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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
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
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
"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.
WOOD FLOORING TYPES
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
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
Installation Method: Floating, glue-down, staple down.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Is there a potential water problem in the area you're considering?
If so, there are alternatives to wood flooring. You should choose one
Is the subfloor at the same level as that with a different type of
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.
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