Congratulations! Either you’ve decided to outfit your home with hardwood or refinish some pre existing hardwood. In both cases you’ve made a great choice— wood grain is deep and it has an unparalleled beauty. Your floor is gonna look great. The next choice you have to make is what kind of finish will best suit your home. Every hardwood product needs to be finished to seal and protect it, but different finishes have different benefits and depending on your priorities some finishes will be better for you than others. Factors at play here are: VOC content, durability, luster level and maintenance schedule. Let me break it down for you.

 

Considerations 

If you’re thinking about going with a site-finished hardwood, meaning that the finish will be applied to the hardwood on site after it has been installed, then you’ll have the option between Water-Based Polyurethane and Penetrating Oil. If you’re thinking about going with a pre-finished hardwood, meaning that the finish is applied on to the product in the factory, you’ll have the choice between Polyurethanes with certain strengthening additives or Penetrating-Oil finishes. 

In any case, the best finish for you depends on your priorities. What’s more important to you: Aesthetics or durability? Do you have a no tolerance policy on VOCs or are you ok with low VOC products? Do you want a hip low luster look or do you like the classic semi gloss shimmer? As with anything, hardwood finishes are give and take, so take a look at the following chart to decide which finish type best suits your needs and then you can read up on the specifics below. 

 

VOCs

Wear Resistance

Luster

Maintenance*

Water-based Polyurethane

Low

High

All levels

Refinished approx. every

10 years*

Penetrating Oil Finish

None

Low

Low only

Refreshed approx. every few years*

Polyurethane w/

Aluminum, Titanium or Ceramic

Moderate

Highest

All levels

Refinished approx. every 20 years*

* Keep in mind that the speed at which your hardwood finish wears depends on amount of foot traffic and how well you maintain it. These are rough approximations.

Water-based Polyurethane has become standard for site-finished hardwood in Canada. Oil-based polyurethane was recently illegalized for commercial use because of its toxicity. It was a welcome change: Water-Based finishes have a far lower VOC content, do not yellow over time and despite common misconceptions, they are actually more durable than their Oil-Based predecessors. 

At Floorscapes, we use Bona Traffic Naturale and Bona Traffic HD. Both finishes are industry standard and are renowned for their high durability, low VOCs and luster options. Bona Traffic HD in particular has an “unsurpassed scuff, scratch and chemical resistance,” is available in satin, semi gloss and matte lusters and boasts less than 150 VOCs. Compared to Oil-Penetrating finish, Water-based finish offers the best durability and the least amount of maintenance.

Penetrating Oil-Based (for site finished hardwood)

Hardwood finished with Penetrating Oil looks stunning. It is low luster, transparent and raw. How it works is the oil literally penetrates the surface of the wood and saturates the grain; or in the case of Rubio Monocoat, which we use at Floorscapes, the oil forms an extremely thin surface coating which creates molecular bonds to the wood. In either case, the coat is barely visible: basically as little between you and the wood as possible. To boot, Oil is the cleanest type of finish. Rubio Monocoat has zero VOC content, which is ideal for those who are concerned about air quality. 

Oil finish is not for everybody however as it requires more upkeep than Water-Based Polyurethane. It needs to be refreshed (meaning recoated in areas of wear) every few years. The process is fairly simple and can be done DIY. You actually only need to recoat the areas that are most worn by foot traffic, unlike with most finishes. Nevertheless oil finish definitely requires more maintenance than Water-Based finish. We recommend oil for homeowners who are happy to put a bit of extra work into their home to make it exceptionally beautiful.

 

Polyurethane with Aluminum Oxide, Titanium Oxide and Ceramic Additives (for prefinished hardwood)

If durability is your number one priority, then pre-finished hardwood is the answer to your prayers. Most pre-finished hardwood manufacturers use a Polyurethane that contains additives which immensely strengthens the finish. The options are aluminum oxide, titanium oxide and ceramic. Titanium oxide based finish, for example, can last twice as long as Water-Based finish. If you want to avoid refinishing your floors as much as possible and don’t mind sacrificing the possibility of a resand and finish (some pre finished floors cannot be resanded and finished), then go with a prefinished hardwood with a strengthening additive.

Conclusion

If you have any more questions about selecting the right hardwood finish for your home, send us an email or give us a call. Better yet, if you live in Calgary and you’re in the flooring market, stop by our showroom at 525 58th Aveue SE. The Floorscapes team has as much experience as we do passion: combined, we have over 150 years in the world of Calgary flooring. We offer our knowledge, our expertise and our aesthetic sensibility in order to help you create a space that you will love.

Written by guest author Eric Osborne.

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