Pre-finished flooring is a great advantage to homeowners who want to install their flooring and start using it right away.
Pre-finished flooring is solid hardwood flooring that comes already sanded, sealed, and ready to nail into place. After the flooring installers have completed their job, the only thing you need to do is sweep up, and you're ready to go.
By contrast, site-finished flooring (or, flooring that comes with a bare surface and requires coatings after installation) is only half-installed after it has been nailed down. The other half of the project is sanding and sealing the flooring surface.
What Pre-Finished Flooring Is
The chief feature of pre-finished flooring is its thick, multiple layers (over five) of urethane coating. When you sand and seal your own flooring, you do so by hand, and the coatings are not as uniform. But pre-finished flooring is quite something else.
If you are unfortunate enough to have a chipped or broken pre-finished board in your carton, you can quite clearly see the plastic-like layer coming off of the board. It is multi-layered and almost like onion skin. This type of solid aluminum oxide-impregnated urethane finish is something that only a dedicated factory can apply.
While site-finished flooring was standard just a few years ago, slowly pre-finished flooring gained the market share. While you can still find site-finished flooring at most flooring stores, a vast majority of the offerings are in the pre-finished category.
Coating applied in factory
Pre-sanded in factory
Can be used immediately
Raw wood, no coating
Minimal sanding beforehand; some sanding still required
Requires hours or days before use
Becoming more difficult to find
With pre-finished flooring, there is no mess and smell associated with finishing the floor within your living environment. All of the odors have been left behind in the factory. By the time the flooring arrives at your house, the finish is completely cured and free of odors.
Pre-finished urethane coat provides a thicker, more uniform coating than coatings that are site-finished. The finish is a hard shell that resists scratching and gouges.
With pre-finished flooring, once the flooring has been installed, it can be walked on and used. But with site-finished flooring, you need to wait for hours for the coatings to cure. With multiple coats, this can extend into days. During this time, the floor cannot be used.
No sanding is needed. Floor sanding is far dustier than you might ever imagine, with dust invading nearly every part of your house. Pre-finished flooring is pre-sanded in the factory.
Ease of Purchase
Because pre-finished flooring is becoming ubiquitous, it is easier to find pre-finished than an unfinished floor. Large flooring stores typically have site-finished flooring or can obtain it for you. But this may be a special order that takes time to fulfill.
Difficult to Repair
If pre-finished hardwood flooring gets scratched or dented during installation, you have no option but to replace the entire floorboard. Forget the notion of trying to fill, sand, and re-seal with your own coating.
For do-it-yourselfers, it is difficult to manually duplicate the factory coating. With severely damaged pre-finished flooring, it's best to hire a professional flooring company that is adept at repairs or to remove and replace the damaged boards.
Flooring Can Get Damaged
Pre-finished and site-finished flooring are installed the same way, give or take a few minor differences. With pre-finished flooring, the installers should take more care because any scratches and dents are virtually non-repairable. That is why you will see installers flatten out the flooring cartons and use them as a pad to place their tools.
Seams between pre-finished floorboards are not sealed over, as they would be when you seal your flooring on site. With site-finished flooring, the coating fills in the seams and effectively creates a continuous surface. Good flooring installation will keep seams tight. Still, with any seam, there is the possibility of moisture intrusion.
Difficult to Refinish
Pre-finished flooring rarely needs refinishing due to its heavy coating. But when it does need a deep, drum sanding, the process will rip off a great deal of wood to remove those five or more layers of factory baked-on urethane finish just to reach any kind of bare wood. You will need to get all of that urethane off so that the wood will accept the new sealant.