Pre-Finished v. Site-Finished Hardwood Flooring

October 14, 2015

Posted in macstaff

One of the many decisions that must be in selecting hardwood flooring is whether you want to purchase raw boards and have them finished on site or if you want to get pre-finished wood to which stain and finish both have been applied in the factory before they ship to you. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. To help you sort through them, we’ve created the chart below illustrating the benefits, drawbacks, and neutral factors of each option.

Pre-Finished v. Site-Finished Hardwood Flooring

Pre-Finished (Factory-Finished)



Prefinished flooring is limited to the cuts, species, and stains that are going to sell en masse. For this reason, it can be difficult to create a truly unique look with factory-finished flooring. Site-finished flooring provides more options –nearly endless combinations of species, stain, cut, and finish.
Products & colors can be discontinued, making it difficult to match boards to other areas of the home after a period of time. It is fairly easy for a skilled installer to match hardwood flooring and stain to existing flooring and other interior décor. Most species of wood will always be available as raw boards.


The initial cost of pre-finished flooring is higher, but requires much less labor on installation, which tends to balance out the cost. Prefinished is also much more practical to install as a DIY project. The raw material for site-finished flooring is less expensive, but installation and finishing material costs can add up, especially since finishing requires greater skill and a professional installer is usually needed.


Installation can be completed in the course of a day. This means there is no need to move your family out of your home to have your floors redone. You will need to relocate any furnishings temporarily, but can move them back in immediately as soon as a room has been completed. If the whole house is not being done, you can remain in your home throughout installation. The installation process can take several days to complete while stain, several coats of sealant, and topcoat are applied and allowed to dry. You will have to store furniture somewhere else during this time and move your family to another location, even if the whole house is not being re-floored, as the finishing process involves quite a bit of sawdust and fume that should not be inhaled.
Almost all VOCs from pre-finished flooring are released in the factory, so the toxicity of your finish will be practically none. For several days after an oil-based polyurethane is applied, you will smell and breathe in vapors from polyurethane resins and solvents.
In some cases you may be able to request that prefinished floors be the last part of a construction or remodeling project, but it is not always practical to work without flooring installed. In a new home, most contractors will install the floor, but wait until the rest of the work has been completed to finish the floor. That way, dropped tools and heavy boots don’t mar the finish, so your floor is pristine when you move in.

Finish Quality

Factory finishes are applied in a strictly controlled environment and undergo a great deal of quality testing, so a pre-applied finish is likely to be relatively free of imperfections. However, occasional marks from machining may sometimes be visible. Dust, hairs, and small bits of debris can settle into an on-site finish before it has fully cured, leaving imperfections in your finish from the get-to. Dust will usually be worn off after a short time, but others small imperfections may remain.
“Full face fill” provided by some manufacturers seals the pores of the wood enabling the manufacturer to produce an ultra-smooth, even, beautiful sheen on individual boards that cannot be duplicated on-site. A site-finished floor is more subject to imperfections resulting from human error, such a small bubbles, brush marks, etc. However, these can largely be avoided by hiring an experienced, skilled professional.
Some complain that the aluminum oxide used to make prefinished floors so tough can make the finish look slightly ‘murky’.


Edges are microbeveled on all edges, which emphasizes seams between boards and cases individual boards to stand out more. Sanding and finishing onsite creates a smooth, uniform surface that many find desirable in their hardwood floors.
Borders, inlays, and other fancy flooring techniques are difficult or impossible because of the sanding that’s normally required. Onsite finishing allows for greater creativity with borders, inlays, parquet, etc.
You can see samples of prefinished flooring before you order it, so you know exactly what you’re getting. Species and stain can have slight variances from batch to batch, so, while you will have a pretty good idea of what your floors will look like, the precise result of your particular combination will be unknown until the floor is installed and cured.


Easier to replace one or two damaged planks, provided they are still available; for this reason, it is always good to order some extra planks to have on hand for repairs. A skilled hardwood flooring professional can also make seamless repairs to site finished flooring by sanding the area and matching the stain and finish; for this reason, you will want to keep any remaining stain, at least until it expires. You can also peel the labels off of the cans so that you know the exact stain and batch number in case you need to purchase more in the future.
Most manufacturers offer finish warranties that guarantee a floor for 10-25 years, sometimes longer, that cover a specific range of clearly-stated problems, so you know what is covered from the beginning. A good installer will guarantee his or her work for a few years against problems resulting from installer-error, but damage to finishes will usually cost to repair, even if you feel the floor should have been able to withstand the damage.

Resistance to damage

Aluminum oxide finish only available through a factory process provides a great deal more abrasion resistance. Site finished urethane floors can’t meet the level of protection that factory-finished offer.
The solid barrier created by a site-finished floor can in some cases help to prevent water from seeping between planks.