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Hardwood Flooring

  • About Hardwood Installation Methods and Warranties

    How Hardwood Floors Are Installed

    One of the other factors to consider when purchasing a floor is the installation method. This can potentially affect cost, since some types of installation are best left to people with experience. If you are not experienced, you may have to hire someone who is, which can cost a lot in both money and time. Other forms of installation are much more friendly for those who have little experience installing hardwood floors.

    Nails

    First, for nearly all solid hardwood flooring, using nails to attach each board to the subfloor is the only option. This usually requires a professional nail gun, nails, and a lot of other special tools and experience. Solid floors should be installed by a qualified hardwood professional experienced in installation.

    Staples

    For engineered floors, there are usually more options. Many engineered floors are far too thin to be nailed to the subfloor, but they often can be installed using a stapler and special staples. Usually this type of installation must be done on a wood or plywood substrate, but can be an excellent choice for many hardwood floors and is much more friendly to amateurs than the nail-down method. However, it still requires skill with a staple gun to do properly.

    Glue

    Another option for engineered floors is to use glue to attach the boards to the subfloor. It is the only method for installing an engineered floor over concrete, but can be preferable to staple-down installation on a wood or plywood subfloor as well, since it thoroughly attaches each piece to the substrate. This can be relatively simple to do, but if you have an uneven subfloor, it may not be the best method to do yourself. In other words, attempting to glue down an engineered floor on an uneven surface without the proper equipment and knowledge can severely reduce the life of your floor. If you don't have both of those things, hire a professional.

    Floating

    But by far the easiest installation type is the "floating" method. This is most often found on engineered longstrip floors, but can also be found in some planked floors, and even some thinner, specially designed solid floors. This installation method is very simple and can be used over any subfloor, so if you don't want to pay the money to hire an installer but lack the experience to use glue or staples, this is your best bet. In fact, even those with plenty of experience prefer a floating floor simply because it saves so much on time and equipment. This type of installation will require you to use an approved underlayment, a tool resembling a crowbar called a tapping block, some small pieces of plastic called spacers, and unless it is advertised as a "glueless" installation, will require a small amount of glue on the edges to hold the boards together. It may also be a bit more expensive than other engineered floors. But compared to the cost and risk of a do-it-yourself staple-down or glue-down installation, it is by far the better choice for non-professionals.

    Hardwood Warranties

    The final consideration to use when deciding between floors is the warranty. Warranties are different for every product, so be sure to check with the manufacturer for your specific product to see terms and conditions. In general, though, you'll find the same basic warranties for hardwood products:

    Finish

    The most common of hardwood warranties, this warranty states that your floor won't wear down from everyday traffic. This warranty can be anywhere from 1 year to a lifetime, but usually, they'll range between 10 and 25 years. Typically, this warranty only covers wear caused by normal household foot traffic, and won't cover damage from improper care and maintenance, damage from installation or manufacturing defects, any damage from external problems like insects, a pet's nails, moving heavy objects without proper protection, fading from exposure to the sun, damage from heels or spiked shoes, water damage, etc. It also requires that you follow the manufacturer's maintenance instructions, and will likely be voided by using a vacuum without brush or wand attachment, cleaning the floor with soap and water, oil or ammonia based cleaning products, or mopping with water.

    Structural

    This warranty usually warrants against severe structural damage that shouldn't occur under recommended conditions, like warping, buckling, cupping, or other damage. Another guarantee only provided for engineered hardwood states that the plies that form the core of the product won't separate under normal humidity and usage. This will probably be voided if you don't follow the installation instructions provided by the manufacturer or if your floor is poorly installed. Make sure you know the humidity level limitations and ensure that the area installed stays within those limits. If you don't fully protect the floor against subfloor moisture damage, the warranty will likely be voided as well.

    Manufacturing Defects

    Sometimes called a Pre-Installation warranty, this warrants against any strongly noticeable defects in the appearance of the floor. The first thing you need to remember is that once this floor is installed, this warranty will usually be voided, so be sure to check your flooring thoroughly for any problems before proceeding with the installation. Relatively minor differences in grain or color won't be covered, since they naturally occur in any wood floor.

    Adhesive Bond

    Guarantees engineered floors installed using a glue-down installation won't lose their bond with the subfloor when all installation instructions are followed. This means that your subfloor must have been thoroughly dry without any history of moisture problems and that you used the proper adhesive specified by the manufacturer.

    Moisture Damage

    Guarantees that glue-down engineered flooring will not experience structural damage from moisture eminating from the subfloor. This is dependent upon following all installation instructions to the letter and upon the subfloor having met all requirements set by the manufacturer.

    Radiant Heat

    Guarantees that floating floors installed over heated subfloors won't experience severe structural damage when properly installed. Doesn't protect against cracking from seasonal changes, gaps that develop between boards or delamination.

    Sanding

    Guarantees that your floor can be resanded a specified number of times without wearing through when done properly. Most often applicable to solid floors.

  • How to Find a Hardwood Floor That Stands Up to Wear

    While the construction of the hardwood determines its durability and strength, how well the floor stands up to everyday usage largely rests on the floor's finish. On unfinished floors, you can choose the finish that you apply to the floor, but on most floors, the finish is applied and cured at the factory. Typically, the finished board is taken (after all stains have been applied) and given multiple coats of a special coating and then cured to the wood.

    Check the Finish From the Start

    Almost all prefinished hardwood floors made today use a finish made from polyurethane, either acrylic- or water-based. This urethane finish is often mixed with scratch resistant particles like aluminum oxide, ceramic, acrylic or other similar materials, although most use aluminum oxide. Then this finish is applied in several coats and most often cured using special ultra-violet light, which transfers the urethane to the wood much more thoroughly than simple heat.

    Some hardwoods use other materials for the finish, though, most often a combination of oil and wax. These floors are designed to resemble decades-old flooring, and will sometimes even be applied by hand. They do not perform quite as well as polyurethanes, but usually have a more natural appearance with less sheen.

    The finish is usually the property most associated with the warranty. Other factors like construction can correlate with other parts of the warranty, but the number of years listed on the warranty in product specifications most often refers to the number of years for the finish warranty.

  • Realism, Edges and Other Aspects of Hardwood Appearance

    The texture, width and edge type are not as important as species in color in selecting a floor, but are still one of the most important factors, considering how important appearance is in selecting a floor.

    Hand-Scraped Hardwood Flooring Makes History

    One reason a lot of people want hardwood floors is because they evoke a sense of quality and timelessness that you don't find with any other type of flooring. Hardwood flooring is distinctly American and a proud part of our national heritage. Because of this, a lot of people may want a floor that resembles older floors as much as possible.

    One trend that has emerged that provides this look in a way not previously available from major manufacturers is the hand-scraped distressed appearance. This method uses the same technique used on some of the very first wood floors to create a flooring that appears to be weathered flooring that has lasted for generations. These floors are rustic and informal, so they are not for use in all areas of the home, but they are one of the most popular types of floors available now. Typically, hand-scraped floors are much more expensive than other floors, but some inexpensive engineered options have begun appearing on the market. But if one of these floors are out of your price range, there are other options you can use to maximize the decor of your floor.

    Using Plank Size to Decorate the Room

    Every floor has a plank width that strongly affects the look of the floor. Most floors are available in 3" planks or 2 1/4" strips. The planks will work just about anywhere, and the strips work in most areas, but generally look best in areas where the decor is fairly modern or contemporary. In informal areas, one option you might consider would be wide planks that normally range anywhere from 5" to 6". Planks that size are what was first installed in older homes, so their appearance definitely can make a floor look better in an informal setting.

    One important type of width comes from floors that are longstrip. These floors are almost always engineered, and are fairly wide, very long planks that "float" over the subfloor. Typically, these pieces will be 7" or wider and over72" (6 feet) long. However, most longstrips do not appear as one piece. They usually appear to have multiple pieces across each board. These are usually referred to as 3-Strip (around 2 1/2" per piece) or 2-Strip (around 3 1/2" per piece). Some longstrips can be found with slightly narrower pieces that appear as one plank, but they are harder to find and are mostly recommended for anyone looking for a simple installation with a wide plank.

    Control How Your Floor Looks at the Seams

    Edges affect not only how the floor looks, but can also affect the installation.

    Several floors offer square edges. These floors have a completely straight corner, and will show no visible seams within the floor, creating a clean and stunning visual effect. However, they are also some of the easiest to wear, and can create more visible gaps if the flooring is moved.

    In contrast, some floors offer a beveled edge. This means that each floor has rounded edges with seams visible even from a distance, creating a more natural and realistic look. These edges also hide dirt and dust more easily than square edges, and even if they begin to form gaps over time, they will be much less noticeable. However, because the gaps are bigger, they also collect dirt and dust more easily, and can be more difficult to clean with a dust mop or vacuum brush.

    Most floors feature an edge that combines the best features of square and beveled edges while minimizing their weaknesses. Called microbeveled or eased edges, these pieces are rounded slightly on the sides with seams visible when viewed up close, but not noticeable at a distance. Floors with these edges hide dirt and dust better than square edged floors, but are easier to clean than bevelled edge floors.

    Some wood floors use a special technique, particularly hand-scraped floors, that have a very wide bevel but a square edge below the visible surface that minimizes any gaps between installed boards. These are often found on more expensive floors, but if you're in the market for hand-scraped floors, you might consider one of these.

  • Finding a Strong, Durable Hardwood Floor

    Obviously deciding between solid and engineered is the biggest consideration when examining hardwood construction or comparing prices, but how do you differentiate between two solid floors or two engineered floors? There are certain factors that can help you in your decision.

    How Solid Hardwood Flooring is Made

    Most solid floors are made the same way. A tree is harvested from a forest (and usually replaced by a new sapling), then taken to a mill that cuts the ends off the wood and slices it into pieces. These floors are almost always 3/4" thick, but you can sometimes find them in 9/16" or 5/8", although these solids are usually not nearly as durable. You can often find these woods unfinished, but most of the hardwood flooring available in the retail market is prefinished, meaning that the wood is sanded, stained and finished before it leaves the manufacturer to ensure consistent quality. Of course, this also means that it's up to the manufacturer to ensure consistency, so make sure to thoroughly examine your hardwood for consistent color and finish before accepting it.

    Grading Hardwood Floors

    The ways hardwood floors, especially solid floors, are different most often is in the grade of the wood. This is not anything that relates to the quality or strength of the wood, but can be important when considering the appearance.

    Nearly Flawless

    Clear or Select and Better grades are usually the top of the line. Clear means the floor has no visible blemishes or knots, as well as very light graining. Clear wood floors are the most expensive, but can be found for less money in woods that naturally have less visible grain like Cherry or Maple. Select and Better may have tiny knots, and slightly darker grain, but not enough to really stand out. These floors are the most common, and the best option for most consumers, as they have a good tradeoff between price and quality.

    Getting the Full Grain

    #1 Common and #2 Common has slightly larger knots and darker graining. These are not usually found from the major manufacturers and are typically found in budget floors. The final category is Rustic or Builder grade. These are the cheapest, lowest grade floors, and are most often found in Seconds or Wholesale floors with a high minimum purchase limit.

    In summary, Clear or Select and Better grades are your best bets, but also comprise at least 95% of the flooring available from nationally available brands. #1 Common, #2 Common, Rustic and Builder grades are available, but are only worth considering if budget is a major concern and you don't want to spend the extra money.

    How the Sawmill Affects the Appearance of Solid Wood Floors

    The other consideration with solid hardwood is the cut. Over 90% of the hardwood produced is Plain-Sawn, or cut parallel across the wood. The other forms of cuts are Quarter-Sawn and Rift-Sawn. These floors are slightly higher quality, but more expensive. The wide majority of floors don't specify how they are sawn, which means they are plain-sawn. But occasionally you'll see a floor that specifies it is Rift- or Quarter-Sawn, and these floors will have slightly added strength and will have a bit more consistent grain.

    How Engineered Wood Flooring Is Made

    Engineered is a bit more different. These floors consist mainly of layers of plywood, particle board, or a softwood that are glued together. These layers form the core of the floor, and are then topped by a thin layer of a hardwood floor that isn't thin enough to wear down, but is thick enough to make a more efficient usage of the floor and not experience dimensional stability issues related to natural wood species. Engineered floors tend to be easier to install and more stable than solid floors, and often carry a greater warranty, since all pieces can perform equally well with only a minor amount of maintenance.

    The Strength of Engineered Flooring is in Layers

    The primary difference between engineered flooring is the thickness. While solid wood typically needs a full 3/4" to perform satisfactorily, engineered wood can perform very well at 5/8" or even 1/2". In fact, some engineered floors can be as thin as 1/4", though they are not designed to last nearly as long. What typically determines the thickness (and what makes it an issue) is the number of layers within the core. The greater the number of layers, the stronger the floor will be, making it less susceptible to warping or wearing down and making it more dimensionally stable.

    How the Sawmill Affects Engineered Flooring

    Grade is not as much of an issue with engineered wood, since only a thin layer of hardwood is used in the actual floor. However, the way that the top layer is cut from the board can make a difference. Veneer can be cut in two ways: sliced and peeled (rotary cut). Neither has an advantage in terms of performance, but sliced veneer resembles solid hardwood more and has a more consistent appearance across the floor than rotary cut veneer. However, some people like the way rotary cut floors look, since they create a bold and unique pattern across the floor. So take a look to see which one you prefer, since rotary cut floors can often be less expensive as well.

  • An Overview of Hardwood Flooring Styles and Colors

    The appearance of floor covering is the most important factor for any consumer. Fortunately, wood offers a rich variety of species and colors to choose from, so you can create a distinct look for any room of your home.

    Which Species is Right For Me?

    Domestic

    The most common type of species available are domestic species, or ones that grow naturally in North America. These floors commonly include trees like Oak, Maple, Cherry, Hickory, Walnut, Ash, Birch and many others. One or more of these floors are usually available from any manufacturer, often with a variety of stains and colors.

    Exotic

    The other types of species that have gained in popularity is exotic species, or ones that grow naturally in areas other than North America. The most popular type of exotics come from South America, including Brazilian Cherry, Santos Mahogany, Rosewood, Patagonian Cherry, Cumaru, Brazilian Walnut, Tigerwood, Angelim Pedra and others. Other popular species include African species like Tali, Doussie, Kambala or Wenge, Asian species like Merbau, Ipe, Bangkirai or Acacia, and even Australian species like Australian Cypress, Spotted Gum] or Sydney Blue. These are just a few of the exotic species available on the market, and more become available every year. Exotic species are typically only available in their natural colors, but come in enough distinct patterns and colors that you can easily find one that will make a bold statement in your home.

    Picking A Species

    So how do you decide which species to buy? Well, for starters, not all species are as durable as others. Red Oak is the most popular choice, but it is less durable than White Oak or Maple. And all three are not as durable as Brazilian Cherry, which is not as durable as Tali. Two tests are commonly used to test the durability (hardness) of different species: the Brinell test. Ratings for species can be found from the manufacturer and usually can be found online. While purchasing a floor with a higher hardness rating will not guarantee a longer lasting floor, it will definitely make the floor withstand more wear.

    How Species Can Affect a Wood Floor's Price

    The other issue to be concerned with is price. Oak is easily the most commonplace hardwood in flooring, and generally speaking, oak floors will be cheaper than others. Other common domestic species like Maple, Cherry, Hickory, Ash and others tend to be slightly more expensive, but not by much. Even some common exotics like Brazilian Cherry, Santos Mahogany, Tali and others won't be as expensive. But some of the more rare species, particularly exotics, will often be a bit more expensive thanks to the cost of importing them. So remember that the species can sometimes affect the price.

    Available Shades and Stains of Hardwood Floors

    Another way to find distinct colors and styles in hardwood floors is to find the right stain. Usually found on popular species like oak or maple, stains are usually applied before the finish layer, and are created to give homeowners options within the most affordable and plentiful wood flooring choices. Typically, stains will fall within shades of red and brown. These shades are called by many different names and colors, but generally, you'll be most likely to find the same colors from most manufacturers.

    Dark Hardwood Stains and Colors

    Dark red or brown stains are not as common as the medium ones or naturals, but there are some fairly standard colors. The first is a dark, very red stain that is close to the shade of red wine. This will often be called something like Cognac, Bordeaux, Wine, Brandy, Merlot or something similar. Another popular one is a dark but warm brown shade like dark leather. This is usually called something like Vintage Brown, Metro Brown, Ebony, Saddle, Rawhide, or something along those lines. The other common dark color is a very dark, very brown color, nearly black. This is usually called something related to coffee, i.e. Coffee, Mocha, Espresso, Cocoa, Chocolate, Cappuccino, etc.

    Medium Hardwood Stains and Colors

    Medium shades are the most popular stains, and you can find quite a few varying shades. One of the most popular is a warm shade of brown called Gunstock. Another is a fairly light caramel colored mix of red and brown called Caramel, Butterscotch, Toffee, or something similar. Then there is a warm reddish brown shade called Cherry, Brandy, Whisky, etc. Another is a shade just slightly brighter than gunstock called Harvest, Spice, Mellow or something similar. There are many different shades, and products with the same color name from different manufacturers can be very different shades, so go by appearance.

    Light Hardwood Stains and Colors

    Most of the lighter shades are natural colors, since (with the exception of walnut), most domestic species are very light in their natural shade. Ash, Birch, Hickory and Oak have some visible patterns that give them a nice feel, but Maple, Beech, Cherry and some others are very bright shades that often have a very similar look across all boards for a solid visual appearance. So if you want a relatively light wood floor that doesn't have an appearance that stands out, try one of these species.

    Other Shades of Hardwood Flooring

    While the majority of wood stains are in between red and brown, some floors feature colored stains. These floors are rare, but can occasionally be found in fairly trendy styles, usually in shades of dark green, purple, black, and other shades.

    Finding a Wood Floor That Complements the Room

    The other option to consider when deciding on a style is the mood of the room. If your room has a light, stylish feel, consider a very light Hardwood Strip made from Maple, Cherry or another light, muted shade. If the room has an eye-catching appearance and you want the floor to really "pop", exotic may be the best way to go, like Brazilian Cherry, Tali, or even a dark Wenge or Ebony. If your floor has a relaxed, informal feel, get a floor like Oak, Hickory with a warm brown shade. You may even consider a handscraped or beveled edge floor with wide planks to give your floor a timeless appearance that looks like one installed a hundred years ago.

  • Solid or Engineered - Which Hardwood Floor Do I Need?

    Solid Hardwood

    Solid wood floors were the very first type of hardwood floors, and are still the most durable option for any home. Solid hardwood floors don't just last for a lifetime, they can last for generations when properly cared for. There are some clear disadvantages to solid floors, however. First, they cannot be installed below ground level. Secondly, with a few exceptions, solid floors must be nailed down to be properly installed, which is generally best left to a professional.

    Engineered Hardwood

    Engineered flooring was created in the 1950s when an American economic expansion created thousands of new homes, many with concrete substrates. These new homes required a floor that could handle changes in temperature and humidity. Engineered wood floors filled that need. They can be installed anywhere in the home that doesn't have a high risk of moisture damage like kitchens or bathrooms, are lighter-weight, more inexpensive and simpler to install.

    Comparing Between Solid And Engineered

    Which one is right for you depends on a few factors. First, where the flooring is going to be installed. If you need hardwood for a basement or anywhere underneath the surrounding ground level, engineered is your only option. Secondly, do you want to hire a professional installer? Nail-down or staple-down installation is best left to someone experienced, and even glue-down installation can be difficult for the novice. But some engineered floors called longstrips can be floated above any subfloor like laminates, making it far easier to install yourself. Finally, engineered floors are usually cheaper than solid floors, and are more dimensionally stable.

    In summary, solid hardwood looks better, feels sturdier and can last longer, but engineered floors are less expensive, aren't as susceptible to changes in humidity, and perform better.

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