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Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring usually represents a substantial investment but it can add real and lasting value to your home. So, before you make your final choice, here are several questions you’ll want to consider. I recommend that you take some time to study and learn about the options available to you. You’ll be glad you did.

The Look: Consider first of all the overall aesthetic that you’ll want to achieve.

  • Light, medium or dark stained floor?
  • Low, medium or high gloss finish?
  • Smooth furniture looking finish or hand scraped, wire brushed or antique looking finish?
  • Fine, even grain or boards with knots and color variation?
  • Board width – narrow, medium or wide? 1, 2 ¼, 3 ¼, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 inch or more width? Or some people prefer mixed widths?
  • Parquet type instead of strip or plank? Custom medallions, borders, inserts, etc.

The Construction: Hardwood flooring today is available in 4 basic types or constructions and there are pros and cons of each:

  1. Solid Wood Flooring is cut from a tree as a solid piece of wood. Finished board widths vary from 1 inch to 12 inches. Narrow widths under 2 ¼" are called strip and wider widths over 3 ¼" are called plank. Finished board thicknesses range from 5/16" to 3/4".
    • Pros:
      • Solid hardwood is the standard flooring by which all others are judged
      • Unlimited styling opportunities
      • Is higher cost and the highest perceived value
      • Can usually be refinished
    • Cons:
      • Will expand or contract with changes in humidity
      • Is recommended for above grade installation only
      • Is fasten with nails or staples only
      • Installed only over suspended floors with plywood type sub floor or firing strips
      • Should always be installed perpendicular to floor joists
      • Needs proper expansion allowances next to vertical surfaces such as walls, door jams, etc.
  2. Acrylic Impregnated Wood Flooring - a solid wood flooring where all the moisture has been sucked out and replaced by acrylic and colored stain.
    • Pros:
      • Can be used in places where splashed water is a problem – kitchens, baths, powder-rooms
      • The acrylic resin makes the wood up to 300% harder and more indent resistant than natural wood creating a super-hard, extremely durable floor.
      • Abrasive wear, scrapes and scratches are hardly perceptible. This type of flooring is often used in high-traffic public areas such as airport terminals, malls, restaurants, and elevator floors.
    • Cons:
      • Is not recommended for steam rooms or rooms with excessive water.
      • Floors can never be re-stained.
      • Limited styling as few companies are producing this type
      • Is high cost.
  3. Engineered Wood Flooring - is manufactured by laminating a veneer of solid hardwood to a plywood-like substrate. The surface veneer may vary in thickness from very thin up to 2 or 3 mm. From 3 to 9 plies are laminated together with the grain running perpendicular to each other and will vary in total thickness from 2/6" to 9/16". Board widths will vary from 2 ¼" to 12".
    • Pros:
      • Is dimensionally stable and experiences very little expansion or contraction with changes in humidity
      • May be used on or below grade
      • May be installed over wood or OSB sub-floor or concrete slab. Sub-floor must be dry, smooth and even
      • Has much less waste
      • Is less inexpensive than solid hardwood flooring
    • Cons:
      • Sometimes perceived as "not real wood"
      • Can’t be refinished
  4. "Epic" type engineered wood flooring Is similar to engineered flooring except that the core of the board is a solid HDF instead of laminated plies (alt tag – High Density Fiberboard)
    • Pros:

      • Even more stable than engineered hardwood flooring
      • Has all the advantages of engineered hardwood flooring
      • Is considered to be more eco-friendly or "greener" because the HDF core is made of post industrial waste
    • Cons:
      • Limited styling as few companies are producing this type
      • Usually perceived as "not real wood"
      • Is fasten with nails or staples only

The Species: Hardwood flooring is made from hardwood trees harvested all over the world. There are literally thousands of species and subspecies. For simplicity, we like to classify trees by their average hardness rank or their Janka Scale Rating. It is also useful to know the domestically grown species as well as those which are imported (usually called "Exotic").

Generally, the most common domestic hardwoods used in flooring are red oak, white oak, hickory, maple, cherry, walnut and occasionally ash, beech or birch.
Of the imported species, Jojoba or Brazilian cherry, Ipe or Brazilian walnut, teak; Agendum, Santos mahogany and Tigerwood are the more popular woods.

Because of illegal deforestation in South America, Africa, Indonesia and elsewhere, new laws have come into effect restricting the importation of hardwood harvested outside of North America. All products offered by are in compliance. (Lacey Act Policy)

The Installation Process Don’t be fooled into thinking that one installer is as good as any other. The quality of the installation will determine how your finished floor turns out.
    If you choose to install the flooring yourself:
  • Study the mills installation instructions
  • Make sure you have all the right tools and enough of the right materials
  • Give yourself plenty of time.
    If you hire a professional to do the work:
  • You can save money buying the material and then subcontracting the installation of the flooring to a qualified installer.
  • You can save time contracting with a reputable retailer to perform the complete job. It’s extra insurance to hold just one person responsible for the entire project.
  • Always check references(see How To Hire An Installer)
Pre-finished vs. Custom Finished Hardwood Floors
Pre-finished hardwood floors (also called factory finished)
  • Pros:
    • Are harder, more durable finish - manufacturers apply 7-10 coats of finish
    • Often have an added layer of aluminum oxide for additional durability
    • Factory finishes are much easier to care for
    • Are very easy to repair or replace boards
    • Make for a faster installation by a factor of two
  • Cons:
    • Pre-finished trims are not an always exact match to the floor
    • Stain selection is limited to manufacturer's colors
Custom finished hardwood (also called site-finished)
  • Pros:
    • Can enable you to use custom colors and custom gloss levels
    • Will match trim, stair nosing and vents
    • Offers a higher perceived value
    • Gives a truly custom look because the entire floor is sanded to a monolithic look
  • Cons:
    • Takes more than twice as long to complete because of the time it takes to sand, apply the finish and let it dry.
    • Requires clean dust free environment
    • Consumers should move out of home during the finishing process and not walk on the floor until it is completely cured.
    • Messier, smellier and more costly
Here are a some additional things to know about installing hardwood flooring:
    Waste - When you install a hardwood floor, there are generally two kinds of waste:
    1. The waste from the boards you trim in order to fit to the walls
    2. The scrap wood that manufacturers include in each box. The better manufacturers will specify their standards in the fine print usually on the box. When comparing prices, it is usually wise to compare the amount of waste you’ll get.
    Hardness – Knowing that each species of wood has a standard hardness rating (Janka scale) is important especially for hard use areas. For example walnut is 1010, red oak is 1290, and maple is 1450. And there are species that exceed 3000.

    Grading - Hardwood is a natural product that is produced from logs of wood. After a log has been cut, not all parts have the same color and appearance. Some parts of the log for instance have very fine grain and are completely clear of knots and discoloration. Those are given the top grade and are usually purchased by furniture manufacturers. To learn more about grading and the type of hardwood grades used for flooring:

    • U.S. Hardwood Grading Rules (24 pages) Summary of U.S. Hardwood Lumber Grades, Measurement, Ash, Cherry, Cottonwood, Gum, Hard Maple, Soft Maple, Red Oak, White Oak, Tulipwood, and Walnut.

    Light sensitivity: When exposed to sunlight all species of hardwood change color. Some species are more sensitive to sunlight than others. Most South American species and some African species will change color quite dramatically. American cherry and walnut are also very sensitive. Some species lighten and others darken, but all species change color over time.

    One method to minimize sunlight color change is to choose a floor with a stained finish rather than a natural finish. Stained wood floors react less to sunlight because the stain pigments protect the wood. Another method is to choose a pre-finished hardwood floor with a UV protective coating.

    No method will completely eliminate color change, but they can certainly slow it down and minimize the overall amount of change. So, when you move an area rug or a piece of furniture and the hardwood floor underneath is a different color, you’ll know why. Give it some time. The unexposed floor will eventually catch up. It’s not a defect – it’s the nature of wood.