Many of my Westchester customers ask me whether pre-finished hardwood or unfinished hardwood is better and which costs less. We install both types of hardwood, and the truth is, it depends on which of below factors are most important to you.
Please note that this article may contain affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.
“Prefinished hardwood” means that the hardwood has been finished in the factory and then you just install it. “Unfinished” means you have raw hardwood that needs to be nailed into the floor and then sanded & refinished on-site. This is sometimes called “site finished.”
Benefits of Pre-finished hardwood flooring
More scratch resistant/lasts longer. Pre-finished hardwood is 7-10x more scratch resistant than unfinished hardwood. That’s because when it’s finished on site, you generally get 2-3 coats of polyurethane while when it’s made in the factory, you usually get at least 6-7 coats which are oven baked along w/ aluminum oxide, the worlds’ 2nd hardest substance.
Less messy – Anyone who has lived through sanding & refinishing knows what I’m talking about. It’s a mess with all the sawdust. Oh, and did I forget to mention the smell? By the way, to combat the dust, we do offer a dustless system which costs a bit more but definitely cuts back on the mess.
Faster – Of course this depends on the space, but usually most of our pr-efinished jobs can be done in 1-2 days. When it’s unfinished, it often takes 4-5 days + drying time, and you can’t walk on the area at all during this time. With pre-finished hardwood, you can walk on it the same day.
Advantages of Unfinished hardwood flooring
Smooth edges – Most pre-finished hardwood has a slight bevel at the edges. Some customers prefer this because they think it looks more real; but more customers like the smoothed out look when you sand the floors. No right or wrong answer here; just a preference. Also, I will point out that for pre-finished hardwood, a bit more dirt tends to get trapped in the microbeveled edges.
And, hardwood that is finished on site and sealed with polyurethane will do better in kitchens where there might be a bit more water (sometimes the edges of pre-finished hardwood don’t have polyurethane on them). One issue with pre-finished hardwoods, especially darker colors, is that you will see the underside or lighter color of the wood along the edges when you view the wood from far away. This is because the manufacturers don’t always get stain on all the edges and/or through the shipping and installation process, these parts may rub against each other. This is less apparent in lighter woods and more apparent in darker woods. When the wood is fully sanded and refinished on site, the wood is smooth and uniform and stain (and polyurethane) is applied to all areas.
Matching color of existing hardwood – If you have hardwood in other parts of the home, using unfinished hardwood will be the easiest way to match it. You can have your installer select and/or test the stain colors as well as make sure they get the matching wood (e.g. is it red oak or white oak and which grade).
Choosing a specific color and testing it – If you want to mix and match/blend stains and finishes you have this option vs. with prefinished, the color selections are sometimes a bit more limiting. For our customers, we will often test 3-4 stain colors so they can see them on their flooring. Not only is it important to see in your own lighting but because hardwood differs (based on species, grade and age) the stain can look different in different homes. Also, some boards are light and some are darker, so it’s better to test on several boards to get a better feel.
Unfinished hardwood usually costs a bit less. With prefinished hardwood, you are paying more for the wood and less for the labor; for unfinished hardwood, you are spending less on the wood and more on the labor. The wider you go in the planks, the wider the difference in price for prefinished vs. unfinished.
If you live in Westchester County NY, I offer color consultations to advise customers on paint colors and stain choices. My designer discount at the paint stores usually more than offsets the cost for the hour consultation. Read more here. Due to popular demand, I’m now offering phone consultations as well.
I wrote this e-book to help new home buyers make smart decisions when looking for homes with hardwood floors…or looking to buy a home and then add hardwood. I’ve packaged all of my best tips into this book and hope it will help you make smarter choices in your flooring choices and in buying a home that can support high quality floors.
Did you find my tips helpful? If so, feel free to buy me a coffee and support my blog