While you are researching pre-finished wood flooring products, you’re going to run into a host of warranties—ranging from 10 years all the way to “lifetime”—each with terms and conditions with specific, relevant meanings and implications. Understanding exactly what is covered under a warranty is necessary for correctly managing expectations and accurately evaluating product comparisons. Here are six types of warranties you may encounter during the course of looking at pre-finished wood floors.

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Overall Warranty: Overall warranties are divided up into residential and commercial categories, depending on the intended applications. Since residential use is not as high traffic or taxing as commercial use—though some moms, dads, and pet owners might disagree!—a residential warranty is typically extended for a much longer timeframe. It is not unusual to see residential-use warranties of 20 to 50 years, well beyond the typical shelf life of hardwood-floor designs.

Structural Warranty: The structural type of warranty guarantees the product won’t delaminate (with layers separating from each other) and typically covers a lifetime because that sort of deterioration is deemed a manufacturing defect.

Lifetime Warranty: When you see one of these lifetime warranties, you have to ask yourself, “Whose lifetime are we talking about here?” The fact is almost all warranties are “non-transferrable.” In which case, “lifetime” really means “for the amount of time you personally live in this house.”

Finish Warranty: For this one, a finish warranty concerns possible wear-through of the liquid coating on top of the wood. Clear coat, when properly applied, will protect the stain color on the wood underneath. A finish warranty typically refers to incidents of over 5% of installed flooring materials showing finish having worn off and stain color starting to wear. For pre-finished flooring, anything with appropriately applied aluminum oxide will last a very long time—decades at the least.

Wood Wear Layer Warranty: Wood wear layer warranty is coverage referring to the actual wood’s surface, more common in site-finished flooring where there is no aluminum oxide in the urethane. Aluminum oxide reinforced urethanes are very effective in preventing wear-through of the finish, so you never walk directly on the surface of the wood. Solid hardwoods are more typical in site-finished applications, and the number of sandings you can get is important because there is no aluminum oxide particle in the finish applied on site. This creates a need to sand and refinish more often, therefore dictating the estimated life of the floor.

Radiant Heat Warranty: A radiant heat warranty means the wood flooring being installed can stand up to the stresses of radiant heated subfloors. Sudden swings in temperature and humidity can be damaging to hardwood in general, so heated subfloors put more stress on wood flooring products than other substrates. Certain hardwood species, constructions, and finishes are better suited for these conditions; however, specific parameters for installation and use still have to be satisfied.

Many times, warranties are more of a marketing tool than an actual indicator of product life, but with this guide, you can approach the process of researching and selecting the best possible pre-finished flooring product for your needs as aware and well-prepared as possible.