Hardwood Basics - What You Need to Know Before You Buy!
Buying a hardwood floor is really an investment into your home. It’s a floor that if taken care of properly – can last a lifetime.
Here is just a simple run through, of what we think everyone should know before they buy. Before they even decide on hardwood!
Well, first of all – all hardwood can be simplified into three different categories, or technologies. Solid, Engineered and Floating Engineered. All three are great, and each have their own use.
That’s a great place to start – water and wood. What you have to realize is that hardwood is considered a living floor – even though the tree has been cut down – and this is because it has a cellular structure. The cells in hardwood will actually expand and contract depending on humidity. And of course, in Southern Saskatchewan – we have quite the climate! Our cold, dry winters will actually cause hardwood to shrink – and our beautiful warm, humid summers will cause the boards to expand.
This range in humidity means that we do have to be careful when choosing a hardwood floor.
We really suggest having a humidifier on your furnace and to keep it set to 35% during the winter. This will minimize the amount of movement in the floor as we get into the winter months. All hardwood manufacturers recommend to keep it set between 40-60% year round, but unfortunately with our winters, that would cause your windows to rain. So keeping it at a minimum of 35% will minimize the movement of the boards – without causing water damage to your home!
Now that we’ve discussed a bit about water and wood, let’s talk about the different categories that are in hardwood flooring.
This is Solid Hardwood – you see that the entire board is just that – solid wood. All of our Solid hardwood has a thickness of ¾” This is the original, the OG of hardwood. Has been around for centuries, and will remain so! The upside is that a good solid hardwood floor can be refinished the most. As per the National Wood Flooring Association, they say that a good solid hardwood can be refinished 5-7 times, depending on the ability of the refinisher. The downside is that this is the least stable of the categories. Solid wood will shrink in the winter (you will see gaps, not might, will) and expand in the summer. Because of this movement – the widest board that we will go with in Southern Saskatchewan is 3-1/4” wide. Any wider and you run a good risk of the boards moving so much that they will actually tear the cells in the wood – and it will never go back to it’s original shape.
Next is Engineered Hardwood. This here is the term used when you have a layer of solid wood on top of a plywood or some other dimensionally stable core. This extra addition of a core to the floor gives it more stability – when the top layer is trying to shrink or expand, the base is actually helping keep it in place! Therefore less movement. This allows us to go to much wider, currently the widest that we have is just over 7”! Now one thing to keep in mind when looking at engineered hardwood floors – and that’s the thickness of the wear layer, or the actual layer of wood that is on the top. The reason for this is that if you go with a thinner layer – the floor cannot be refinished. There is not enough wood to sand down and coat, while something like this Mirage engineered, you can refinish 2-3 times. Not the end of the world, but something to be aware of.
Next would be Floating Engineered Hardwood. Similar to the Engineered Hardwood in construction – see, the top layer of wood, then a core of some sort. The difference in these is that they have this special tongue and groove system that allows the boards to be clicked into each other, just like a laminate floor. The upside is that these floors are less expensive and can be installed very quickly – the downside is that they all have very thin wear layers for the simple reason is that none of them can be refinished. The fact that they are floating and not attached means that if you were to put one of the hardwood sanders on the floor and turn it on, the sander would shake the floor apart. So just keep that in mind.
Now we get into Species, or the actual type of wood. Now the first question that most people have when asking about different wood types is – which is the most durable? To which, I usually answer ‘they are all the same’. The reason for this is that while it is true – different hardwoods have different harnesses, that really doesn’t matter; when we are talking about durability.
What you have to understand is that while the woods are all different, we are not walking on the wood. We are walking on the finish that is on top of the floor. This polyurethane is what gives us the durability of a hardwood floor – which, as defined by Websters Dictionary is ‘The ability to withstand wear’. So, within any manufacturer, all of their hardwood floors – be they American Walnut or Brazilian Walnut – they will all wear the same.
Everything that you drop on the floor will leave a mark. Everything you pull across the floor without a furniture protector on it will scratch. The harder the specie – the smaller the mark, but the mark will still be there, and you will see it. I always try to think of it like a new car. The first ding, or dent – it hurts like a son of a gun. But the next one and the next one – they are just a part of life. Same with the hardwood floor – if you are afraid of marks or dents, don’t go with hardwood – there are options out there that will not mark like porcelain tile. But just realize that the first one or two marks on your new hardwood floor will hurt, you cannot be afraid of living on your floor!
Once we understand that – for the most part, the reason why we would use one specie over another is just looks. See this hard maple? It’s smooth, closed grain looks great when you are looking for that formal look. While this white oak with it’s open grain and variations, these look amazing in a more rustic style.
So from this point on – everything is to do with looks; colour, grade, gloss level - Now, just realize that the more variation and the less gloss and the more texture – the less denting, scratching that you will see. It will be there, but you just won’t see it as much. Now let’s see what will look great in your home!