What’s your best option when it comes to choosing a hardwood flooring product: Prefinished or unfinished floorboards? Gaylord Hardwood Flooring admittedly has a bias: We prefinish our hardwood with a 10-coat titanium finish that’s the most durable, clearest and scratch-resistant finish on the market. We stand behind that quality with a 40-year warranty. However, to understand why we made that decision, and why it’s most likely the best option for you, you need to know a bit about what’s at the heart of the issue: wood.
The Natural Flux Of Wood Floorboards
As a natural product, wood can be unpredictable, particularly when it comes to moisture. As you increase humidity in an environment, for example, the wood will start to swell; as you decrease the humidity, it dries out. This happens naturally with the changing of seasons, which is the main reason why you need to keep both the humidity and temperature in your home relatively consistent (between 30 and 50 percent, according to the National Wood Flooring Association). In the forest, this ‘breathing’ is fine; in your hardwood floor, however, it’s hard to anticipate what will happen with these fluctuations. That’s why moisture-related issues can be found be at the root of most of the hardwood flooring problems you may encounter (like cracking and cupping).
Unfinished (or Site Finished) Hardwood
Unfinished hardwood is also referred to as “site finished” because of the fact that it’s finished only once installed on-site. “Many people prefer site finish because they think it is all sealed together as one, with no bevels between the boards,” said Greg Gaylord, Sales Manager at Gaylord Hardwood Flooring. He noted that most prefinished boards are slightly rounded on the corners to help protect the edges during installation. When you install a hardwood floor, it may not be perfectly even due to slight differences in the wood thickness, subfloor (which you install on top of), or installation process. If you’re finishing the flooring on site, you can even out any inconsistencies with sanding before applying the finish. However, Gaylord said, there is a misconception that because of this uniformity, an on-site finish will seal and better-protect the wood from ‘breathing’ or spills. No hardwood floor is immune from spills that aren’t quickly cleaned up, Gaylord said, noting that however a floor is sealed, the wood is still vulnerable to fluctuations that could damage an on-site finish. “When the wood moves with seasonal changes, the [on-site finish] seal over the boards can come apart. This often creates a sharp, jagged edge.” This is one of the main reasons why on-site finishing has no warranty, he added. There is also a possibility that dust will get into the finish, but Gaylord believes the biggest drawback is the impact it can have on you. “You can’t be around while the finish is being applied and drying, so you are not allowed in your home for a minimum of three days.”
Prefinished hardwood is precoated at the factory, which means the process is controlled: The application is even and the colour is consistent. That control gives you additional protection. For example, if you aren’t satisfied with the finish of some of the boards, you can simply exchange them; accepted industry standards allow a defect tolerance that shouldn’t exceed 5 percent. While unfinished hardwood boards fall within these standards, the on-site finished product does not. Plus, using prefinished hardwood speeds up the installation process: There’s no need for sanding or finishing, so installation generally takes only a day (depending on floor size). “I think prefinished is just better in every way,” said Gaylord. Because of their confidence in the process and the finish used, Gaylord Hardwood Flooring warranties that the product finish will not wear through or separate from the wood for a full 40 years. Prefinished floorboards are not immune from the seasonal fluctuations that can impact all wood products but, as long as the humidity and temperature are properly maintained, each board is free to expand or contract according to its environment with minimal impact to the finish itself. Ultimately, Gaylord noted, the solution you choose depends not just on your preferences, but also finding the best product for the environment of your home. Have a question about hardwood flooring finish? Give us a call, we’ll be happy to help.