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Prefinished versus unfinished hardwood floors

By Adele Joy

Deciding between prefinished versus unfinished hardwood floors can be difficult. To start with, here are some basic definitions of what they each are:

Delivered raw, unfinished hardwood flooring is sanded, stained and finished on site.

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

When choosing, there are several factors to consider which should make your decision a little easier:

  • Are you installing wood floors in isolated rooms or throughout the entire home? Unfinished wood may be best if you are installing your floors throughout the home, as finishing them on site will help ensure a uniform color and finish everywhere.

  • What type of installation technique do you require? Prefinished flooring is the recommended choice if the flooring is to be installed below grade, and only prefinished flooring can be floated above a concrete sub floor.

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

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

  • Will the location of your new wood floor be in a high-traffic or high-moisture area, such as the kitchen or bathroom? If so, prefinished flooring would be best with its more durable finish.

  • What is your flooring budget? Prefinished flooring is typically the cheaper option.

  • Are you looking for an unusual wood species, or specific color or plank width? Many more options exist with unfinished floors.

  • Would fumes and dust from finishing the floor on-site be a concern? This is especially important if children or pets will be present.

  • Does your home have historical significance? Unfinished flooring would probably be much more appropriate: capturing the old-world charm and keeping the authentic look. They usually also match existing historical flooring, and hand-distressing and aging techniques can be used to aid in this.

Here is some more information about the pros and cons of refinished versus unfinished hardwood floors, to help you consider the above before making a decision.

  • Unfinished hardwood flooring is available in more widths and wood species than prefinished flooring and can be matched more easily to existing wood floors.

  • 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. It is 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. Such a durable finish can't be achieved on floors finished on the job site (i.e. unfinished floors).

  • Prefinished hardwood floors are more functionally versatile, as they can be installed over a wider range of subfloors than unfinished hardwood floors. This is because prefinished flooring can be floated, that is, not attached to the subfloor. It can be installed over almost any type of subfloor, including concrete. Also, the durable coating on prefinished flooring and its engineered design makes it.

  • 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 i.e. unfinished)

  • Prefinished hardwood floors are harder to clean between the cracks, as they are not sealed at the job site like unfinished hardwood floors.

  • Prefinished hardwood flooring is relatively quick and 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.

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

  • Since unfinished flooring is sanded flat on site, it is more forgiving of slight irregularities in the subfloor. 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.

  • 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.





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