Prefinished or Unfinished Hardwood Flooring – That’s the Question

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I love the character of hardwood flooring. So much so that I recently decided to replace the carpeting in our living and dining areas with hardwood. My husband was skeptical of my hardwood floor laying abilities at best. So was I. It wasn’t a project that I jumped into hastily. In fact, I researched and studied for months before I finally felt confident enough to even breech the subject with the hubby. I finally decided that it was indeed a job that we could do.

DIY Hardwood Flooring – It Can Be Done!

I presented a spreadsheet of options to my husband. He’s a big spreadsheet kind of person, and I’ve found that the secret to getting things done around my house is to make sure that he feels like he’s the one who made the decision to take it on in the first place. The spreadsheet simply demonstrated the pros and cons of several options. Like the cost of having this “necessary” project done for us versus taking this one on ourselves. My manipulative plan worked, and we dove into the nuts and bolts of a do it yourself hardwood floor project. After cost, which was the biggest factor for us, we had to decide between prefinished or unfinished hardwood flooring.

hardwood flooring
You can really see the difference in what you are working with when you compare an unfinished sample with a prefinished sample.

Easier on Your Time

Prefinished wood was an easy winner from a logical standpoint. We had to consider that time is money. Time is what really sets prefinished versus unfinished wood apart. While unfinished wood is less expensive up front, the cost becomes more equitable when you factor in the extra cash you lay down for stain, sealer, a floor sander and the time all of these extra steps take.

With either choice, you have to plan on the time it takes to lay the floor. I watched a YouTube video that showed a team of experienced men slapping the boards down, kicking the tongues into the grooves with their heels, and pounding the nails in with their pneumatic hammers lickety-split. In my naiveté, I imagined myself doing the same thing and having my 400 square feet of hardwood laid within a day. They made it look so easy! I totally crack myself up in hindsight.

Just know that it takes time to join the tongues and grooves seamlessly with a rubber mallet, to lay out your pattern carefully, and to make cuts to your boards. The cuts sometimes require miters. And the pneumatic hammer has to be loaded and reloaded frequently. They didn’t show that in the video. Then, when the floor is complete, it takes time to replace the baseboards around your project. Whether you select prefinished or unfinished wood, this is a time and labor intensive job. Fortunately, we did know that our home would be a war zone for at least a week with either a prefinished or an unfinished selection.

The benefit of prefinished wood flooring is that it comes complete with stain and anywhere from 3 to 9 coats of sealant. This is a huge time saver that makes prefinished wood a very good choice when you consider time. Prefinished wood comes in a wide variety of colors and textures, too.

Difficult, but Do-able

hardwood flooring
Unfinished hardwood is like a bare canvas waiting for an artist’s touch.

Unfinished wood is just that – unfinished. Unfinished means that the sky is the limit as far as color choice and finish goes. The ability to custom finish wood is enticing. But custom finishing isn’t easy. The application of the stain and several coats of finish can take many days to set and dry. And staining and sealing a floor is intimidating. Stain is not a very forgiving product to work with. Hence the word “stain”. It’s not a joke. And floor sealer is challenging to lay. If not done well, it can easily appear uneven. You can’t go back and touch up one little spot without compromising the appearance of the floor as a whole.

Not only do you have to stain and seal that unfinished wood, you also have to sand the entire surface of the floor to smooth and even the surface. That step alone equals a mess. While sanding tools have come a long way in regard to containment, it’s still difficult to keep a cloud of sawdust in one area of a home.

The Verdict

hardwood flooring
This was once unfinished hardwood. Finished with stain and three coats of sealant, there is little difference between prefinished and unfinished once the flooring is installed.

When it really came down to it, we decided the cost savings of the unfinished wood was easily offset by the time savings of the prefinished wood. However, we decided that our ability to custom finish our floor was the way to go. As with most do it yourself projects at our house, we were excited to get it going. We were hating ourselves, each other, hardwood flooring, and anything else we could aim our frustration at halfway through. But once it was complete, we felt like super heroes. It’s been a couple of years now, and our floor still looks fantastic. Whether you choose prefinished or unfinished hardwood flooring, we hope you will find the end result as rewarding as we have.

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About Amy

Amy spent her early years roaming a neighbor's corn field, much to her parents' distress, and eating tomatoes like apples in her Midwest grandmother's garden. She learned to snap green beans like a machine by the tender age of four. Later, as a Colorado gal, she battled the elements and finally had success growing a celebratory rhubarb plant in a high altitude garden setting. At that point, there was no turning back. She gave in to her green thumb and, in order of priority, is currently growing vegetables, flowers, kids, and pets on the high plains south of Denver.

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