Budget Basics: Wood Flooring Costs in NYC

Breaking down the costs of renovating wood floors

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Renovating can be a big undertaking, and if your project involves an entire home, flooring is an integral piece of the puzzle that unites the space. If you’re wondering whether wood floors are a good investment, read founder + CEO of Sweeten Jean Brownhill’s advice on the topic. Here, Sweeten, a free service matching renovators with vetted general contractors, lays out factors that determine how much your flooring project will cost. Let’s examine the variables one by one.

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MATERIALS AND FINISHES

Should you refinish the existing floors, or install new ones?

Many New York homes have original hardwoods that are worth reviving, but floors can reach a limit in their capacity for refinishing. If your floors have already been refinished numerous times, you might not have enough surface depth to sand down. Your GC can examine your floors and determine their thickness. If you decide your existing floors still have life in them, consider a more eco-friendly stain or finish. These new products help minimize fumes and are more environmentally-friendly. You may need to work with your contractor to ensure that you can successfully bond newer products to older floors for an even finish.

How much do you want to spend on materials?

There are endless options for flooring materials, starting at under $1 per square foot for laminate options, under $2 per square foot for engineered wood options, and under $6 per square foot for solid wood options. You can achieve the look of wood with laminate which can be installed is high traffic areas or where daily spills or dents might occur. Engineered wood, a wood veneer backed by a composite like plywood giving it stability, can perform well in environments subject to moisture like bathrooms or basements. Solid wood expands and contracts and is best in living spaces like bedrooms and living rooms. National retailers have dozens of options in these ranges and are good starting points for sorting through color and texture choices. Higher-end boutique flooring retailers offer reclaimed or bespoke hardwoods, starting at $12 per square foot.

How much should you order?

Before you finalize your order, talk to your contractor or supplier about quantity. You will probably need to order 10 percent extra to make sure that you have enough materials to cover the full square footage of your space as pieces are cut down and customized. In addition to padding your total order with extra material, don’t forget to add tax and shipping to your budget. Very inexpensive and very expensive materials ironically weigh about the same, so be prepared for approximately $2 per square foot in freight costs, regardless of whether you go for bargain or luxe floors.

Sweeten contractor Scott gave us some estimates for flooring in a 1,000 square-foot, two-bedroom apartment. If the floors do not need to be replaced, a simple job can run you an average of $5 per square foot or less. In the higher range, a project with a mid-range finish can cost $10,000 (at $10 per square foot) to sand and refinish which also includes other factors such as removal and relocation of furniture, clean-up, and protection. For that same apartment, if you’re looking to install all new flooring, you’re looking at about $18 to $20 per square foot, which comes out to $18,000 to $20,000 for a full project using a mid-range hardwood. If you don’t need a new subfloor, the costs drop to approximately $15,000. For luxury or other expensive materials, you’re looking at $20,000 to $25,000 for the full project. These prices represent all-in budgets (including both materials and labor).

LABOR AND RELATED PROJECT VARIABLES

Your contractor will be looking at a long list of variables to gauge the scope and complexity of your project and arrive at a total cost. As with all things renovation-related, the more complex the project, the higher the costs will run.

Most contractors will assess labor costs for a flooring project on an hourly basis or on a per-day basis. You may see wide variation in hourly rates; particularly low hourly rates (under $50 an hour) which may signal that a contractor is not insured. The requirements of individual buildings can play a significant role in dictating design and budget needs. Contractors who can afford to work in buildings with more extensive requirements tend to have higher operating costs that meet higher insurance requirements.

Refinishing floors requires fewer license and certification steps than installing floors. Many general contractors can refinish floors; those who install new floors have to go through more rigorous licensing and certification hoops. You might see a quote that sets an hourly rate of $100-$200 for each worker. Discuss rates with your contractor so that you can get a feel for what they think is needed and why.

*Will you encounter any lead paint? The minute lead paint comes into the picture, the requirements and costs change. If you are tearing up old floors that were built before lead paint restrictions were enacted, you will probably need to work with your contractor to decide whether you can safely remove and discard the debris, or whether you need to float your new floors on top of the old floors to avoid circulating lead paint dust during the project.

You have a fair amount of choice in deciding what to spend on some material aspects of a wood floor, but some basic renovation costs vary based on the level of skilled labor acquired and the location of the project, no matter what you spend on materials. Having a good handle on the real costs involved will allow you to better align your budget, avoid surprises, and get you that much closer to your dream floor.

This post has been revised and updated from its original publication on July 15, 2016.

Learn about the costs involved to renovate your kitchen and bathroom—or take a look at renovation costs per square foot.

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