Prefinished hardwood flooring is definitely easier to install that solid flooring. By far the most difficult part of floor work is sanding and finishing. It’s backbreaking, dusty work with a heavy machine that can wreak havoc in a moment of inattention. Unfortunately, there’s no way to practice sanding. If you’ve never done it, you have to dive in and hope for the best. Once the dust is all swept up, the new floor is off limits for several odorfilled days while the finish dries. It’s easy to see why hardwood flooring was a hard sell to do-it-yourselfers, and why prefinished products have such appeal.
Prefinished hardwood flooring was developed quite a while ago but came into its own during the mid-1970s, when very few professional floor finishers were to be found. It comes straight from the factory with stain and a very durable finish already applied. All you have to do is nail it down, sweep up a little sawdust and you’re done.
It should come as no surprise that prefinished hardwood flooring is very popular. It accounts for about 15% of wood flooring contracting business and about 40% of do-it-yourself sales. Most manufacturers offer strip, plank and parquet in some kind of prefinished grade.
Besides eliminating sanding and finishing, prefinished hardwood flooring tends to have a tougher finish and a more even color. Factory finishing suffers from none of the constraints placed on the on-site finisher, so some rather exotic surface treatments are possible, including distressing, decorative pegs, coloring and very durable urethane or baked-on waxes.
One of the more elaborate methods of prefinished hardwood flooring involves impregnating the wood grain with an acrylic plastic finish. Although limited to relatively porous red oak in thin pieces, this process ensures absolutely even color through and through. Acrylic-impregnated flooring is extremely scuff resistant and dent resistant, and even with sanding it retains a uniform color throughout its lifetime.
Maintenance is an occasional buffing or treatment with a special conditioner that revives the finish.
Until recently, prefinished hardwood flooring was waxed or coated with polyurethane. This flooring was easy to factory finish but hard for the home owner to maintain. Lately manufacturers have been offering products coated with the more durable urethanes or Swedish finishes. I wouldn’t say you shouldn’t use wax as a floor finish. A properly maintained waxed floor will outlast any other finish and, in my opinion, it looks better, too. However, even minor wet spills turn a waxed floor into an ice rink so I’d think twice about a waxed floor in the kitchen or bathroom.