Prefinished Hardwood Floor Guide
Traditionally, a wood floor installation was a long process.
From installing the boards, to sanding and staining, a lot of dust and fumes are created inside the home. On top of that, there’s a greater chance for mistakes to be made during the process.
Today, prefinished wood floors solve many of those issues and provide a beautiful floor that can last a lifetime.
Instead of on-site sanding and finishing, manufacturers sand and finish the floors with precision equipment at the factory. After that, the flooring boards cure and then carefully wrap and box them to be delivered to the job site.
Next, the prefinished floors are installed in one step without creating dust or fumes. The whole process takes a day or two depending on the job size. Once complete, homeowners can walk on their new hardwood floors right away.
While this process seems straightforward in print, it can be quite a daunting task when going through it yourself.
That’s why we’re here to help –
Keep reading for what you need to know when buying a prefinished wood floor!
What to Consider
Lifestyle & Maintenance
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width & length
The most important aspect: the color. If you dislike the color with your home and style, nothing else really matters.
Consider other elements in your home that you don’t want to change, such as:
- Paint colors
- Trim pieces
- Flooring in adjoining rooms
- Other wood accents in the room
Then consider whether a light, medium, or dark wood floor would work best. Narrowind down the choices helps you focus on the floors that will work in your home.
Have you ever wanted something truly unique? Something not mass produced, not a look like what everyone else has?
Some of our prefinished hardwood floors undergo a special stain process that reacts with tannins in the wood to create a unique look. We call these floors “Crafted Colors.”
Factors like soil composition, amounts of sunlight and moisture, altitude and temperature all affect the tannin levels in a tree. This stain process develops a special color in a relatively small batch of flooring, giving you a truly one of a kind hardwood floor.
When you look at a sample of a Crafted prefinished hardwood floor, you see a color concept created through a special process. No two boards are alike and colors vary from lot to lot.
For this reason, we recommend that homeowners approve these floors before they are installed. Even better – order a box of the current lot to see what the floor will look like before making a final decision.
Many manufacturers carve extra texture into the flooring boards before they are stained and finished. Common textures include wire brushing, hand scraping, saw marks, or a combination of all.
A hard metal bristle brush lightly scrapes the wood surface to brush out the soft grain. This gives the floor a “weathered” look.
Many floors are scraped to add depth and character to the boards. It’s a hard look to recreate with machines, since a true hand scraped floor has no repeating patterns or obviously machined details.
Historically, flooring installers did not sand hardwood floors as smooth as they are today. This left a lot of the original saw marks in the face of the board.
Today, many homeowners who desire a vintage or reclaimed look choose this look. To create this look, manufacturers leave in or add saw marks to their prefinished flooring, creating a stunning appearance.
See the layered textures of the Sonoma Collection!
Hover over the arrows to see all the different textures that are crafted into every board.
Band Saw Marks
Hand Chiseled Bevel
Every species of wood shows its own distinct characteristics and appearance – no two trees are exactly alike.
The species of your floor affects:
- The grain pattern and overall look
- How easily the floor dents
- The photosensitivtity – ie. how much UV light changes the floor’s color over time
Use the guide to find out more about these factors when considering the species of your prefinished hardwood floor.
The Janka rating measures the density (or hardness) of each species. The higher the number, the denser (or harder) the wood.
Oak, Hickory, Birch, Maple and Walnut are all suitable hardwoods for flooring. Hickory and Northern Maple score high on the scale, while Walnut sit on the lower end of the Janka scale. Oak lies in between with an average density.
No right or wrong choice here. A couple things to consider:
- How much traffic will your floor get?
- Will there be a chance heavy objects could be dropped or moved on it?
- Is it in a commercial setting?
In some of these situations, a denser (harder) species may be best.
Photosensitivity: sensitivity to the ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight and other light sources. Many species of hardwood are photosensitive.
Species like walnut and American cherry change more signifcantly than others. Other species like white oak and maple react less.
The reality: light affects all wood floors over time.
Slow this process down and make it less noticeable by:
- Hanging window treatments in areas with a lot of direct natural sunlight
- Rotating furniture and area rugs to expose the floor uniformly to sunlight
- Remembering it’s natural process for many hardwood species. Over time your floor will develop a rich, unique patina.
Widths and Lengths
Unlike the thickness or type, widths and lengths affect the look of a prefinished hardwood floor greatly.
Most solid floors come in 2-¼”, 3-¼”, 4″ and 5”.
Engineered floors are typically 5” and wider, with some manufacturers offering even wider planks over 8″.
Many prefinished flooring manufacturers offer options for multiple width floors. For instance, some floors come with 4″, 6″ and 8″ planks in alternating rows.
A multi-width layout gives a unique look to your prefinished hardwood floor. Additionally, the varied board widths uses more of the log than single widths, leading to less waste.
The choice of your flooring widths is largely a matter of taste and what you want your floor to look like.
Why a Wide Floor Can Gap More
The wider the floor, the more significant the movement of the board due to a very dry or very moist environment.
Wider planks gap more significantly in dry weather, or swell and cup more noticeably in humid conditions. Swings in humidity levels also affect engineered boards less than solid ones because of their layered cores.
For nail down installation of planks that are 5” and wider, we recommend using a glue assist method addition to nails. Glue assist installations keep the boards from moving as much.
For any solid or engineered floor, the humidity in the home should be controlled between 35-55% RH. This range keeps wood flooring the most stable. The best tool – a whole-home humidifer.
Types of Prefinished Hardwood Floors
Engineered Wood Floors
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Hardwood wear layer bonded with plywood core
Available in Tongue & Groove
Available in ⅜”, ½”, ⅝”, 9/16” or ¾”
Instead of using one solid piece of lumber for each plank, lumber is cut into thinner veneers. These range from 1.5mm to 4mm. Veneers are then bonded with a plywood core.
This gives the floor exceptional stability. Engineered floors come in the following thicknesses: 3/8”, 1/2”, 5/8”, 9/16” or 3/4″.
Engineered floors work well when installed over concrete, in a home that can have higher moisture content, or for glue down or floating installations.
The veneers for engineered hardwood floors can be cut in different ways that affect the appearance of the grain pattern.
Solid Wood Floors
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Solid Piece of Lumber
Tongue & Groove
Usually ¾” thick
Solid wood floors are made from one solid piece of lumber.
Flooring mills harvest trees and kiln dry the lumber to between 6-9% moisture content. Next, they mill a tongue and groove into the lumber, producing a ¾” thick flooring plank.
Solid prefinished hardwood flooring works great for homes where conditions can get dry, homes with plywood subfloors, and for levels that are on grade (same level as ground outside) or above grade (not basements).
Engineered Flooring Wear Layer Cuts
Some flooring mills use long cutting blades that “peel” the logs as they rotate to create a long, thin sheet resembling the unrolling a roll of paper towels.
The veneer is cut into smaller sheets and bonded to plywood panels to be pressed and dried. The veneered plywood is then milled into the desired width of flooring.
As the most eco-friendly friendly and economical cut, Eco Cut™ wear layers use as much of the log as possible. It creates a flat, cathedral type grain pattern, and is usually 2mm or less in thickness.
Once a tree is logged, it is “squared” into lumber where very sharp blades under high pressure “slice” through the blanks producing uniform veneers.
Classic Cut™ floors resemble the natural grain appearance the same as saw-cut as the blades cut in the same orientation.
This slicing cut is used to produce plainsawn, livesawn, or rift & quartered grain veneers. These wear layers are sanded to a typical 2-3mm thickness.
Similar to a Classic Cut™ wear layer, Heirloom Cut™ wear layers are cut with actual saws. These can be made thicker than Eco Cut™ or Classic Cut™ wear layers (up to 5mm or more).
Heirloom Cut™ wear layers keep all the natural grain appearance, and can also show characteristics like band saw marks and circle saw marks.
Can I resand my prefinished hardwood floor?
Short answer: Yes, for most solid floors.
As long as the floor has not been sanded too many times, there should be plenty of wood to resand and refinish the floor.
Keep in mind: resanding a floor removes all color and texture, giving you a like-new surface to stain and finish however you like.
For engineered floors:
- 3mm or thicker wear layers typically have enough wood to resand.
- If your floor is too thin to resand or you don’t want to lose your color and texture, you can fix most scratches and dull finish by recoating your floor with a new coat of finish.
- Each manufacturer recommends certain finishes to recoat their floor. We recommend working with a professional when refinishing a wood floor.
Installing the Floor
Consider where you’re installing the flooring when choosing what type of prefinished hardwood floor to buy. Manufacturers typically specify where their flooring can be installed. Be sure to follow their recommendations to not void their warranty.
What to Consider:
- What level you’re installing on
- If you want to install on a wall or ceiling
- What accessories you need
Any area above ground level.
Best For: All Wood Floors
For the most part, just about any floor performs well above grade.
Above grade levels keep wood flooring away from moisture coming through the ground and affecting your hardwood floors.
Any area at the same level as the ground outside.
Best For: All Wood Floors
Make sure that moisture from the ground does not affect the flooring.
Using moisture barriers or underlayment prevents moisture from affecting your floor.
Any area below the outside ground level (even partially, like walk-out basements)
Best For: Engineered Flooring
Take extra precautions to prevent ground moisture from affecting the wood flooring.
Some manufacturers may not recommend installing below grade. Additionally, some flooring adhesives cannot be used below grade.
Walls and Ceilings
Many people choose to add an accent by installing a prefinished wood floor on a wall or ceiling.
While solid wood flooring works well, engineered wood floors are thinner, lighter and can be easier to install. Even though these “floors” won’t be walked on, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for installation and acclimation.
Stairs, Trim, Accessories
Prefinished wood floors make a room pop, especially when installed with coordinating stairs, trim pieces and flooring vents.
To help you get a perfect match, we recommend FloorMade products.
Typically, flooring accessories are made with unfinished wood and stained to match the prefinished color. Often these parts won’t match the floor and need to be reordered – costing you time and money.
FloorMade crafts stair parts and accessories with the same prefinished flooring that’s installed in the home, creating a perfect match with the surrounding floor. Get more details about FloorMade here.
Lifestyle and Maintenance
Cleaning & Care
One great perk of hardwoods – easy maintenance! To keep your prefinished hardwood floor looking great, clean it regularly.
Here’s 4 tips to keep your flooring in great shape for many years:
- Use walk off mats at all entry points to keep dirt and debris from scratching your floor.
- Wipe up spills quickly and don’t let water sit on the floor.
- Use a microfiber dust mop to keep the floor clean of dirt and debris.
- Use a recommended wood floor cleaner and microfiber mop to clean the floor.
An entry way, kitchen, living room, or hallway sees a lot of foot traffic.
For these areas, consider a floor that can be resanded or recoated one day to restore it to new condition.
Additionally, remember that water and wood do not go well together. Be careful about installing wood flooring where spills are likely, such as near a shower or tub.
When it comes to temperature and humidity, hardwood floors are susceptible to movement.
If a floor gets too dry, a number of problems occur:
On the other hand, if flooring absorbs too much moisture, boards can swell, cup, and even come loose from the subfloor.
How to prevent this? Maintain your home in a consistent environment, within the manufacturer’s guidelines. Keep your home between 60-80 degrees and 35-55% relative humidity.
Another benefit of a prefinished wood floor: the manufacturer’s warranty.
Most prefinished flooring manufacturers offer a limited warranty. With control of the manufacturing process, they can often guarantee that the wood will be structurally sound and the finish will not wear through for a certain number of years.
Some manufacturer’s limit their warranty to a period of years (25-50 years typically), others offer a lifetime warranty.
Keep in mind:
1. Be careful of relying on lifetime warranties as a measure of quality.
2. Know what the limited warranty covers and doesn’t cover
A lifetime warranty compared to a 50-year warranty does not mean that the floor is “twice as good.” Rather, the manufacturer builds in plenty of profit margin to cover any rare failures that may occur.
Manufacturers only warranty what they can control. Many problems with a prefinished wood floor occur during installation or post-installation with cleaning or maintenance – all outside of a manufacturer’s control. Because of this, manfuacturers do not include those type of issues in their warranties.
Some things typically NOT covered by warranties for prefinished hardwood flooring include:
- Squeaks or other noises (these symptoms are nearly always job site related)
- Scratches, dents, and dings
- Damage due to moisture or dry conditions outside of the recommended range
- Damage related to installation
- Significant color variation not caught prior to installation (always approve boards before installing them)
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