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refinishing wood floorsGareth Brown, Corbis

Wood floors can be striking when they're in good shape. But over time, even the most sturdy hardwood floors can become dull and dingy. Years of wear and tear can leave unsightly nicks and scratches too. Refinishing wood floors is sometimes the only option.

So the question is: should you hire it out or do it yourself? Let's weigh the cost difference and see which approach is right for you.

There's no denying it: refinishing wood floors is a messy and time-consuming task. There are four phases involved: prep, sanding, staining, and sealing.

The messiest part is, by far, the sanding. It kicks up a ton of saw dust, and cleaning up all that dust becomes a job in and of itself. Plus, sanding an entire floor can take up to 4 hours --and then there's the sealing process. You'll have to wait 3 hours for each coat of polyurethane sealant to dry (Most floors require at least 3 coats to achieve best results), and up to 3 days before you can move furniture back into the room and walk on the floors again.

Needless to say, homeowners sometimes choose to save time and labor by hiring flooring professionals, who arrive with all the heavy tools and supplies they need to work. Of course, you'll end up paying for such convenience: about $2,000 for 400 square feet. It's a lot to shell out when you consider that refinishing wood floors -- for all its inconveniences -- requires little technical skill and can be accomplished by even a novice DIYer.

So you're game to refinish your floors yourself? If you've got the patience, go for it: your wallet will thank you.

Tool Rentals:
It's unlikely you'll refinish your floors more than once every 7 to 10 years, so it makes little sense to actually buy the pricey equipment required for sanding. Most homeowners choose to rent the specialty equipment at The Home Depot and purchase the more standard tools. DIY floor refinishing will run you in the neighborhood of $250 all told.

Drum sander: This large machine handles the bulk of the sanding $40 to $50 per day
Edge or orbital sander: This handheld power tool lets you tackle tough spots and tight corners. $20 to $30 per day

Tool & Material Purchases:
If you don't already have the following tools in your toolbox, it's wise to invest in them. You'll end up needing them them for various tasks around the house:

Claw hammer: We suggest an Estwing, which consists of a single piece of metal with a rubbery grip: $22 for a standard 16 oz. hammer
Nail set: You'll need to countersink nails pops in the floor. For best results, use your hammer to strike the blunt end of a metal nail set. $2.50 for a single nail set; $6 for a set of 3.
Paint rollers and extension pole to apply varnish: Roller covers are inexpensive; $4 to $7 per pack. A pole will be anywhere from $5 to $40, depending on length and material.
Water-based polyurethane clear varnish: $8 to $10 per quart. Wood stain, which is optional, is about the same price.
Shop vac: More powerful than your standard vacuum cleaner, this machine will make short work of all that saw dust: $70 to $160.
Painter's rags: They're optional, but helpful for anything your shop vac missed: $4 to $11 per pack.

So, what's the right approach for you?

Watch this video to see some refinishing tools in action!


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