Hardwood flooring is expensive, but on the bright side, it’s an investment. According to a 2021 report from the National Association of Home Builders, hardwood floors in the main-level living room area are among the top-10 features homebuyers are seeking.
There are a lot of factors to consider for this project, from the cost of labor and installation to the price of materials. You may be dreading figuring out your hardwood flooring cost per square foot, but the expense may be worth it. Chances are, you aren’t just giving you and your family a nicer home, you’re making it easier to sell your home someday.
Meanwhile, you may be able to save some money on hardwood flooring costs using these strategies (knock on wood).
How Much Does Hardwood Flooring Cost?
According to remodeling site Fixr.com, the national average cost to install hardwood floors ranges from $2,800 to $6,400 for a 200 square-foot room.
However, there are a lot of variables that factor into hardwood flooring costs:
— The cost of living in your area.
— The type of wood flooring.
— The size of the room or rooms.
— The size of the wood, including thickness and the width of the planks.
— The cost of labor.
— The supply chain: a big consideration since certain types of wood flooring may be hard to come by these days, which could drive up the price.
Also remember that contractors only provide an estimate. With the price of wood continually going up, the estimates you receive are probably ballpark figures. In general, lumber prices have soared during the pandemic. In 2017, for every 1,000 board feet of lumber (a board foot is 1 square foot, 1 inch thick), you’d pay a little less than $200 on average, according to Fastmarkets.com, a cross-commodity pricing agency. In 2021, that 1,000 board feet of lumber went above $1,600. It’s lower now, but hovering around $1,200.
That said, hardwood flooring costs were on the rise long before the recent supply chain woes, according to Sean Chapman, a professional carpenter in Eugene, Oregon, and the founder of Tools & Goods, a website focusing on the right tools for do-it-yourself projects.
“As for the rise of the prices for hardwood flooring, it started in 2000 due to the lack of large trees for cutting down,” Chapman says.
And as for how to save on hardwood flooring costs, here are some strategies from experts:
— Comparison shop.
— Install your own hardwood flooring.
— Do some of the project yourself.
— Compare flooring materials.
— Refinish existing hardwood floors.
Comparison shopping is a hassle, and it takes time. But it’s worth gathering quotes from several contractors or more than one home improvement store.
As for finding a contractor, consult your friends and family. Read contractor reviews, and pay attention to how the reviews generally trend. Are there more positive reviews than negative ones? And does the company respond to comments in a polite and professional manner?
Bottom line: Before hiring someone to install your hardwood flooring, make sure you’ve vetted the contractor carefully.
Install Your Own Hardwood Flooring
If you can do it yourself, you can find a lot of ways to save money, says James Walton, a Queens, New York-based resident who runs the blog WoodRouterGuru.com.
Of course, you don’t want to spend a lot of money on flooring materials, install it yourself and discover that the floors are uneven — and that you’ll need to hire a competent professional to do the job right.
But Walton says that if you’re skilled in home improvement projects, you should consider buying unfinished hardwood boards.
“Buying unfinished hardwood boards will allow you to buy more boards for less money and will be easier to work with than finished wood,” Walton says. “If you have access to a local sawmill or lumberyard, they may cut up some old 2x4s into half-strips that can then be used as subflooring underlayment. You could also use plywood instead of OSB sheets.”
Those are oriented strand board sheets, an engineered wood made of pressurized wood strands and adhesives. If you’re starting to get lost already, you probably want to hire a contractor.
Do Some of the Project Yourself
Chapman points out that you can bring some of your labor costs down if you remove the furniture in the room before your contractors arrive — and even more if you remove the old flooring before the professionals get to work.
But consult with your contractor to find out if the amount you’ll save is worth the time and effort.
Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’ll be cheaper to simply install new flooring over old flooring, cautions Adam Graham, a construction industry analyst at Fixr.com.
“The labor costs to prepare and secure the existing flooring end up costing similar to that of removing it,” he says.
Compare Flooring Materials
Flooring experts say it’s important to know what type of hardwood flooring you want as well as where prices tend to fall for that material.
“There are two main types of wood that make up most hardwood floors — solid, also known as tongue and groove, and engineered,” Walton says. “Solid floors consist of one piece of wood with no joints between boards, while engineered floors have thin strips of plywood glued together to create an attractive look.”
Solid hardwoods typically cost more than engineered options because they require less work during installation, Walton says, adding that they also tend to last longer than engineered flooring.
“The downside to this type of flooring is that it requires skilled labor for installation, which makes (it) very costly compared to engineered products,” Walton says.
Beyond solid and engineered hardwoods, there are other factors to consider:
Thickness. Consider the size of the wood. “The thicker the wood, the more lumber is needed. The most common thickness is three-quarters of an inch, however it is possible to get hardwood flooring which is only (5/16 of an inch),” Graham says.
The wood. You’ll pay more for some woods than others based on supply and demand.
“One of the most affordable materials is pine,” Graham says. Pine generally costs between $1.25 and $2.10 per square foot. “Whereas at the other end of the scale is teak, which costs roughly $8.75 to $12.50 per square foot,” Graham says. Pine is cheaper because it’s more plentiful, while teak fetches a high price because it’s in demand — customers like its durability and the fact that it’s pest- and rot-resistant.
Finish. Another major decision to make about your wood flooring project is the type of finish.
“The finish is always necessary to protect the material from damage such as moisture, scuffs and scrapes. You can purchase your floor material with a manufacturer’s finish already applied,” Graham says. “If you decide to add it yourself, the most cost-effective finish is polyurethane, which costs $2 to $3 per square foot.”
There are a lot of finishes to choose from, such as water-based polyurethane and oil-based polyurethane and wax finishes. You’ll want to research finishes and consider your preferences. For instance, water-based polyurethane can make a wooden floor look like maple wood, while an oil-based polyurethane has an amber sheen. Some people love the look of a wax finish, but it doesn’t always hold up in an area with heavy foot traffic.
Style. How you install the wood flooring adds to the cost. For instance, Graham says click-and-lock is the least expensive option. For a 300-foot room, you might spend $3,000 to $4,200 using click-and-lock flooring, which doesn’t require glue or nails and is relatively easy for a contractor to put together. Graham says that parquet, a pattern formed from wood tiles, is more expensive because it is harder to install. Parquet might knock up the price of installation another $300.
Refinish Existing Hardwood Floors
Finally, the cost to refinish hardwood floors is far less than installing a new hardwood floor, but it isn’t cheap.
HomeAdvisor.com, for instance, says the average cost to refinish hardwood floors will generally run you between $3 and $8 per square foot.
Still, there are a number of strategies to save on refinishing costs. You can do the work yourself, of course, which means sanding, staining and applying a water- or oil-based polyurethane. You’ll likely spend in the low hundreds on stain and oil-based polyurethane. If you purchase a sander, that will set you back another hundred or less, depending on the brand and model.
But even if you hire a professional, moving the furniture yourself then sweeping and cleaning the floor may help you save on labor costs. Still, it’s a good idea to work that out in advance with your contractor. That really is the secret of saving money on hardwood flooring costs: Long before you run your credit card through a device or write a check, first do a lot of preparation. In other words, you need a really good floor plan.
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Update 02/02/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.