Traditionally, hardwood flooring is installed as unfinished planks that are then stained and finished with a protective surface layer on-site. More recently, many manufacturers have begun to offer prefinished hardwood flooring products that arrive with finishing treatments already applied to hardwood materials in order to protect them against stains, discolorations and water penetration. There are certain advantages to purchasing and installing prefinished hardwood flooring, as well as several drawbacks.
Advantages of Prefinished Hardwood Flooring
Durability: When the factory applies the finish treatment to the wood, they are able to use very powerful chemical sealers, which are applied by commercial processes that are not available to on-site installers. Typically, this consists of aluminum oxide crystals embedded in a UV-cured urethane coat. While site-applied finishes are normally warranted for 3-5 years, factor-applied treatments may have warranties of 5-25 years or more.
Installation: It is much easier and quicker to install prefinished hardwood than to go through the process of sanding and staining the material on-site. Sanding is a messy procedure that fills the room with wood dust, which then has to be thoroughly cleaned. And after that, the application of the finish can leave a residual odor in the air, requiring hours or even days to dry in between coats. By contrast, prefinished floors are ready to go as soon as they are installed.
Ease of maintenance: Because the surface seal is stronger and more durable when it is applied at the factory, the maintenance of these floors is easier. They tend to be slightly more impervious to stains, moisture, and other discolorations than floors that are finished on site. In addition, the fact that the treatment will last longer means that you will not have to go through the time, mess and expense of getting the floors refinished a few years later.
Best of both worlds: With prefinished flooring, you get all of the advantages of the factory-applied extra durable surface seal plus the look, beauty, and feel of natural hardwood. At the same time, you also always have the option later on of sanding down past the factory-applied a sealing coat in order to once more reveal the natural wood to the surface. It can then be treated with any of the basic on-site finishing techniques.
Disadvantages of Factory Finished Hardwood
Seams: Because the material is finished at the factory, a sealing agent is not applied to the lines between the planks when they are installed. This can lead to dirt and grime getting caught in these seams. The seams also may be susceptible to water penetration, which can cause rot or mold to grow beneath the surface of the floor.
Bevelling: This isn’t necessarily a drawback, but more of a style choice. Often factory prefinished wood will have beveled, slightly rounded edges. This gives the wood plank a more finished and slightly manufactured look. This can be great for the style of some interiors, but it may not match up with similar species of wood that have been installed on site with full, squared edges.
Height: With a site-finished floor you install the material and then sand it flat. This allows you to remove any height irregularities which may exist due to an uneven subfloor. But with prefinished materials, there is no sanding process, so the actual surface of the installation will reflect any below-surface irregularities that may be present.
Refinishing: While prefinished floors do not need to be refinished for a very long time, eventually the surface seal will start to fade, scratch and discolor slightly. The problem with this is that the thick and pervasive nature of the prefinished topcoat requires you to sand down further into the material in order to reach the natural hardwood again. This cuts down on the thickness of the floor and limits how many times you can then refinish it going forward before it gets too thin.
Repairs: With site-finished floors, when a piece of wood becomes damaged, you can often repair it by sanding smooth the imperfection. On a prefinished floor, however, the thick seal layer means that when a section of flooring becomes damaged, the only way to repair it is to either sand the finish off the entire floor or remove and replace the broken section.