HARDWOOD FLOORS: 101

Hardwood floors are popular choices among homeowners today who are looking to enhance the beauty and value of their homes. Because of their versatility, there’s a lot to learn about hardwood floors. Here are some hardwood highlights to get you thinking about what’s right for you.

Hardwood Defined

Hardwood flooring refers to a type of flooring that is made entirely of genuine wood—from top to bottom. This is different from a laminate, for example, which is made of compressed fiberboard with a paper pattern layer sealed on the top to give it the appearance of wood, stone or other surface.

Hardwood flooring comes in two types: solid and engineered.

Solid vs. Engineered Flooring

Solid hardwood flooring is made of one solid piece of wood, rather than layers of wood. An ideal choice for most areas of your home at the ground level or above, it’s usually nailed or stapled to a wooden subfloor. Thicknesses vary, with ¾" being the most common. Thin-profile, 5/16" options are less common, but they can be glued down over concrete or other hard surfaces.

Engineered hardwood flooring is just that: hardwood that has been engineered from multiple layers of solid wood pressed together, in a cross-ply (layer) construction with the grains running in different directions. This construction makes it especially dimensionally stable and suitable for stapling, gluing down, or floating over wood, concrete, or an existing floor. Typically available in a 3- or 5- ply construction, ½" thickness is the most common engineered flooring. Its outstanding strength and moisture resistance make it a good option for all areas of your home, especially below-grade areas like basements or rooms with radiant heat.

Select a Flooring Option

When considering hardwood flooring for your home, you’ll need to answer these questions:

  • Where are you installing the flooring?
  • What is the subfloor in this area?
  • How much moisture will the underlying surface experience?
  • How do you want your floor to look?
  • What is your budget?

Location, Location, Location

The first thing to consider is location: above grade or below grade. Above grade areas are simply those that are above ground level, while below grade areas are those that are below ground level, like basements.

Engineered flooring can be used in either area, as its cross-ply construction makes it more resistant to changes caused by temperature and humidity. It can be stapled, glued down, or floated over existing flooring, and its thin profile allows for smooth transitions to other floors.

Solid flooring typically needs to be nailed to a subfloor and is more susceptible to temperature and humidity changes. Therefore, while it’s ideal for most rooms in your house, it’s not recommended for areas where flooring is subject to high moisture, high humidity, or standing water.

Looks

The flexibility of hardwood flooring allows you to imprint your personal style. Factors to consider include:

  • The wood’s natural color
  • The stain applied
  • Your room’s lighting
  • The character of the species and its variation in grain and shade
  • Strip or plank width
  • Edge detail, including square, beveled, and eased
  • The gloss: high or low
  • Style and texture—from rustic to contemporary

Hardness

While several factors contribute to the wear and longevity of your hardwood floor, hardness is an important determinate. The Janka Ball hardness test is an industry rating that measures various species’ ability to withstand denting and wear. The average Janka Ball hardness value for Lyptus® lumber is 1550*, making it harder than oak (1290*).

*According to testing by the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory and Weyerhaeuser Technology Center.

Finishes

A finish, or topcoat, will protect and enhance the beauty of your hardwood floor. Whether you choose a pre-finished or site-finished floor, you’ll have the option to personalize it to your style.

Pre-Finished vs. Site-Finished

Factory pre-finished floors come in a wide variety of colors and can save you hours of labor, cleanup, and exposure to fumes. Typically, they’re easier to install and endure better because they’re stained, finished, and dried in a controlled environment using high-performance equipment. In fact, once a high-performance urethane coating has been applied, pre-finished flooring may receive up to seven passes of ultraviolet light to cure the urethane to the wood—leaving a long-lasting finish. That’s why most pre-finished floors come with a limited factory finish warranty.

With site-finished flooring, you (or your contractor) must do the work, but you have the flexibility to customize the finish to your requirements.

Surface vs. Penetrating Finishes

The most common type of floor finish, a surface finish, is easy to maintain. Once a stain has been applied, a topcoat of polyurethane is put on to protect the floor.

Penetrating finishes absorb into the wood fibers and have a matte or satin appearance. They’re topped with a wax that needs to be reapplied periodically and must be maintained carefully with special cleaners.

Floor Care

The type of finish your hardwood floor has—surface or penetrating—will determine how much care is required to keep it glistening. Since most floors today have a surface finish, you no longer need the water bucket and wax. All you really need to do is sweep or dust mop weekly, or use a soft brush attachment on your vacuum. You should also clean your floors occasionally with a no-wax floor cleaner recommended by a wood flooring professional.

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