Nothing compares to gorgeous hardwood floors. This classic look instantly adds elegance and sophistication to your home. Unfortunately, in the age of quick fixes and cheap materials, hardwood floors can be a significant investment. 

One of your main considerations for hardwood flooring is whether you should lay down pre-finished flooring or install unfinished planks, then finish separately. Even professionals are divided on which method is best. But it ultimately comes down to your needs. Read on to learn the pros and cons of pre-finished vs. unfinished hardwood flooring. 

Time to Completion: Pre-finished vs. Unfinished

Prefinished definitely wins in this regard. If the floor is finished onsite, the coating processes can take up to 5 days. This means the space is virtually unusable until the finish fully dries and cures. Oil-based polyurethane creates a beautiful look, versatile in sheen and color, but not every homeowner has the time. 

Water-based polyurethane may dry more quickly, and offers a different color range, and like poly-based products can provide matte, satin, and semi-gloss finishes.  


Volatile organic compounds are chemicals that vaporize from many finishes and sealants. Recent research has suggested that VOCs can cause respiratory distress, headaches, and even cancer. Ideally, anything treated with sealant is left in a well-ventilated space for several days. That’s not possible if your floors are finished on-site.  

By contrast, pre-finished hardwood flooring is far less harsh on the nose.  


Any home construction project will create dust, but site-finished floors are especially guilty. Onsite sanding releases super-fine dust that can linger for years, potentially harming your indoor air quality.  

However, pre-finished flooring has also been pre-sanded, reducing the amount of dust introduced to your home. Believe it or not, the removal of your existing carpet or resilient flooring can create more dust than the site finished. So while neither process is “dustless” one can be more post-cleaning friendly. 

Damage Resistance

If the home is undergoing renovation, it’s wise to wait until everything has been completed before finishing the floors. That’s because floors take a lot of wear and tear during construction. There is little point in installing beautiful new flooring when they’re about to be walked all over in heavy work boots. 

In these situations, site-finished floors are the clear winner.  

Natural Appearance

If you’re a fan of rustic style, you’ll probably want unfinished flooring. These planks retain more of the wood species’ natural grain. They can then be finished on site to preserve the look. By contrast, even real wood can appear unnaturally shiny in pre-finished flooring.  


With the current lumber and finishing market, prefinished floors and unfinished can run about the same. Granted, large box stores do offer “budget” flooring options, but who knows where and whom they’re milled from? Great American vendors are bar none the best out there and have been excellent at advocating for homeowners with manufacturing concerns. At the end of the day, pre-finished hardwood floors are about the same price as unfinished flooring. 


Unfinished hardwood floors can achieve a smooth, mirror-like appearance after installation. By sanding and finishing the planks on site, you can ensure that no grooves or raised edges remain. If you dream of seeing your reflection on your floor, site-finished planks are the way to go. 

By contrast, pre-finished hardwood flooring has small bevels to ensure the boards lie flush. These small seams may bother some homeowners. They also tend to catch dust and dirt.  

In this case, the choice between pre-finished and unfinished ultimately comes down to personal preference.  

The Final Verdict: Pre-finished Hardwood Floors or Unfinished Flooring?

Homes undergoing major renovation (or new home construction) benefit most from unfinished hardwood flooring. Site-finished floors are also ideal if you want a spectacularly smooth finish or to fully customize the look of your home. 

In terms of project duration, prefinished is much quicker with less dust or VOCs.  

At the end of the day, it’s up to you. Consult with your flooring contractor to discuss your options. At Great American Hardwood Flooring, we offer both detailed onsite finishing as well as convenient pre-finished hardwood floors! 

Scroll to Top