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Remodeling 101: Painted Plywood—The Best Budget Wood Floor

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Remodeling 101: Painted Plywood—The Best Budget Wood Floor

March 15, 2018

The natural instinct when remodeling a house with wall-to-wall carpet is to take it up, right? Before you can confirm what’s underneath, you hold high hopes for finding a wood floor that was covered up in a past era (when they didn’t know any better). But it’s best not to set your expectations too high. More likely than not, the carpet was a cheap solution to cover up a floor that was already in poor condition.

In the minimal remodel of our Connecticut home, we were delighted that the floors were primarily wood and required a mere polish and buff to restore them to their optimum condition. When we lifted the carpet on the stairs, we discovered wood treads in pristine condition and optimistically assumed that we would find the same in the four bathrooms, whose floors had all been either carpeted or covered in vinyl tiles.

And while we weren’t completely wrong, the floors were too far gone to be restored, and here began my dilemma. We did not want to spend any of our already limited budget on floors in bathrooms that were going to eventually require updating anyway, so I asked our builder what he thought the best and least expensive short-term solution would be. Based on his recommendation, we went with painted plywood.

Photography by Christine Chang Hanway, unless otherwise noted.

a particle board floor, painted white, in the perfect studio apartment, bu 12
Above: A particle-board floor, painted white, in The Perfect Studio Apartment, Budget Edition.

A material more typically associated with subfloor material, plywood was not designed to be used as a finished surface covering. It can, however, be made to look and act like one with a few extra steps outlined here for a mere $1 to $2 a square foot in materials. (Read much more in Remodeling 101: A Plywood Primer.)

a corner detail in my bathroom with a cotton woven bath rug from restoration ha 13
Above: A corner detail in my bathroom with a Cotton Woven Bath Rug from Restoration Hardware; $50 to $170, depending on size.
the painted plywood floors in my bathrooms all have a restoration hardware pain 14
Above: The painted plywood floors in my bathrooms all have a Restoration Hardware paint trim; the color is  Silver Sage. (N.B.: This color is trending: Read more in The Remodelista Color of 2018: Mignonette Green.)

short term solution? maybe not in our case. my hard to please mother visited la 15
Above: Short-term solution? Maybe not in our case. My hard-to-please mother visited last summer and proclaimed that our bathroom floors were genius. We might just quit while we’re ahead.

Take a Before & After tour of our house in Minimal Moves for Maximum Impact. And for more on the many benefits of plywood all around the house, see:

N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran in September 2013.

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Frequently asked questions

What is painted plywood flooring?

Painted plywood flooring is a cost-effective and versatile flooring option that involves applying paint directly to plywood sheets to create a durable and attractive surface. It can be a budget-friendly alternative to traditional wood flooring.

What are the advantages of painted plywood flooring?

Painted plywood flooring offers several advantages. It is affordable, easy to install, and can be customized with various paint colors and patterns. It provides a smooth and even surface, is relatively low-maintenance, and can be an ideal choice for DIY projects.

Can any type of plywood be used for painted plywood flooring?

Not all types of plywood are suitable for painted plywood flooring. It's recommended to use high-quality plywood with a smooth and void-free surface, such as AC (A-grade front, C-grade back) or BC (B-grade front, C-grade back) grades. Avoid using low-quality or rough plywood that may have visible knots or imperfections.

How is painted plywood flooring installed?

Painted plywood flooring is typically installed by first preparing the subfloor, then laying down the plywood sheets and securing them with nails or screws. The plywood is sanded, primed, and painted with multiple coats of floor paint, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next.

Is painted plywood flooring durable?

When properly installed and maintained, painted plywood flooring can be durable. However, it may not be as resistant to wear and tear as hardwood or engineered wood flooring. Applying a clear topcoat or sealer over the paint can help enhance its durability and protect it from scratches and stains.

Can painted plywood flooring be used in all areas of the home?

Painted plywood flooring is best suited for areas with low to moderate foot traffic, such as bedrooms, home offices, or playrooms. It may not be as suitable for high-traffic areas like kitchens or hallways, as constant foot traffic and moisture exposure can potentially damage the painted surface.

How do I maintain painted plywood flooring?

Maintaining painted plywood flooring involves regular sweeping or vacuuming to remove dirt and debris. Spills should be cleaned up promptly to prevent staining. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners that can damage the painted surface. Periodically applying a fresh coat of paint or a topcoat can help extend the floor's lifespan.

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