If you find yourself in a situation where you’re called into a job to look at a floor that has a bit of damage, you’ll have to decide whether to replace it altogether or just sand and refinish it.
You’ll have to evaluate the situation on a case-by-case basis, but most of the time you won’t have to pull up and replace an entire hardwood floor. A refinish can usually fix any surface-level issues.
It’s important to keep in mind that a properly maintained wood floor can go 20 or 30 years or more before needing to be refinished. So if the floor in question was installed roughly within that timeframe, barring any substantial issues, chances are that a simple screen and refinish will bring it back to life.
If a few isolated boards have severe gouges or deep scratches that reach the bare wood, you may choose to replace them individually, as long as the issues don’t persist across the entire floor. In cases like this, you would also want to re-sand and refinish the entire floor to make sure the color of the new boards matches the rest of the floor.
But sometimes the damage is so extensive that a recoat just won’t do the trick.
An entire hardwood floor might have to be replaced if:
There are structural issues with the subfloor or the joists have to be more securely fastened to the subfloor. Read our blog about solving subfloor issues
The floor exhibits extreme movement between the boards
The floor has been refinished so many times to the point where there wood is severely worn down, the tongue and groove elements are falling apart, or the finishing nails are exposed
The boards are crowned
The floor was installed 25-30+ years ago and is past its prime
Your client wants a completely different look and feel from the floor that can’t be accomplished with a new stain or finish
Other than these few very specific situations, most of the time you’ll have no issue correcting surface-level problems with a screen and finish.
What about cupping/crowning?
If the floors are severely cupped (beyond normal, expected changes with the season), luckily you won’t have to replace the entire floor in most cases.
Your best course of action is to first pinpoint the cause of the problem and eliminate it. Cupping is caused by the wood absorbing too much moisture. Plumbing issues, air intrusion underneath a surface, and a leaking appliance are just some possible causes of the cupping. (However, if you determine that there is a problem with the subfloor, the hardwood floor will likely have to be pulled up and replaced.)
Once the problem is gone, it’s time to dry out the floor. This process can be sped up by circulating air over the floor using a dehumidifier, fans, and other tools.
Only after the moisture content of the floor has returned to the acceptable level for that species should you prepare to sand it flat. Drying out a floor can take weeks or months depending on the environmental conditions at the time, so make sure that the floor is within appropriate moisture content levels before sanding it.
If you try to sand a cupped floor flat while its moisture content is still too high, the floors will crown as they dry out, which is a problem that can typically be remedied only by replacing the floor.
Click here to read more about fixing cupping, crowning, and chatter in hardwood floors.
Managing expectations is key to a successful job
Whatever route you decide to take, it is important to manage your client’s expectations for the floor.
If they’re hoping to get rid of pet urine stains with a refinish, for example, make sure they understand that the stains may not completely vanish. In a situation like this, it’s a good idea to show them the floor after it’s been sanded down to demonstrate that the stains seeped into the wood, so some areas may remain discolored even after a stain is applied.
Help your clients understand that if their floor is exceptionally old, worn down, or damaged, refinishing it will breathe new life into it, but it probably won’t look brand new.
As long everyone is on the same page about the end goal and results, you’ll end up with happy customers and a beautifully rejuvenated hardwood floor.