Refinish hardwood floors vs install laminate

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I want to know which is cheaper... to refinish old hardwood floors or to install laminate flooring. The hardwood floors in the property is in so so condition, no cracks, but it is uneven in some places though. Would it be cheaper to restore it or just install laminate floors?

The cost to refinish the floors may depend on the condition and size. I've paid $2/ft, but the same guy charged another person only $1/ft. That was several years back. He said mine were in worse shape, so he had to charge me more.

If uneven means not level, then you may need more work than just refinishing. That would be needed even if you want to put laminate over it, but then the neatness would matter so much.

You can find pretty cheap laminate, especially if you catch it on sale. Cheap laminate and refinishing are likely to be comparable in price. It will just depend on what you can find in the way of laminate vs. the cost to do your specific job. I'm assuming you would do the laminate installation yourself. If you pay to have it installed, then I think the labor will make that job more expensive.

Personally, I think the hardwood looks much better than laminate. So, I would lean toward refinishing if you intend to sell. Especially on the main floor.


Hey halldandr,

There are some variables in there. You said the floors are 'uneven'? Is that wavy? If so have you checked for a subfloor issue? If you use a laminate / engineered floor are you going to lay it on top of the hardwood or are you going to pull the current floor up?

Typically laminates go down quicker and you may be able to DIY it for additional savings.

Refinished hardwood will look better if that is a primary concern. But it is time consuming and is typically not DIY.

Unless you do it yourself, I have little doubt that laminate will be cheaper. You don't say if you are going to keep or flip, so value may be more important. A laminate floor is easily damaged, and will look much worse than a real wood floor with a similar injury. If this is a long term hold, your maintenance cost will be less for the real wood.

Personally, I'm just not a big fan of laminate floors. I have been on dozens and dozens of new installations, and have NEVER seen one that didn't have some poor joints, or made noise when you walk on them. And, the base trim always looks too bulky. Real wood floors can have the same issues, but a completely different feel to me...laminate just seems, well, cheap. Just my opinion.

The hardwood is just old and doesn't need to be pulled up. The floor isn't wavy. It's just uneven in one spot. I was going to have it installed over the hardwood. Do you think it will be cheaper to do it that way or just have the floors refinished? I understand that hardwood floors will provide more value than laminate so I'm taking that into consideration as well.

You really should call some local companies and see what they will charge. They will usually give you some idea of the $/sq.ft. over the phone. And, go to the store and look at the laminate. I'm sure you can find expensive laminate that will cost you more than refinishing and that you can probably find cheap stuff that will be cheaper. It could go either way, depending on your choices and local refinishing costs. Laminate can be really cheap, if that's what you want. And is easy and quick to install.

Still not sure what you mean by "uneven". If there's a low or high spot, you'll have to fix that before you can put down laminate. But, if its low and solid, you can fill it in with a leveling compound. If its a high spot, you might be able to sand it down. But then you have to be concerned with the remaining thickness. Assuming its hardwood over a solid underfloor, you should OK.

If you mean the finish is uneven, then refinishing might be more complex and expensive, or even impossible.


You are considering laminate and you appear to want to just lay it over the present hardwood.

Two questions.

What are you going to do about the increased floor height? Will you need to trip doors or make other adjustments given the new floor height?

Second, what will the trim look like? Many hardwood floors have baseboards around the room and other fitted casings, etc. How do you expect to trim things if you put down laminate?

There are solutions that look OK and then there are some where it is very obvious that people cut corners.

John Corey

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Perspective can make a difference.

If the property is older and has a lot of original features plus the resulting charm slight problems in the level of the floor will not be noticed. It will seem more like a feature.

Major dips are likely a sign of a structural issue so check it out to see what you are dealing with.

John Corey

Go rent a floor sander for the day. Pull all your old trim off and sand it down. It will only take you a couple of hours to remove the old varnish. Unless you want a professional job, it isn't even necessary to finish sand it. Dump a couple of gallons of finish on and paint it on with a roller a few times. When you're done and it has cured, add some good wax and your floor will look like you have a new finish. I would not worry about the waves and imperfections in the wood. This character is what a lot of people look for in a real hard wood floor. I have refinished several floors and in the end, the old hardwood always looks better and has more character then the laments and new tongue and grove floors. Money wise you cannot go wrong.

Oh, make sure you go with the grain.

Hi There,

Many of the houses that I rehab have hardwood under the old carpet. In my part of the country hardwoods are the trend and a real plus for adding value to the property. Whenever possible I try to save the old floors by having them refinished. My flooring sub will sand and finish for $1.50 sf, a low expense for a high end backside added value.

I do use laminate in some instances to replace carpet over subflooring or concrete. I do this mainly in buy and hold (rental) properties or lower end rehabs to give the home some extra pizazz. I have, although, seen some laminates that are not very moisture friendly and will swell at the seams over time just from damp mopping and they will scratch rather easily.

:lol: Happy Investing!

The 'uneven' part of the floor was in the hallway. It was actually a dip in the floor caused by water damage. An inspector said we have to repair the floor joists in the hallway and the adjacent bathroom. The other rooms with the hardwood have even flooring. However, my contractor looked at the floor and said that the stains in the wood were too deep to be removed by sanding. Besides the stains the wood is in good condition. It looks like we are going to go with laminate. What do you guys think?

The stains (if there aren’t too many) can create a rustic look or you can use a darker stain to make them less noticeable.

DIY floor finishing is very possible, I had a 20 year old niece that was not all that smart and she did her floors with just the help of her just as smart girl friend. they did a terrific job and did it in just a weekend.

haven't read the above posts, but I'm sure its been mentioned refinishing is better and cheaper. refinishing the same square footage should cost less than half that, as least on the prices I pay. I'm a GC, so I get a much better prices, but if I sub out the job, for 1000 square fee I can get the floors sanded, stained and and 2 coats of varnish(with the sandings in between) for about $700 and new 8 mil. laminte would cost anywhere from $1.75-2.00 psf, cheaper if I hire guys I know by the hour. So its a no brainer. Refinished hardwood is so much nicer too.

I would never go with laminate over hardwood, and besides, a decent laminate costs me $2/foot before installation and refinishing hardwood costs me 1.75/foot. Never mind the value that true wood floors get me in a selling situation. And lets not forget if you're thinking about laying laminate over hardwood, it will be awkward and likely obvious. Fix the floor problem, refinish the hardwood, and likely it will still be cheaper and more valuable to the end buyer.

I pay 1.90/sq ft (sounds kinda high from previous posts) for refinishing and I promise you it will look way better than laminate. I just had 4 rooms done this weekend - I planned on just doing polyurethane but 2 rooms had deep stains that wouldn't come out so we went with a dark walnut stain and it looks great.

The price to re-finish will vary from place to the price we pay is kind of irrelevant...BUT...I would re-finish what I have looks so good once it's all re-finished !

My not very smart brothers refinished hardwood floors in the duplex we bought.

They had absolutely no experience and the floors turned out great.

walking into a property pulling the carpet finding hardwood bingo i just stuck gold original flooring in a property thats 40 50 60 years old says aloat about a home i try to refinish as much as i can, some times you'll run into areas you cant refinish but if you have a full home of hardwood depending on what you need you can sacrafice a closet remove wood to patch other areas or sacrafice a bedroom if need be. lets say i have a 1960's original muscle car original paint what does that say for my car although you dont know that i replaced the front door and fender from the same type of car with the same color has the car ever been repainted no

An experienced hardwood finisher can replace the "damaged or stained portion only" with ease. You may have to ask him if he did't think of it on his own.

I agree with what almost everyone above said. Refinish the floors.

You can rent a "U Sand" machine from Home Depot and you really can't mess it up (unlike a belt sander, this is lighter grade and uses 4 orbiting sanding disks). Sand it for a few hours (or get a high school kid for $10 bucks an hour) and put on a dark stain. The bad parts of the floor will look like awesome character.

I think whether selling or renting, this is the way to go. If you rent it, and the renter is stupid and scrapes a huge dent in it, or spills some red wine and doesn't clean it - just take some sandpaper, some stain, and varnish and in 10 minutes you fix it. If you use Laminate- your tenants WILL scrape their Grandma's antique china cabinet across it and ruin it. Your laminate will last 2 years. Your hardwoods will last until you sell.

Good luck!

Oh and if this is a lower class rental - by all means, paint the floors. It will take one hour, cost $40 bucks, and you'll be done.


I absolutely would refinish the floors. They will last longer, pull in more renters, and it restores it to the way it most likely looked originally. I think it is well worth the money (or time if you have it). I have done it in two of the properties I own and it has paid me back in never having even a month of vacancies in several years (in part because the floors were redone). I paid somone $2.25 sq ft, but that included stain and fixing a few places. Good luck!

Refinish the floors. I just paid $1.75 per sq foot labor & materials for a full refinish, 3 coats of varnish and buff with shoe molding.

If you go with laminate, after labor you'll be looking at right around the same price and de-valued your house...

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