Prefinished Vs Unfinished Hardwood Flooring: Cost and Pros&Cons

The floor of any home is important because it can tie everything together and it is likely the first thing that a guest will see when they darken your doorway. Flooring affects the interior design and the functionality of your home in various ways. However, sometimes it is difficult to choose between prefinished hardwood flooring or unfinished hardwood flooring. 

In this article, we want to help you make an educated decision based on any factor you may want to consider. But before we can do an in-depth comparison, it is important to look at the primary definition of prefinished and unfinished hardwood flooring and their major features. 

What is Prefinished Hardwood Flooring?

Prefinished hardwood flooring is stained and sealed before installation. It usually refers to solid hardwood, but engineered wood can also be prefinished. This type of flooring is factory-finished and coated with polyurethane. In addition, some manufacturers include anti-scratch coating or sun guard protection on their products. 

Anti-scratch coating makes the flooring resistant to minor damage caused by furniture feet or dropped items. Sun guard protection prevents excessive bleaching or yellowing caused by the sun over time. 

Prefinished flooring can be installed quickly and you can use it immediately. The flooring is durable and long-lasting. Typically, you can expect prefinished flooring to last anywhere between 10 and 50 years. However, there is a limitation on the type of wood grain and color that will be available to you. 

What is Unfinished Hardwood Flooring?

Unfinished hardwood flooring is raw wood that you will have to sand and finish after installation. This involves staining the boards to a desired color and sealing the floor with multiple coats of polyurethane or varnish. 

One of the major benefits of unfinished flooring is found in the sheer number of options available. You will be able to use a large range of different hardwood species including oak, maple, pine, and mahogany. Additionally, you can customize the floor the way you want and can pick your stain color, sawn profile, and finish system. You can even add customizable personality features like borders or inlay. 

One of the major downsides to unfinished flooring is that unlike prefinished flooring, you will not be able to use the flooring immediately after installation. After it is sanded and finished, you will have to wait several days, or possibly even weeks, before you can move furniture back into place. Additionally, some homeowners decide to leave their floors unfinished which has its own set of benefits and downsides. 

Leaving Flooring Unfinished

Some people opt to leave their flooring unfinished after installation which gives the floor a raw, natural look that retains its personality and blemishes. It is important to note that unfinished floors are more likely to be damaged or stained by food or drink. The maintenance is still low, but you have to be careful when cleaning it. However, you do have the option of finishing it any time you decide to. 

Why is Prefinished Flooring More Popular?

Because of prefinished flooring’s simple installation, durability, and lifespan, it has become the more popular option.

Installing prefinished flooring is simple and will be functional immediately. Even though the materials cost more, the difference is often made up because you will spend less on the installation. Not only that, but with popularity comes more style options. Besides, the warranty on the factory finish is also usually much longer than the warranty on unfinished flooring. Therefore, prefinished hardwood flooring has grown increasingly popular over the last few years.

Comparison Overview





numerous but limited


virtually unlimited options


$8 to $25

$7 to $25

Scratch and

Sun Resistance Coating


Generally No


Even minor repairs need to have coating sanded

Repairs are often easier

Finish Warranty

5 to 25 years / Sometimes lifetime

3 to 5 years

Prefinished vs Unfinished Flooring

It is important to consider all factors when deciding what floor you want to get. Not only should you look at style and aesthetic options, but you should consider the cost, maintenance, and lifespan to ensure its use effect as well. 

Style and Design

Prefinished Flooring

Although, there may not be as many style and design options as you will have with unfinished flooring, due to its increase of popularity prefinished flooring now has significantly more options available. You should consider several different factors when it comes to the style and design.

  1. Wood Grain

You will have a chance to choose different wood grains for your flooring, even with prefinished wood. The most popular wood choice is oak and there are two types of oak you should be aware of. 

Red oak is incredibly popular with warm tones and different color options. It can be found as a light pink color with a creamy texture or as a reddish brown color. White oak, on the other hand, is a hard wood that has gray undertones and does not have any red colorization. Walnut is another popular wood for flooring. It has chocolate tones and large straight patterns as part of the natural grain. 

2. Finish Coats

Additionally, you have options for the number of finish coats as well as the sheens. It should be noted that manufacturers differ when it comes to the thickness of each individual coating. Therefore, some flooring that only has one coat may actually have thicker coating than other flooring that has multiple coats. 

3. Gloss

Prefinished flooring comes in high gloss, matte, or semi gloss.. Higher gloss options can help to highlight the grain or color of the natural wood. However, high gloss is more prone to scratches and dents. 

4. Beveled Edges

With prefinished floors you may not have a choice of whether or not the flooring has beveled edges. These bevel edges on prefinished flooring protect the finish during installation, but they may also be more noticeable around the edges of the floor.

Unfinished Flooring

The factors to consider for unfinished hardwood flooring are similar to the ones for prefinished flooring. However, the options for unfinished flooring are more abundant. You can design your unfinished flooring with your choice of wood species, wood grain, finish, and sheen level. In addition, you even have the ability to install patterns such as borders and inlays or even herringbone or medallions. 

1. Finish Coats

The finish options available for unfinished flooring are numerous. You can choose oil-based polyurethane, water based polyurethane, or oil. 

Oil-based polyurethane is a traditional option, but it can get expensive. You will have to apply multiple coats and the floor will need 3 to 5 days before you can use it. It also has a strong, unpleasant odor. Some homeowners also find that the finish will develop a yellowish tint over time. 

Water based polyurethane does not have as strong of a scent as oil-based polyurethane, but it does typically cost a little more. Unlike oil-based polyurethane, water based polyurethane remains clear over time. It also dries more rapidly than oil-based options and you can walk on it in between the coats. 

Oil finish does not emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that can be hazardous to your health when inhaled. This also means that there will not be chemical smells that you will have with the two polyurethane finishing options. However, you will  pay more for oil finish than you will for the other choices. One thing that many homeowners like about oil finish is that it will only require a single coat and can be walked on after 36 to 48 hours. 

2. Flooring Accents

With unfinished hardwood flooring, you can install a decorative pattern into the surface. This can add elegance and aesthetics to match your style. Many homeowners like to use contrasting colors to create patterns or borders. Herringbone is another popular design option that uses rectangular panels of wood to create a design that resembles a fish skeleton. For unfinished flooring, the possibilities are virtually limitless.

Bottom Line

Even though there are more options for prefinished flooring than ever before, unfinished flooring still has the advantage. With unfinished flooring you have the ability to create patterns, borders, and other unique design choices in addition to the options you have regarding color, wood grain, and gloss. 




Prefinished VS Unfinished Flooring

The cost of materials for either type of flooring can vary greatly depending on the quality and species of wood. 

Prefinished hardwood flooring will typically cost you from $5 to $20 per square foot for the materials. Some quality, custom, or exotic materials could cost you up to $25 or even a little more per square foot. 

Typically, out of the box products cost on the lower end of this range. Prefinished hardwood flooring is more expensive than unfinished hardwood flooring. In fact, it can be up to 50 percent more expensive. However, you will save a significant amount of time or money on the installation when compared with unfinished flooring. 

Unfinished hardwood flooring costs anywhere from $3 to $15 dollars per square foot. The cost varies greatly depending on the species, quality, and thickness of the wood. Cosmetic hardwoods like oak, hickory, and maple are more affordable than exotic species.  

The installation of prefinished flooring will cost you anywhere from $3 to $5 per square foot. Conversely, the installation and finishing of unfinished flooring can cost anywhere from $4 to $10 per square foot. Taking the materials and installation into consideration, prefinished flooring will cost anywhere from $8 to $25 per square foot while unfinished will cost anywhere from $7 to $25 per square foot. As you can see, the costs are similar whatever option you choose.

It is important to keep in mind that installation takes much longer for unfinished flooring. In addition, unlike prefinished flooring, you will not be able to use the floor immediately after installation. Prefinished flooring can be installed in a single day. Typically, it will actually only take a half day of work by a contractor to have prefinished flooring installed and functional.

Bottom Line

For the same type and quality of wood, the materials cost for unfinished flooring would be much less than prefinished flooring. However, you will pay more for the installation of unfinished flooring which will even the total costs out. Since the difference comes in the cost of installation, you could have potential savings for choosing unfinished flooring. 



Maintenance, Repairs, and Durability

Prefinished VS Unfinished Flooring

Prefinished hardwood flooring has strong chemical sealers that are applied in coats. They often have aluminum oxide crystals within the sealer urethane coating that is cured by UV. This will typically increase the warranty for the finish on the flooring which will usually be somewhere between 5 and 25 years, but sometimes will have a warranty for life. Unfinished hardwood finishes are usually warranted for only 3 to 5 years, but you can expect a quality finish to last up to 15 years. In addition, the sealant coating is often stronger on prefinished hardwood flooring because it is applied in a uniform manner within a factory. This means that it will be more resistant to stains, discolorations, and moisture. 

For either type of flooring, rugs and mats can be the easiest way to prevent scratches or other damage. This is especially true for areas that have a lot of traffic. However, this may not fit the aesthetic that you are striving for. That’s the point why prefinished has a distinct advantage because you can get prefinished hardwood flooring that has a scratch resistant coating applied to it. Some even have a coating to protect against yellowing caused by the sun. All of this means that your floor will generally last longer until you will have to have your floors refinished or replaced. 

Unfinished hardwood floors can often be repaired by sanding. This can smooth away the imperfection. Prefinished floors are much more difficult to adequately repair because you will have to either sand away all of the finish coating or remove the section of flooring and replace it altogether. 

Unfinished hardwood flooring can be strong and durable, but it will not be scratch proof in the way that some prefinished flooring is. However, if you do have a quality finish applied, the flooring will not require any significant maintenance other than regular cleaning. 

It is important to use a cleaner meant for the specific type of flooring that you have. For example, avoid using laminate floor cleaner for hardwood floors. You also have the ability to apply maintenance coating to unfinished floors. Solid wood floors, whether finished in a factory or at your home, can have the coating sanded off and reapplied. Additionally, never use water to clean hardwood floors to prevent any damage from the moisture. You should also clean up any spills from food or drink immediately. 

Bottom Line

Since the coating on unfinished floors is applied manually, repairs may be easier. However, with prefinished flooring you will typically have a longer warranty and the option of scratch and sun resistant coatings. 



Additional Considerations

Prefinished VS Unfinished Flooring

One consideration that depends on preference is the flawless look of prefinished flooring versus the imperfections of some unfinished flooring options. Some people like the perfect look of prefinished flooring and the finishes while other homeowners prefer the character of the imperfections. 

You also have the choice to use engineered wood instead of solid wood for prefinished flooring. Engineered hardwood flooring is created using a layer of solid hardwood that is bonded to a core made out of particleboard or plywood. This type of flooring is also incredibly popular and easy to install. It is also usually much more affordable than solid wood options. However, unlike prefinished solid hardwood flooring, engineered flooring cannot be sanded down over and over again when you want to refinish. This means that the life span is often shorter than it is for solid wood options. 

Another consideration is the thickness of the flooring. Thinner floors can be useful for some situations, but they generally do not last as long as thicker wood options. The standard thickness of prefinished hardwood flooring is ¾ inch, but you can find them even thinner. You should also consider the wood grade. This is the way that the flooring will be ranked depending on the quality. The grade refers to the amount of defects and color variations that are on the wood as well as the length of the boards. The fewer defects and longer the board means that the grade will be higher. This increases the cost as well.

Final Thoughts on Prefinished versus Unfinished Hardwood Flooring

Typically, some homeowners prefer one type of flooring while other homeowners prefer the other type. It is important to take all factors into consideration. 

You should look at how long you expect to have the flooring and whether you may want to refinish it in the future. You should also think about potential scratches or yellowing caused by the sun. 

One major factor is the cost which can vary a lot if you are planning on installing the flooring yourself. Some people even install unfinished flooring themselves and then hire a professional to finish it which can greatly reduce costs. Whichever flooring you choose will help to create a wonderful atmosphere for your home for years to come. 

Share Your Flooring Project Quote/Cost

Share Your Flooring Project Quote/Cost

We rely on readers like you to share your flooring project cost or quote. It really helps other visitors to estimate the cost of flooring project.

Flooring Type *
ie: Pergo, Shaw Repel
DIY? *

Leave a Comment