Prefinished Hardwood Floors: Pros and Cons


On top of the many decisions you have to make when installing new hardwood floors, here is one more: should you choose prefinished or unfinished wood flooring?

This is a heated subject, with enthusiasts on both sides of the aisle. For hardwood floor professionals who do their job with passion, nothing can compare with unfinished boards stained on site with masterful skill. After all, this is an art, and art cannot be done and packaged in a factory. But saving money is also an art, and usually the clients passion. When it comes to cost, prefinished wood often wins because installation is easier, faster and cleaner.

Prefinished Wood: What You See Is What You Get

Prefinished wood comes from the factory ready for the show. Stained and sealed in some place away from your house, the boards arrive in big cardboard boxes that look like the concentrated version of your future floors.There is no surprise when installing a prefinished wood floor: what you see is what you get.

A little bit of imagination is still necessary. The lighting in your house may give your boards a slightly different tone. The contrast with your walls, built-ins and furniture may take unexpected turns. But all in all, you know what you get right from the start. Some flooring artisans and customization enthusiasts take this as a con. But for every flooring purist that wants to create a unique work of art, there is an overwhelmed professional or a pair of busy parents who just want their floors done fast.This is where prefinished wood comes up the winner.

Easy Installation

Prefinished flooring is a good choice when the work takes place in your current home. While unfinished floors require stages and stages of installing, sanding, staining and sealing work, prefinished wood needs only be laid down and fixed into place. This is a better option when you are not keen on living for a few days or weeks on a construction site.

No Surprises

Finished in the factory, prefinished planks show no bubbles caused by faulty finish application, no missed spots, no unexpected differences in color and no light or dark blotches. You do not risk starting all over again by sanding the unsightly planks. When the job is done and the floors cured, you find no mystery particles accidentally trapped underneath the sealer, like a hair left as a souvenir by your otherwise awesome and trustworthy flooring contractor. Or the dust you involuntarily raised despite all your attempts to seal off the working site and walk around with light ballerina steps.

Friendly to DIY-ers

Unlike installing unfinished boards that takes a high level of expertise, installing prefinished planks rank lower in difficulty. Provided no complications arise (humid basements, uneven subfloor surface, changes in floor elevation etc.), prefinished flooring is the DIY-ers best friend, especially when the boards come with a click-lock system, ready to be snapped in place with no glue, staples or nails.

No Major Disruption in Your Life

Well, sort of. You still have to move out your furniture, open your door to a few hulky guys carrying funny tools, and face the sight of your mysterious subfloors that you have never met before. BUT. You can walk on your floor and move your furniture back in as soon as it is installed. No heavy fumes, VOC health hazards or weeks of tiptoeing in socks around the uncured polyurethane sealer. No moving kids, pets and everything that breathes to an off-site location, so that you do not take in the wood dust and vapors. No missing days from work so that you can stick around. No headaches, no wasted time, no forbidden rooms in your house. Just wood flooring beauty.

More Resistant Finish

Since prefinished wood is stained and sealed in a factory’s controlled environment, the chemicals used are more potent than the ones used on site. While your unfinished floors generally receive 2 or 3 coats or polyurethane, the prefinished wood gets 6 or even more coats of urethane, plus the ultraviolet-light drying treatment. The finish is often abrasion, scratch and stain-resistant and offers more resistance to wear and tear than a floor finished on site. This means less maintenance for you, since the durable finish gives you more time until the next refinishing job.

Generally Less Expensive

This is somehow counterintuitive because prefinished wood costs more than unfinished planks. But it all comes down to prefinished wood floor installation cost. When you take into consideration the time and effort put into finishing the floor on site, you often find out that prefinished is a better choice for your wallet, even more so if you take the DIY route. Plenty of Options You have plenty of options for your boards when it comes to type of wood, texture, color or plank width. Unless you are a stickler for customization, you can always find something you like among all the available samples.

Disadvantages of Prefinished Wood Flooring

So, with all these advantages, why would you ever choose anything but prefinished woods? Here are a few reasons. While prefinished wood floors can be buffed and sanded, they are more difficult to refinish because of the heavy sealer. Removing the sealer may drastically reduce the height of the planks, which means you cannot just sand down and refinish the damaged area, but you have to replace the planks or refinish the entire floor.

If the planks you want are discontinued, you’re out of luck. Matching colors, texture and width to an existing floor is also more difficult. Finally, while the sealer is strong, the spaces between the planks are the prefinished flooring kryptonite. They trap dust and prove a great point of entrance for damaging water.