Replacing your flooring at home? Here, Sweeten reviews modern flooring options and their costs, so you can plan and pick wisely!
“After” photos by Lena Yaremenko for Sweeten
Renovating can be a big undertaking, and if your project involves an entire home, flooring is an important piece of the puzzle that unites the space. But when there are so many flooring options and costs, how do you pick one?
Here, Sweeten lays out the different options for flooring, plus factors that determine how much a project for flooring will cost. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection— for free.
Let’s examine the variables that go into flooring options and costs, one by one:
How much will my reflooring project cost?
- If the floors do not need to be replaced, a simple refinishing 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 per square foot) to sand and refinish which also includes other factors such as removal and relocation of furniture, clean-up, and protection.
- If you’re looking to install all new flooring, you’re looking at about $15 to $20 per square foot, for a full project using a mid-range hardwood.
- If you don’t need a new subfloor, the costs will be lower.
- 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 other project variables
Your contractor will be looking at a long list of variables to gauge the scope and complexity of your project and provide 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). A low rate may signal that a contractor is not insured.
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. Some contractors may prefer to charge based on square footage. Sweeten contractor Thomas tells, “We typically charge about $4 per square foot for installing vinyl tile, for example, but if it’s very thick we may charge closer to $6-8 per square foot. The thicker the vinyl, the closer it becomes to a normal tile. This is because the thicker tile (whether vinyl or regular) requires it to be ‘back buttered,’ which is applying glue on the back of the tile, as well as on the floor.” More work equals a higher cost.
- 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.
Options for flooring: Materials and finishes
Are you starting from scratch, or rehabbing existing floors?
- Many 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.
- If you are working with engineered wood flooring, make sure to consult the manufacturer on whether sanding/refinishing is recommended.
- Other materials, such as laminate, resilient (vinyl or linoleum), cannot be refinished if damaged. Chipped tile can be replaced, but only if you can find a match!
How much do you want to spend on flooring materials?
Wood/engineered wood flooring & costs
There are endless options for flooring materials, starting at $1 per square foot for laminate options, under $3 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 in 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 offer color and texture choices at starting price points. Reclaimed or bespoke hardwoods at boutique outlets start at $12 per square foot.
Bamboo flooring options & costs
Although actually a grass, bamboo looks natural and warm, endures light to medium wear, and is easy underfoot. Most bamboo flooring is made of a bamboo veneer attached to a backing such as plywood or MDF.
Be mindful of quality. Bamboo gets treated with many chemicals to turn it into a material suitable for flooring, so off-gassing can be a factor. Also, this relative newcomer to flooring has many manufacturing sources and quality control is not yet highly regulated. Investigate thoroughly, as with any product you bring into your home. Sweeten contractor Thomas tells us that bamboo typically runs from $8 to $15 per square foot.
Laminate flooring options & costs
Similar to laminate countertops, laminate flooring is composed of dense fiberboard topped with a photographic image of real wood (or other material) and then topped with a clear protective layer.
It tends to resist light scratching and fading from sunlight. Many manufacturers have incorporated a sound-muffling material underneath, like cork, to prevent that recognizable hollow sound.
With no glue or nails, these floating boards connect by an interlocking tongue and groove design. The boards don’t need to be joined to a subfloor, and can be installed over an uneven surface as long as it’s sealed and remains dry. Laminate typically runs from $1 to $5 per square foot.
Note: Laminate wears well, but like wood, it won’t withstand prolonged exposure to water; plus, it’s slippery when wet. Also, it’s not possible to refinish linoleum! If there’s damage, you’ll have to replace the entire board so order extra to have an exact match if needed.
Resilient flooring options & costs
Mostly vinyl falls into this category, but there’s also linoleum. As the term “resilient” indicates, this flooring is easy on humans when little ones fall or adults who stand for long periods. It also handles a lot of wear or sunlight and resists stains from food and drink spills as well as crayons and magic markers. Pricing for resilient (vinyl & linoleum) can vary widely, and runs from $3 to $25 per square foot.
Recent advances in manufacturing have improved the performance for this material . You can now find vinyl that infuses the surface with cultured diamond particles for increased protection against dents, scratches, scuffs, and stains. Better HD printing allows it to look like wood or tile but on close inspection, you’ll know it’s vinyl. Its faux effects, however, can be part of its fashion-forward appeal. Vinyl remains probably your thriftiest choice, depending on the pattern.
Linoleum is a popular flooring option, due to its range of saturated colors or marbled effects, resiliency, slip resistance, and everyday wear. It comes in sheets, for an almost seamless appearance, as well as tiles if you want a classic checkerboard or just like that look. Because linoleum is made of linseed oil and other naturally-sourced materials, it is marketed as a “green” flooring choice. However, it requires chemicals to arrive at the finished, manufactured product; so understand its off-gassing and VOC ratings.
Note: They both wear well but can’t be refinished. Buy extra in case of repairs so you can match the area you need to patch.
Tile flooring options & costs
Between ceramic and porcelain, the latter is the harder of the two and is better at handling a lot of foot traffic. Completely resistant to fading, scratches, and moisture, tile is good for a busy household. Until children are old enough where toddling and falling is not an issue, use a rug in areas where little ones congregate. Many tiles are also slip-resistant. Tile ranges from $3 to $25 per square foot, depending on the material and its construction.
Note: Dishware will break on this super-hard surface, and tile can crack if not installed by a pro on a perfectly smooth surface.
How much flooring 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. Prepare to add approximately $2 per square foot in freight costs to your budget, regardless of whether you go for bargain floors or luxe floors.
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 started, discuss the options with your contractor. Can you safely remove and discard the debris? Or will you 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 the various types of flooring materials. Some basic renovation costs vary based on the level of skilled labor required 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.
Adding soundproofing can bring an element of zen and privacy to your home. Read more on keeping the noise at bay.
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