Wood Cuts - October 2007

By Rick Berg

One of the first decisions a wood floor customer has to make is between a site finished and factory finished floor. While the choice will be dictated by conditions in a few situations, most often it will be a matter of preference.

“It’s a nice situation to have,” says Ed Korczak, executive director and CEO of the National Wood Flooring Association. “Whether the consumer chooses a site finished floor or a factory finished floor, he or she will have an almost endless number of options to choose from in terms of color and style. And the best thing is that no matter which they choose they’ll have a real wood floor that will last a lifetime.”

There’s a fair amount of factory finished solid wood flooring on the market, and a small amount of site finished engineered flooring. However, it’s usually safe to assume that most factory finished flooring is engineered (three plies or more), while most site finished flooring is solid.

Given that, the choice of factory finished or site finished may be dictated by where the flooring will be installed. The National Wood Flooring Association doesn’t recommend installing solid wood in a basement.

On the other hand, if the floor is being installed in a home that already has wood flooring, and the new flooring must match the existing flooring, it will probably require a site finished product that can be custom matched.

A Matter of Style and Convenience
Beyond those few situations, the choice between site finished and factory finished will usually come down to the customer’s preferences.

For example, most factory finished floors contain a micro-beveled edge, while most site finished flooring is square edged. Some customers prefer the texture created by micro-bevels, while others like the seamless look of a square edged product.

One of the biggest reasons some consumers prefer a factory finished product is that it eliminates sanding and finishing the floors. That’s proving especially true in the remodeling market, which figures to become increasingly active, since the new home market has slowed.

“It depends so much on circumstances, but I have to say that we’re seeing more people choosing a factory finished product, especially in remodeling situations,” says Jeff Hosking, owner of Hosking Hardwood Flooring in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, a company that has been selling and installing wood flooring since 1939. Hosking himself has been in the business since 1965—“ever since I was old enough to follow my dad around and carry a broom,” he says.

Solid, site finished flooring was nearly 100% of Hosking Hardwood’s business until about 20 years ago, but Hosking says that today factory finished flooring makes up about 80%.

“We still do a lot of site finished flooring and we do a lot of sanding and refinishing of existing flooring, but factory finished has really become a big item for us,” says Hosking. “I think a lot of customers see it as more convenient. You’re in, you’re out, there’s no dust or fumes, and they can get back on it right away. You know people like convenience, so it doesn’t take much to sell them on that.”

There remains a strong market for site finished floors, Hosking says, because some people prefer to customize the look of their floors.

“There are literally hundreds of style and species and color choices in factory finished flooring, but if the customer has something very specific in mind, like a very high gloss level or an unusual species, site finished flooring can provide that,” says Hosking.

Rick Holden, vice chairman of the NWFA and executive vice president of Derr Flooring in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, one of the largest wood flooring distributors on the East Coast, says his company now sells about equal amounts of both kinds of flooring.

“There are significant advantages to both, and we hear that from the customers we see in our showroom,” says Holden. “It really comes down to what’s important to them—what they value the most.

“People choose site finished products, for example, because it’s a custom finish. You get the gloss level you want, the color you want, the species you want. It’s going to be smooth, with no micro-bevels. You get more options—more species, wider widths, more varied grades. You’re not going to get a wormy chestnut plank in a factory finished product, for example. So if someone is looking for one of the more exotic species, there’s a good chance they’ll go to a site finished product.”

While there are also multiple options on the factory finished side, convenience might be the biggest factor.

“People often choose factory finished because they’re concerned about how the installation will impact their household,” says Holden. “A factory finished product is going to be less invasive in terms of dust, and the household will be disrupted for less time. That’s a big issue for some people, especially if it’s in an area that would disrupt multiple areas of the house, like a hallway, an entryway or a kitchen. Another factor that really seems to influence some people is the warranty issue. With almost every factory finished product out there, the manufacturer offers a pretty good warranty. With site finished products, some finish manufacturers offer a warranty, but by and large there are no warranties unless the contractor offers one.”

Many customers also like the fact that factory finished products have multiple sample boards to examine. “Some contractors do a good job of providing sample boards for their site finished products, but not all of them do,” says Holden.

Holden and Hosking agree that the growth of factory finished flooring has been dramatic, especially over the past 15 years or so.

“The market has changed a lot, and we have all had to change with it,” says Hosking.

Derr Flooring has been in the wood flooring business since 1912, so it’s significant that about half that company’s wood flooring sales are now factory finished.

“A lot of things have impacted that,” says Holden. “There’s a lot more slab construction today, especially in the South and West and where there’s a lot of high rise condo construction. There are very good options for installing solid flooring on slabs, but not all contractors can do that well. So, slab construction has tended to favor engineered flooring. As we all know, there are very few site finished options in the engineered flooring segment— it might be less than 1% of our market. A lot of tract home builders have also switched over to factory finished, since the installation time is less and it fits their construction timeline better.”

Solid site finished flooring, however, has been a staple in the wood flooring market for over 100 years, and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon. While factory finished flooring now makes up roughly 50% of the market, sales of solid site finished flooring remain significantly higher than they were a decade ago because the total wood flooring market has grown.

“There’s still a very strong market for site finished flooring,” says Holden. “In fact, we have a couple of retailer customers who were exclusively factory finished, but who have now begun selling and installing site finished products, because they see there’s a strong niche for that type of product. The site finished product is still going to be a real viable part of our market. It just isn’t going to be 90% of the market the way it used to be. There are just so many other options out there today.”

Copyright 2007 Floor Focus

Related Topics:NWFA Expo