someone else refinish your hardwood floors, the process is the same so the costs above apply to everyone.  However, the main costs you will be paying for when you hire someone is their labor.  A professional will take about 10 hours to refinish 200 square feet of hardwood floors.  This typically ranges in prices from $500 to $600 just for the labor.  The cost of the entire job will be $600-$800.

Remember that if you have stairs and rails, you will have additional costs so count of $3-$5 per square foot.  One of the best ways to make sure you are hiring a professional who know what there doing is to search for a Certified Professional on the National Wood Flooring Association site.  You can also search for contractors and dealers in your area.

While the costs for doing it yourself are detailed above, we conducted an analysis of over 100 web sites which included pricing for a professional to do the work.  So how much does it cost to refinish a hardwood floor in 2013 if you have someone else do the work?

Pricing varied dramatically from $1.20 per square foot in Madison, WI to $4 per square foot in Minneapolis, MN.  The average was $2.50 per square foot but one thing to consider in the pricing was the experience of the “professional”.  Note the quotes around professional in the prior sentence.  The lowest pricing we say was on an Ebay classifieds page and the highest was someone with 25 years of experience.

While reviewing the web sites of professionals offering their services, we found a few things you should know which may impact pricing.

Hidden Costs – Watch out for contractors who charge a fee for performing an estimate.  Most professional provide free estimates so you know those charging for an estimate are also likely to have very high prices.  Some companies will also charge a fee for moving furniture out of the area to be refinished .  Be sure to check whether this is the case before you sign a contract.  Depending on the distance between your contractors office and your house, you may also be charged an out-of-area service fee.

Estimates – As stated above, most reputable professionals will provide a free estimate.  Be aware of those who don’t come look at your floors before starting a job because there is a great deal of variation in cost depending on the state of your wood floors.  It may actually save you a lot of money!

Furniture – Professionals vary on whether they will charge a fee for moving furniture.  But some companies will not move any furniture.  In other words, they expect the area to be refinished is free and clear of all furniture and dirt.

Discounts – Some professionals do not offer discounts.  Others advertise they will reduce the price by 10% discounts for seniors or if you have a large area refinished (typically 500 square feet or more).

Experience – Yes, you are going to pay for experience but you increase the chances you will be happy with the result.  Note that being a certified professional doesn’t guarantee years and years of experience but it is a good indication of training.  One of the things I liked as I reviewed sites were professionals who included before and after photos of their floor refinishing projects.  Some even posted videos or different projects which provided credibility that they could do the job.

Ways to Save on Floor Refinishing

Over time hardwood floors wear down and require refinishing but the depth of care your floors need depend on the condition of the wood itself.  If you see knicks or cracks in the wood, you should refinish your floors using the advice above.  However, if your floor has just lost its shine and the wood is in good shape, you can screen the floor rather than sanding.  This will eliminate a considerable amount of the cost since sanding is the most time consuming task.

Screening involves the rental of a buffer which costs $100-200 if you purchase one.  You also might be able to rent a floor buffer at your local home improvement store for a small cost per day but the large home improvement rental stores like Home Depot does not have then available for rental.  My Dad used to keep one in the closet when I grew up and my Mom didn’t even mind him using it since it didn’t create nearly as many dust particles as sanding the floor does.  Still if you want to stain green, be sure to wear your N95 respirator as suggested by NIOSH.

You will need to go over the floor a few times because the idea is to remove all of the gloss by using abrasion pads to remove the shine.  As you go through this process, make sure you are not removing the stain, otherwise you will incur the cost of refinishing your floors.  If you have successfully removed the shine and not the stain, you will then add finish coating which makes your floor shine.