Pros and cons of finished on site hardwood floors

January 17, 2013

Today I’m talking about our hardwood floors. If you’ve been with me for a while, you might remember the leaking fridge we woke up to about a year and a half ago.

It had died overnight and everything in the freezer defrosted and came out of the fridge…in the form of water. :) I was shocked at how much water that amounted to. We had laminate floors in the kitchen and family room at the time and after some moisture testing by the pros it didn’t take long for the kitchen to look like this:

water damage to laminate

It had seeped into the laminate and traveled across the floor underneath. They found water across the room. :(

With our floors (Pergo we installed about six years ago) you couldn’t just replace sections. And it had worn down over time anyway and was not holding up well. (I felt like I couldn’t get them “clean” to save my life.)

So we weighed our options – new laminate, prefinished hardwoods or finished on site hardwoods.

The laminate was nixed immediately because I did not want to go through this same experience again. Then we thought we would go with a pre-finished wood:

pre-finished hardwoods

Simply because it would have been much simpler to install, in terms of time, mess, and hassle.

But when a few of you mentioned your experiences with stuff getting into the small grooves between the planks of wood, it changed my mind. I never thought I would do hardwoods finished on site in my house – I thought it would be way too expensive. But if I remember right the price was the same or even a little less to finish on site.

When I say finish on site, it means they bring in all the wood (let it acclimate in the house for a few days), then lay it down, sand, stain, sand, stain…and then put a protective coat or two on top.

At least I think that’s how it went. ;)

We didn’t do anything fancy – three inch wide oak boards (we were told anything wider may have issues with cupping with the weather in Indiana):

unfinished hardwood floors

unfinished white oak hardwood floors

I knew when I saw them unfinished and loved them that we had made the right decision – they just looked seamless and like they were always meant for our house.

It’s been about 16 months since we had them installed and I have to say, I’m thrilled with our hardwoods. We are NOT easy on them either – big and little toys are pushed around on them every day:

pros and cons of hardwoods

And they still look as good as new.

I love love LOVE how they look up against crisp white trim:

Jacobean stain hardwoods

It still makes my heart flutter a bit. :)

We do have had plenty of scratches – nothing too horrible. The first one happened with weeks of them being done and I did freak just a little…come, on, it was the first one!! But now I can’t even find where it is. :) And since I’ve totally let go – I don’t notice them and I know no one else does. All together I think we have maybe four or five scratches, all small.

A few weeks ago the cat knocked a pitcher off the kitchen island – the pitcher survived. (Wow!) The floors got a couple decent dents:

hardwoods finished on-site

There are two -- one is pretty deep. But that’s by far the worst of it, and you still can barely see them. It was hard for me to get a pic of it, even close up. (There are two right in the middle of the photo, if you can’t see them.)

There is an additional cost to hardwoods to consider – you will want some rugs:

jute rug on hardwood floors

It’s a bit cold feeling without at least a couple – at least it was in our house. (Not cold on your feet, just sparse.) That is an added expense for sure.

Overall they have been very low maintenance for us, way way less work than the laminate. I think the biggest reason for this is that I chose a satin poly – not a shiny one. It has helped tremendously when it comes to stuff showing on them. 

And ours are dark but not too dark (the color is Jacobean by Minwax) – I was warned that I would notice every little thing on them and I don’t.

Here are the pros and cons, as I see them after living with hardwoods...

Pros of finished on-site hardwoods:

  • They look more “original” to the house 
  • You can have them stained whatever color you want and can mix stains to get the right look. 
  • I hardly have to clean them. I’m not going to tell you how often I do. 
  • (I think) they hold up GREAT. We have had very few scratches, dings, whatever. (And over the past 16 months we’ve had four cats, a dog, and three humans on them every day.) 
  • They can be dried out and *should* go back to normal if we ever have another water issue. (Which I’m sure we will someday…water hates loves us.) 
    • We had a toilet overflow and the floors were back to normal in about a day. 
  • They can be sanded down and refinished over and over again. They will be in this house forever.
  • No grooves for liquid or food to get stuck in
  • They look fantastic!

Cons of finished on-site hardwoods

  • Installation is no fun. We had to move every bit of furniture out of the main floor, then we had to be completely out of the house for what I think was two nights when they stained and poly’d. (The smell was bad and we obviously couldn’t walk on them.) 
  • I was really worried about all the dust from sanding, but it honestly wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. The machines they use now really cut down on that. 
  • The cost is a big issue of course – it’s not cheap. I don’t think there is any way we could have swung them if we hadn’t had a decent insurance check. (Well, we could have, but we would've had to save for a while.) We only paid about 30 percent of the whole cost. But keep in mind our total cost included the remediation from the water – all the clean up, tearing out the floors, removing and reinstalling our island. So with all of that taken out it wouldn’t be as bad.
We are actually looking to get a quote on hardwoods upstairs now too – our carpet is going on nine years old and it’s either those or new carpet. Hubby’s allergies are awful and he actually suggested the hardwoods – I didn’t argue. ;) The square footage up there will be about two thirds of main level, (when we take out the bathrooms), so I think the price will be more manageable.

So there you go! Would I do them again? YES, in a heartbeat. I LOVE our hardwood floors. I would go through the hassle to do them again for sure…but not for a long time. :)

Here are the details about our hardwood floors again: 

  • Three inch wide planks
  • White oak wood
  • Finished on site 
  • Stained in Jacobean by Minwax 
  • Protected with a satin poly

Do you have hard floors? Laminate, prefinished or on site like ours? Do you love or hate them?

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  1. I have 2 1/4 inch white oak finished onsite through my entire home (except bedrooms and baths), it is 10 years old, stained Antique and finished with Bona Satin Waterborne (cross linking polymer). We've had 2 boys and a yellow lab on them as well as lots of "life" and I still love them every day. I'll do them again in our next home.

  2. I'm so pleased to see your comment on never feeling like your laminate floors were clean. I battle this constantly. I had my whole house done in laminate and I hate it. But financially, I am stuck with it. I have done hours of internet research to see ideas and still ... NOTHING. I would never do it again. We just did my Mom's house in vinyl planks that look like wood. I love them.

    Your floors are gorgeous!!!

  3. We recently refinished our floors with Jacobean stain and I love how they came out! We have a few scratches too but nothing anyone but me is going to notice!

  4. I've had laminate in the past and detested it! In my current home, I went 3/4" solid oak floors and adore them! ADORE.

    I've had floors finished like yours vs snapped together like my current ones, and out of the two, the way you did it is indeed easier to keep them spotless.

    But i do find my Dyson picks anything up in the cracks perfectly. Good suction is a must, and my snapped together floors are lookin' just fine! :)

  5. Oops... your floors are AMAZING. You're right, they do look like they've been there from day 1 - a true sign of a good choice!

  6. I'm so glad to know yours is oak. I just bought a house with honey oak floors and cabinets, and if there is one thing I don't love it's honey oak. I worried that I still wouldn't love it stained, but I LOVE your floors. Now I just need to save up to have them refinished! :)

  7. I can't WAIT to get wood floors and I'm going with "finished on site", it's gonna be worth the hassle. Your's are gorgeous! (envious)

  8. This post came at a great time I'm in the process of replacing our floors on our main floor. The kitchen is large dated tiles and the rest is wood floors that are dark with a shiny finish and I can't tell you how much I hate them, the house always looks dirty. I'm looking to go with a semi dark stain but without the shiny finish. You're right the price is high, I just got a quote but what's holding me back is all the prep work. Seeing your floors make me feel like I just need to get it done and it will be so worth it! Thanks!

  9. We tore out the hardwood that was in our home and the carpet in the living areas and installed engineered hardwood and LOVE it! It was not a fun DIY project but two years later we still love them. They are wide plank and made to look rustic so if we get a scratch all I do is pull out a stain pen and they disappear!:) We have no issues with anything falling in between the planks but I will say that when I paint inside and get paint on the floor it is a bear to get out of the cracks. You would think I would learn to put a drop cloth down!;) With three men in the house two cats and a puppy and it has held up fabulously! I just use the sweeper everyday and then once a month use Bona or Orange Miracle to clean them.
    I would love to do the upstairs and all the bedrooms but they discontinued our wood.

  10. This post is so timely for me! We just made an offer that has wall-to-wall through out- save ceramic tile in the kitchen, foyer and baths.
    I am already plotting getting HWs put in and was looking for pros-cons of prefinished vs. finished on-site.
    I know it will be a while, but I think I will hold out for the finished on-site.
    We have white oak in our current home and I am going to miss it so! we had them refinished before we moved in and they are great!

  11. We had oak hardwood floors in our house in Seattle and I loved them. I am a bit of a freak and washed mine every month. They ran from the huge foyer into the breakfast nook and then through the kitchen. I used vinegar, water and a towel shoved along on a mop head. (Weird looking but effective!) In the kitchen I kept a spray bottle of vinegar and water under the sink and hit the dirty spots with that and paper towels between real washing. They held up beautifully and were my second favorite thing about the house. (The view of the Puget Sound was my fav!) Today I think I would use a steam mop but, alas, I don't live in that house anymore. My new house has laminate and carpet and I loathe the flooring.

  12. Your floors and the finish you chose look beautiful!! After going both ways in 4 houses over the years - pre-finished and finished on site - I will only ever do on-site finished again. They are just the best long term. I hated that seam between the boards, it drove me nuts with three kids and a dog and real family living. I will have to remember the stain you used when we do ours over. Thanks for sharing.

  13. We have laminate upstairs and wood downstairs. The laminate upstairs does OK...not great, but I chose a light maple color because I didn't want to see every particle of dust. The downstairs is wood...just sanded and poly'ed. LOVE it! It has so much traffic, us plus 2 dogs and we have had 2 cats. You can see some top scratches in the right light, because I shove stuff around all the time, but that's it. If I ever have to refinish them I can go darker.

  14. Your floors look gorgeous! Our home came with prefinished wood floors and I love them . Would prefer to have finished on site wood if I had my "druthers". Hardwoods (either way)are super easy to clean and the finish we have doesn't show dirt. Would love to get rid of the carpet in all the rooms on the main floor(master, family room and living room). Another point, hardwoods are definitely less expensive than carpet in the long run.

  15. There is one bad thing about hard wood floors and that is once you have them you can never go home is from the 50's and I have white oak natural floors and have had walls removed, floor fixed and all redone 2 times, you just can never go you the cleaning is so minimal, can't remember the last easy to keep clean and I love them...

  16. This is SO helpful and timely for me. We just sat down on Monday night to figure out what we are going to do with our new dining room and great room - we have painted plywood now! We couldn't decide between pre-finished or finished onsite but this post really helps me swing toward onsite finishing. Thanks!

  17. I keep wanting to redo our hardwood floor, but we have 3 cats and a dog and I am so scared that SOMEHOW all of their fur will be trapped in it forever. Did you do anything in particular to minimize animal hair interference?

  18. They look beautiful. We had a similar situation when the pipe under our sink burst in the middle of the night and did the same thing to our laminate flooring. What a pain that is! I think your new floors look fabulous. Megan

  19. Your floors look wonderful. :) We have carpet. It WAS brand new when we moved in... and a year later it looks like crap. It was cheap carpet put in to help sell the house. It's hard (we're on concrete slab and the underpad is cheap) and it was a white color. Who puts white carpet in a house?! We have a black lab. Enough said.

    I don't think we're going to go with wood floors at all. Being on concrete slab and in a house that is VERY cold, I want to put down in-floor heating and put down tile. I'm loving the tile that looks like wood planks. :) With our dogs and foster puppies, tile would be easier to clean/disinfect. Also, I won't worry about dog nails scratching the wood. Of course, new flooring is not happening any time soon. It's just fun to dream. :)

  20. I'm so glad you posted this. I love your floors, and it was interesting to read they advised you not to go with a wider plank due to cupping. Our engineered wood floors aren't holding up, and I was wondering if we could go back with hardwood. But we have a slab foundation. Is yours by any chance, or are you over a basement?

  21. What beautiful floors! Sometimes there is a silver lining to major house issues. We had a massive hail storm last year that destroyed our roof and about 90% of our siding. We thought it was terrible, but then I realized it was an opportunity to update the dingy brown and beige look to a black roof, white trim, and olive siding... we love it :) But no more hail storms! Ha!

  22. Love, love, love your floors! As soon as possible, we're getting rid of the carpet and going with wood, too. We had ceramic tile in our condo kitchen/breakfast nook and baths and I hated it because the builder never sealed the grout so it just kept darkening over time. Plus every bit of dirt would get caught in the grout lines when I'd sweep and mop. Not to mention the fact that ANYTHING you drop breaks the instant it hits that tile. Grrrrr! Wood is so much warmer anyway.

  23. We had prefinished hardwood installed on a concrete slab. That way it could be glued down since there was no wood subfloor to nail into with finish in place wood. We love them, but we have some pretty significant dings and scratches b/c of our dog.

  24. I would go with hardwoods in a second if they weren't cost prohibitive. The laminate I have is "textured" so it does hide dirt and dust very well and has a rustic look that I like. But if I ever come into some unexpected money, I'll definitely do hardwoods.

  25. Love wood floors- and if you think of how you have to replace carpeting but not hardwood, the cost is worth it!! Plus the maintenance is awesome!!

    Where did you get the rug by your new built ins in your old dining room? I love it!!

  26. Your floors look spectacular! When we had the addition built we ordered laminate because that is what we thought was in the kitchen/dining room. Imagine the contractor's surprise when we had to tell him the "laminate" in the rest of the house was actually vinyl... very convincing vinyl but vinyl nonetheless. The company we ordered the flooring from would not take it back so we went ahead.... BIGGEST mistake of my life!! I have to look at it daily and I simply HATE it! It is in the entire addition plus the dining/kitchen. Yes it shows every single bit of dirt which is definitely NOT good when you have a 105 lb dog plus 3 teenage boys. I just hate to think of what it is going to be like when we try to sell this house.... :(

  27. I recently moved into a rental home with wood floors from the 50's. They still look good even with the wear and tear of all those years of renters. At first, I wasn't sure I would like them. After just six months, I am CONVINCED that hardwood is the best flooring ever and I'll be putting it in my own home some day for sure! Nice to hear you feel the same way!

  28. Our almost 80-year-old house has the original wood floors downstairs. When we bought the house the red oak floors had been pickled (remember? From the late 1980s and early 1990s) and the finish was flaking off in sheets. Plus they were pink. Ick. We had them refinished by bleaching them, which turned them about the color of light maple (although less yellow). We absolutely love them. It seems counterintuitive but light floors hide more sins than dark floors, so even though they are scratched all to heck (two dogs weighing a total of 275 pounds will do that), you can't see the scratches unless you're down on your hands and knees washing them and believe it or not, they hide a fair amount of black dog hair. And I feel that the light color makes the small living room feel much, much bigger. I'm completely sold on them. But you point out the biggest problem with hardwood floors (particularly those finished on site). OMG what a pain in the butt. It's like moving all over again. It's truly awful. I hope ours stay in good shape for a very, very long time.

  29. We built a house and moved in last February. My hardwood floors are the most beautiful part of the whole house! They're lovely! I really wanted them on both upper levels, but got vetoed in the bedrooms. Now I wish I had pushed harder for the bedrooms, too.

    It's just gorgeous and I use my central vac with the beater brush turned off to keep them clean. I wash them with Bruce hardwood cleaner. I'm 100% satisfied.

  30. Just a thank you for this follow up post. I am a regular reader of this blog and many others, and while we always hear how great things are when they are sparkly, exciting and new, we very rarely get an update on how things stand as they are lived with.

    This was a very refreshing post to read.

  31. Someone recently drove a car into our 100 year old farmhouse. (More on that here: The possible upshot is that we too will be getting a nice insurance check to remodel. First step in the remodeling process is going to be new floors (we had ceramic tile, which cracked all over when the car hit). The current plan is to go with unfinished yellow or white pine.

    You post is really helpful for us to read- can't believe the timing matches our search so well - and I look forward to checking back in on other projects over time, that is a great feature. Thanks!

  32. Sarah, do I understand correctly that you have hardwood flooring in your kitchen? Or do you just mean in your eating area? I actually just posted this morning my dilemma over what type of flooring to put in our kitchen. I posted the criteria it would have to meet. Would love if you clicked on my blog, read the post, and gave me your opinion.
    As far as your husband suggesting hardwood flooring upstairs because of his allergies, well, that one he may live to regret. The reason I say that, is because we have cats, and my husband is allergic to cats (I had cats when he asked me out, so there you go). We had carpet in other homes we have owned, simply because that was what was there when we purchased, but we replaced them. In this house, other than the family room, which has carpet which is worn and needs replaced, he finds his allergies are WORSE with hardwood flooring. He says that at least with carpeting, all the pet fur and dust, is trapped in the carpet, and not blowing around the room, airborne. I dunno?!

  33. Oh I would really love hardwoods or even more tile like I have in the kitchen. Anything other than the carpet. It is just so hard to take care of and impossible to clean. Love your floors. Hugs, Marty

  34. They look wonderful and if we ever move when the kids are older we may go the same route. I'm glad to here the maintenance is minimal. I'm all about that! Of course, I'm very happy with my wood tile floors downstairs. They fool everyone and are great in the summer since it gets a million degrees here.

  35. Just wanted to give you a heads up. Every time I visit your site I get rerouted to another site before your page finishes loading, and a virus warning pops up. It only happens with your site. I think your site may have been compromised. You might want to look into it.

  36. Two of our homes have had hardwood. Love the look, hate the maintenance and the wear and tear with kids and dogs. The first house we were in 12 years and had to have them refinished twice to bring back the luster so they looked new again. In our newest home has tile, I never want hardwood again. The tile is totally low maintenance and I never worry about them. The floor is now a non-issue. Hardwood is homey and looks great but I don't want the bother.

  37. Off topic - You have 4 cats. We have three. What do you do for their litter? I have ours in the laundry room and it's a constant mess. Do you have any suggestions? Any help would be GREATLY appreciated.

  38. We had original oak hardwood floors in our old house, and I miss those beautiful floors. When we bought that house we had a company come in and refinish them (the house was already 16 years old)After three sandings they used pure urethane to seal the wood.. The floors stayed beautiful for 25 years before they started showing wear. And that was with three children growing up in this house.

  39. This is great information, Sarah -- we have OLD Pergo flooring (like 1990s), and though I loved it when the kids were little, I hate it now. It's dull, lifeless, and some of the trim pieces have broken or chipped. In other words, we've got to consider some options! Thanks for your input!
    xo Heidi

  40. Tiffany, we now have just two cats, but we've had four over the course of our floors...two passed last year. Right now we have it in the unfinished bathroom in the basement, but when I start on that I'll move it to the storage room down there. Just have to clean the storage room out first... :)

  41. We installed Armstrong laminate in half of our house in 2005 and I still love it. What a breeze to clean and every time I look at it I think thank goodness we got rid of the nasty carpet! i use a microfiber cloth flat mop with plain hot water. Hubby installed it himself and was meticulous. It looks professional and beautiful and has survived 4 kids, multiple scout meetings, moving lots of furniture, and 7 years of general wear and tear. (: Wood is pretty, but was waaay out of our price range. For us it was a great choice.

  42. Oooh this is good to know in case I ever need new floors one day! PS. Can I just say that I love that you love Thursdays : )

  43. Thanks so much for sharing your info on this! My in-laws have wood floors and we were talking to them about the pros and cons of everything. It's great to get all the info you can on this stuff.

  44. I would never, NEVER EVER have hardwood floors in my kitchen again!! Too much water! like leaking dishwashers and fridges! When we replace the hardwood, it will be with a vinyl plank flooring. It has stood up so well in my husbands office! He is in there with his work boots and you would never know. I can't wait until we can get rid of the hardwood!

  45. Yes, great follow up on your hard wood floors. We installed hard wood this past summer in our foyer, front room and dining room. The rooms all flow together. We bought hard wood from Home Depot(Bruce) Yes, you have the slats between each piece but it looks beautiful. It's easy to clean and maintain too. I would install it again if I had to. Glad your floor is holding up for you and your family. Those dings are a part of the story of your house, right?

  46. Girl those floors are fabulous. GREAT job and choice on those.. I love your house and your blog... Have a blessed rest of the week... I did a design on a dime today on my blog . I too (like you) love a good find............. HUGS

  47. Your floors are gorgeous. You're right, they look so nice against white!

  48. Our home is a 1925 Craftsman style with the original hardwood floors. They've been through a lot with a previous owner with too many cats and a section had to be replaced and all refinished before I moved in... and I love them. I'll never have anything else. We have two boys, a messy husband, and pets and they hold up to everything. I was advised to go with a satin finish and we custom-stained a dark mahogany color to cover some permanent stains. I'll never have anything else - they are even in the kitchen (pine there and oak in the rest of the house with that little bitty white tile in the bath).

  49. I agree, the upkeep is easiest on true hardwood floors. If we didn't now have a dog who sheds I could go months between anything more than sweeping.


  50. Those floors are beautiful. I have never liked the pergo look and it is so full of glues, etc.

  51. We have heart of pine & I love them. The color isn't my favorite (we bought the house when it was 2 yrs. old) but one day we'll have them refinished. There are scratches & dents but surprisingly, I'm ok with most of it. You know the whole adding character business! Yours are gorgeous. I really love the color.

  52. We own a house built in 1904 that still has its original hardwood floors. Beautiful, and economical, too.

  53. I was one of the ones who tried to convince you to do the on site finishing wood, so I'm thrilled that you still love them!! We did it in our old house, and we're doing it in our whole house here at the new one (stairs included this time). Last time was with insurance money, and this time it's on our own dime, but I told my hubby I'd rather have the floors than a new van. This time I'm not going to go as dark as I did in the first house. It was a pain to keep swept. Orange Glo was the best cleaner I found. So easy and smelled great!

  54. I have 3" hardwoods that are original to our 1929 home. We love them with the nicks and stains that have accumulated over the years. I agree with you that throw rugs help with the chill factor. Your floors look great!

  55. I don't have wood floors but hope to replace the icky almost 20 year old carpet this year with engineered wood. I'm on a slab so don't think I can go with the hardwoods.

    I grew up in a home with hardwood floors and have always missed having them in my adult life. Have always seemed to live in homes that were on a slab, and since it's always been just me, I never seemed to have enough funds to swing the wood floors (something else was always coming up) but this should be the year that it finally happens.

  56. We put in site installed hardwood ourselves. It took a year (!) cause my husband did it in his spare time. We outsourced the finishing - I chose satin like you did. And you're right - that part was awful!

    We don't regret it a bit. Right now we're redoing the upstairs with engineered flooring in a darker shade. It's more affordable than hardwood, easier to install and no finishing. Plus with bedrooms, you're not getting as much wear and tear.

    I think it makes our home look so much better than carpet and it's cleaner too.

  57. We have almost the same on the first floor of our house, only ours are 3.25". Our master bedroom is also on the first floor, and we opted for carpet in there because we thought it would be cozier. Big mistake. The carpet looked awesome at first, but after five years, and many cat pukes, it is looking pretty rough, especially where we walk on it a lot. I got a quote last week from the same people who installed the rest of our hardwoods, and the total was $2350. For one room. That did include removing the carpet, and later installing painted shoe molding (which was not needed with the carpet). Seems high, especially when I know I'll need a rug in there. And I totally dread having to move all our heavy bedroom furniture out into the living room for a week, and having to share a bathroom with our teenage son. Ugh.

  58. I also wanted to add that our floors have lots of dings. Our dining room has bunches of tiny pock marks, maybe made by high heels? And there are a bunch of dents in front of the fridge, where we've dropped things. Oops. I just consider the floors well-loved, and nobody can really tell unless they look at the floors in the light a certain way!

  59. Sarah, your floors look great! I'm totally with you on the "finished on site" flooring. Love 'em! :)

  60. Sarah, Thanks for getting back with me. I love your site.

  61. I would do anything to have wood floors like that...aaaaany thing!
    We're moving in three weeks and the house has carpet...(not again!) I hate carpet so darn much. But we are buying quite alot of furniture so I don't know if we can swing flooring. I'm wondering though how much this would cost. I bet the labor would be pretty high too.

  62. I LOVE your floors. I spotted this post as I was checking out your chalk paint reads. Tonight is our first night back in the house after our floors were finished. Same thing- 3 inch oak, stained and finished on site. I LOVE them so much!!! So many people tried to talk us into pre-finished but to me they almost look like laminate. We did DIY laminate in our bedrooms (ranch house) and it doesn't compare. Some day ... Our floor is so close to your stain too! I am so glad you said you can't see the scratches etc. I was worried with the satin finish. thanks for sharing!!!!


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