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Should I Use Prefinished or Unfinished Hardwood Flooring?

by Jeff Hosking – Hosking Hardwood Flooring
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Unfinished Hardwood Flooring

wood flooring finishFor many centuries hardwood flooring was only available unfinished, the wood flooring had to be installed and then sanded flat, stained and refinished with multiple coats of a urethane based finish. This whole extremely laborious process took days even weeks to complete and the finished quality of the job was often questionable.

Most of the problems that would arise were bubbles, pools and missed spots in the finish, dust or hairs stuck in the finish coats, gouges or other sanding marks left in the wood from the sanding process. Other problems involved unqualified refinishers who dripped or splashed the finish coats all over the other floor coverings and walls and the dust left over from all this work would be throughout the house. You also had to be out of your home while this work was being performed. Whether a hardwood finishing job was a success or failure wholly depended on the quality and experience of the installer/refinisher as well as the finishing products and techniques they used.

While techniques and finishing products have improved over the years, having an unfinished hardwood floor site-finished today can still be a tedious process and results can vary. There are some benefits, though, of having unfinished hardwood flooring installed in your home. Firstly, if there is a specific stain color you prefer that you just can't find in a prefinished option, unfinished flooring can be stained to give you exactly what you want. Additionally, prefinished flooring isn't typically available in super wide widths. So, if you're looking for a board 7"+ wide, unfinished hardwood flooring may be the perfect solution for you. Finally, if you're looking for a square edged hardwood floor to create a seamless look, there are limited options on the market right now. Unfinished flooring is typically only available with a square edge.


On Site Finishing of Unfinished Flooring: Most Popular Types of Finishes Used

Water Based Urethane: Water is used as part of the chemical make up of the polyurethane finish. Water base finishes are quick drying 2-8 hours per coat, virtually odorless. Water base finishes do not always enhance the color of some wood species especially exotic wood flooring species without using a color enhanced sealer as a first coat. Durability of these types of finishes are moderate to excellent depending on which brand is used. Complete cure (dry) time is 1-3 weeks. Available in Gloss, Semi Gloss, and Satin sheen.

Solvent Based Polyurethane: Oils are used as part of the chemical make up of the polyurethane finish. Oil based finishes take 8-24 hours dry time between coats, contain an odor that may last several days, oil base provides a thick finish film and enhances the color of any wood flooring. Durability of these types of finishes are moderate to excellent depending on which brand is used. Complete cure (dry) time is 2-4 weeks. Available in Gloss, Semi Gloss, and Satin sheen.


Moisture Cured Urethane: Moisture cured urethane which uses the moisture within the air to cure has for years been renowned for its durability. Moisture cured urethane takes 8-16 hours dry time between coats enhances the color of all wood flooring species, has a strong pungent odor. Difficult to work with. Durability of these types of finishes are Excellent to Best depending on which brand is used. Complete cure (dry) time is 1-2 weeks. Available in Gloss, Semi Gloss, and Satin sheen.

Prefinished Hardwood Flooring

prefinished hardwood flooringYears ago, when prefinished hardwood flooring was first introduced, there were very few color choices and most had a wax-like protective coating applied over a stain color to protect the surface. The problem with wax coatings is that the flooring would often show scuff marks easily and white water spots if the flooring got wet. The customer maintenance for this flooring was incredibly intense. Constant buffing and re-waxing of the flooring was required to keep it new looking.

As time progressed, prefinished hardwood flooring manufacturers added a lot more color options and replaced the wax finish with a durable urethane based finish. This new finish eliminated the water spotting problem and made the floor more durable and resistant to scratching.

Within the last 10 years top manufacturers of prefinished hardwood flooring started using a newer, more durable and scratch resistant finish called an Aluminum Oxide Finish. This Aluminum Oxide finish contains tiny particles of Aluminum Oxide (the same stuff they make sandpaper out of) mixed within the finish layers. Aluminum Oxide finishes can only be applied using specialized factory machinery and cannot be applied to unfinished flooring outside of the factory.

Manufacturers of prefinished hardwood floors have developed and are constantly improving sophisticated techniques to quickly apply durable urethane based finishes right at the factory, creating flawless results. By using ultra violet lights to dry each coat of finish on the prefinished wood planks, factories can have 6-10 coats of urethane applied and dried within a matter of a minutes. Purchasing prefinished flooring saves you time and money by eliminating the mess and the added days of having to stay out of the rooms while you wait for the sanding and refinishing to be completed. With prefinished hardwood flooring, you can move right back in after the flooring has been installed and there are NO lingering odors like with site finished flooring. Additionally, factory finished flooring generally has more durable finishes applied.

Since prefinished flooring is finished at the factory weeks or months prior to it being purchased, the finish has had the chance to completely cured to it's hardest degree.


Prefinished Hardwood Flooring: Most Popular Types of Finishes Used

There are different types of finishes used on prefinished hardwood flooring, each offering different levels of strength, durability and sheen:

Acrylic-urethane: A slightly different chemical make up than Polyurethane with the same benefits. This original type of finish was used when prefinished flooring first came out. It is less expensive than the more durable finishes described below but some manufacturers still offer it. Available in Gloss, Semi Gloss and Satin sheen.

Aluminum Oxide: Today, this is the most popular finish type used.  Advanced technology allows the use of tiny Aluminum particles to be mixed with the urethane for increased abrasion resistance of the wear layer. Aluminum Oxide is very hard and will dull saw blades faster than other finishes. Aluminum Oxide by itself can make the finish appear dull if used in multiple coats, so it is usually only applied in one coat during the factory finishing process, along with multiple coats of urethane. Available in Gloss, Semi Gloss and Satin sheen.

Impregnated: Created when acrylic monomers are injected into the cell structure of the wood flooring at the factory to give the flooring an increased hardness. Then boards are coated with a finish wear layer over the wood. Finish that has been impregnated into the cell structure fills the open pores thoroughout the entire thickness of the flooring, which strengthens the wood flooring itself and minimizes wear and denting. Acrylic impregnated prefinished hardwood flooring is the most durable type of floor systems available and are specially designed for commercial wood flooring applications, although they are frequently being put in residential settings as well. Available in Gloss, Semi Gloss and Satin sheen.

Ceramic: Includes advanced technology allowing the use of space-age ceramic particles mixed with the urethane to increase the abrasion resistance of the wear layer. Because of the superior hardness of this finish there have been some issues of the finish having issues bonding to the wood and being so brittle, making it easier to chip if something is dropped on the surface. Most prefinished flooring manufacturers have shied away from using Ceramic finishes. Available in Gloss, Semi Gloss and Satin sheen.


Maintenance of Factory Finished and Site Finished Hardwood Flooring

The maintenance tips we recommend for factory finished and site finished hardwood flooring are basically the same: vacuuming the flooring using a soft bristle brush and using the manufacturer's recommend hardwood flooring spray cleaner with a soft cloth or terry cloth mop. Never use waxes or oil products to clean finished hardwood flooring, as these products create films that cannot be removed.

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Prefinished vs Unfinished Hardwood Flooring
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Overall Rating: 4.4 stars - 5 reviews

Date: December 26, 2016
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Date: December 2, 2015
Page Rating: (4.0/5)
Do you need to use a sealer after installing pre-finished hardwood flooring? Specifically Anderson Floorings Elements collection.
Date: June 21, 2015
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
very informative about types of finishes. This article is excellent. The only one I found with this complete information
Date: July 23, 2014
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
very informative, thanks
Date: June 29, 2014
Page Rating: (3.0/5)
You did not give info on how to tell the different coating. Is that imposable.

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