Hardwood Flooring Options

on January 31, 2014 in Wood Flooring

Differences between Unfinished, Pre-finished or Engineered Hardwood Flooring



We know that the decision to install wood flooring in your home or business is a big decision, and with so many options available, it can be a difficult decision.
One of the biggest questions is whether solid unfinished hardwood flooring which is installed, sanded and finished on site, solid pre-finished hardwood flooring or engineered wood flooring, is right for you. You need to consider the pros and cons of each before making a decision.

Unfinished hardwood flooring:

Unfinished hardwood flooring is delivered raw and is then sanded, stained and finished on site. It is available in more widths and wood species than pre-finished flooring and can be matched to existing wood floors.
A custom sanded hardwood floor is perfectly flat looking, with a tabletop appearance that can’t be achieved with a pre-finished hardwood floor. If the subfloor is uneven, then a pre-finished floor will be uneven. Since unfinished flooring is sanded flat on site, it is more forgiving of slight irregularities in the sub-floor.

Some factors to consider:

  • Are you looking for a specific plank width, unusual wood species or color? Unfinished wood provides many more options.
  • Is your home of historical significance? Unfinished flooring would be more appropriate to capture the old-world charm and keep the look authentic, or to match existing historical flooring, hand-distressing and aging techniques can be used.
  • Are you installing wood floors throughout the entire home, or just in isolated rooms? If throughout your home, unfinished wood may be best. Having your floors finished on site will help ensure a uniform color and finish.
  • Does your new wood floor need to match with an existing wood floor? If so, unfinished flooring is the only option.

Pre-finished hardwood flooring:

Pre-finished hardwood flooring has been sanded and finished at the factory, so it does not require any further treatment once it has been installed. It is relatively quick easy to install, it is also far more convenient as no sanding or finishing needs to be done on site.
The multiple coats of finish applied at the factory give pre-finished wood flooring a very durable wear layer and the finish itself is under warranty by the manufacturer. Such a durable finish can’t be achieved on floors finished on the job site.

Even with these strong advantages, pre-finished flooring has it’s disadvantages to consider as well:

  • When refinishing pre-finished flooring, it is necessary to remove a lot more wood to get a level floor, so in effect you are losing more wood, and more life of the floor in the very first refinish than with a solid 3/4″ unfinished hardwood floor.
  • Although pre-finished floors are convenient in that they install without sanding and finishing, most have a beveled edge on the wood strips which some people find unsightly. A custom sanded hardwood floor has a table-top appearance and is perfectly flat looking.
  • A pre-finished floor will maintain height irregularities of the substrate. In short, a bump in the sub floor means a bump in the pre-finished floor unless the sub floor is fixed first. Site finished flooring is sanded flat, so is more forgiving of slight irregularities or slight height variations. If your pre-finished floor gets damaged, it means ripping out a whole section of flooring and completely replacing it, to correct it, whereas site-finished hardwood flooring can, in most cases, be easily fixed with a quick sanding and finish.
  • When installing hardwood flooring, it is necessary to top nail the boards along the parameter, near walls or cabinets, to start the floor. In site finished flooring, these small nail holes are filled, then sanded and finished and usually not very visible. In pre-finished flooring, these small nail holes are filled, but not sanded – so they may be a bit more visible. While we use the manufacturer-recommended pre-finished filler, there are some floors which do not have an exact match of filler, such as stained flooring, or exotics.
  • Over time, and possibly over home-owner changes, many people don’t know or forget the actual manufacturer of their pre-finished flooring product, which makes it much more difficult to get an exact match if board replacements are necessary at some point – or if they want to add additional flooring to other rooms of the home, and they want an exact match. Additionally, some of the flooring may be discontinued in time, eliminating the availability of ordering in more if it becomes necessary to match.

Engineered hardwood flooring:

Engineered hardwood floors are more versatile as they can be installed over a wider range of sub-floors than unfinished hardwood floors. It can be floated, that is, not attached to the sub-floor, they can be installed over almost any type of sub-floor including concrete. Also, the durable coating on engineered flooring makes it more resistant to moisture and humidity, making it suitable for climatic regions with high humidity, large variations in temperature, or when the sub-floor is below grade and more prone to moisture.

Some factors to consider:

  • When refinishing engineered pre-finished hardwood flooring, it is necessary to remove a lot more wood to achieve a level floor, so you will lose more life of the floor in the first refinish than with a solid hardwood floor. Also, engineered hardwood floors are harder to clean between the cracks, as they are not sealed at the job site like unfinished hardwood floors.
  • Do you live in an area with high humidity? If so, Engineered flooring is the better option as it is more resistant to buckling and warping.
  • What type of installation technique is required? Only engineered flooring can be floated above a concrete sub floor. If the flooring is to be installed below grade, pre-finished flooring is the recommended choice.

In the end, only you can make the decision about which flooring is right for you.

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