FAQs: Prefinished vs. Unfinished Floors

Our customers often ask whether a prefinished or unfinished floor is the best option for them. We want every customer to be educated to make the best decision for their home. Here are some questions our customer ask about prefinished and unfinished floors.

What is a finish?

A finish is a protective coating that seals your wood floors. It helps protect against wear and tear, stains, and moisture.

We installed an unfinished maple floor at the Pemberton Borough Gym. Here you can see the floors during the staining and finishing process.

What is unfinished flooring?

Unfinished flooring is also known as site-finished flooring. The flooring arrives at the installation site without any finish and must be sanded, stained, and finished after installation. The flooring usually receives two to three coats of polyurethane and is air-dried at the installation site.

What is prefinished flooring?

Prefinished flooring is also known as factory-finished flooring. All staining and finishing is done in climate-controlled factories, before the wood arrives at the installation site. The wood receives up to several coats of polyurethane dried by UV lighting.

We installed a prefinished Mirage Floors 4 1/4″ maple flooring in “Umbria”.

Which is easier to install?

Prefinished floors can be installed in as few as one day and are ready to go after installation. On-site finishing involves many steps: installation, sanding, sealing, staining, and more. You have to wait for the finish to dry before placing furniture or area rugs on the floors. Depending on the type of finish, you may need to wait several days before walking on the floors in shoes. Many homeowners prefer to get back to living in their house as quickly as possible, making prefinished floors a better option. Some builders and contractors prefer to finish the floors during the last step of building or renovating, limiting the risk of damage to the finish during construction.

Which costs more?

Up front, prefinished floors usually cost more than unfinished floors. However, once the cost of sanding and finishing is taken into account, prefinished floors cost less as a finished product.

Which performs better?

Prefinished floors are finished with several coats of high performance aluminum oxide urethane and cured with UV lighting. A site-finished floor will usually get two to three coats of finish which is air-dried. The finish on prefinished floors usually performs better over time. Many prefinished wood flooring manufacturers provide a warranty on their floors to protect against defects in the finish. Warranty coverage on unfinished floors vary based on the sand and finishing professional.

Which is safer?

When drying, hardwood flooring finishes let off volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are carcinogenic.  When installing prefinished floors, all curing takes place in a factory instead of your home, so you are not exposed to the VOCs. On-site finishing means that the VOCs will be the air while the finish dries. Here in New Jersey and many other states, flooring finishes are required to be low in VOCs according to state standards, which limits safety concerns with on-site finishing.

Which is better for colors?

When staining unfinished hardwood, you have more flexibility to stain with custom colors or try match existing flooring color–though it’s impossible to perfectly match to an existing floor. Prefinished floors now come in so many colors, it’s easy to find a color that will complement your current floors.

Prefinished hand-scraped floors often have deeper micro-bevels that add to the character of the wood and compensate for discrepancies between boards.

Which looks better?

Prefinished floors have micro-bevels, small cuts on the edge of the boards which keep the floors from being perfectly smooth. The micro-bevels vary in size; beveling can be so shallow it’s hardly noticeable, or so deep it becomes part of the character of the floor. Unfinished floors get rid of any beveling during the sand and finishing process. Some homeowners prefer the dimension and shadows created by micro-beveling. Others prefer the smooth surface of a freshly-sanded floor. It’s a matter of preference.

Can I refinish the floors?

Both prefinished and site-finished floors can be sanded and finished, as long as they are solid wood or thicker engineered wood. Hand-scraped floors can be difficult to sand and finish because they have to be sanded to a smooth finish.

So which is better for my home?

There are many factors to be considered when selecting prefinished or unfinished hardwood floors. We recommend talking to a hardwood flooring expert to help you select the best option for your home.

Talk to the experts at Dan Higgins Wood Flooring.


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