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When Should I Refinish my Hardwood Floors?

Wood floors looking dull? We can help. Read on to see if they might need refinishing

If your hardwoods are dull or scuffed, you might be due for a refinishing

Hardwood floors are prized by homeowners for both their aesthetic and durability. Versatile and relatively easy to maintain, hardwood flooring can last a lifetime and greatly increase the resale value of a home. Depending on the materials, most wood flooring can be refinished and repaired multiple times before it needs to be completely replaced. Refinishing can keep floors fresh over and over without the expense and hassle of replacing the whole floor. Not only can you quiet creaking sections, you can update the color and look, fill in gouges or damaged spots, and in some cases even replace isolated planks that have rotted or warped. When using the right vacuum for hardwoods and other cleaning and maintenance methods alone won't get your floors up to snuff, a more in-depth treatment, like refinishing, might be in order.

While natural wood is typically the most durable, engineered wood products were developed to withstand moisture and can be more reliable in wet climates and damp environments like basements where water damage is a concern. Engineered wood sometimes has a thinner veneer, which means it can be refinished fewer times. Laminated wood flooring is inexpensive and mimics the look of hardwood, but the top surface is actually painted on, meaning it can’t be sanded. It may be an economical and low-maintenance option, but won’t provide the resilience of real wood.

Wood types vary in hardness. The Janka Hardness scale measures density, which translates into strength. It’s important to know the type of wood you are working with before determining a timeline to refinish flooring. Cypress, poplar, and soft maples fall on the softer side of the scale with cherry and teak in the middle. Oak, ash, mahogany, and harder species of maple are on the higher end with exotics like Brazilian cherry and ebony topping the scale.

It’s also helpful to know what type of finish was used on your flooring as well. Oil-based polyurethane moves with the wood and provides a warm finish. Acrylic or water-based finish is harder and more resistant to impact and scratching, but is not as flexible and is less tolerant of heat than an oil-based finish.

So when is the right time to refinish your hardwood floors? Depending on the age of the flooring and the maintenance schedule of the previous owners, you should be able to revive your floors. For sanding, most experts recommend that you have at least 1/32 inch of surface wood available. To check the thickness of your boards, remove a heating register to view a cross-section and gauge the thickness. Or if that is not an option, pull up a plank in a hard-to-see area of your home like a closet or behind an appliance or utility room. If there isn’t this much wood to work with you will need to consider replacing the wood. If there is underlying damage to your home’s frame that necessitates pulling up flooring to repair, it’s likely that the entire floor will need to be replaced. Also if the existing flooring is significantly loose or has been damaged by water or pests, refinishing may not be the best option. And of course sometimes an entirely new look is desired, maybe a new pattern, texture, inlays, or a different species of wood. It all comes down to personal preference and choice. But outside of these concerns, refinishing is almost always a practical and beautiful way to go.

Using the 1/32 inch measure as a guide, a homeowner should be able to refinish the average floor anywhere from four to eight times in its lifetime. Without major damage and refinishing only for wear and tear and to update the look, most hardwood flooring only needs to be refinished every seven to ten years. A visual inspection is the best way to determine whether specific, perhaps high traffic, sections of the floor need to be redone or if it makes more sense to do it all at once.

Knowing there are possibilities makes life as a homeowner a little bit easier, and refinishing hardwood floors can provide instant gravitas to any home. Do engage professionals to help you with decision making and with the labor. Prepare for some inconvenience during the refinishing process. Furniture will need to be moved out, children and pets will need to stay away, and the project will be time-consuming, with sanding, staining, and sealing, especially if you are undertaking some of it yourself. And then all that's left to do is to take care of your floors so they'll look like new for years to come!

Sources— Advantage LumberForbes, Hunker, Macwoods