And the $64,000 Question IS…..
I have been operating a hardwood floor company since 2001 and even before then, the phrase “What’s your per square foot price” has been a popular consumer phrase for getting ballpark costs. I am not here to suggest a new pricing model for the industry, but rather to investigate the pricing of a refinish that is worthy of value for a consumer.
Exactly what goes into creating a really good sand job?
Pricing in general is made up of two primary variables: Materials and Labor Cost. I GREATLY encourage consumers to investigate floor finishes as they are one of the primary expenses on the material side of a project. I have written about that in great length and even created a video explanation. The labor side holds a few greater considerations that impact price that isn’t often put front and center:
Contracting is serious business and hopefully everything goes well, but products and techniques change and become outdated quickly. In fact, some floor finish manufacturers regularly review and revise application instructions for their products in order to improve job site performance. Sometimes manufacturers work with professionals at various trade organizations on joint studies and then release the findings. Although it may seem atypical, the wood flooring products industry is constantly changing and improving techniques. Being in top of trends for wood floors is no different than a CPA learning new annual tax laws; it requires time and often travel costs to attend industry conferences and educational trainings. While this is perhaps more optional for the wood floor contractor than the CPA, keeping your brain stocked full of information and a deep network of contacts is essentially like buying an insurance policy against job site problems. Considering that problems with floors tend to displace homeowners for days or weeks at a time, you might do well to hope for someone whose costs are reflective of being regularly educated rather than a bottom number.
While contractors are hopefully engaging in education to be problem free and quality consistent, we know that people are not always 100% perfect and must plan for problems that could arise. For example, if I was to refinish your floors and do everything properly, but suddenly there was an issue with a loose board that created a problem with the finish peeling, I feel I should help resolve the issue. Perhaps some people would argue that it isn’t my fault, but honoring the longevity of workmanship and quality carries with it the need to respond and address unknown issues accordingly even at my own cost sometimes. Planning for this liability and having a slightly higher cost allows good contractors to maintain operating reserves to fix problems promptly rather than being stripped of the resources to react. If you walk on your new floors with golf shoes though, it’s not my fault 😉
Insurance, Memberships, Licensing Fees
Operating a fully legitimate contracting business costs hundreds, to thousands of dollars in overhead monthly when you average insurance, bond, and licensing fees. Throw in worker’s compensation fees, payroll taxes, and costs to join organizations and you see that those essential fees add to costs in our business. However, all of these costs really do add up but they protect consumers in the event of a problem. Because of my involvement and relationships with contractors nationwide I hear stories all of the time about problem jobs. States without licensing requirements have lower average costs to refinish wood floors, but also the homeowners have very little chance to seek retribution outside of a court room. Licensing is a good thing because it provides opportunities at lower costs for things like arbitration and recommendation of remedial action by appointed professionals in the trades.
There are additional costs to labor that are specific to sanding sequence. While all of that gets a little involved to be really interesting it adds to time required for a job. And as the old saying goes, “Time is money”. What I will do though in this final segment is give a pretty accurate profile on nationwide average floor refinishing prices and give you my thoughts on what you’re getting for the price:
Hardwood refinishing cost list
- $1.00-1.25/sq foot- These are definitely your trunk slamming guys that you’ll probably never see again once you hand them a check, assuming they don’t only work on cash. They’ll probably show up in a 70’s van with blacked out windows and an oil leak. You’ll probably get a quick one cut sanding with a rough grit followed by fast screening with a buffer to smooth out the floor a little. Because time is of the essence, they’ll thrown on a quick hot coat of 45 min dry sealer and final coat quickly with $10/gallon polyurethane. The upside is that things will look a little better. The downside is that you’ll probably wear through the finish in six months especially if you have children or dogs. Don’t complain about debris or they’ll probably charge extra for that.
- $1.50-2.00/sq foot– This is about the starting point for any contractor with even the most basic skill set who just bought a belt machine at your local pawn shop. It’s a crapshoot if they have any insurance and licensing. Odds are pretty good at this pricing that you’ll be getting a two coat system of standard polyurethane that’ll hold up for a couple of years. It’s really not a bad value if you only want to list your house in a modest priced neighborhood.
- $2.25-3.00/sq foot– Once you hit this pricing your contractor is likely to be a pretty reasonable and all around qualified guy. For this cost the odds are he’s up to speed on local licensing and insurance if required and has a pretty good reputation throughout your town. On the upper end of this he may start using some dust collection systems. Within this price range the finish systems will be moderately durable and if you move into a waterborne finish system it’s likely to be a single component finish. Not quite as durable as two component finishes, but still going to look good and last 3-5 years. This is a good pricing to rely upon if you’re listing a house or just moving into a home for a few years. The sanding quality will be pretty good and the value is pretty dang good too.
- $3.25-4.50 sq foot– These are probably the best floor guys in your area for this pricing. Some of this could be heavy to cover overhead, but also just as likely to be the cost of keeping your wood floor guru up to date on every new technical training. Definitely you’re going to get a clean house when they are done and most definitely a high traffic two component waterborne, premium oil poly, or conversion varnish. They’ll be insured, bonded, and in almost all cases have a perfectly clean track record with local licensing agencies. If you hire someone in this price range, the person is most definitely going treat your house properly (no holes in the walls or stain on the cabinets) and done right on time the first time. A floor of this price range should generally last well into the ten year mark without much other than regular good cleaning and maintenance on your behalf.
- $5.00-+ sq ft– Not too often do you see pricing this range in most places in the country for a refinish unless you start getting into custom color treatments, stains, and specialty finishes. When the price hits this number it’s because the application methods and sanding techniques are at a level of mastery that only a handful of people in the region could accomplish properly. I have seen guys command this number with average sanding skills, but believe me they are pure salesman to the bone.
Before you email me about the following list, please understand that these numbers and averages are pretty well based on conversations with colleagues from all reaches of the country. There may be exceptions to the rule, but this guide will help you at least prepare for what to expect no matter where you live in the USA. It’s written with somewhat of a jocular touch for the cheaper pricing, but in the end will prove pretty reliable. Any questions? Shoot me an email. Thanks for reading.