Your Guide to Wood Flooring
Hardwood floors are timeless and elegant, adding warmth and character to your home. To choose the right planks for your floor, weigh these considerations.
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Wood floors add beauty and comfort to a home. In a recent survey, real estate agents said houses with wood floors sell faster and for higher prices than houses without wood floors. The range of finishes ensures you can find the perfect floor for any setting. More than 50 species of wood (domestic and imported) are available for creating your wood floor. Some, such as American black walnut and Brazilian ipe, are expensive because they aren't as readily available. Others, such as oak and maple, are easy to find and cost less.
As the name implies, solid hardwood planks are made from single pieces of wood -- a sturdy choice in any space on your home's ground level or higher. Solid hardwood is not suitable for below-grade installation because regular exposure to moisture or high humidity can cause warping.
Engineered wood flooring features a wood veneer applied to a plywoodlike base. This sublayer, which features perpendicular layers of wood, stabilizes the product, making it possible to lay the material in areas not suitable for solid wood, such as a basement rec room.
Solid hardwood floors can be sanded and refinished three or four times. Engineered wood flooring can be sanded only once or twice, depending on the thickness of the veneer, but it can be buffed and polished as often as necessary.
Bamboo is a grass that can grow to more than 80 feet tall in only five to six years, -- more than eight times faster than hardwood trees. Similar to mowing grass, harvesting bamboo does not kill the plant. After harvesting, the bamboo grass is split and flattened and then made into all-bamboo or engineered planks using an environmentally safe adhesive. Like its wood counterpart, bamboo planks come in different widths to complement a variety of styles, whether casual, formal, traditional, or modern. The material can also be stained in an array of colors. To ensure bamboo remains Earth-friendly, choose a water-base stain and low- or no-VOC top coat.
Consider adding a decorative border or inlay to your wood floor. Perimeter borders create visual separation from adjacent spaces and lend a custom look. Inlays of lighter or darker woods, or contrasting materials, can visually connect rooms: Simply use the flooring material in the adjoining room to create the inlay.
When considering costs, keep in mind that straight-laid planks cost less to install than diagonal or herringbone patterns, or other more intricate installations.
Strip flooring features narrow boards measuring 1-1/2 to 3 inches wide. Strips create the illusion of a larger room and complement contemporary or traditional styles. Planks measure 3 to 6 inches wide. These broader boards are ideal for enhancing a more casual space or creating a country look. Parquet flooring is composed of small wood pieces joined in a geometric design. Parquet floors look beautiful in traditional, exotic, or internationally themed settings.
When deciding between a high-gloss or low-sheen finish, consider the amount of traffic the room receives. In high-traffic areas, such as the kitchen, use a satin or low-luster finish to disguise dirt and footprints. High-gloss finishes tend to show every blemish, so you may want to limit their use to low-traffic areas, such as dining rooms, living rooms, and bedrooms.
If you have children or pets, consider choosing a hardwood finished with moisture-cured urethane or an acrylic urethane enhanced with aluminum oxide. Moisture-cured urethane resists moisture better than other finishes. You can choose non-yellowing matte, satin, and high-gloss finishes. Matte finishes are more child- and pet friendly than high-gloss finishes because they don't show as much dust or footprints.
When aluminum oxide is added to an acrylic finish, it increases the abrasion resistance of the wear layer and helps prevent surface scratches. This formulation is often found in high grades of hardwood floors that feature a warranty that extends beyond 25 years. Even when a wood floor is protected with a top-quality finish, standing water and acidic pet stains can damage it. Wipe up spills and accidents as they occur, and place a rug in front of sinks, tubs, and showers to capture drips and splatters.
When purchasing wood flooring, ask to see the Lacey Act tracking document. This trade agreement aims to protect the world's tropical forests by halting the import and sale of illegally sourced wood products in the United States. Importers must provide the country and forest of origin for each product transported, which enables you to see exactly where the wood was harvested -- an essential step to preventing illegal deforestation.
Solid-wood flooring is best left to experienced installers with the pneumatic nailers and know-how to prevent warps, splits, and other potential problems. If do-it-yourself installation is critical for staying on budget, consider engineered products. Look for tongue-and-groove construction, some of which simply click together and don't require nails or glue to secure the boards.