Prefinished Versus Unfinished Hardwood Floors

Deciding between prefinished versus unfinished hardwood floors can be difficult. You need to consider the pros and cons of each before making a decision.

Unfinished hardwood flooring is delivered raw then sanded, stained and finished on site. It is available in more widths and wood species than prefinished flooring and can be matched to existing wood floors.

Prefinished hardwood flooring has been engineered and finished at the factory, so it does not require any further treatment once it has been installed.

Prefinished hardwood flooring is relatively quick easy to install. Since it has already been coated at the factory, it is also far more convenient as no sanding or finishing needs to be done on site. This is a time consuming and dusty process that you may wish to avoid.

The multiple coats of finish applied at the factory give prefinished wood flooring a very durable wear layer and the finish itself is under warranty by the manufacturer. Such a durable finish can’t be achieved on floors finished on the job site.

Prefinished hardwood floors are more versatile as they can be installed over a wider range of subfloors than unfinished hardwood floors. Because prefinished flooring can be floated, that is, not attached to the subfloor, they can be installed over almost any type of subfloor including concrete. Also, the durable coating on prefinished flooring and its engineered design makes it more resistant to moisture and humidity, making it suitable for climatic regions with high humidity or large variations in temperature, or when the subfloor is below grade and more prone to moisture.

However, when refinishing engineered prefinished flooring, it is necessary to remove a lot more wood to achieve a level floor, so you will lose more life of the floor in the first refinish than with a solid hardwood floor. Also prefinished hardwood floors are harder to clean between the cracks, as they are not sealed at the job site like unfinished hardwood floors.

A custom sanded hardwood floor is perfectly flat looking, with a tabletop appearance that can’t be achieved with a prefinished hardwood floor. If the subfloor is uneven, then a pre-finished floor will be uneven. Since unfinished flooring is sanded flat on site, it is more forgiving of slight irregularities in the subfloor.

If your prefinished floor is damaged, the whole section of flooring will need to be removed and replaced, whereas in most cases, site finished hardwood flooring can be easily fixed with a quick sanding and finish.

Over time, it is easy to forget who the manufacturer of the prefinished hardwood flooring is, making it difficult to get an exact match if part of the floor needs to be replaced. There is also the possibility that your prefinished flooring will be discontinued in the future and so you will be unable to order replacement boards.

There are several factors to consider which should make your decision a little easier:

o Is your home of historical significance? Unfinished flooring would be more appropriate – to capture the old-world charm and keep the look authentic, or to match existing historical flooring, hand-distressing and aging techniques can be used.

o Are the fumes and dust resulting from finishing the floor on-site a concern, eg if children or pets will be present?

o Consider the location of your new wood floor – will it be in a high traffic or moisture area such as the kitchen or bathroom? If so, prefinished flooring is best as it has a more durable finish.

o Are you looking for a specific plank width, unusual wood species or color? Unfinished wood provides many more options.

o Are you installing wood floors throughout the entire home, or just in isolated rooms? If throughout your home, unfinished wood may be best. Having your floors finished on site will help ensure a uniform color and finish.

o What type of installation technique is required? Only prefinished flooring can be floated above a concrete sub floor. If the flooring is to be installed below grade, prefinished flooring is the recommended choice.

o Does your new wood floor need to match with an existing wood floor? If so, unfinished flooring is easier to stain and match.

o What is your budget? Unfinished flooring is typically the more expensive option.

o Do you live in an area with high humidity? If so, prefinished flooring is the better option as it is more resistant to buckling and warping.