Should You Use Prefinished Hardwood Flooring?

Hardwood flooring is available in prefinished and unfinished options. Prefinished hardwood is ready for installation upon delivery. The wooden planks come with a factory-applied finish.

Unfinished hardwood, however, requires on-site finishing, including sanding, staining, or finishing. Choosing between prefinished and unfinished hardwood flooring depends on your project’s requirements. You should also consider your usage needs and personal preferences.

Prefinished Hardwood Floors

Pros and Cons of Prefinished Hardwood Floors


  • Convenience: Prefinished hardwood floors are factory-finished and sealed, saving time spent on on-site finishing. Prefinishing enables faster installation and reduces the inconvenience of waiting for finishes to dry.
  • Durability: Factory-applied finishes undergo a rigorous process to provide excellent durability and wear resistance. The multiple layers of finish, including UV-cured polyurethane or aluminum oxide, enhance the floor’s resistance to scratches and stains. It also reduces everyday wear and tear.
  • Consistency: Prefinished floors undergo a controlled factory finishing process for a uniform appearance. They offer consistent color, sheen, and finish throughout the entire floor.
  • Reduced Odor and VOC Emissions: On-site finishing emits an unpleasant odor and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which ruins your home’s air quality. Finishing hardwood floors in a controlled factory environment results in lower VOC levels.
  • Immediate Use: There is no need to wait for finishes to cure, allowing quick occupancy and reducing downtime.


  • Limited Customization: Prefinished hardwood floors offer limited customization freedom compared to on-site finishing. You have less flexibility to achieve a specific color or finish.
  • Less Repairability: Repairing dents and scratches on prefinished hardwood floors is more challenging than unfinished floors. You may need to replace entire planks or sections of the floor, making it expensive and time-consuming.
  • Visible Seams/Bevels: Installation involves using tongue-and-groove systems, resulting in visible seams between the planks. The seams are more noticeable in large open areas.
  • Higher Cost: The initial cost of prefinished hardwood floors is higher than that of unfinished floors. The added expense of factory finishing and convenience contribute to the higher price.

When to Choose Prefinished Hardwood Flooring

There are scenarios where prefinished hardwood flooring is better than on-site finishing.

  1. Time Constraints: Prefinished hardwood flooring is best for tight schedules. It saves you the waiting period as it doesn’t need on-site finishing.
  2. Minimal Disruption: Installing prefinished floors doesn’t necessitate temporary relocation. The process also emits less dust, odors, and fumes, making it ideal for allergic homeowners.
  3. Warranties: Manufacturers often offer warranties on prefinished hardwood flooring. It gives homeowners peace of mind and assurance of the product’s durability.
  4. Limited Customization: The limited customization of hardwood flooring renders the process more straightforward. With on-site finishing, you’ll need to choose between the stain and finish options available.

Prefinished Hardwood vs. Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Engineered hardwood, a lab-created timber, consists of wood layers bonded under heat and pressure. Its top layer features natural hardwood veneer, while the core layers comprise plywood or high-density fiberboard (HDF).

Prefinished wood undergoes factory surface treatment before installation. Unlike engineered hardwood, it comprises a single layer of solid wood across the plank.

With proper maintenance, solid prefinished hardwood offers greater durability and longevity. But, it’s more sensitive to moisture and temperature changes, causing expansion and contraction.

Engineered hardwood boasts enhanced stability and resistance. Its layered construction reduces warping and cupping, ideal for high humidity or below-grade settings.

Prefinished Hardwood Finishes

Prefinished hardwood flooring offers an array of finishes to boost wood’s appearance and durability. Here are the popular prefinished hardwood finishes:

1. Polyurethane

Polyurethane finishes offer a transparent, glossy, or semi-glossy protective layer that amplifies the wood’s beauty. These finishes come in various sheen levels, ranging from high gloss to satin.

2. Aluminum Oxide

Aluminum oxide finishes incorporate minuscule aluminum oxide particles within the wood’s uppermost layer. This type of finish has exceptional resistance against scratches and dents. It’s an ideal choice for areas with heavy foot traffic.

3. Oil-Based Finishes

Oil-based finishes add a lavish, natural aesthetic to hardwood floors. They penetrate the wood, accentuating its grain and color while providing a protective layer. Regular maintenance, such as the periodic reapplication of oil or wax, maintains the floor’s optimal appearance.

4. Water-Based Finishes

Water-based finishes are popular due to low VOC (volatile organic compounds) content and fast drying time. They provide a transparent protective layer that enhances the wood’s natural color without altering its appearance. Water-based finishes are available in various sheen levels, from matte to high gloss.

5. UV-Cured Finishes

UV-cured finishes are applied to prefinished hardwood flooring and cured using ultraviolet light. This process provides excellent durability, fast drying time, and minimal VOC emissions.

Top Considerations Before Choosing Prefinished Hardwood Flooring

Aesthetics and Design Flexibility

Prefinished hardwood flooring provides an array of colors, finishes, and textures. It’s made in a controlled factory environment to achieve a uniform appearance.

Opting for unfinished hardwood flooring enables you to create a personalized and distinct look. On-site finishing offers more control over the wood’s stain color, sheen level, and appearance.

Unfinished hardwood flooring offers greater design flexibility in contrast to its counterpart. The finishing process is customizable to meet specific preferences.

Installation Convenience

Installing prefinished hardwood flooring is easier as it arrives sanded and sealed. Factory finishing saves time, reduces mess, and eliminates odors associated with finishing procedures. This results in a swift installation, enabling immediate use of the space.

Unfinished hardwood flooring necessitates on-site finishing. After installation, the hardwood must undergo sanding, staining, and finishing of planks. This intricate and time-consuming process releases fumes and dust. The finishes take several days to dry.

Repair Convenience

Prefinished hardwood flooring offers more convenience in repairs. Damaged sections can be replaced or repaired without affecting the entire floor.

Prefinished hardwood features a more durable finish, enhancing its resistance to scratches, stains, and wear. You can fix minor scratches or wear by buffing and applying a new topcoat.

Repairing unfinished hardwood flooring can be more laborious and time-consuming. Since the finishing process occurs on-site, repairs might involve sanding and refinishing the damaged area.

Matching the exact color and finish during the repair can be challenging. It may even require refinishing the entire room to maintain a consistent appearance.

Cost Comparison with Unfinished Hardwood

Prefinished hardwood is pricier than unfinished hardwood due to factory processing. However, prefinished hardwood doesn’t require on-site finishing expenses.

It’s essential to account for the added time and labor during installation, including sanding and finishing. They extend the project’s timeline and cost. Prefinished hardwood is ready for immediate installation, saving both time and labor.

Unfinished hardwood needs extra finishing materials like stains, sealers, and finishes. These aren’t necessary with prefinished hardwood.

Compatibility with Subfloor

The type of subfloor determines the suitable wooden flooring type. Generally, both prefinished and unfinished hardwood flooring are compatible with various subfloor types. Compatibility depends on the installation method and the subfloor’s condition.

Ensure structural soundness, levelness, and moisture-free conditions for a plywood subfloor. With concrete subfloors, opt for prefinished hardwoods with moisture barriers. Prefinished and unfinished hardwood are suitable for installation over an existing hardwood subfloor.

Evaluating the condition of the existing subfloor is crucial. It should be level, structurally sound, and devoid of moisture issues. If you’re installing over joists, the flooring must be at least 18mm thick.