Hardwood flooring is so classic that it never goes out of style, but I’d be lying if I told you it was completely resistant to trends (Brazilian cherrywood, cough, cough). One of the biggest innovations in modern hardwoods is prefinished flooring. Sadly, the words “prefinished,” don’t always sound “high quality,” in the same way that one-size-fits-all often translates to fits no one, ever. But don’t be so quick to judge! Even muumuus have their merits (if you don’t believe me, just go on a Caribbean cruise- you’ll see.) Before we write off prefinished flooring, let’s look at how it compares with unfinished hardwood flooring (also known as site-finished).
Note: prefinished floors are usually more expensive up-front, but once you factor in the labor costs of site-installed floors, the difference in cost is not huge. Choosing the best hardwood floors is ultimately a decision that should be made based on personal preference and a few critical differences between the two.
Prefinished hardwood floors offer one major advantage over unfinished floors: ease of installation. Because they are already sealed, sanded and finished, there’s hardly anything to be done after an install besides a little sweeping. This is a particularly attractive option if only one room is being remodeled-- it leaves little to no mess, no smells, and you can walk on it immediately. Bonus points if the new floor doesn’t need to match any existing flooring. Unfinished floors take longer to install, stain, and treat; and there is typically a little lingering smell from the finish that can last up to a couple of weeks. Most folks opt to be out of the house during installation of site-finished floors, and while not everyone can afford to vacate for a week or more, with prefinished hardwoods this is not an issue. Most new builds will use unfinished flooring due to the level of customization it offers.
Photo: Wide Plank Flooring
Range of Options/Appearance
Let’s face it: the flooring in your home is basically your home’s declaration of its personal style, and it’s the first thing guests see when they walk through the front door. This is why fans of unfinished love the infinite varieties of species, widths, finishes, and techniques that can be used to create the looks we love to walk on. Specific plank widths or unusual wood species may not be available in prefinished hardwood, although the options are ever-expanding. If your home is historical or features an unusual architectural style, prefinished hardwoods may not be able to provide the level of customization you desire.
If we want to nitpick, one little-loved feature of prefinished flooring is that there is often a micro-beveled edge, meaning that the seams between planks are going to be more visually apparent (at least until the time comes for sanding/refinishing.) The planks also come in shorter lengths, so you won’t have the same sweeping board lengths that come with unfinished hardwood flooring.
Durability & Maintenance
Prefinished hardwood flooring is extremely durable, thanks to up to seven layers of factory-finish that is waaaaay more intense (read, toxic fume-producing) than anything that you would ever want finished on-site. What you gain in durability, you lose in ease of refinishing and repair. Prefinished floors should be tough enough to go longer than unfinished between sprucings up, but because of the nature of the factory-finish, a simple screen and recoat isn’t an option, and instead will require an all-out sanding. That said, one of the beauties of unfinished hardwood floors (ask anyone with a toddler) is that damage to one area can be addressed fairly easily with a site-specific repair. Not so with pre-finished hardwoods, where the only options are to replace the specific board that is damaged, or sand and refinish the entire room.
So, to sum it all up, there are pros and cons to both prefinished and unfinished hardwood floors, but in the end it choosing the best hardwood floors comes down to personal preferences, time constraints, and levels of customization you desire.