Hardwood Flooring

Beautiful, versatile wood floors

Many of us consider wood to be the Rolls Royce of flooring. It's warm, beautiful, relatively easy to maintain, and lasts for decades with occasional refinishing. Though it's somewhat expensive to install these days, it's still less expensive than many choices and it offers the benefit of being kind to the planet.

Once upon a time, wood floors of one sort or another were just about the only option for flooring. They might have been painted or varnished with an area carpet for additional warmth and sound dampening. Now wood floors compete with dozens of materials from cork and bamboo to vinyl and laminate lookalikes. In addition to solid hardwoods, engineered hardwoods are also available.

Choosing a wood floor

Hardwoods come in strips and planks. Strips are narrow; planks are wider. Both come in various grades finished and unfinished. Unfinished boards can be stained and varnished to suit your plan. Finished boards require nothing beyond being installed.

The best choice may not be the most expensive. Depending on your home and the effect you're trying to achieve, the clear grade, which is uniform in color with few flaws, may cost more money than you need to spend. For example, if you have a high-end home that demands top of the line flooring, clear is ideal. If you have a cozy vintage cottage, a common grade with more variation in color and a few knots here and there could be equally appropriate and a lot less pricey.

The first question with hardwoods is budget. They can be very expensive. Of the various improvements you can make to your home, hardwood floors are one that is sure to gratify you for decades, but will also provide a solid return on investment. And unlike adding a Louis XIV marble sink and cabinet with gold cupids to your bathroom, it is not likely to be considered an over improvement.

Once you've set a budget, the type of wood ranges from light to almost black. The key to wood selection is pick what you love. Oak is a perennial favorite and relatively affordable. Rare woods, unless sustainably harvested, should be avoided. Who needs the bad karma of participating in eradicating the Amazonian rain forests?

Parquetry and inlays using mixed woods have been used for centuries, but may seem fussy in all but the most upscale homes. Simple is not only good, it's generally more versatile and will accommodate your taste as it changes from season to season.

Advantages & disadvantages

Wood floors are versatile, provide acoustical insulation, and can be installed in almost every room in your home. From a design perspective, wood floors can go from traditional to modern by changing furnishings. Not only are they are beautiful, but they'll add real value to your home. Many prospective buyers find hardwood floors desirable and are willing to pay for the privilege.

Wood is an environmentally friendly flooring choice when harvested from sustainably maintained forests. It's easily recycled and you can even obtain old flooring that has been remilled. Imagine using reclaimed wide boards of 100-year-old Southern pine heartwood.

No discussion of the advantages of hardwoods would be complete without acknowledging the option of refinishing the floor multiple times. Unlike other flooring types, wood permits sanding and refinishing, in essence, creating a brand new floor. It's true that it's a messy, time-consuming job with a potential for unfortunate sanding disasters, but it beats ripping the flooring out and sending it to the landfill or adding another layer.

Wood floors are healthful, too. They don't retain the dust and allergens of carpets, so they are particularly well suited for people with respiratory problems. When used throughout a house, they can be an ideal surface for people who are mobility impaired.

A wood floor, like furniture, can be painted, too. Incorporating faux finishes you can add a painted, stylized "carpet", inlay faux malachite, or distress it with an antique finish. If you change your mind in two years, you can refinish instead of replacing it.

The single disadvantage is the cost. Initially, it might seem much more expensive than alternatives, but over the long term after factoring the cost of replacement flooring, it's extremely cost effective.

Installation

Installation of wood flooring depends on the type chosen. Many can be installed by do-it-yourselfers with a little carpentry skill and motivation. Select your floor, decide if it's a project you want to take on or if you want to hire a pro, then budget accordingly.

Hardwood floors can be installed in almost any room including kitchens. There are new urethane finishes that protect and seal the floor that are also relatively low maintenance. Even so, even the urethane are not completely waterproof so using linoleum or tile in the sink/dishwasher area can prevent discoloration or water damage. Also basements and other below grade installations are usually avoided because of potential moisture problems.

Even in regular living areas, moisture is an issue with many flooring types and more so with wood. Generally, a vapor barrier is used between subflooring and the wood to reduce moisture problems that can lead to problems.

Wood strips are most frequently nailed into place using a floor nailer. Wood planks may be nailed or screwed to the subfloor with plugs covering the holes. Gluing is possible with several systems on the market that have been designed specifically for installation over concrete subfloors. More typical concrete flooring installations entail adding plywood or 2x4 sleepers to which the flooring is nailed.

Care of wood flooring

Maintaining a hardwood floor is pretty easy. Sweep or dust regularly and occasionally take a just barely damp mop to it. If the floor gets seriously dinged, burnt, or stained, you can refinish or replace boards if necessary.

Living with pets and wood floors requires awareness as much as anything. Dogs need their nails clipped regularly to prevent battering. Accidents need to be cleaned immediately to prevent liquids from penetrating the finish and being absorbed into the wood. Feeding pets in the kitchen, mud room, or laundry is preferable to placing food and water bowls on wood floors. They're bound to knock something over eventually.

When using area rugs, consider using them during the cold season to warm your rooms and make them ultra-cozy. During the warm weather months, take them up and outside to air, then store for the summer, leaving your wood floors free to breathe. This prevents discoloration from long-term exposure to carpets or the effects of a chemical interaction with carpet or padding.

Books

Resources


Installing hardwood floors is not for the faint of heart or the weak-kneed. If you have better things to do with your time, hire a professional floor installer through ContractorNexus .

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