Hardwood Floors


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Most people simply love the way wood flooring enhances a room. It gives a room a sense of permanence, stability and warmth. Even in a small house with minimal square footage, wood floors give a house a well-crafted, "high-end" appearance. In fact, 90 percent of realtors say that wood floors help a home sell faster and for more money.

There are many good reasons why wood flooring may be right for your home. There are also a few good reasons why wood flooring might not be the right choice for you. It's definitely worth the time to educate yourself about the benefits and limitations of wood before you make the investment.

Among the reasons to choose wood are:

* Wood floors tie a room together, yet complement virtually any furniture, artwork or overall style.
* The wide range of species, colors and patterns offer endless design possibilities.
* Wood floors are easy to clean thoroughly. They're ideal for people with allergies, asthma or other respiratory problems, because dust particles, pollen and dust mites stay on the surface where they can be wiped up.
* For the price of a high-quality carpet installation, a well-maintained hardwood floor can easily last beyond a 30-year mortgage, while carpets are replaced an average of three times in that same time span.

Before Considering Wood, Consider What's Under It
Before looking into the merits of various wood floor types, wood species, finishes and all the other considerations, it's extremely important to talk about the floor under the floor. Or, stated more simply: a wood floor is only as good as the subfloor.

Most solid hardwood flooring will need to be nailed or stapled through the face or blind-nailed through the tongue. The subfloor must be able to hold the nail or staple. For that reason, concrete won't work. It's also not a good idea to install a wood floor over particleboard because it doesn't hold a nail well. And even if it does initially, it will soon work loose, leaving you where you started.

Plywood, OSB or tongue-and-groove decking products over joists are recommended for most installations.

Vinyl floors, glued-down carpets, and other existing flooring types are not suitable as subflooring and must be removed. Before installing solid wood flooring, get down to the solid, flat and dry subfloor. Remember (and, yes, we're being repetitious), a wood floor is only as good as the subfloor.

On-Grade, Above-Grade, Below-Grade
Most appropriate installations are considered "on-grade," meaning that the floor is level with the height of the exterior grounds with joists or post-and-beam construction supporting the floor. When installing on-grade, it's important that the crawlspace or basement under the subfloor is well-ventilated. If ventilation is not adequate, moisture will likely result in cupping or warping of the hardwood months after installation.

"Above-grade," meaning upper floors of a multi-floor house or building may be appropriate for solid wood flooring if the subfloor is wood. Another consideration is the amount of flex in the floor prior to installation. While all floors have (and need) some flexibility, a more rigid floor is necessary for strip solid wood floors.

"Below-grade" situations, such as basements with cement floors, limit your choices considerably. Some parquets, as well as the solid wood Natural Reflections Line from Bruce can be installed over cement using a direct glue method. In general, though, cement floors mean moisture, which spells disaster for hardwood.

Your best bet would be to install an engineered wood floor over a moisture barrier using the floating installation technique.


Prefinished vs. Unfinished
Prefinished wood is excellent for people who want to do installation themselves, but without the sanding and the exhaustive finishing process. Price is generally not an advantage. For the cost of a very high-quality prefinished floor, you can probably find a local contractor to install, sand and finish a floor cheaper.

However, prefinished flooring offers a much cleaner, clearer finish than a floor finished in your home. Because the wood is finished in carefully controlled factory conditions, it does not have the dust, dirt and other particles that are visible in almost any floor that's finished on site. You also don't have to move out when the finish is applied.

Prefinished also offers much more variety than standard unfinished flooring. The extra choices give you the opportunity to install interesting African hardwood species like Purple Heart, or to use contrasting species as accent pieces.

For our purposes, we're discussing only the four prefinished wood choices offered here.

Solid Wood Flooring
Solid wood flooring is the type most consumers recognize, because it's been available longer. This flooring is comprised of wood strips nailed side by side. It provides excellent insulation, and it adds substantial strength to a home's structure.

Many people feel solid wood flooring is the most aesthetically pleasing, especially considering the wide range of species and coloration available.

In addition to the many choices available, our vendor partner also offers several brands of "handscraped" hardwoods. These are more expensive, because each board has been hand altered by craftsmen to give the flooring an overall burnished, time-worn appearance. The marks in the floor are unique and intentional, and the flooring gives a room a comfortable, timeless look. Yet these floors have excellent finishes that lock the qualities in place.

Because solid wood floors expand and contract with temperature variation and moisture, they should really only be installed in homes that are climate controlled year round. If there is a high degree temperature variation or humidity present, the floor is likely to experience cupping, warping or gaping. These conditions are not related to the installation and are generally not covered by warranties as they are with other wood flooring options. If you're choosing wood flooring for a summer house or a cottage that's often left unattended, unheated and uncooled, then nailed-down, solid wood probably isn't the right choice.

Installation Method: Nail-down or staple-down only.

The one exception to solid wood flooring that can be installed over concrete is Bruce Natural Reflections Hardwood.

Hardwood Longstrip Planks
These floors are a version of engineered wood products, but they have their own unique composition, and therefore their own category. The top layer of these long planks is made of individual fillets or slats that are glued together to make up the facing of each plank.

This flooring can be installed where moisture problems would prohibit solid wood. When installed as a "floating floor," planks can be installed without nails over concrete, and sometimes below grade in basements when the recommended underlayment and vapor barriers are used.

Installation Method: Floating, glue-down, staple down.

Engineered Wood
Engineered Wood flooring is composed of 3 to 5 layers of wood glued together in a cross-grain lamination that makes it very resistant to expansion and contraction from temperature changes and moisture. As a result, engineered wood is the only wood flooring that carries a stability warranty. While thinner than solid wood flooring, engineered wood choices are much more stable and dent-resistant and can be installed over concrete. Engineered wood flooring can also be installed above, below or on-grade

Installation method: Floating, glue-down or staple-down, depending on the type of subflooring.

Parquet Wood Flooring
Parquet Wood flooring is a geometrical pattern composed of individual wood slats glued in place or fastened mechanically. The overall quality of parquet floors can differ dramatically. Generally, the fillets or slats used are often not of the same quality used in other wood flooring.

Installation can be done on- or above-grade per manufacturer's specifications.

Installation method: direct glue-down method.


Selecting a wood species can help you create many different looks or design sensibilities. Following is a quick description of some of the more popular varieties.

American Cherry (usually available)
This species, in terms of flooring, may be the most misunderstood wood choice. A single board probably won't be indicative of what the floor will look like, because there's quite a bit of color variation. American Cherry, which is considered a soft wood, starts with a light reddish cast and soft grain. But there is a high percentage of boards (8% to 12%) that are white. Some people love the variation and the overall look these boards give a floor and a room, but others ask that these white boards be culled from the batch. In those cases, it's necessary to order 15% more than the job requires. But note that there is no return possibility for this material. American Cherry also changes dramatically with time and light exposure. An area rug, if left in the same place for months, will cause an obvious spot. All American Cherry darkens with age. Also see Brazilian Cherry.

Ash (special order)
Ash has a similar grain to oak and compares well in terms of hardness. It has a bit more of a yellowish tone, which gives customers another option for matching similar-colored cabinets. Ash also provides just enough of a different look to give a room a unique feel.

Technically, this description doesn't belong here. Bamboo is a grass, yet it's even harder than Rock Maple. It's one of the most environmentally friendly sustainable flooring products, and can provide several different looks. Vertical and horizontal configurations offer a much different appearance. Bamboo is available in its natural light coloration, or in darker tones that are achieved through a carbonizing (smoking) process. For more information, go to the Bamboo or our Learn About Bamboo pages.

Beech(special order
Beech creates an elegant wood flooring with tight, straight grain lines. The even grain is also indicative of Beech's density, hardness and durability. Beech flooring has a reddish brown hue .

Birch (special order)
Birch has a straight, closed grain that's evenly textured, with occasional attractive wavy lines. Its colors range from a light sapwood to reddish brown heartwood. As flooring, Birch is attractive and durable with a hardness rating that is just shy of red oak.

Brazilian Cherry (usually available)
Unlike American Cherry, Brazilian Cherry is a darker wood that is very hard and suitable for high traffic areas. There are noticeable variances in the wood, and it will darken with exposure to light. But it's a great choice if you like darker woods and want a species that is extremely tough. The grain is also a bit more interesting than many standard hardwoods.

Hickory (special order)
Hickory provides a combination of hardness, strength, and durability that no other wood flooring can match. Harder than rock maple, hickory's beauty comes from its unexpected color variations, knots and the streaks of mineral color.

Maple (usually available)
Maple's popularity has increased steadily in the last decade. Its uniform grain and light yellowish coloration make small gaps and minor imperfections more visible, and it's not easily stained onsite. For people who like light colors, though, there is a subtle beauty to maple that changes with the angle of light against it. Prefinished options found on our vendor partner offer a much wider range of color than can be applied onsite. Maple's hardness and strength also increase its value in a home. Maple is 50% harder than Red Oak, which is why it's commonly used in basketball and racquetball courts.

Oak (usually available)
Most wood floors are still made of oak varieties. Red oak, with its slight reddish tone is used in nearly 70% of wood floors. White oak, which tends to a slight greenish tone, is also a popular species. Oak has pronounced grain and hides the wear imperfections that come with everyday living. These woods hold nearly any kind of stain well, from the natural, light colors commonly used in the West to the dark, traditional stains commonly found in the East - and everything in between.

Pecan (special order)
Pecan is harder than red oak and offers excellent protection against indentations and wear. This type of wood holds stain very well, and enhances the tight grain to create a beautiful floor.

Pine (special order)
A pine floor offers lots of character. It's generally full of dark knots and mineral streaks that offer high contrast to the light colored wood. Pine is a softer wood, and it may dent more than other hardwoods. However, to most people who are charmed by the look of a pine floor, imperfections only add to the appeal.

Walnut (special order)
Walnut is a very dense, very dark, and very beautiful wood. It's also quite expensive. While walnut is often used in flooring, it's seldom used for an entire floor. Mostly, you'll find walnut used to create interesting shapes, patterns and borders as a contrast in a lighter colored wood floor.


Oak and Ash have four basic grades.

* "Clear" is free of most defects. Remember, wood is not perfect, so even clear boards will occasionally have slight imperfections.
* "Select" contains more natural wood characteristics such as knots and color variation.
* "Common" grades (No. 1 and No. 2) have more markings than either clear or select, yet they bring natural character to a floor. No. 1 Common contains variegated light and dark colors, knots, flags and worm holes. No. 2 Common is considered the most rustic and shows all characteristics of the wood.

Maple, beech, birch and pecan have three grades.

* "First" grade has the best appearance, natural color variations and limited character marks.
* "Second" grade is variegated in appearance with varying wood characteristics, depending on the species.
* "Third" grade is rustic in appearance allowing all wood characteristics of the species.


Among the wood flooring sold at our vendor partner, there are many finish choices available. Here's a bit of general information about some of them.

Swedish Finish
Actually, we don't carry any flooring with a Swedish finish. Because it's so often heard in conversation, we think it's important to tell you why. Simply, there are no pre-finished floors that have a Swedish finish. This type of finish is only applied onsite, after the flooring has been installed and sanded, and after you've moved out for a while. That's because you can't be in the house while the solvents evaporate. Basically, a Swedish finish involves a sealer coat and a wear layer coat or a polyurethane product with a solvent base. These floors are generally very smooth from the sanding, and they almost always have tiny pieces of lint, dirt, small bugs and the hair of flooring installers. There's simply no way for an installer to keep all particulate out of the finish as its applied. Prefinished flooring, on the other hand, is applied in the factory where the air quality and the finishing process are carefully controlled.

Polyurethane Finish
Until recently, polyurethane was the most commonly applied finish. Despite new advances in durability, polyurethane is still considered a very good finish that be stained to give it even more versatility. There are many different kinds of polyurethane available and many blends, as well. For example, Kahrs flooring uses a polyurethane and acrylic mix to achieve a very tough finish. Maintenance is reasonably easy. While spot repairs can be done, they're usually easy to spot.

Acrylic Impregnated Floor
This flooring can be found in the Hartco and Bruce floors, and it provides excellent durability. The finish is actually forced into the floor itself to create a finish that goes all the way through the wear surface. It is frequently used in commercial projects, because it is so tough. Currently only oak and maple are offered using this technique. Maintenance is easy and small scratches are easy to fix with a spray finish that makes them disappear completely. One negative: water can leave permanent spots if allowed to dry on the surface.

Ceramic Finish
Recently, the same ceramic finishes used for tile have been offered for wood flooring. They offer incredible abrasion wear resistance. With this finish, a floor is much more resistant to stains, scratches and other imperfections. Maintenance is easy, but the finish is so tough and wear resistant, it makes repairs difficult.

Aluminum Oxide Finish
More and more companies are turning to aluminum oxide finishes for their toughness and abrasion resistance. Like the ceramic finishes, their toughness makes them easy to maintain but difficult to repair.

Wax Finish
A wax finish is available for people whose mothers did not make them maintain a floor in their youth. But while a wax finish is hard to maintain day to day, it is easily repaired. Many super high end floors use the wax finish because the planked look combined with the wax finish can look absolutely spectacular. Newer types of wax flooring make the maintenance easier.

Other Considerations:

Are you installing in a high traffic area?
As a general rule, high gloss floors show scratches and imperfections more easily. If the area you're covering is a high traffic area, especially areas well traveled by children and large pets, it's best to stick to satin or lower gloss finishes. They can look stunning, yet won't show as much day-to-day wear. For a formal look or in a low traffic area, the high gloss choices may be appropriate.

Is the house climate-controlled year-round?
A great deal of temperature variation or changes in humidity can cause gaping, cupping and warping in some solid wood floors. If you're installing in a structure that's seldom occupied or in a high humidity area, you may want to consider engineered wood flooring or another flooring choice.

Is there a potential water problem in the area you're considering?
If so, there are alternatives to wood flooring. You should choose one of them.

Is the subfloor at the same level as that with a different type of flooring?
Many prefinished solid wood flooring is 3/4" thick, so if it is installed next to, say, vinyl flooring, there will be a substantial lip. Other subflooring can be brought up to the same level, but that can be expensive and time-consuming.

Ask yourself some other questions related to the new flooring thickness. What's the tolerance at the sliding door? Will doors still work? Will your refrigerator still fit under the cabinets? Will you be able to remove the dishwasher in the future? What is the impact on the baseboard?

Remember, every one of these problems can be solved. Just be aware of what you're getting into before you make your choice.

How Much Flooring Should I Buy?
Measure each room, multiplying length by width.

Add extra to cover any cut waste or imperfect boards.
First Grade or Clear: Order 3% to 4% extra
Second Grade or Select: Order 5% to 7% extra
Third Grade, No. 1 Common or No. 2 Common: Order 10% to 12% extra (unless you're willing to live with the larger imperfections in a cabin or vacation property).

If needed, remember to measure for shoe molding, quarter round or wall base, reducer strips, T-molding, and thresholds.

Is the subflooring wood or concrete? Is the installation below grade, on-grade or above grade? Is there radiant-heat flooring?
The list of installation questions and considerations can be lengthy. We recommend you look through some of our other articles, especially those on subflooring rules and general installation guidelines before proceeding with your project.

source: iFloor

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source for above articles: our vendor partner: iFloor