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The Difference Between Refinished and Unfinished Hardwood Flooring

Prefinished vs. Unfinished Hardwood Floor

Refinished Hardwood Flooring vs. Unfinished Hardwood Flooring - Cost guide hardwood flooring - 1

As the name suggests, prefinished hardwood floors are those that are ready to be installed without additional finishing work. In contrast, unfinished hardwood floors require some finishing work. The cost of finishing hardwood floors includes top coating an already sanded and stained hardwood floor in order to keep it protected from moisture, stains and everyday wear.

Refinished Hardwood Flooring vs. Unfinished Hardwood Flooring - Cost guide hardwood flooring - 2

When you shop for hardwood floors, you´ll most likely find prefinished hardwood floors which are ready to be installed and used without additional finishing work. The upside of prefinished hardwood floors is that no additional labor costs will be needed for finishing. The downside is that customization, like color and finishing, cannot be done after installation. Essentially, what you see is what you get.

Refinished Hardwood Flooring vs. Unfinished Hardwood Flooring - Cost guide hardwood flooring - 3

The other option is to get unfinished hardwood floors, which means that after the hardwood floor is purchased and installed, the floors need to be sanded, stained and coated on site, also called "finished in place." The advantage of unfinished hardwood floors is that there is great room for customization, both in terms of finishing and getting exactly the color and coating you want for your new hardwood floors. The downside is the additional installation cost of those floors, including the cost of sanding hardwood floors, hardwood flooring labor cost, equipment and finishing materials.

The cost of prefinished and unfinished hardwood floor are an important factor in deciding which is best for you. However, without knowing what goes into this cost, it is hard to make an educated decision as to what hardwood floor you need. We have reviewed the pros and cons of prefinished and unfinished hardwood floor so you can make your decision with ease.
Refinished Hardwood Flooring vs. Unfinished Hardwood Flooring - Cost guide hardwood flooring - 4

What is Prefinished Hardwood Floor

In today´s modern world, the manufacturers of prefinished hardwood floors ("factory finished") have come a long way towards perfecting hardwood floor finishing technology. The end result is that you can safely purchase prefinished hardwood floors that are durable, easy to maintain and have flawless finish results.

Cost: The average cost of prefinished hardwood floor per square foot can range from $3.00 to $7.00, not including prefinished hardwood floor installation cost, which depends on the width of the planks and type of wood. The cheapest is usually Oak hardwood with 2.22" plank width.

When the prefinished hardwood floor is manufactured at a plant, high-end technologies and methods are used to create the highest quality product. For example, when drying the finishing coating, ultra-violet (UV) lights are used to dry each coat, allowing the quick application of 5 to 10 coats. This process reduces the average cost for hardwood floors and, at the same time, increase durability and the aesthetics of the hardwood floor. In general, there are three main hardwood floor finishing technologies, varying in strength, durability and aesthetics.

  • Prefinished Acrylic-Urethane Finish

    Acrylic-urethane is the classic material used to finish prefinished hardwood floors. The upside of this finish is the relatively lower price and wide variety of gloss levels, but it comes at the expense of durability, which is lower compared to more expensive finishing options. If you plan to install temporary hardwood floors, or if durability is not a priority, this is the way to go. However, if durability and high-end finish is needed, you might want to check more high end options.

    Cost: The average cost of prefinished hardwood floor per square foot is $4.32 - $5.70 . (Non-discounted retail pricing for: Residential, above-grade solid wood flooring. 25 year limited warranty. UV resistant 7 coat AlO satin finish. For nail down installation. Quantity includes typical waste overage, material for repair and local delivery.)

  • Aluminum Oxide Finish

    More advanced coating than acrylic-urethane, aluminum oxide is the most widely used hardwood floor coating. It uses advanced technologies that blend aluminum particles with the acrylic-urethane, creating a stronger and more durable coating layer. Resistance to water, stains, and scratches, general wear is significantly increased compared to acrylic-urethane. The downside is that using aluminum oxide coating results in a dim and boring aesthetic. Because aluminum oxide is incredibly strong, however, manufacturers usually use at least one layer of aluminum oxide and then add several acrylic-urethane layers to create the shine that homeowners like to see on their new hardwood flooring. You can pick among three gloss levels for the final finishing: Glossy, semi-gloss, and satin sheens.

    Cost: The average cost of prefinished hardwood floor per square foot is $4.32 - $5.70 (Non-discounted retail pricing for: Residential, above-grade solid wood flooring. 25 year limited warranty. UV resistant 7 coat AlO satin finish. For nail down installation. Quantity includes typical waste overage, material for repair and local delivery.)

  • Acrylic Impregnated Finish

    This even more advanced coating technology involves the injection of acrylic monomers directly into the cell structure of the wood. This technique fills the open gaps,or pores in the wood through the entire width and depth of the hardwood planks, creating the most durable solution for hardwood floors possible. Owing to its durability, acrylic impregnated finish is generally used for commercial floors which face increased wear and tear, although more and more homeowners select this option due to its durability and decrease in production costs thanks to new technologies.

    Cost: The average cost of prefinished hardwood floor per square foot is $4.32 - $5.70 (Non-discounted retail pricing for: Residential, above-grade solid wood flooring. 25 year limited warranty. UV resistant 7 coat AlO satin finish. For nail down installation. Quantity includes typical waste overage, material for repair and local delivery.)

Advantages of Prefinished Hardwood Floor

Today, prefinished hardwood floor is the most widely purchased option, and with good reason:

  • High Durability:

    Even if the prefinished acrylic-urethane is selected, as opposed to the more durable aluminum oxide and acrylic impregnated finish, the amount of layers and the UV drying deliver extreme durability, which is hard to achieve with unfinished hardwood floor.

  • Perfect Aesthetics at Minimal Effort:

    When technology is applied on an industrial scale to produce prefinished hardwood floors, the result is flawlessly coated planks absent of any dents, cracks or missed spots. All of this is achieved with zero work at your house, meaning no mess, no paint smell and most importantly, no stress.

  • Timing:

    You won´t have to wait days, or weeks, for your flooring to completely dry. Once floors are installed, you can move furniture right in and start enjoying your new flooring.

Cost: average cost of prefinished hardwood floor per square foot of $4.32 - $5.70 (Non-discounted retail pricing for: Residential, above-grade solid wood flooring. 25 year limited warranty. UV resistant 7 coat AlO satin finish. For nail down installation. Quantity includes typical waste overage, material for repair and local delivery.)

What is Unfinished Hardwood Floor?

Installing unfinished Hardwoods floors, despite being an arduous, time-consuming process, offer on-site finish techniques that provide for a level of customization that´s simply unheard of in prefinished flooring. Some types of finishes for on-site use, include:

  • Water-based Urethane:

    Water-based finishes boast the advantage of being both odorless and quick-drying, taking only 2-8 hours per coat. At the same time, the durability ranges from moderate to excellent, depending on the brand. One of the only drawbacks associated with this finish lies in its inability to enhance color for many wood species, especially exotic ones. For such cases, you should apply a color-enhanced sealer as the first coat. The total drying process spans 1-3 weeks.

    Cost: The average cost of prefinished hardwood floor per square foot of $4.32 - $5.70 (Non-discounted retail pricing for: Residential, above-grade solid wood flooring. 25 year limited warranty. UV resistant 7 coat AlO satin finish. For nail down installation. Quantity includes typical waste overage, material for repair and local delivery.)

  • Oil-based Polyurethane:

    Unlike the water-based coating, the oil-based finishes exude an odor that lasts up to a week and requires additional time to dry per coat (8-24 hours) and for the project as a whole (2-4 weeks until the flooring is cured). However, the finish sustains a thicker protective coating and enhances the color of most wood flooring. Durability is dependent on the brand and can range from moderate to excellent.

    Cost: The average cost of prefinished hardwood floor per square foot is $4.32 - $5.70 (Non-discounted retail pricing for: Residential, above-grade solid wood flooring. 25 year limited warranty. UV resistant 7 coat AlO satin finish. For nail down installation. Quantity includes typical waste overage, material for repair and local delivery.)

  • Moisture-cured Urethane:

    The moisture-cured finish is also highly durable and enhances the colors for all wood species. Utilizing moisture from the air to dry the wood, the finish requires 8-16 hours of drying per coat and needs up to 2 weeks for the wood to completely cure. It´s important to note that this particular finish emits a strong odor and is often hard to work with.

    Cost: The average cost of prefinished hardwood floor per square foot is $4.32 - $5.70 (Non-discounted retail pricing for: Residential, above-grade solid wood flooring. 25 year limited warranty. UV resistant 7 coat AlO satin finish. For nail down installation. Quantity includes typical waste overage, material for repair and local delivery.)

Why Choose Unfinished Woods?

Along with unprecedented customization, unfinished wood offers:

  • Larger Plank Widths: Unfinished woods often come in extra-wide sizes with plank widths of 7" or more, unlike the prefinished woods.
  • Seamless Look: Square-edged planks create a more seamless look. While limited in prefinished flooring, unfinished flooring often provides only square edges.
  • Better Moisture Protection: Prefinished woods only seal individual planks, allowing for moisture to collect between the seams, which is a problem that never occurs with on-site finishes since the entire floor, including the seams, is sealed.
  • Easier to Repair: With unfinished flooring, scratches or dents are fixed with ease before the top coating is applied. On the other hand, if a prefinished board sustains damage, the only option is to replace the damaged material. Attempts to fill, sand, and reseal a damaged prefinished board rarely results in a factory-grade finish.
  • Easier to Refinish: While many prefinished woods can be successfully refinished, the process involves removing six or more layers of baked-on urethane finish before reaching the bare wood. The same refinishing process is less time consuming with refinishing site-finished woods because they possess fewer layers of finish to remove.
  • A Word on Gloss: A finished gloss level will not affect its overall durability or performance. The choice is strictly a matter of preference. It´s fair to note, however, that lower gloss levels may better masquerade minor surface scratches that occur with everyday wear.

Cost: The average cost of prefinished hardwood floor per square foot is $4.32 - $5.70 (Non-discounted retail pricing for: Residential, above-grade solid wood flooring. 25 year limited warranty. UV resistant 7 coat AlO satin finish. For nail down installation. Quantity includes typical waste overage, material for repair and local delivery.)