The Ultimate Guide and How-To on the Importance of Prefinishing

By July 6, 2016Home Guides
Ultimate Guide How To

Quick Summary

Prefinishing windows and doors before installation always proves to be a worthwhile investment. This article defines prefinishing and the process involved from sanding to delivery. Also, the reasons for choosing the prefinished option for your doors and windows are discussed in terms of environmental controls and adherence to state and local regulations.

For more understanding on why to buy prefinished, the problems of not prefinishing and the joys of doing so, read on. Also included are sections for those consumers who feel slightly overwhelmed by the idea of customizing in this way, your creative options with paint, stain and color, plus decorative tips near the end of the article with links for more inspiration. Finally, information on how to buy prefinished products concludes the article.


Why Prefinish?

Problems of Not Prefinishing

Joys of Prefinishing

Getting Creative: Your Options

How to Buy Prefinished


Introduction: What is Prefinishing?

The meaning of prefinishing rests in its very composition. Prefinishing involves coating or treating wood, fiberglass, steel or other materials before they are sold or used. This process benefits architects, designers, interior decorators, home builders, contractors and homeowners.


The Art of Prefinishing

In the context of windows and doors, this process includes painting or staining the product in a controlled environment before delivery to the work site and before installation. A controlled environment in the context of pre-finishing consists of a booth or room specifically designed to control the elements surrounding the finishing process. Preparation of the paintable or stainable surfaces remains the first step as it would in the field. Sanding and cleaning the surfaces to be painted occurs before anything else.

In the factory, machines then flow-coat stain or paint onto window frames and doors with the use of brushes or sprayers. Continuous brushing on all sides smooths finishes in some systems. Regardless of the type of system, the goal is to produce a consistent application on each piece and for each item down the line.

Prefinishing often involves several coats. These include the color coat, a sealant and a topcoat – though each of these steps may include more than one layer. Translucent stains or color-rich paint provide the foundational finish base. The sealant protects the grain and bonds the topcoat once applied, and the topcoat itself offers weather and UV-resistance. Additional steps vary which include deep color achievement or special hardening agents.

Drying of the window or door in a controlled environment completes the process. Proper curing occurs between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and ideal humidity control falls below 80 percent. During this time, doors and windows must be open and unlocked to dry completely.


The Result

Completing each coat before assembly reduces blotchiness or unfinished spots in corners and other places where pieces meet. As a result of the prefinishing process, products exhibit no runs, drips, lap marks or shrink lines. A smooth, clear finish gleams as a result.


Why Prefinish?

Foundationally, there are reasons to choose prefinished windows and doors over their raw counterparts. The ability to control the environment and adherence to state and federal environmental standards speak to this foundation. Both of these factors increase the value of prefinished products to contractors and homeowners alike.


Controlled Environment

In a factory-controlled environment, many variables can be regulated for quality results. Humidity and temperature significantly impact the application and drying of finishes. In a factory booth or room, these elements remain constant to create ideal finishing conditions. Also, sun, rain or snow, children running through the area, and bugs landing in paint are avoided.

Furthermore, time stands still in the prefinishing booth or room. This feat is a more difficult task to accomplish in the field. Suspension of time allows for proper drying and curing of the final product, which is vital for producing a smooth-finished, durable window or door surface.

Even unseen, unfelt properties fall under the control of the prefinishing booth or room. For example, these areas guarantee dust-free production. While the effects of dust may not be as readily noted as bugs or rain, the absence of this substance produces a cleaner, smoother finish.

The characteristics and circumstances of proper curing are not replicable on-site. This controlled environment produces a quality finish on prefinished products that tops any field application. Even one coat of prefinish primer increases the quality, durability and longevity of window and door finishes. In fact, many quality coating companies extend their warranty options for prefinished products.


State and Federal Standards

In this day of environmental awareness, the impact of practices on the natural world makes a difference. Factories that prefinish respect this understanding. Held in state and federal standards, these companies provide excellent products with a decreased environmental impact. Also, working in a controlled environment completely eliminates the impact of fumes and spills on-site.


Problems of Not Prefinishing

The reality of not prefinishing does not always paint the lovely picture that cost savings promise. Often, the issues of finishing on-site prompt hassles and mess that cost time and money.

Take a moment to imagine this scenario:

Beautiful raw wood doors and windows arrive on-site. Unfortunately, today the weather brings rain, and as such the project is delayed. No finishing can be done the next day due to the lingering humidity. So, the doors and windows sit exposed to UV (yes, even amid the clouds) and moisture. Finally, the weather cooperates, and the finish is applied between temperature fluctuations.

A bit of dust and a few flying insects challenge the process, but the project looks good overall. Then, white spots and a milky finish slowly begin to appear. Fortunately, the door jamb will conceal the drip on the side and the missed spots on the window corners are touched up. This imperfection was not the hope and neither was the flaking and fading that appears years before expected.


Stop imagining.

This example is evidently an exaggeration (though not out of the realm of possibility) that illustrates the problems of not prefinishing. While many of the issues with purchasing raw products over prefinished ones populate this text, below they are listed for clarity.


Practical Issues

To finish a project on-site, several practical problems threaten to arise.

  • Improper sanding proves a reality on-site.
  • Inadequate drying due to worksite conditions or lack of time causes an inferior finish.
  • UV exposure of raw products decreases topcoat longevity.
  • Weather complications delay projects.
  • Loss of time to more labor-intensive installation and finishing.
  • Cost and mess of on-site finishing.


Adverse Effects

Not only do practical issues exist, but an inferior product is also the result. Possible adverse effects include:

  • Lack of clarity in the finish.
  • A milky look to stained surfaces.
  • Whitening of the topcoat.
  • Lack of color uniformity on a piece.
  • Lack of color uniformity across a batch.
  • Flaking of the finish.
  • Fading of color.
  • Cupping of the wood.
  • Blotchy or unfinished corners.
  • Drips, runs, lap marks and shrink lines.
  • Delays in project completion.
  • Less durability.


Joys of Prefinishing

Dollar savings may tempt a builder or homeowner to order windows and doors unfinished. However, the benefits of prefinishing must be calculated into the cost equation. The price tag of raw products may be attractive, but hidden costs add to that sticker. Considering the benefits of prefinishing adds to the value and savings associated with these items.


Time and Money Savings

Prefinishing saves contractors and homeowners the mess and hassle of finishing raw goods or the cost of hiring someone to do so. In fact, contractors estimate that buying prefinished saves up to four hours of time per window or door. Indeed, when you are hiring someone to have this work done, costs quickly accumulate. Doing the math yields a significant hidden cost in time and money.

On the other hand, many factory finishing companies offer installation and touch-ups for pre-finished doors and windows. This added service proves convenient and less stressful in the event that a door gets dinged during installation. Again, this enables cost and time savings for the homeowner or contractor.


Assembly and Installation

While a prefinished door may require a bit of care to install in order not to scratch the surface, installation remains easier. Typically, doors and windows arrive assembled with hardware – ready to pop into place and complete the project quickly. As stated, prefinishing removes the fuss and mess that come with dealing with stains, paints and topcoats.


Quality Performance

As noted above, no field application brings about the same superior finish/appearance, durability and longevity as prefinishing does. The even color and bright, smooth finishes provide beauty. Consistent color across the order improves the consistency and appearance of the entire batch of products. The layers of sealants and topcoats stand up to both weather and use with reduced peeling and flaking.

Paints and stains applied before exposure to moisture and UV rays guard the door and window material from cupping, premature topcoat breakdown and other related conditions. Factory-applied stains seal wood for protection and enhance its natural character and beauty.

Factory prefinishing of wood products significantly improves their longevity. In fact, many wood associations recommend the process, including the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association (WRCLA) and the US Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory. Studies indicate that coating life runs proportional to UV exposure before the surfaces are painted.

In other words, when raw windows and doors are installed in the field to be finished later, the UV exposure received in the interim causes premature coating breakdown and peeling later in the life of the product. Also, any moisture absorption via rainwater or excess humidity by raw wood results in cupping and movement – which is not an attractive look for a front door.


Environmental Controls

To reiterate what the discussion above states, purchasing prefinished products evades environmental threats for a smooth, beautiful surface. Temperature, precipitation and humidity cannot interfere, and bugs and dust cannot mar the finish. Additionally, children and workers moving cannot accidentally cause the process to restart.

Furthermore, the effects on the environment remain contained and controlled as well. Prefinishing leaves harmful overspray, fumes and spills off-site, in an area prepared to handle them according to federal and state standards. These safeguards bode well for families and communities surrounding construction and remodel sites.


Reduced Delays

Work conditions and weather threats wreak havoc on construction and remodel timelines. With prefinishing, the elimination of weather and other conditions as variables is made for more streamlined projects. Painting and staining can occur any time of the year in factory-controlled environments.

For the contractor or homeowner, this means no more waiting for the ideal temperature and humidity to complete the finishing process. There’s no need to wait on windows and doors for hardware installation. In fact, curb appeal is instantaneous after installation, with a neat and complete job site.


Getting Creative: Your Options

Today’s prefinished doors and windows allow for creativity beyond that previously known. In a time of mass home improvement and HGTV inspiration, there became a drive for customizing one’s doors and windows. In years past, this may have drawn homeowners and specialists to the raw canvas of unfinished pieces. However, the enlarged selection of styles, colors and finish choices make prefinished doors and windows a convenient, mess-free and durable solution.


Paint or Stain?

Whether to paint or stain remains (in part) an answered question often dictated by the material of the window or door a customer chooses. For instance, a smooth-skinned fiberglass door does not lend itself to stain, nor would there be any reason to apply this finish. Paint is thus the application of choice for this material.

On the other hand, natural wood-grain or textured fiberglass doors accept grain-enhancing stain or paint. Indeed, the choice becomes the customer’s preference. If the beauty of the grain draws the homeowner, then stain offers the best option. For those seeking bright pops of color, paint answers their call.

Paint provides color and a solid finish to windows and doors. In essence, this choice hides the surface qualities. A homeowner’s design sense engages as color choice adds fun and whimsy, class or tradition, goes bold or soft through vibrant accent colors, or sleek black or gleaming white finishes.

Stain, as mentioned, retains the natural character of textured fiberglass or wood surfaces. Enhancing the grain and beauty of the material it coats remains to be stain’s claim to fame. Today’s fiberglass options will mimic natural woods. Mahogany, oak and knotty alder find their mirror images among fiberglass doors.


The Color Wheel

Gone are the days of two to three color options when a consumer seeks to customize windows and doors. The choices go far beyond black, white or neutral. Many pre-finishing companies now offer a wide range of colors. For example, RWC Windows, Doors & More allows customers to choose any paint selection from the Sherwin-Williams or Benjamin Moore color palette. This design freedom enables contractors and homeowners to explore complementary or contrasting color themes in home construction or improvement projects.

Stain options also span beyond the standard choices. Companies sensitive to design issues for contractors and homeowners work with consumers to complement a home’s existing interior or create a fresh color scheme. Some professionals, such as RWC, offer the unique ability to stain doors and windows according to a customer’s color and tone preferences. This service increases the match between a new product and existing flooring and trim.


Decorative Tips

Choosing a design and color for prefinished doors and windows can be overwhelming for homeowners. The tips below may help to ease the stress.

  • The style of the home or a customer’s budget may dictate the type of windows and doors that are chosen.
  •  Door and window color provide a complement to the home’s color palette. For example, a front door hue choice can match your home’s trim, coordinate with a roof, deck or walkway features, or draw from the dominant exterior color.
  •  Natural surroundings also inspire hues. Warm, earthy colors prove popular among homeowners and play well with home features and the landscape.
  • A color that expresses the homeowner’s personality holds long-lasting adoration. For example, black doors represent classic, finer tastes, with a love of order. Red reveals passionate and hospitable characteristics. Meanwhile, green signifies traditional values and community involvement.
  • The Internet and HGTV pour out inspiration. Identifying styles of windows and doors that stand out to a homeowner, or seeking photos that mimic a current color palette, allows them to visualize the end result.


How to Buy Prefinished

If you are intrigued and desire to purchase prefinished doors and windows rather than their raw counterparts, it is time to take action. With a bit of research, help, and answers to a few questions, you will be well on your way to enhanced curb appeal. Consider the following tips.



When looking to purchase prefinished doors and windows, the quality of the base product is important. The range of prefinishing options does a consumer no good if the windows and doors are not well made. Research products from several companies.

Ask friends, acquaintances and colleagues for references. Local lumber stores or contractors can provide useful insight as well. Be sure to check with referrals both for the product and prefinishing work.

Finally, be sure to contact references from the company as well. If hiring a professional to install windows, look for certification from InstallationMasters or the American Window and Door Institute. Many prefinishing companies will provide installation services. Just be sure to check their work experience and references.


Seek help

Design choice and color selection may overwhelm the average homeowner. If this is your case, do not hesitate to seek help. Of course, friends and family may offer their opinions, and even some valuable thoughts, but it is far more likely that the staff working where you are considering purchasing the windows and doors are available to walk you through the most ideal options. Consult with their designers to find the look that best fits your home.



Get multiple quotes from reputable companies. Quotes should include the window or door brand, the number of products, size and type, plus added features. Installation labor and material costs should be detailed too. Also, make sure that each company clearly explains timelines and warranties to be expected. In other words, know what your dollar is buying.

In addition to quotes, request samples. The material should be the same if not similar to the one you are interested in using. Stains and even paints take on different appearances depending on the material beneath. Rather than tiny color swatches, some companies offer larger sample pieces.



When you make the decision to prefinish your windows and doors, and have chosen a product and color, simply ask the staff to write up the order. Working with a quality company earns some freedom in trust. In other words, the professionals should be able to walk you through the process. Check to be sure the order holds consistent with the quote. Ask about discrepancies. And again, confirm timelines for completion and delivery options.

Once finished, your doors and windows are ready for pickup or delivery (depending on your arrangement). If hiring to install the product, schedule that opportunity if you have not already done so. After installation, simply sit in the yard and enjoy the beauty of your newfound curb appeal thanks to the prefinished doors and windows.



Prefinishing offers contractors, homeowners and a variety of home improvement specialists superior quality and durability, resulting in beautiful and long-lasting windows and doors. The additional cost decreases when factors such as longevity, durability, cost and time savings, ease of installation, reduced project delays and a smooth, clear finish come into play.

With the freedom to customize according to the style and color in ways unknown before, prefinishing offers consumers the perfect doors and windows made to fit the style of their home and the personality of those living within its walls. Professionals are trained and will make the process of design, selection and ordering easier than you could ever have imagined.

RWC Windows, Doors & More provides pre-finishing services. Contact them today to get a picture of what they have to offer.

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