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Prefinished Vs. Unfinished Hardwood Flooring

Choose From a Factory-Finish or a Customizable Unfinished Floor

With the advent of manufacturers offering hardwood flooring that comes with stain and protective coatings pre-applied, there has been a debate as to whether this offers any benefits over traditional flooring that is finished post-installation. This article breaks down the two options and discusses the benefits of each as well as the costs associated with these two hardwood floor finishing options.

What is Prefinished Hardwood Flooring?

This type of flooring comes prefinished from the factory it’s manufactured in. Most flooring producers have their own unique finishing process, but at the very least, each type comes with a pre-applied stain (or a clear wood), urethane, and/or other clear protective coatings. Some companies also offer a UV-treated product that dramatically increases it’s durability to scratches and other light physical damage. If you’re interested to learn more about hardwood floors in general, see our article here.

The Benefits of Prefinished Hardwood Floors

One of the biggest benefits of this type of floor – as the name implies – is that it is prefinished at the factory. Homeowners simply have to worry about the installation and not the later finishing of the floor. Other benefits include:
  • Reduced Job Completion Time: Unless it is an extremely large room, many installations take a single day. After installation is complete, all furniture, rugs, etc. can immediately be replaced, meaning homeowners are put out of their routines for much less time than traditional flooring.
  • Reinforced Durability: Manufacturers are constantly re-vamping their finishing products and procedures to bring the consumer the best possible product. These products, along with extended curing times, bring an added layer of protection to a hardwood floor.
  • Machine-Finished Coatings: No matter how skilled a human floor finisher is, they can’t beat the even coating ability of a machine. Each piece has the exact amount of stain and protective coating as the next, resulting in a much smoother finish and appearance.

The Benefits of Unfinished Hardwood Floors

There are several reasons to choose this option as opposed to prefinished hardwood floors, including:
  • Complete Sealing: Hardwood floors finished at the jobsite have the advantage of the entire floor being sealed – joints and edges as well. Prefinished floors have only their boards sealed – floor joints are susceptible to damage from water and other liquids as well as dirt and bacteria.
  • Even Floors: After unfinished floors are installed, a light sanding is done to ensure the entire floor is completely even. Prefinished floors, while factory-made to be a uniform thickness, are subject to small bumps and warps in the subfloor. If there is a height discrepancy, nothing can be done – prefinished floors are not meant to be sanded down after installation.

Prefinished and Unfinished Flooring Costs

The following is a list of prices based on national averages – your exact costs may vary slightly depending on your exact location.
  • Unfinished, natural hardwood flooring costs $4-$20 per square foot depending on thickness and species. Domestic hardwoods such as oak, hickory and maple are more economical while exotic species are much more expensive.
  • Purchasing prefinished hardwood flooring can add $1-$3 per square foot to the above total costs ($5-$23 per square foot) depending on the company and the exact products used in the finishing.
  • Installing hardwood flooring costs $3-$5 per square foot. If an existing floor must be removed, this adds an additional $1-$4 per square foot depending on the type of floor, raising the cost to $4-$9 per square foot.

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