If you are serious about finding the right hardwood floor but are unfamiliar with your options, you are at the perfect place. There are a lot of consideration when choosing a hardwood floor, but we created the below outline in hopes of streamlining your understanding while insuring you get the crucial information.
Stick with us through “hardwood flooring 101” and we promise you will find the information well worth your time
Before we start!
The same natural beauty that make hardwood floors so popular come with certain limitations regarding how and where they can be placed. Before you embark in finding your perfect floor, you should confirm if there are any factors that may constrain what floors are appropriate. Below grade, extreme temperatures, large humidity fluctuations and heavy traffic are some of the challenges faced for certain project. Talk with a local flooring professional regarding your project and local environment to determine if there are any factors that need to be considered in your flooring choice.
Quality is paramount to a successful hardwood floor and we define quality by the following 3 criteria:
> Quality of the materials
> Quality of the construction
> Quality of the appearance
We are all inherently drawn to the final appearance, but before we tackle this, lets start from the floor up and discuss the first two:
Engineered Floors vs. Solid Floors
Solid floors refer to planks of flooring that are a solid piece of wood through the body of the plank.
The strength and durability of solid floors is directly related to the wood species used with harder species being the most durable. A distinct benefit of solid floors is the ability to sand and refinish numerous times. Solid floors are considered less structurally sound, experiencing greater expansion and contraction during fluctuations in temperature or humidity. For this reason, solid flooring is generally limited to under 5” in width and shorter plank lengths. Solid flooring is also only recommended for environmentally stable (marginal fluctuations in temperature or humidity) rooms.
Solid floors are generally 3/4” thick giving the floor a solid feel once installed.
Engineered floors refers to flooring that consists of multiple layers of material sandwiched together. The hardwood is the top layer which is the only layer you see once the floor is installed.
The quality of an engineered floor is dependent on the material and construction of the core (base) layer as well as the top hardwood layer. When adhered together the two layers create a sandwich construction that gives the flooring greater stability. An engineered hardwood floor constructed with a quality base level and adequately thick top layer can be offered in much wider and longer planks. Popular “wide plank” hardwood floors are almost exclusively engineered hardwood floors with premier quality options nearing 10” in width and 8-10’ in length. An additional benefit is the stability of the sandwich is better suited to areas that may expect greater environmental fluctuations. The hardwood layer can vary dramatically in thickness from as little as 1 mm to 6mm. Thicker is generally considered higher quality as while all floors can be refinished a limited number of times, thicker top layers offering more opportunities and hence “longer lifetimes” than thinner constructed floors.
Overall thickness of engineered hardwood floors is another factor in quality with thicker floors, especially those with thicker top layers providing a more solid feel once installed.
Unfinished vs. Pre-finished Floors
This important distinction refers to the difference between floors that have their final surface finished by the manufacturer (prefinished) verses “unfinished”flooring that is surfaced and finished by the installer.
Both prefinished and unfinished floors offer distinct advantages and attributes that may make one better suited to your project. There is not a “better” choice between the two, rather they are two distinct approaches to achieving the same end goal, a beautiful hardwood floor.
Advantages and Limitations of Prefinished Floors:
Choosing a floor. A distinct attribute of prefinished floors is the ability for one to see what the floor will look and feel like by walking into a showroom/retail store and looking at an adequately sized sample. Wood species, colors, surface textures and plank sizes all play into the final appearance of the floor and the opportunity to see an example (even bringing a dimply back to your location) provides a great opportunity to choose the most desirable option for your project.
Installation: Prefinished floors can be installed much quicker which reduces cost but also reduces the time during which the area being worked can not be used. Finishing unfinished floors ofter require home residence to find alternative places to stay during the installation period.
Surface: Factory finishes are generally more durable due to the commercial process used that cannot be replicated on site. Conversely while harder to damage, any damage caused is also harder to correct as the original finish cannot be perfectly replicated onsite. All flooring that is lived on will likely warrant getting refinished. At this stage the refinisher will generally try to find a close match to the original prefinished design.
Bevels: The term used to describe the subtle slop along the edge of a flooring plank is an inherent attribute of prefinished floors. Depending on the type of floor, this bevel maybe subtle or more pronounced.
Advantages and Limitations of Unfinished Floors:
Choosing a floor: Skilled installers can create a more diverse and unique finishes then can be generally found within a prefinished floor selection. This versatility allows installers to better match existing floors when only part of a home is getting new floors. While you can’t point to the finished look, unfinished flooring provides a blank canvass that endures a truly custom finished floor.
Versatility: Borders, inlays, and other customized elements that are popular attributes in flooring are often not available for a prefinished floor
Refinishing: All flooring that is lived on will likely warrant getting refinished. With an onsite finished floor, once sanded down, installers can match the original finish by implementing the same finishing approach as done in the original installation
No joints: The onsite finishing process can create a complete smooth surface atop the hardwood surface so no joint can be felt between planks.
Thickness: What does this mean.
Flooring thickness is an important attribute in both engineered and solid floors.
Solid Floors: Greater thickness is associated with higher quality as thicker floors offer a more “solid” feel and provide a greater number of opportunities to be re-sanded over the life of the floor.
Engineered Floors: Like solid floors, thickness is generally associated with quality and a more “solid” feel. In engineered hardwood floors, both the top (hardwood) and core layers need to be increased in thickness relative to each other. A thicker top layer provides more re-sanding opportunities.
WHICH DESIGN IS RIGHT FOR ME?
Choosing the right floor for your home should be a balance of form (the look you love most) and function (meets the need of your intended use)
The 5 key attributes that work in unison to create the final appearance are as follows:
Find the right mix of the above characteristics and you will have the perfect floor for your home
Hardwoods for flooring are sourced around the world and different species vary in durability, grain patterns, and color. Common species include oak, maple, cherry, walnut hickory and birch while exotic woods like mahogany, and Brazilian cherry are sought after for their striking appearance. Each species have distinct traits that make them desirable for different environments. Visiting a retailer to see each species is the best approach to finding the look you will love in your home.
The top surface and edges of a hardwood flooring plank can be textured in a myriad of ways to create a distinct look and feel to the floor. Different techniques applied to different species of wood create disinticitve looks ranging from completely smooth to heavily distressed. Some of the more common forms of distressing floors to give them character are wire brushing and hand scraping. Beveling (this is applied to the edges of each plank) works in unison with these techniques to accentuate individual planks.
Color is the most important consideration when choosing a wood floor. There are many approaches to creating unique colors, with manufacturers and installers alike, creating exclusive finishes that distinguish their floors. There are numerous methods used to create distinct colors including:
Reactive stains (aka active stains) react with the natural tannnins in the wood to create antique effects and natural-looking, integral color.
UV stains for creating consistent and deep colors
Multiple stains applied sequentially create complex colors
Multiple stains applied after the flooring has been treated create unique looks where the color in the grain is different than the color in the face of the wood
There are two common finishes for hardwood floors. Urethane and oil.
Urethane floor finishes are very durable and are currently the most popular choice in the U.S. Oil and urethane finishes reflect two completely different approaches – oils work by fortifying and sealing the wood fibers, while urethane works by walling them off. With an oiled floor, you are walking on the natural wood surface. With a urethane floor, you are walking on a man-made barrier. Consider this analogy:
Oil is to urethane as skin is to a raincoat.
An oil finish penetrates into the wood and hardens to become an integral part of the floor, just as skin is an integral part of the body. A urethane finish is a protective layer that covers the floor, like a raincoat.
Repair & Maintenance
While Urethane requires less regular maintenance, it is difficult to selectively touch up and overtime requires a complete re-sand and recoat. Oil, requires more consideration, and the use of appropriate cleaning products but allows for easier touch up helping extend the life of the floor before requiring a complete re-sand and recoat.
Widths: Hardwood flooring comes in many shapes and sizes. Classic floors where and continue to be categorized by flooring widths of under 5” with between 2’-3” being the standard width of many classic options. Above 5” has generally been categorized as “wide plank” but as fashions have progressed, so have widths with popular wide plank floors now available in widths as wide as 9”.
Lengths. Classic flooring is historically shorter with lengths varying to create a natural random appearance when placed. As wider widths gain popularity so have longer lengths with higher end options including up to 8’ planks. Many wide plank offering retain the mixed length approach while other options offer only long lengths to create flooring with less joints.
The range of choices for hardwood flooring has never been greater which is both an exciting and sometimes daunting proposition. We strongly recommend consulting with a flooring professional to help advise and guide you to the right floor. Find a reputable dealer or visit now of our showrooms using the links below.