Installing hardwood flooring is one of the most effective ways to increase the value of your home while creating an elegant, cozy and welcoming atmosphere. Color, width, texture, sheen & species all play a role in the decision-making process, but over the last couple of decades, another key question has risen to the surface: Should we have our hardwoods sanded, stained & finished inside our home, or stained & prefinished at the manufacturing facility? Let’s explore this dilemma while focusing on 5 key factors to help inform this decision: timing, bevel, durability, reparability & cost.
Timing – Most of us have probably seen this famous 1875 painting by French artist Gustave Caillebotte of the three workers using hand tools to scrape & sand a hardwood floor - a truly backbreaking, time-consuming process. Fortunately, the hardwood industry has evolved over the last 150 years, and we now use large machines to perform the sanding work. These days, 1000sq/ft of installation with onsite sanding, staining & finishing typically lasts 2 – 3 weeks, along with an additional few days of cure time depending on the type of finish being applied. On the other hand, a 1000sq/ft installation of factory-finished hardwood flooring takes 4 – 6 business days and has no cure time.... you can dance on these floors as soon as they are installed.
Bevel – Floors that are site-sanded cannot have a bevel as any irregularities in the surface are sanded smooth, sealed, and then finished, creating a more uniform esthetic. On the other hand, factory-finished hardwoods (see above pic) all have beveling around the perimeter of each hardwood plank, but the degree of that bevel varies by manufacturer. In our experience, many clients like the bevel, some clients dislike the bevel, and the majority either aren’t aware there are options or don’t have a strong option either way.
Durability – We are often asked, “Is a site-sanded natural red oak hardwood more durable than a factory-finished red oak hardwood?” Although the Janka rating (resistance to denting) of all domestic red oak is generally the same, most factory-finished hardwoods have a more durable finish due in part to their coat of aluminum oxide, making them more scratch resistant than site-finished hardwoods. In addition, most factory finishes are applied by machines and can have more coats applied than in a residential setting.
Reparability – From the perspective of hardwood flooring technicians, site-finished and factory-finished hardwoods are on opposite ends of the repair spectrum. One of the most significant advantages of factory-finished hardwoods is their ease of reparability. Let’s say a piece of furniture gets dragged through the family room, leaving a scratch traveling across three rows of hardwood flooring directly in front of the fireplace, making a highly visible issue. If this occurs, an experienced technician can extract those damaged planks, then fabricate planks left over from the original installation, and retrofit those factory-finished planks into non-damaged hardwoods in the family room where the damaged planks were extracted. This process is in stark contrast to a site-finished hardwood needing repair, which requires the entire layout of hardwood flooring to be sanded and refinished, thereby dramatically increasing the duration of the repair and associated costs.
**Important Note - Save the remaining material from the original installation or purchase additional cartons of flooring so that you always have an exact match for the hardwood repair.**
Cost – In general, factory-finished materials cost more than raw materials that will be finished on-site. However, the labor cost associated with site-finishing far exceeds labor costs related to factory-finished installations. On average, a 1000sq/ft factory-finished hardwood will cost 15 – 30 percent less than a site-finished hardwood.
Honorable Mention – If a home already has a large quantity of site-finished hardwoods, and the objective is to extend the footprint of those hardwoods, it’s usually more cost-effective to continue with raw material, followed by the site-sanding process rather than removing the existing material and replacing with factory-finished hardwoods.