Hardwood Floors- Do it youself or hire?

19 Replies

My house is built in 1925 with thick beautiful hardwood floors all through out, I was looking to hire a professional but it is so expensive when I can rent the machine for about 50$ a day. I 've seen houses with the big dips in the floor and you can tell they didn't operate the sander correctly. The videos on youtube look easy of course but is it harder than it looks?

I found a floor guy on Craigslist for my rental in CT. . He just sanded 5 painted floors, stained and poly’d them for a good price. Check there and see who’s available in your area. I also figured that I could do it but it would have taken me a long time.

@Julie N. Thanks, I check it out. I am kind of hesitant of some CL people did you call any of his references or just hoped for the best?

@Ivy Flowers

When hiring off CL: 

1. Call a few people... I would try around 6-8 (Maybe 3-4 will answer that day) 

2. Be very specific with your job... when do you need it done, what you want done etc 

3. Ask them their availability 

4. If you can send Pics/Video of your current prop and see if they can give you a quote over the phone.. or you can have them come by for an estimate

5. Ask for references... call them   

6. Do NOT pay all upfront 

Depending on how bad the floors are, you may be able to do them yourself.  The belt sanders are harder to use and less forgiving if you mess up.  If you just need to get the poly off, a buffer may work.  They are pretty user friendly.  You could also save money if you just had a professional do the sanding and then you can do the poly.  Around here, the going rate is about $2 per sq. ft for sanding and $4 for sanding and poly.  

We have a floor guy do the high visibility main floors. we do the the low visibility bedrooms especilly if they are not as nice wood , pine or a a lower quality oak where you are going to have imperfections. It will take you more time so if the floors are bad get someone. If you do make sure they have dustless equipment with the vacuum attachment it will save you a lot of cleaning.
Originally posted by @Chris Szepessy :

Depending on how bad the floors are, you may be able to do them yourself.  The belt sanders are harder to use and less forgiving if you mess up.  If you just need to get the poly off, a buffer may work.  They are pretty user friendly.  You could also save money if you just had a professional do the sanding and then you can do the poly.  Around here, the going rate is about $2 per sq. ft for sanding and $4 for sanding and poly.  

 Back in CT the company I used was charging $1.50/SF for sand and poli. $.50 a SF for stain. For the pricing I paid, I always had a company do it as it made sense. If I were paying double, I might entertain the stain and poli myself (not sure I would try sanding).

@Ivy Flowers I have done both and by far the path of least resistance is to hire someone and the professional will always do a better job. 

My experiences have been similar to @Brian Pulaski and @Julie N. in the Connecticut market and the $1.50-$1.75 per square foot is at a price point where I do not think it makes much sense to DIY.

You're most likely going to want to hire this out.

You actually need at least 3 different machines to get it done right (drum sander, edger, finish sander.)  It's very easy to mess up and make it look really bad (waves, etc) unless you're really careful.  I see this all the time and it makes me cringe.  Also the rental equipment is unbelievably messy.  You'll be trying to clean dust off of the walls, out of every crack in the house for days.

I have a really good reference in the area that I use for my floors, I'll send you the info.

I’ve done both. In the beginning when money was tighter I did them myself. This was also a rental. Now I make sure when I put an offer in on a house, i have reduced my purchase price by the amount it takes to pay someone to do all maintenance. The deals are harder to come by but my stress is lower. I think this was the transition from being an employee in my my business to being a business owner.

Post in local forums (facebook) or REIA groups in your area. The flippers know who is the best and at good prices

As a professional wood floor guy 50% of our work is from fixing home owner and the cheap guys problems. I would look for a top guy in your area cause most the time the are up to date on all the newest finish which will last you so much longer than just a typical polly you get from Home Depot. Also wood flooring companys are #1 for burning houses down out of all the trades so most pros will have to be insured where as most cl guys will not have that

@Ivy Flowers @James Maradits

If you are a DIYer, I'd say go for it!

I just did my own floors and sold my live and flip in January.  I had a pretty tough predicament, a layer of vinyl flooring was glued onto the original floors with mastic.  If you do have the black gooey tar mastic you need a diamond blade that spins to scrape it off. Make sure to rent the right equipment for your task.    Make sure to take the time to prep the area, remove shoe molding etc prior sanding.  It's worth it.  

The difficult part isn't the broad sanding but the corners and edges near the basement.  Be prepared to be on your knees for extended period of time.  Knee pads and respirators are essential.  Also dust gets everywhere so whatever means to contain it in the room you are sanding would be great.  Ventilate out.  ALSO, you may want to prioritize sanding prior to painting the walls since the fine dust can really dull the walls.  It won't be perfect but embrace the "handcrafted" imperfection of your floors.  I actually dislike the newer "perfectly uniform floors.  Original hardwood floors  over modern plastic looking wood floors anyday.  Also spend time deciding on what finish you'll be using.  Water based vs Oil based.  But this is a topic for another discussion.  

Updated 5 months ago

Also the drum sander may be 50 dollars per day, but the sandpaper you'll be going through are like 8-10 dollars a pop.

Updated 5 months ago

I meant to say "baseboard" instead of "basement" lol

@Ivy Flowers -  

Like most home projects, you can DIY, but with this one, I wouldn't suggest it. 

We used to own a hardwood flooring business and now only hire professional refinishers.  Like @Matthew Riddick  said, they have better equipment and products,  and they are (should be) insured.  Also sanding a floor (especially edging) is hard work. I agree with @James Maradits : it is a messy task so when you hire make sure that they have a dustless system.  They aren't perfect but will make clean-up so much easier.

I don't think anyone else mentioned this, but besides getting referrals, you can also check out Angie's List for recommendations.

No matter what you choose, please post pics and tell us how it went!  Can't wait to see the new floors!

Have done it in the past, have my own guys who rented the equipment and completed it on the last house.  Can make you very sore if you aren't in good shape or if you are tall.  Definitely a DIY job if someone has the ambition.  Will also agree that the job is quite messy and cleanup is part of what you pay when hiring it out.

In addition to the rental charges you will also have to buy a lot of paper so something to consider there.  If you want to try it out start with the small bedroom in the house.  If it goes fine, go to other areas.  If it doesn't go fine you can still hire it out.

@Ivy Flowers This might be a really, really, REALLY dumb question but are you sure you can refinish them?  If it's a 1925 build they might have had more than a few whacks with a sander over the last 100 years.  Those floors really do only have so much life in them.  Two benefits of a professional coming out to give you a quote would hopefully be both a.) getting a quote and b.) having someone tell you if there is enough life left in them.

When I was tearing out the old carpet in my first rental, I discovered there was wood flooring underneath. Most of it was ok but there were dark stains in some of the rooms. These were probably caused by liquid seeping through the carpet. However, I was happy I no longer had to spend money on laminate flooring since that was the plan. I'm a general contractor so I figured I'd refinish it. I don't specialize in refinishing wood floors so I went on YouTube and got an idea. It didn't look too bad so I rented the sanders (a large one for the majority of floor and a smaller one for the edges). I soon realized it wasn't that easy. The sanders are very powerful and you can easily make grooves or make depressions if you stay in one spot too long. I did my best and after some practice, sanded away most of my errors. I stained the floor afterwards. I was actually happy with the end result. It wasn't perfect but with the money I saved, I was able to update other parts of the house. 

I'm a pretty compulsive DIY guy, but I say hire a pro. I made the mistake of letting a GC's crew do an old 5/4 x 4 pine subfloor, and they did a crap job, gouges and a bad job of weaving in repairs. Leave this to people who do it every day.

As an advanced DIYer, I say hire it out. It's just not worth it. Like with anything, the guys that do it all day will do it twelve times as fast as you, and with materials and your time it's probably cheaper that way.

Two years ago I refinished about 1200 sq. ft. Had to remove peel and stick tile and mastic underneath it. The house was old as heck and the floors sloping and countered. I wouldn't do it again, never getting that time back, lol.

Either way, good luck!

@Ivy Flowers

It all depends on what you're looking to do with the property? It sounds like your personal residence?

I will give you my experience back in 2012 when I knew nothing about refinishing hard wood floors, but like you I watched a few videos and I figured it out. There are typically two types of sanders used, orbital and belt. I have only used orbital because all the floors Ive refinished weren't that "rough" and were straight. The tough jobs are the old houses with sagging floor joists. Like mentioned above, belt sanders are less forgiving. 

For instance, here is the second property I sanded and refinished. 

  • Cost of doing it myself: $92 dollars for sandpaper, clear coat, cleaning materials, etc. I borrowed the orbital sander from my friend. Add the rental price to this, however you will need a light sand in between coats. Therefore you will need to rent it for another day or two depending on how many coats you do. (This area was about 650 sq feet with two coats of poly.) 
  • Cost of hiring it out: All the above posts seem consistent in the market. In New England it averages $1.75 to $2 per sq ft to sand and refinish. So 650 sq ft x $2 = $1,300
  • Cost of not using that time looking for the next deal, priceless;)

So ask yourself how much your time is worth? Couple hundred bucks or $1,300? 

It is messy work, takes a long time to dry between coats, there is a learning curve to apply it correct, and smells really bad if you go oil based. 

My advice would be to spend your time finding the cash flowing investments, budgeting for the rehabs with you as the GC. UNLESS your focus is to only have a few properties, where you really want to be hands on and find the construction fun to do. 

Best of luck! 

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