House Project Lessons – Refinishing Your Hardwood Floors Affordably

Finding the right person to refinish our hardwood floors was not an easy process, that’s for sure.  I spent a lot of hours scouring the internet searching for the perfect company.  I read countless reviews, scrolled through hundreds of pictures, read dozens of blog articles about how to affordably refinish our hardwood floors.  So I wanted to share some tips from our experience or knowledge I learned throughout the process to help others that are looking to have a similar project performed on their house without breaking the bank.

scope of the project

I love the house we purchased.  There were two things that were plentiful in our new house that we wanted to fix prior to moving in:  wallpaper and carpet.  I’ve already complained on this website about outsourcing the removal of wallpaper since I was traveling for work a lot at the time and the additional expense I incurred as a result, so I won’t spend anymore time on this topic.

When we were walking through our house prior to putting in an offer, we were told by the owner that the original hardwood floors underneath the carpet were in pretty good shape.   We were even able to validate this statement since the homeowners had left the hardwood exposed in one room because  for some reason they decided not to cover the office with the beautiful pink carpet in the master bedroom or the green carpet in the second bedroom or even the ugly beige carpet that covered our entire first floor. Luckily we had this insight from the sneak preview (see picture below from listing).  However we still couldn’t be certain that the hardwood was in great shape until the carpet was removed.  We took the gamble when we bought the house and validated that the hardwood was in great shape once the carpet was pulled up…success!

The scope of our project was pretty straight-forward.  Remove the carpet and refinish the hardwood floors underneath.  This included our staircase, which has thirteen stairs.   After several measurements, we had ~1200 sq. ft. of area to be service.  So this project was not a small feat.   Next, we began the process of researching and calling various contractors.   I quickly learned that this was not going to be cheap.  The work was labor intensive and required a lot of different tools, machines, and stains.

5 ways to Control the cost of refinishing hardwood floors

But guess what.  Just because the project was going to cost money doesn’t mean that it has to break the bank or empty your savings account.  Knowing that, I began doing everything I could to find ways to keep the cost of the project as affordable as possible.   Before I share the cost of the project and some before/after pictures, I wanted to share some tips I learned and a few I was able to use to control the cost of refinishing our hardwood floors.  Due to time constraints and the scope of the project, we were not able to use all of the suggested tips.  However, some of them are important and could result in cost savings for the right person, right project, and the right time.  They were just too important to leave out because I was not able to use them!

Tip #1 – Receive As Many Quotes As Possible – I cannot emphasize this point enough.  I contacted over 10 companies and ended up receiving 5 quotes.   The first quote we received was $10,000.  We knew the quote was high and quickly learned that our gut feeling was correct because the remaining four quotes were significantly lower.  One was $8,000 and two were between $6,500.  The final estimate we received…..$4,590.   Price was not our final deciding factor (See next tip) but it definitely was a major factor.  Imagine if we wouldn’t have shopped this service around?  We would have paid over double the price for the EXACT same service.  I cannot emphasis this point enough.

Tip #2 – Research, Research, Research – The amount of knowledge on the internet is just incredible.  Since I am in my late 20s, I have a hard time imagining what it was like for my parents to make a decision without being able to pour over reviews on Google, Thumbtack, HomeAdvisor, or Yelp.  But reviews were instrumental in helping me identify which companies were the low-cost providers with low quality work, which companies were over-priced like the first quote we received, and all scenarios in between.  I ended up selecting the vendor that was the cheapest but had several reviews that read as follows: “We were shocked at the price offered and thought it was too good to be true.  Then we saw the quality of his work and could not be happier with our decision.”

Performing research also allowed me to gauge the prices that we were offered.  There are a TON of websites that will help provide you with guidance about the cost per sq. ft. and other details about the project.  We were comfortable with the $3.75/sq. ft for refinishing based on this research.  The one thing I would caution about basing the decision solely off of the $/sq. ft. metrics online is understanding that each vendor and each project is different.  The website may have told us that we should expect to pay between $2 – $3 per sq. ft. to refinish our hardwood floors based on average prices for all home renovation projects recorded in the area.  Each house and each project is different.  For example, the average price per sq. ft. figure on these websites included the price reported for small projects (one 500 q. ft. room) and large projects (full houses, 3,000 sq. ft).  Understanding this point allowed us to be comfortable in exceeding  the average price on these websites.  You may think you are over-paying based on this metric alone, but just remember there are a lot of factors that impact the price. That’s what helped us clear this hurdle!

Tip #3 – Offer to Role Up Your Sleeves and Tear Up the Carpet- This is one of the tips that were not able to partake in since we were so focused on painting walls and finishing other projects.  Luckily though, this paid off for us based on the company we selected.  I had read on many other websites that hardwood companies will offer a lower quote if you are willing to take out the carpet, staples, and tack board.  So  we asked each hardwood company to provide us with two quotes: One quote where we performed the services and one quote where they performed the services.   The prices to remove carpet ranged from $300 to $1,200 for four of the five companies.  Luckily, the vendor we selected included this service FOR FREE and included in their $4,590 quote.  We obviously weren’t going to turn down free. Hopefully you can see how performing this on your own can save you hundreds or even a thousand dollars!

Tip #4 – Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate –  Prior to finding the company that offered us the $4,590 cost and free carpet removal, we were asking each of the other service providers about matching other providers and seeing what they were willing to do to lower their cost.  The bottom line is that you don’t just have to accept the price they offer you. Negotiate and be bold.  Ask for that discount.  What’s the worst that happens, they will say no?  The downside is limited but the upside is huge and can save you A LOT of dollars potentially.

Tip #5 – Don’t Forget About the Shoe Molding – I learned this lesson the hard way, so please make sure you discuss shoe molding with your hardwood contractor ahead of time.  In fact, this ended up costing us extra time and money after the fact.   Since the floor was carpeted, we were not able to get a look at the condition of the shoe molding.  This is something that can easily be removed by the hardwood contractor prior to finishing the floors.  It turns out that our shoe molding was in pretty bad shape and we would have been better off removing it and starting over.  We were not told this and the contractor proceeded with finishing our floors with this old and nasty shoe molding.

After the project was finished, we decided to remove the molding.  Underneath the old shoe molding was strip of crud (pictured below) that was not removed and sanded down with the rest of the floor. Luckily my mom’s boyfriend is experienced with crafting shoe molding, so we took a trip to Home Depot and spent $250 on molding.  After two days of measuring, cutting, re-measuring, and re-cutting, we were able to cover to strip on the ground and the shoe molding looks like new.  In hindsight, I wish I would have discussed this with our contractor.  But I believe this DIY aspect of the project saved us A LOT of money in the long run.  Here are some before and after pictures of the shoe molding project!

Refinishing hardwood floors cost and pictures

All in,  my wife and I probably spent about $5,000 to re-finish our hardwood floors and replace the shoe molding.  It could have been a lot worse and I’m happy I was able to use as many tips as I could.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Just like selecting the right stock, I could not have kept the cost as low as I could if I did not spend the time researching and educating myself about the process before we began the project.  I was prepared and it allowed me to save as much money as I possibly could and complete this project affordably.   The one thing I did not mention here is that if you are that bold, you can rent the equipment and perform this project yourself. Since we did not even consider that and I did not research the price, I did not discuss this in the article.   Now, the moment you have all been waiting for, the photo gallery!

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What do you think about my tips?  Did I leave any out?  Have you tried re-finishing your hardwood floors on your own?  If so, can you please shares any tips or information about the potential cost in the comments section.

-Bert

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15 thoughts on “House Project Lessons – Refinishing Your Hardwood Floors Affordably

  1. Unfortunately, I have no tips. The joys of home ownership for me do not include home improvement projects and dealing with contractors. I do it when necessary, but do not enjoy it. I’d rather chat on the internet. 🙂 It is nice, however, when a project is done and you are happy with the results. I love your new floors. They are very similar to the hardwood flooring we have in our house. Like you, my wife and I are not very fond of carpeting. Tom

    • Tom,

      Thank you very much. We loe the stain of the hardwood and it still has a somewhat “natural” look to it. Love it. Hey, after some of these projects, I understand and respect those that are not interested in performing the home improvements on their own. The nice thing about the internet, compared to the pre-internet days, is that you can receive quotes and estimates online. As you know, you can do a lot of the negotiating and comparisons without ever having to talk to someone in person. Plus, it allows you to access and receive bids from many, many more individuals.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Bert

  2. Looks spectacular! And definitely rolling up your sleeves and taking on part of the work can save a lot of money, we’re doing that right now with our garage. We were quoted something like $8-9k for some renovations in there, and decided to just go for it and do it ourselves instead.

    • Thank you very much. I cannot believe you are taking on the garage renovation. Are you rebuilding it? What does the project entail? I’m very interested because we are going to have to make some major repairs to our garage eventually.

      Bert

      • Not rebuilding the garage from the ground up, if that’s what you’re asking. Redoing the interior and converting it (ideally) into a much more livable space. Right now it’s a cold, dark space filled with spiders, random wires and pipes, and the ceiling is a mixture of ancient cement board, fibre board, and random giant holes where previous owners ran cables and whatnot through to upper floors. We gutted it and will insulate, frame some of the walls, build a level floor, and re-drywall.

        Have I done any of this before? Nope! That’s what youtube tutorials are for 🙂

  3. I refinished my hardwood floors myself this past summer. It was really cheap, just cost of sand paper, rental of the sander, stain, and poly. I think I spent maybe around 500 for the materials. I also bought new shoe molding. It took me a couple weeks to finish the floors.

    Things I learned while sanding the floors, walk behind the sander at a consistent speed and never let the sander sand too much in one spot. It will leave marks that are visible, especially after the stain dries. I have a few areas I’m not happy with! Other than that, the floors came out great. I mixed a grey stain with a weathered oak and it looks great!

    • Larry,

      Thanks for sharing your lessons about re-finishing the hardwood floor on your own. That makes sense, especially the part about a consistent speed and always moving given the fact you are trying to sand/finish your floors evenly. And also, those cost savings are incredible. I wish we would have had the time to do it, because that is a lot of extra cash in your pocket haha

      Bert

  4. That’s awesome Bert. Way to keep the cost low and good on you for doing your research ahead of time. You pointed out great tips prior to doing this home project. Actually, next year, I plan on buying another house. Who knows what odds and ends I’ll encounter, but regardless, research is the key to taking care of any issues at minimal cost.

    By the way, the after pictures look great! Congrats.

    • Thank you Dividend Portfolio. We are extremely happy with how the floors turned out. Research is key to any project and get as many freaking quotes as you can. Looking forward to reading your articles about that purchase.

      Bert

  5. Your floors look fantastic!!!

    A couple of years ago our upper level flooded due to some ice dams that formed. We had to replace all of our carpet and opted to replace it with hardwood floors. We called a couple of companies and went with our gut as well. They did a great job along the way but it was a ton of effort to move everything so they could do all their work but in the end like you it was well worth it 🙂

    • Thank you very much!! I’m glad you found the right company after doing the research. Part of the reason we had this done before moving in was to avoid all of the furniture moving that would have ensued.

      Bert

  6. Thanks for the article. My biggest problem with our wood floors is that there is a lot of gaping. And I mean a lot. I really just want to rip them all up and start over. It might be better. We haven’t priced out what it would cost and it would probably be awhile before we can do anything on the floors, but I would love to have all of the gaping fixed, like tomorrow.

    • Thank you Jason. Interesting, I guess we were fortunate that we didn’t have such an issue with out floors. I can see how that would be annoying. I would be curious what the cost would be to replace the floors or to just scrap it and start over.

      Bert

  7. I like how you suggested receiving as many quotes as possible when it comes to finding a hardwood floor refinisher. I have been looking for someone to refinish my old wood floors. Thanks for the tips on the cost of hardwood refinishing.

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