Pre-finished vs. Finish-in-Place

Pre-finished vs. Finish-in-Place 

To protect hardwood floors from damage and moisture, they must be sealed and finished. There are two methods to get your floors finished: install them pre-finished or finish them in place. Both methods are available either solid or engineered.


Prefinished floors are stained and finished in the factory as part of the manufacturing process. Each plank is individually finished with multiple coats (anywhere from 3 to 15; see number of coats), usually using a very durable aluminum oxide finish. This finish is sprayed on, resulting in a very smooth surface. Because the floors are packaged and shipped ready-to-use, the floors can be walked on as soon as installation is complete. Some of the advantages of pre-finished flooring:

  • o   Cleaner installation. Because there is no sanding or finishing on the job-site, there is no dust and fumes in the house. This makes it a great option for individuals with chemical sensitivities who will be living in the house during or shortly after the work is completed.
  • o   Faster job completion. A pre-finished install can take 50-70% less time to complete than a finish-in-place install, which requires sanding and finishing.
  • o   Lower cost on value products. Depending on the cost of the pre-finished product, the reduction in labor can result in a lower total job cost.
  • o   Durability. Although quality varies drastically between prefinished products, aluminum oxide is generally considered to be more durable than on-site finishes (although it is also much more difficult to touch-up). Many manufacturers offer a finish warrantee on their prefinished products, but in practice these warrantees have so many loopholes that they are rarely honored. Don’t be fooled by “100 year warrantees” advertised by certain chain outlets! Even the most durable wood floor finishes will require recoating and refinishing over their lifetime.
  • o   Guaranteed color and finish. Because most pre-finished products are stock products that are mass manufactured, you can get a very accurate idea of what the finished floor will look like prior to ordering.


Finish-in-place is the traditional method for installing and finishing hardwood floors. Nearly all traditional hardwood floors installed before 1995 were installed using the finish-in-place method. The wood is installed unfinished, and is sanded, stained, sealed and finished on the job site. Because every step of the process is completed on the job, there are virtually unlimited options for customization. Some of the advantages of a finish-in-place installation:

  • o   Complete customization. Starting with the wood selection and ending with the staining and finishing, each finish-in-place floor is unique. Rather than choosing from a stock option on a display, you can create your own personalized floor.
  • o   Seamless sanding and finishing. Unlike most prefinished floors, which have a groove or “bevel” between each plank, finish-in-place floors are sanded and finished together. This results in a distinctive seamless surface.
  • o   Restoration matching. If your house has traditional oak floors and you want to add matching hardwood floors to other parts of the house, finish-in-place is the only way to get a close match.
  • o   Handmade look and feel. Despite constant advances in pre-finished flooring design, nothing quite matches the handmade feel of a true finish-in-place floor.