To replace or refinish hardwood floors is a major decision balancing budget with aesthetics

To replace or refinish hardwood floors is a major decision balancing budget with aesthetics

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To replace or refinish hardwood floors is a major decision balancing budget with aesthetics

Photos by Melanie Rees

When my husband and I finally decided we were ready to trade our condo for a house, we knew we wanted something with charm. One adjective realtors often use that translates to “needs renovations” or “old and dated.” We wanted something that wasn’t cookie cutter, and we loved the idea of updating a space to make it our own. After a lot of online searching and a handful of open houses, we ended up putting a bid on a three-bed, two-bath, single-family home north of Toronto. It’s charm: It was built in 1895. Original staircase. Window casings with Victorian-style rosettes. A basement cellar.

We saved money by removing the hardwood ourselves.
We saved money by removing the hardwood ourselves.

Nothing was in critical shape, but there was a long list of renovations we wanted to complete. First on our list was the room every homeowner obsesses over – the kitchen. Problem was we also wanted to redo the floors, and there was hardwood throughout the kitchen. What we quickly discovered is, the order you do your renovations in is critical.

Because we were going to gut the kitchen, if we wanted to do the floors we’d need to do them prior to our renovation. The house had the bonus of already having solid hardwood floors. Our initial plan was to refinish it, since it was solid hardwood and half the cost of installing new. I went back to my Pinterest board to reference the hardwood I was dreaming of, which was a light shade of wood, Scandi-style. It was a sharp contrast to the dark, red-tinged floors we currently had.

Little details such as stylish air vents really add a custom look to any home.
Little details such as stylish air vents really add a custom look to any home.

Before I could see if I could get the shade I was dreaming of, I had to identify what species of hardwood we had. Luckily, there were some scraps in the basement and I could see the unstained board. Bad news – we had red oak. I went online to discover that red oak could never become the white oak I was envisioning for our home. People do bleach it, but it’s impossible to truly get the red out and often you’re left with a subtle pink hue. That’s when we decided to look into replacing our floors.

We ended up going with Grand Floors because of its transparent pricing, huge selection of flooring and decades of experience. Another plus was that the company offered refinishing, too. After a thorough phone consultation, owner Gregory Olszewski could identify quite a bit from the photos I sent him, including the spaces in the wood (which indicated it wasn’t laid by a professional), the short planks and uneven colouring (again a possible indicator a mix of cheaper hardwood was selected). Still debating between both refinishing and replacing, I booked an appointment to the showroom to get the full scope of what new hardwood floors would look like (and cost).

Upon arrival, Olszewski suggested not to look at the brand of hardwood but its thickness (the thicker the actual hardwood, the more times you can refinish it) and the colour. Price wise, you will pay more for solid hardwood versus engineered hardwood, so that was a consideration when we looked at options.

Our new light and modern floors are a welcome change from the dark hardwood.
Our new light and modern floors are a welcome change from the dark hardwood.

With my soon-to-be sister-in-law Jessica with me, who also happens to be an interior designer, she helped me narrow it down to a handful of samples that would complement the plans for the kitchen.

We also decided to look at the hardwood staining samples, too, selecting a mid-toned hue that would also work with the designs.

Eventually, I settled on a shade called Pickled Oak from the Miller’s Reserve Collection by Fuzion Flooring. A beautiful white oak in an almost muted natural tone. It’s a touch distressed with contrasting wide and narrow planks. Being engineered hardwood meant it wouldn’t be as pricey as a solid option, but with enough hardwood on top to have one refinish done in its lifetime.

A week later, Olszewski came by to examine the condition of our floors in person and also complete the measurements to provide an accurate quote for both options. What he thought was true was confirmed: Our floors hadn’t been installed professionally and there were a lot of gaps between boards (plus tons of creaking and unevenness).

After discussing the two options, we decided to have the job done correctly and replace our hardwood. It would impact the overall reno budget for our home, meaning some things we wanted to do sooner would need to be put off, but it would mean the floor would be installed correctly (goodbye creaks, uneven colour and strange bulges) and be the exact shade we had envisioned.


  • BRING SAMPLES HOME. You need to see the colours in your own space and with your lighting (not under the fluorescent store bulbs).
  • DIY TASKS THAT DON’T REQUIRE A PROFESSIONAL. Removing hardwood can save you hundreds of dollars and doesn’t require any skill.
  • SHOP AROUND. Don’t be afraid to get quotes from multiple businesses. Reputable places should be transparent about the cost of materials and installation.
  • BUY WHAT FITS YOUR BUDGET. Solid hardwood has a long life, but it can be double the cost of engineered. Plus, hardwood floors need to be refinished only every seven to 10 years at the minimum, so unless it’s your forever house, you can easily go with engineered and enjoy it for years to come.

One way we were able to save about $1,500 right off the bat was to do all of the hardwood removal ourselves. It’s not hard, but requires a few tools (including protective eye gear, gloves, crowbar and hammer), and a bin to dispose of the debris. The work was completed in an afternoon, but one major issue was exposed. There was very old vinyl tile uncovered upstairs. The concern? The majority of vinyl tile created prior to 1986 contained asbestos. The only way we could tell for certain was to have it tested. We rushed a sample to a nearby lab and got the news the next day we were asbestos-free. Massive relief.

Once the tile was removed, we were ready for the install. One extra we decided to splurge on was really stylish vents. We found a Canadian company called Aria Vent, which designs sleek, modular air vents and drywall returns. The company has a few models, including a professional model that must be mounted prior to the surface install. We ensured these were purchased prior to our hardwood installation and our floor installer could do it (they charged us a small installation fee per vent).

Due to the kitchen install date not until the fall and the front tile install date still unknown, we were only able to have only 40 per cent of the hardwood complete in Phase 1. The rest has to wait until our kitchen is demoed.

That’s the thing about renos I’ve quickly learned. Don’t be surprised when nothing goes according to plan, and expect to live in chaos. What has been completed I’m beyond happy with, so I’ll just have to be patient and let it all come together.

A writer and editor for more than a decade, Stephanie Gray has covered everything from luxury travel to modern parenting challenges.

Her work has been featured in publications including Glamour, Elle Canada and Best Health.

She recently bought a century-old home north of Toronto, in need of updates, which she’s taking on with her husband (and toddler in tow).


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