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Better Homes and Gardens contributing editor Danny Lipford shares his expert tips for choosing wood for your floors and installing an engineered wood floor.
Wood has long been one of the most popular flooring options. It is renowned for both its natural beauty and durability. While traditional solid wood flooring is still available, a new innovation known as engineered wood flooring has become a popular option.
Traditional hardwood flooring is made from 3/4-inch-thick solid wood that is sanded and finished after it has been installed. Oak has long been one of the most popular woods for flooring materials, though other species -- such as maple -- are available. The quartersawn white oak pictured here is highly prized for its unique grain pattern, stability, and hardness. Quartersawing refers to boards that are cut perpendicular to the growth rings of the tree.
Heart pine is another wood that was often used for flooring in older homes. It was cut from the darker heartwood found near the center of large, slow-growing, pine trees. Very few trees are left of the age and size needed to produce heart pine flooring today, though it is still available on a limited basis from salvaged materials. As with oak, quartersawn heart pine flooring -- with its straight, tight grain -- is considered the highest quality.
Engineered flooring is a more recent innovation that consists of a prefinished hardwood veneer glued to a plywood base. It can be either glued, nailed, or "floated" (not attached to the subfloor) and is suitable for application over both wood framing and concrete slabs. The plywood substrate insures uniformity as well as reducing wood movement and warping. Because the surface layer consists of a thin veneer, engineered wood flooring is difficult to sand and refinish when it becomes worn.
Engineered hardwood flooring requires a smooth, flat surface for installation. To achieve this, it may be necessary to remove the existing flooring before engineered wood can be installed.
Once the old flooring has been removed, a floor-patching compound can be applied to smooth and level the surface of the concrete slab.
When installing wood flooring, consider the direction the boards should run. In general, wood flooring looks better when it runs parallel to the long dimension of the room. In wood frame construction, run the flooring perpendicular to the floor joists, which usually span the shorter dimension of the room. In this project, the flooring was run parallel with the entry hall.
Once the direction of the flooring has been determined, a chalk line is popped on the subfloor to establish a perfectly straight guideline for the flooring. Allow the flooring to adjust to the temperature and humidity in the house before installing. Read and follow all directions that come with the flooring carefully.
A notched trowel is used to apply just the right amount of adhesive to the subfloor. To keep the glue from setting up too quickly, apply it to the subfloor as the flooring is being laid.
Stagger the end joints randomly to give the flooring a more natural look. A rubber mallet can be used to keep from damaging the flooring when the pieces are tapped together.
Once the flooring is complete, quarter round molding is installed around the perimeter of the room to provide a finished look and hide any raw edges.
Because sanding and finishing are not necessary, an engineered wood floor can be installed in less time than traditional solid hardwood flooring. The factory-applied finish is very durable and holds up well, even in a kitchen. The only maintenance required with a prefinished engineered wood floor is regular vacuuming to keep sand and dirt from scratching the finish, followed by an occasional damp mopping.