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Prefinished or Unfinished Wood Flooring?
Unfinished or Prefinished? This is the Question!
For years there have been discussions which is better - factory or site-finished flooring. The truth is that both have their good and bad sides and we can only talk about personal preferences. If either of the methods was truly superior to the other, it would eventually dominate the competition and drive it out of the market which isn’t the case. There are different tastes and what works for one might not do for the other.
Prefinished floors are also known as ‘factory finished’. It means that the protective coating which keeps the floor safe from any kind of damage is applied before the floor arrives in your home. This type of finish application is both a great advantage and a great downside depending on how you look upon it.
Durability. There are several types of floor finish. Among them, polyurethane lacquers are the most resilient. However, there is another alternative which offers even greater protection. It is known as aluminium oxide. Aluminium oxide can only be applied in a factory which makes it exclusive for prefinished surfaces. The warranty of the coating itself is usually around 25 years but in some cases, it can go as far as 50. In comparison, a finish applied on a site has a warranty of around 5 years or less.
Refinishing. Having such a durable protection is a great benefit but sadly isn’t perfect. Sanding aluminium oxide off the floor can be quite difficult and time-consuming process. it is not impossible, simply hard. It is also particularly painful on engineered surfaces with thin veneers where using coarser grit can ruin the floor permanently.
Repairs. Not going to happen. If for some reason your prefinished floor gets damaged, there is no way to repair it. You cannot find the factory finish on the market and the only option you have is to replace the entire damaged section of the floor.
Installation. Installing prefinished floors is really easy. Once fitted, you can use it immediately without any worries. There is no sanding, staining, finishing or waiting for the whole thing to dry.
Cleaning and maintenance. Prefinished floors will provide significant protection against pretty much any damage due to the excellent coating. All of this is great but it’s not the end of the story.
Factory finished floors come fully prepared for installation. No finish is applied at any point during the process. This means that once the installation is completed, there are seams left between the boards which are never properly sealed. Not only can dust and dirt become trapped in those seams but the complete lack of protection in those areas makes the floor vulnerable to moisture and liquid spills. Cleaning such a surface will require a bit of attention especially when using water.
Health. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are organic chemicals which often have a harmful effect on the human body. Some of them are known to be carcinogens. Modern floor finishes often contain them in certain amounts and they can continue to release them for an unspecified amount of time after the initial installation. Prefinished floors, however, had enough time to dry in the factory so you never have to worry about VOC emissions from your floor or the potential health problems they may cause.
Bevels. As we said, the installation of prefinished floors is easy because it requires no sanding in order to be complete. However, this also means that your prefinished floor will only be as flat as the subfloor upon which it is laid. Any irregularities below will be visible on top.
In order to hide the unevenness of the prefinished floors, the manufacturers introduced bevels – a micro tapered edge on the sides of the boards. Bevels are something some people like and others don’t. Regardless of personal opinion, bevels don’t have any practical applications besides covering height differences.
As the name implies, this type of flooring is installed, stained and finished on site. Most homeowners prefer this method over the prefinished alternative for several reasons despite the fact it is more expensive. What are the reasons? We are about to find out below.
Durability. There is no question that even the toughest finish applied on the site cannot compare to the aluminium oxide found on prefinished floors. However, it has to be said that no matter how strong it is, even the factory finish will eventually wear. It takes long but it does. When that happens, you eventually have to sand and stripping such a finish is not easy. This brings us to the next point.
Refinishing. What is the whole point of having a hardwood floor? The ability to bring it back regardless of age. That’s right, no matter how worn it looks, you can usually repair it, sand it, apply a new coat of finish and restore its initial beauty. This process has to be repeated every now and then. However, each time you do it, you use the finish and stain you like and you have a great many options when it comes to appearance. You can make anything out of this floor, change it, stain it, shape it and transform it to fit your needs. This is the beauty of choice. You take what suits you best.
Repairs. Site finished floors can be repaired at any time. You don’t have to replace entire parts of your floor because the finish is not available on the market. On the contrary, once the repairs are done, you can recoat at any time and the surface will look as good as new.
Installation. Installing unfinished wood is not only harder and more expensive but it also takes more time than that of prefinished flooring. Additionally, you have to wait for each of the coats of finish to dry depending on the type of finish.
Cleaning and maintenance. Here everything is properly sealed. There are no seams between the boards. The coating is not as strong as that of prefinished floors but it has no obvious weaknesses. Cleaning is easy and if you feel the floor is looking a bit worn, you can always slightly buff instead of sanding it. Win-win situation?
Health. We have already talked about VOCs and their negative influence on the human health. Let’s make one thing clear. Different products have different properties. Not every floor finish contains VOCs and there are natural solutions which have exactly zero amount of those. However, there is a trade-off. Usually, (but not always) products that do not contain VOCs have lower durability and require more frequent maintenance.
Unfinished Solid Oak Flooring
It's main purpose is to provide the property owner with the choice of finish, which is more suited to the interior or to the use of the floors. On domestic use, the latter may not be of such importance, but the colour may be.
With modern trends and development of finishes the choice of colours and wood floor finishes is unlimited. Dark brown, white washed or limed floors, redish tints, slight shades of grey, black or even gold and sliver tinted grains.
There is, so much you can do with your imagination on unfinished oak floors.
Unfinished planks are normally coming in thickness of 20 mm - thicker than pre-finished and can be sanded and sealed with specific finish designed for better protection. Product like Bona Traffic HD and Junckers HP Commercial are designed for use on areas with public traffic with increased durability.
Pre-finished planks are usually available in 18 mm thickness and they are ready to install and therefore will save you from unnecesary hassle and cost.