Pre Finished vs Site Finished Flooring

For those seeking convenience and a swift installation process, pre-finished hardwood flooring may seem enticing with its ready-to-install nature, eliminating the hassle of on-site finishing.

However, for those craving ultimate customization and a seamless, integrated look, the allure of site-finished hardwood flooring beckons with its promise of tailored finishes and a unique aesthetic.

Amidst these competing factors, durability, repairability, and overall aesthetic cohesion emerge as key considerations, each influencing the ultimate choice between pre-finished and site-finished hardwood flooring.

Pre Finished hardwood flooring

Pre-finished hardwood refers to hardwood flooring that has been finished with stain and protective coatings at the factory before it is installed in a home or other building.

During the manufacturing process, the hardwood planks are sanded, stained, and coated with multiple layers of finish, such as polyurethane or aluminum oxide. These finishes provide durability and protection against scratches, moisture, and wear.

Once the finishing process is complete, the pre-finished hardwood flooring is packaged and ready for installation. This means that when the flooring is installed in a space, there is no need for additional sanding, staining, or finishing on-site, unlike with site-finished hardwood flooring.

Site Finished Hardwood Flooring

Site-finished hardwood flooring refers to hardwood flooring that is installed raw, without any finishing applied, and then sanded, stained, and finished on-site after installation.

When installing site-finished hardwood flooring, the raw hardwood planks are laid down and secured to the subfloor. Then, the flooring is sanded to create a smooth, level surface and to remove any imperfections. After sanding, the flooring can be stained to achieve the desired color or left natural, depending on the homeowner’s preference. Finally, multiple coats of protective finish, such as polyurethane or oil-based finishes, are applied to the flooring to provide durability and protection against wear, scratches, and moisture.

Site Finished Choices

  • Stains are used to add color to the hardwood flooring and enhance its appearance. They come in a wide range of colors and shades, allowing homeowners to customize the look of their floors to match their design preferences. Common stain options include natural, light, medium, dark, and various undertones such as red or gray.
  • Sealers are applied to the hardwood flooring after staining to protect the wood and enhance its durability. They help to seal the pores of the wood, preventing moisture from penetrating and causing damage. Sealers can be clear or tinted and are available in various sheen levels, including matte, satin, semi-gloss, and high-gloss.
  • Polyurethane finishes are popular choices for site-finished hardwood flooring due to their durability and resistance to scratches, wear, and moisture. They provide a clear protective layer over the wood, enhancing its natural beauty while offering long-lasting protection. Polyurethane finishes come in different formulations, including water-based and oil-based options, each with its own advantages and considerations.
  • Oil-based finishes penetrate the wood to provide a rich, deep color and enhance its natural grain and texture. They offer excellent durability and protection against wear, scratches, and moisture. Oil-based finishes typically require longer drying times compared to water-based finishes but can provide a more traditional and luxurious look to the hardwood flooring.
  • Water-based finishes are known for their fast drying times and low odor, making them a popular choice for site-finished hardwood flooring in residential and commercial settings. They offer excellent durability and protection while maintaining the natural color and appearance of the wood. Water-based finishes are available in various sheen levels and can provide a contemporary and sleek finish to the hardwood flooring.


When considering the cost of hardwood flooring, pre-finished options often come with higher initial expenses due to the manufacturing process. However, installation costs may be lower since pre-finished flooring requires less labor. On the other hand, site-finished hardwood typically has lower upfront costs as you’re only purchasing raw materials, but installation expenses may be higher due to the longer installation time required for on-site finishing.


Customization plays a significant role in hardwood flooring selection. Pre-finished hardwood offers limited options in terms of color and finish, as these are determined during the manufacturing process. In contrast, site-finished hardwood provides virtually limitless customization opportunities, allowing you to choose the exact color and finish to match your specific design preferences.

Installation Time

Installation time differs between pre-finished and site-finished hardwood flooring. Pre-finished hardwood is quicker to install since it comes ready to install out of the box, requiring no additional finishing on-site. Conversely, site-finished hardwood extends the installation timeline because it involves sanding, staining, and finishing the wood on-site, with additional drying time required between coats.


Durability is an essential factor in hardwood flooring. Pre-finished hardwood often boasts factory-applied finishes that offer excellent durability and scratch resistance. Conversely, the durability of site-finished hardwood depends on the quality of the finish applied on-site, but it allows for greater control over the sealing process, potentially enhancing longevity.


When it comes to repairing hardwood flooring, there are differences between pre-finished and site-finished options. Pre-finished hardwood may require replacing entire boards for repairs since the finish is applied uniformly across the surface. In contrast, site-finished hardwood is easier to repair, as individual boards can be sanded and refinished without affecting surrounding areas, maintaining the floor’s aesthetic appeal.

Overall Appearance

The overall appearance of hardwood flooring is influenced by whether it’s pre-finished or site-finished. Pre-finished hardwood offers a uniform appearance across the entire floor, with consistent color and finish due to factory-controlled processes. On the other hand, site-finished hardwood provides a seamless look with no height differences or beveled edges between boards, offering a more natural and integrated appearance.


Pre-finished hardwood flooring often features beveled edges. Beveled edges are slightly angled edges along the length of each plank, which create a small groove between adjacent planks when installed. This beveled edge helps to disguise minor irregularities in the subfloor and provides a more distinct visual separation between planks. However, some homeowners may prefer a smoother, seamless look without beveled edges.

In contrast, site-finished hardwood flooring typically has square edges. Square edges create a flush, seamless transition between adjacent planks when installed, resulting in a more uniform and integrated appearance. Without the beveled edges found in pre-finished flooring, site-finished hardwood offers a smoother and more continuous surface, which can enhance the overall aesthetic of the floor.

Subfloor preparation

For pre-finished hardwood flooring, the subfloor should be clean, flat, and level. Any debris, dirt, or old flooring materials should be removed, and the subfloor should be thoroughly inspected for any signs of damage or unevenness.

Subfloor imperfections should be addressed through leveling compounds or sanding to create a smooth surface for installation. Additionally, moisture levels in the subfloor should be checked and addressed as necessary to prevent issues such as warping or buckling after installation.

Similarly, for site-finished hardwood flooring, the subfloor must be properly prepared to ensure a successful installation. This involves cleaning the subfloor to remove any debris, dust, or contaminants that could interfere with the adhesion of the finish. Any unevenness or imperfections in the subfloor should be addressed through sanding or leveling compounds to create a flat surface for finishing. Moisture levels in the subfloor must also be monitored and corrected as needed to prevent issues with the finish adhering properly.

Pre-Finsihed vs Site Finished Which is Better

The choice between pre-finished and site-finished hardwood flooring depends on factors such as convenience, customization, durability, and installation timeline. Pre-finished hardwood offers convenience with immediate installation and uniformity in appearance, but customization options are limited, while site-finished hardwood allows for greater customization and seamless integration but requires a longer installation process. Additionally, pre-finished flooring often boasts advanced factory finishes for durability, while site-finished flooring offers easier repairability. Consider your priorities and preferences regarding these factors to determine the better choice for your needs.

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