Finishing treatments are applied to hardwood materials in order to protect them against stains, discolorations, and water penetration. Often these treatments are applied to the wood after it has been installed on the subfloor. However, in some cases, manufacturers will treat the wood with finishing agents before shipping the material. There are certain advantages that are gained from this, as well as several drawbacks.
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Advantages of Prefinished Flooring Treatments
Durability: When the factory applies the finish treatment to the wood, they are able to use very powerful chemical sealers, which are applied by commercial processes which are not available to on site installers. Typically this consists of aluminum oxide crystals embedded in a UV cured urethane coat. While site applied finishes warranty for 3-5 years, factory applied treatments will often have warranties of 5-25 years or more.
Installation: It is much easier, and quicker, to install prefinished hardwood than it is going through the process of sanding and staining the material on site. Sanding is a messy procedure that fills the room with wood dust, which then has to be thoroughly cleaned. After that the application of the finish can leave a residual odor in the air, and take hours, or even days to dry in between coats. By contrast pre-finished floors are ready to go as soon as they are installed.
Ease of Maintenance: Because the surface seal is stronger and more durable when it is applied at the factory, the maintenance of these floors is easier. They tend to be slightly more impervious to stains, moisture, and other discolorations than floors that are finished on site. In addition the fact that the treatment will last longer, means that you will not have to go through the time, mess, and expense of getting the floors refinished a few years later.
Best of Both Worlds: With pre-finished flooring you get all of the advantages of the factory applied extra durable surface seal, with the look, beauty, and feel of natural hardwood. At the same time you also always have the option of sanding down past the factory applied sealing coat, in order to once more reveal the natural wood to the surface. It can then be treated with any of the basic on site finishing techniques.
Disadvantages of Factory Finished Hardwood
Seams: Because the material is finished at the factory, a sealing agent is not applied to the lines between the planks when they are installed. This can lead to dirt and grime getting caught in these seams. They also may be susceptible to water penetration, which can cause rot or mold to grow beneath the surface of the floor.
Bevelling: This isn’t necessarily a drawback, but more of a style choice. Often factory pre-finished wood will have bevelled, slightly rounded edges. This gives the wood plank a more finished, and slightly manufactured look. This can be great for the style of some interiors, but it may not match up with similar species of wood that have been installed on site, and have full, squared edges.
Height: With a site finished floor you install the material and then sand it flat. This allows you to remove any height irregularities which may exist due to an uneven subfloor. With pre-finished materials, there is no sanding process, so the actual surface of the installation will reflect any below surface irregularities that may be present.
Refinishing: While pre-finished floors do not need to be refinished for a very long time, eventually the surface seal will start to fade, scratch, and discolor slightly. The problem with this is that the thick and pervasive nature of the pre-finished coat requires you to sand down further into the material in order to reach the natural hardwood again. This cuts down on the depth of the floor, and limits how many times you can then refinish it going forward before it gets too thin.
Repairs: With site finished floors, when a piece of wood becomes damaged, you can often repair it by sanding smooth the imperfection. However, the thick seal layer of a prefinished floor means that when a section of flooring becomes damaged, the only way to repair it is to either sand the finish off of the entire floor, or remove and replace the broken section.