What type of finish for your hardwood floor?
Site-Finished vs. Prefinished
A pre-finish, or factory finish, creates a no muss, no fuss installation.
There's no dust from sanding, no fumes from chemicals, no waiting for the
finish to dry. These floors are warranted to last longer than site-finished
floors–typically 15 to 25 years, versus three to five years. This is because
factory applied urethane finishes are much tougher and longer lasting than
With all the color choices available in pre-finished
hardwood flooring, there's no need to custom stain site-finished floors
to get just the right look for your home.
If you like the look of site-finished flooring, but want the durability of
prefinished flooring, choose a product with a
square end and edge.
Advocates of site-finishing like the fact that the floor can be sanded after
it's installed to even out any imperfections. Site finishing also gives you
the widest selection of stain colors to choose from. However, on-site
sanding and finishing can produce heavy fumes, messy dust and significant
waiting time from when the floor is laid until it can be enjoyed. In
addition, labor costs for on-site finishing may drive up your installation
Keep in Mind:
- Prefinished floors are warranted for a longer time period than site
the right finish for your hardwood floor will enhance its beauty for many
years. A finish protects your floor from everyday wear, dirt, and moisture,
and provides color and luster that give your floor its own personality.
You can choose from two types of finishes: surface finishes or
These are the most popular choice and involve applying a stain to achieve
a particular color, followed by a top coat of polyurethane or varnish to
give a protective coat. Surface finishes are durable, they resist moisture,
and are easy to maintain. There are four options for the top coat, and each
has its own benefits:
OIL-BASED URETHANE is the most commonly used floor finish.
Available in gloss, semi-gloss, and satin sheens, oil-based urethane is
generally applied in two or three coats, with drying time of up to 8 hours
for each coat. This type of finish emits fumes as it dries, so adequate
ventilation is important. Clean up is accomplished with a solvent similar to
paint thinner. An oil-based urethane finish ambers with age.
WATER-BASED URETHANE provides a clear, non-yellowing finish and
produces fewer odors than other choices. This product dries quickly, and
clean up can be accomplished with soap and water. Some manufacturers make
available additives called "cross-linkers" that can be mixed into the
water-based finishes for added durability.
MOISTURE-CURED URETHANE is a solvent-based polyurethane that is
more durable and more moisture-resistant than other surface finishes. It is
mostly used in commercial, high-traffic settings like stores or offices.
This finish is available in a satin or gloss non-yellowing formula, as well
as one that will take on an amber hue with age. This finish has a strong
odor and its application is best left to the professional.
CONVERSION VARNISH is a clear, non-yellowing product that dries in
about 8 hours. Like moisture-cured urethane it produces a very strong odor
and should only be applied by a skilled wood flooring professional.
PENETRATING STAINS AND FINISHES
These finishes do exactly what their name implies: they penetrate the
wood to form a protective seal. The stains soak in to provide color, and a
wax coating gives a low-gloss satin sheen that can be maintained with
additional thin application. These finishes require special care—water-based
products should never be used to clean or maintain the floor, only
solvent-based waxes, buffing pastes, or cleaning liquids specifically made
for wax-finished wood floors.
High gloss, low gloss, satin finish—your choice is a matter of personal
preference. Keep in mind, however, that high gloss finishes show scuffs and
scratches more readily than low gloss or satin finishes. High gloss finishes
reflect more light and are typically used in more commercial or contemporary
settings, while satin finishes reflect less light and are favored for more
The latest trends in finishes include products designed to further extend
the life of hardwood floors and make them more durable than ever. Some
polyurethane finishes contain aluminum oxide to
enhance the abrasion-resistance qualities of the floor. Some manufacturers
report that this finish is 10 times more abrasion-resistant than other wood
finishes, and are guaranteed for up to 25 years.
Swedish finishes are resin-based finishes that
originated in Sweden. They form a tough film that is thin enough to allow
the grain of the wood to be felt. Swedish finishes do not require waxing and
can be recoated without sanding.
Acrylic finishes provide an extremely hard,
durable barrier to dirt, moisture, and wear and tear because the finish is
actually forced into the pores of the wood at the factory.
Acrylic-impregnated floors are among the most expensive and are often used
in commercial settings.