Hardwood floors provide a warm, classic feel for your home. In kitchens, living rooms or entryways, hardwood flooring offers benefits over carpet, including easier clean-up and lower maintenance. Treated well, wood can last for decades.
But no flooring is invincible, and eventually you’ll need to repair or replace your existing hardwood. Both options come with a price. How you want to tackle the project and the extent of the damage will determine which choice is cost-effective.
Types of Hardwood Flooring
Wood comes in a host of colours, grains and hardness.
One of the hardest woods used in residential flooring is Brazilian cherry. Using what’s known as the Janka hardness test (the measure of how much force is required to embed a 0.444 inch steel ball into the wood), Brazilian cherry gets a score of 2,350 pounds. In other words, it can stand up to its fair share of damage. The wood has an interwoven grain with distinct colour variations from salmon to orange-brown.
Red oak (1,290 pounds) is also popular. It has an even grain and changes colour very little over time, even when exposed to light. Tigerwood, also called Zebrawood (2,160), meanwhile, has a very close grain, ranges from dark red to brown and has randomly spaced blackish lines similar to the strips found on a tiger or zebra.
Wood Flooring Damage
No matter the kind of hardwood you have, it will eventually start to look less than perfect. All hardwood flooring will show some damage due to general wear and tear, which can include lighter-coloured patches on well-traveled areas and slight separation among boards.
Stains and scratches are also common. Scratches may come from pets or children’s toys, whereas stains may be the result of spilled food or beverages. If cleaned up immediately, these stains may not set, but on softer woods they can sink in and cause permanent damage.
Burns and acid damage are also possible, and more common than you might think. A hot frying pan or baking sheet can leave a noticeable burn mark, especially on lighter-coloured floors, and an acid like fruit juice or nail polish remover can eat away the floor’s finish. This can also happen with a base, such as bleach.
Perhaps the biggest enemy of hardwood flooring, however, is water. Leaving any amount of water on hardwood for any length of time will cause it to expand and warp, which in turn makes it harder to clean and can push other nearby boards out of alignment. A leaky dishwasher or sink, for example, can destroy large portions of a hardwood floor if the damage isn’t caught quickly enough.
How to Fix Hardwood Floors
Choosing how you’ll fix your hardwood depends on the scope of the work involved and the type of damage done.
If you’re dealing with small scratches or stains, do-it-yourself (DIY) may be the way to go. Start by completely cleaning the floor with an abrasive hardwood cleaning agent (sold at most hardware stores), and then use steel wool to scrub the stain or scratch. If the scratch is deep, you’ll need to use lightweight sandpaper, but make sure to rub with the grain or you’ll make the damage worse. On unvarnished floors, you’ll have to sand again after fixing the damage to smooth the surface. These kinds of minor repairs can be low-cost, but may require a significant time investment and skill.
There are very few people who do small repairs and they are a very cost effective way of fixing small dents and scratches. Most flooring companies only replace boards or refinish the total space starting at costs of $500. Some repair the scratch or dent directly without replacing boards. This takes skill and experience with the different challenges presented. The type of wood, the colour, the finish must all be considered. The products you will find in the hardware store to do this repair normally require some experience to make the repair look acceptable. You can try a couple of them and if the colour matches you will have greater success.
If your floorboards have become damaged enough to need replacement, you may want to consider hiring a professional installer. Prices to remove and replace hardwood can run from $2 to $3.50 a square foot for installation, with an addition charge for materials. Beware of contractors who offers installation for less than a dollar because their work is often less than stellar.
Critical to the replacement process is matching your existing floor and new pieces. If a large portion of your floor is damaged, it may be more cost-effective to replace its entirely, rather than piecemeal.