When you are looking for hardwood floors, you’ll encounter several different phrases over and over. Sometimes, the manufacturers and retailers don’t properly explain the differences between the kinds of hardwood. Prefinished hardwood flooring, engineered hardwood flooring, and site-finished hardwood flooring are all different options.
What Is the Difference?
Prefinished hardwood flooring is flooring that is finished at the factory or by the retailer. When wood is milled and processed, it is considered unfinished. Wood can then be stained in order to deepen the color of the wood and the contrast of the grain. Alternately, wood can be stained to change its color. For example, a white oak can be stained to look reddish, like a cherry wood. Wood can also be stained to change its color in more drastic ways. A wood can be stained bright blue, true black, or any host of colors.
The wood is then finished with a sealant. Polyurethane is the most common sealant. It’s a liquid plastic that forms a protective shell over the wood. It protects the wood from moisture and scratches. Site-finished hardwood flooring has the stain and the finish applied after the wood has been installed in your home. Prefinished hardwood is stained and finished by the manufacturer. That’s the basic difference between prefinished and site-finished hardwood. Site-finished can also be called unfinished hardwood.
What About Engineered Hardwood?
Engineered hardwood refers to the process of actually creating the hardwood planks from different plies of wood; it doesn’t refer to the finish of the wood. Engineered hardwood can be prefinished or site-finished. However, most engineered hardwood is prefinished.
Is Prefinished Better?
Prefinished hardwood is not necessarily better or worse than site-finished hardwood. Prefinished hardwood is preferred by some people because it is much easier to install. With site-finished hardwood, you have to install it and then stain it. You must then wait for the stain to dry. After that, you’ll need to apply multiple layers of polyurethane. That could take several days to apply and several more days to fully set. Prefinished hardwood is ready to walk on as soon as you install it.
Also, the finish on prefinished hardwood tends to be harder than site-finished polyurethane. The factory finish is a mixture of polyurethane and aluminum oxide that has been cured by UV light. It’s harder and more durable than polyurethane. That means it will likely last longer, but you will have a much harder time sanding and refinishing the wood.