Hardwood floors cost more for a reason. They’re simply the best flooring for most homes and for most homeowners. But is that a good enough reason to justify the price?
Before I get ahead of myself, what makes hardwood floors “the best”?
Hardwood looks and feels luxurious. It adds natural charm and elegance, and it imbues just about any room with visual warmth and a friendly atmosphere. The particular style of hardwood floor can vary, but even so, hardwood is versatile—you can decorate a room any number of ways, and the hardwood will almost always work.
Beyond the immediate aesthetics, hardwood flooring has staying power. Most hardwood floors last well over a hundred years. In older parts of the country, it’s not uncommon to find original hardwood floors from the 1800s, and even a few from the 1700s. And hardwood won’t go out of style, unlike linoleum, vinyl, or carpet.
As a bonus, hardwood floors are easier to clean than most other types of flooring.
These advantages don’t come cheap, though. The cost to install hardwood flooring varies depending on material: traditional hardwoods (like pine) cost $3 to $5 per square foot and another $3 to $5 per square foot for installation. Luxury hardwoods like mahogany, cypress, and other exotic woods cost $8 to $15 per square foot, and installation adds another $4 to $8 per square. For an example, let’s go with traditional but high-quality hardwood—let’s say $10 per square foot. At that price, installing hardwood floors in a 2,000 square-foot-house costs a pretty penny of $20,000.
To maintain those floors, you’ll need to periodically sand and refinish, ideally every 7 to 10 years—but this is where the savings kick in. Although sanding and refinishing costs between $1,000 and $2,500 each time, that’s much cheaper than the replacement costs of other flooring (shown below).
- Hardwood installation cost (2,000 square feet): $20,000
- Hardwood 50-year cost (2,000 square feet): $32,000
Carpeting usually costs between $7 and $12 per square foot (including installation). You should replace your carpet every 5 to 15 years, depending on the carpet’s quality, but for the sake of comparison, we’ll look at high-quality carpet that returns the best year-over-year value.
- Carpet installation cost (2,000 square feet): $18,000
- Carpet 50-year cost (2,000 square feet): $84,000 (plus carpet cleaning)
Vinyl flooring, including luxury vinyl planks (LVP) costs approximately $7 per square foot for the mid-range planks (including installation). Vinyl flooring lasts longer than carpet, but should still be replaced every 10 to 20 years.
- Vinyl installation cost (2,000 square feet): $14,000
- Vinyl 50-year cost (2,000 square feet): $59,000
Laminate flooring only costs $2 to $8 per square foot (including foam underlay and adhesives). It can imitate wood, but unlike real wood, laminate can’t be refinished, so its lifetime tends to cap out around 30 years.
- Laminate installation cost (2,000 square feet): $10,000
- Laminate 50-year cost (2,000 square feet): $20,000
Hardwood floors for long-term homeowners
For homeowners who expect to stay put a long time, the most important factor is your own personal preference. If you like wall-to-wall carpeting, don’t install hardwood floors! Prioritize your comfort and sense of home above the potential resale value decades down the road.
But if you do like hardwood floors, and if you plan to stay in your home for many years, hardwood floors are the way to go. Don’t let the upfront cost deter you. You’ll save money in the long run with hardwood flooring, and you’ll get to enjoy the aura and aesthetic benefits for much cheaper than it might appear at first glance. Hardwood wins at both price and ambiance.
When you’re looking long-term, it’s important to consider the type of hardwood flooring you install. The pattern and direction in which the planks of wood are placed makes a difference. Short planks in a herringbone or cross pattern, for instance, can look dated. Planks running exclusively in one direction can make the room feel tighter. We’d be happy to help you design the perfect pattern and direction for your house. We can also recommend reliable contractors to sand and refinish your floors.
Hardwood floors for sellers
Hardwood flooring has long been the top choice for buyers. According to the National Wood Flooring Association, 90% of real estate agents say homes with hardwood sell for more. From a less biased source: a study by USA Today with data from the National Association of Realtors found that 54% of buyers were willing to pay more for homes with hardwood. This is especially true for buyers under the age of 55.
People often ask us about the return on investment for hardwood floors, but there’s no clear answer. Estimates range from 90% to 250%, but they’re mostly anecdotal, without much substantive data behind them. (Keep in mind that most improvements don’t net a positive return. Kitchen and bathroom remodels, for instance, only give you a 60-75% ROI. More significant than raising your home’s value, updates attract buyers and convince them to make an offer).
So yes, hardwood floors are in hot demand, and they’ll help you sell your house! Even so, if you’re planning on selling in the near future, installing hardwood floors might not be worth the investment.
Don’t spend the money on hardwood floors if the value of the house doesn’t demand it. Many buyers appreciate hardwood flooring, but to draw in buyers and/or move the sale price higher, the rest of your house needs to have updates, too. Before installing hardwood throughout your home, consider a kitchen or bathroom update. No matter how fancy the hardwood flooring, it won’t overpower an outdated kitchen or bathroom. You’ll get the best return on investment by painting the walls, replacing countertops and appliances, and re-doing the shower.
If you’re selling soon and thus won’t get to enjoy the luxury of hardwood floors yourself, taking on the high initial cost of installing hardwood floors so the buyer can reap the low-maintenance rewards often doesn’t make sense. What is almost always worth the investment, though:
Refinish your floors! If you have hardwood floors already, get them sanded and refinished. Even if you can’t refinish all the floors, spruce up (pun intended) some of them so buyers can see what the floors look like. We’re in the process of doing that to one listing right now.
If you have hardwood underneath the carpet, rip up the carpet and refinish the hardwood. If there’s hardwood underneath, don’t replace old carpet with new carpet—carpet will only cost more and appeal less to homebuyers. To be clear: refinishing existing hardwood floors is less expensive than buying new carpet.
Hardwood floors for buyers
If you’re a buyer, picking a home with hardwood floors is usually worth it. The high initial cost has already been paid, so you can reap the long-term benefits. If you’re willing to put in work yourself, you could find a house with hardwood underneath existing carpet. This is a gamble, though, as you won’t know the condition of the hardwood flooring while it’s covered up. I’d recommend talking with us on a house-by-house about the likelihood of this strategy paying off or backfiring.
As a closing thought, hardwood floors come in all sorts of patterns and all sorts of wood. Here are a few varieties to get your imagination going.