Choosing the Right Hardwood Flooring Is Crucial for the Best Long-Term Results

In order for the investment in new hardwood floors to last a lifetime, it is crucial to understand the differences in solid and engineered hardwood flooring. Several factors must be considered to select the best option for each unique situation. Homeowners can feel good about choosing their hardwood flooring if they learn a few basics first.

Solid Hardwood Flooring

Solid hardwood flooring is milled from a single piece of lumber, and it is available either unfinished and prefinished. Unfinished hardwood flooring is sanded, stained, and coated onsite after installation. This method allows for custom stain colors to match a home’s d├ęcor, or simply to create a unique appearance. The downside to unfinished flooring is that there is often a considerable mess from sanding the flooring as well as fumes from the stain and urethane coatings. High quality contractors do have equipment that will minimize the dust from sanding process. They may also offer low VOC stains and water-based urethane coatings to reduce the fumes associated with oil-based products. This finishing process can be done multiple time in the future to restore the beauty of the floor as it wears over time. Solid hardwood flooring is best installed over a wood subflooring material as it is generally nailed or stapled to the subsurface. Always install solid wood flooring above grade as it is highly susceptible to moisture and may warp in damp areas.

Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Engineered hardwood flooring is a mix of multiple layers of wood veneers and a synthetic material that are laminated together to form each plank of flooring. This synthetic material serves as the bottom layer and is generally impervious to moisture. This resistance to moisture from below makes this an excellent choice for concrete subfloors and rooms that are below grade. All engineered flooring comes prefinished from the factory. The advantage to prefinished engineered wood flooring is that the factory is often able to coat the finish as many as 7 times or more. This creates an extremely durable surface that will stand up to a great deal of traffic. Still, the top layers of engineered flooring are made of natural wood and can be scratched or damaged by water. Engineered hardwood flooring tends to be much thinner than solid hardwood flooring and it is often glued to the subsurface though it can also be nailed or stapled. The thinner nature of engineered flooring reduces or eliminates the option of refinishing the floors when they wear over time.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is made of synthetic materials and contains no natural wood products. For this reason, laminate flooring is extremely resistant to moisture. The finish of laminate flooring is plastic-like and extremely durable. Laminate flooring is available in a wide range of colors and finishes that mimic wood flooring, tile, and stone. Laminate flooring is often called a “floating floor,” as it does not require the use of glue or nails to adhere it to the subsurface. This is a good choice for areas that see an extremely high traffic volume or are susceptible to scratching or gouging for other reasons, such as pets.

Knowing the right questions to ask will ensure that homeowners choose the flooring material that will last a lifetime. Hiring a professional flooring installer is recommended to achieve the best results.

12 Must Know Things You Need To Know When Buying Hardwood Flooring!

I am about to reveal to you some key facts that hardwood flooring manufacturers do not tell you about and it could save you thousands of dollars on your next hardwood floor.

Being an owner of a third generation family flooring business, I have seen flooring stores come and go all the time. I have seen gimmicks and tricks from manufacturers, representing their flooring products with impressive statistics and new “technologies” to guide people into how “their” product is better than the next. Sometimes the changes in product are actually viable and do work, but others are just plain nonsense.
Let’s talk about some things you may not know when it comes to hardwood flooring, both engineered and solid hardwood.

Did you know that wood flooring has a comfort level too? Wood flooring will perform best when the indoor environment in which it is to be installed has a relative humidity range of 35 to 55 percent and a temperature range from 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This is about the same comfort range that we as humans enjoy.

Let’s talk about the first thing you must do as an installer and the home owner. Ready for this…READ THE INSTRUCTIONS FIRST! Before you go gung ho and rip open the boxes, as most men do, take 10 minutes and read the complete instructions for the material provided. There should be a copy that comes in every box of material. Sit back, have a beer, and READ!

Now that we have that clearly understood, you need to INSPECT to know what to EXPECT!

1. Acclimation: The moisture content of the wood and subfloor must be within 2-4 percentage points of each other and the subfloor must not exceed 12% moisture content. The farther the percentage points are away from the subfloor moisture percentage, the more problems you will have. For proper acclimation, material must achieve room temperature (65-80 degrees F) for 24 hours PRIOR to installation. This means that the heat has to be on and working way before you try to install the flooring. To get proper acclimation, store the material according to the manufacturer’s directions. The instructions will specify whether to store opened or unopened and whether to store in the center of the room or at the edges. This leads into the next big topic of moisture content.

2. Moisture Content: What is the ideal moisture content of the actual hardwood product? Every manufacturer will very slightly, but the average approved moisture content in the hard wood flooring itself should be between 6-9%. For example, if the moisture content of the subfloor is 12% and the hardwood flooring is 9% there is a 3% difference between the two wood products, which is in the allowable tolerance of installation. Although some movement can be expected even in this range, dramatic expansion and contraction can happen outside of these measurements. There are several electronic moisture meters available on the market to test the moisture content of the hardwood and subfloor. These are generally a pin probe type meter and they can give you an immediate reading of your wood’s moisture level. It is very important that it is set to the species of wood that you are installing and that you take moisture measurements from several boxes of material and from several areas of the subfloor throughout the area that is to be installed.

3. Climate Control: Climate control might be the single most common reason for customer dissatisfaction with their hardwood purchase. It is CRITICAL, that the proper temperature and humidity level be maintained throughout the life of the hardwood installation. Improper climate control will result in the material swelling in the summer and shrinking, or gapping, in the winter. Without proper climate control within the house, gapping and shrinking will definitely occur. In the Northwest we do not have a huge problem with this issue unless there is a device used in the home which dries out the air to an extreme amount like a wood stove. This is why a pot of water is ALWAYS recommended to be kept on the wood stove when using it as a heat source. The pot of water keeps moisture in the air. Special Note: Some products that are constructed with HDF cores, are more stable and less prone to expanding and contracting.

4. Floating Floors: A key thing people miss when installing floating floors is to allow for an expansion gap around the room. Just as real dimensional lumber expands and contracts, so does your floor. There must be enough space left at vertical surfaces, like walls and posts to allow for this movement. The larger the area the more space that is required. Rule #1 – Always leave the required expansion gap called for by the manufacturer. Rule #2 – If your installer says that it is not necessary, fire them and refer to rule number one.
You can cover all expansion gaps with wood wall base or quarter round wood trim or a combination of the two.

5. Expansion Joint: Expansion joints are almost always required between rooms, where a room meets a hall or in large expanses. You can use a “T” molding in these areas to allow for the floor expansion and contraction.

6. Moisture Control: Here is a big one! Moisture in the subfloor, called “hydrostatic pressure or vapor emissions”, is a MAJOR reason for flooring failures. The subfloor is not to exceed 65% relative humidity. There are several moisture meters that can be used on the floor that provide accurate readings, or a calcium chloride test, used for “concrete floors”. If your wood subfloor is above 12% with a meter, do not lay the floor. If your wood subfloor is above 12% then you have to find out why – it could be a new floor and just needs to dry out. If you have concrete floors, you have to find out the source of the moisture. If you still cannot figure out why the floor is above 12%, don’t use hardwood. Period. I mean it…you will kick yourself. If your floor is OK to install, remember to always float an engineered floor over 8 mil plastic when going over concrete so as to eliminate and minimize water vapor coming through the concrete floor.

7. Glue down Flooring: In residential installations, most flooring that is engineered is either click together or tongue and grove. I don’t think I, personally, would ever glue down an engineered floor. It is an acceptable way to install but I find that it is terrible to rip out years later. Either glue it together or click it together but don’t glue it down to the subfloor unless you have a very specific reason to. I have seen more problems even stapling it down to the subfloor. Stapling down your engineered floor will just lead to squeaks and creeks that will drive you nuts. Pull out the instructions that you threw in the garbage and look up the manufacture’s installation methods, then go file the instructions with your purchase receipt for future reference.

8. Nail Down Flooring: A very common mistake we have seen in solid flooring installations is proper nail length, gauge of the nail, and spacing between nails. Always refer to the manufacture and double check the subfloor thickness. When using a pneumatic nailer, pay close attention to proper PSI settings.

9. Natural Product Variations: One of the inherent beauties of hardwood is the differences between boards and how much or little they accept stain. No two pieces will ever be alike and that is one thing that makes wood flooring so luxurious and realistic compared to laminate flooring. Pay careful attention to the layout and selecting the color and grain of each board when you are working with the product. Work out of 4-5 boxes at a time when doing a layout, this will randomize any variations between boxes of hardwood.

10. Culled Material: In every natural product like wood, there will be some pieces that, while not defective, and within industry standards, are not what the consumer, you, wants visually. Generally allow for 5-10% waste factor on material. This means that you need to buy 5-10% more material then what your job physically measures out to be. Larger jobs of 1000+ sf could work with 5% while jobs under that square footage can figure 10%.

When buying material from the “Big Box” stores you have to keep in mind that when they purchase materials for a “stocking special” they purchase a product that they can sell at the lowest possible price to use in their ads. This means that the hardwood that they pick up is “Tavern Grade” which means it does not meet the specs of normal running line material. The product will have more voids, mis-filled holes in the face of the hardwood, warped boards both side to side and up and down, and broken toungs. This product will have a lot more waste factor to it, even as much as 20-25% compared to the professional flooring stores stocking inventory. Buyer beware, what you could think is saving you that 10% difference in price, could be costing you 20-25% more in having to buy more wood for the same size job. Oh, and by the way, always keep 1-3 full boxes of material for doing repairs. Do not return them to the store. You will NEVER be able to match the floor again should you need to. Paint would fall into this same realm of thinking. When you need to touch up a wall, they will NEVER be able to exactly match the color. In hardwood there is not only color to match but grain of the wood, board width, color and the number one factor, gloss level of the hardwood or “luster”.

11. Scratches: All hardwoods scratch – it’s a fact of life. You just cannot change it. You will scratch, scuff, and dent your hardwood under the right conditions. Scratches occur more frequently under chair legs that are small in diameter and at entry areas where abrasion dirt is tracked in on the bottom of shoes. The industry has developed more scratch resistant surfaces like those containing aluminum oxide, they tend to show less scratching but the wood still dents under pressure. To help save your floors use felt chair protectors under all of your free standing chairs. Area rugs are great for rolling chairs in the kitchen, or replace the cheap plastic wheels with rubber barrel casters. The more expensive casters will spread the weight of the chair out more efficiently. The best first line of defense is an area rug by the front door or a tiled entry way to catch the dirt and sand “before” it gets dragged across the hardwood floors. Good rules of thumb, shoes get checked at the door.

12. Cleaning: For heaven sakes ask a flooring professional! Your wood floors are tough but they are delicate when it comes to moisture and cleaners. Throughout this article we have talked about moisture, now we don’t want to ruin the floor by trying to maintain it improperly. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

DO NOT: Use a wet mop system, a steamer, a bucket and mop, any “Wax” finish, no soaps, no polishes, and for heaven’s sakes do not over wet your floor with a wet mop.

The best way to clean your floor is to use a microfiber mop and spray a professional hardwood cleaner onto the mop head, to dampen the head, and then clean your floor. If you see streaking or a wet trail, you have used too much cleaner and immediately wipe up the excess with a terry cloth towel.

If you treat your hardwood floors with the love you would treat your wood dining room table, you will be happy for years to come.

Helpful Tips on Hardwood Flooring

Installing hardwood flooring is a huge financial commitment that pays off in a big way in the long run. With that in mind, it is important to be able to take care of your new flooring to have it in top condition for as long as possible. With proper care and maintenance, it is possible to have your hardwood flooring for many years; even a lifetime. Before getting into the helpful tips on hardwood flooring, it is only right to first explore why you would want to consider this kind of flooring in the first place.

Advantages of Hardwood Flooring

There are many advantages attached to hardwood floor which is why this is one of the most popular types of floor on the home renovation market today. Some of the advantages in this case include:

Maintenance: as you will soon discover, hardwood floors are very easy to clean and generally care for. The inherent properties of the wood make it resistant to dirt and stains such that they don’t stick to the floor. Most of what is needed is regular vacuuming and moping with a damp cloth or mop. In addition to this, unlike carpet, wood doesn’t fade and will retain its original color for a long time to come.

Health: because wood doesn’t trap debris in the way carpet does, the air in the house is usually fresher and cleaner. This is especially important for people with allergies or respiratory illnesses who need constant clean air in and around the home.

Versatility: hardwood is one of the most versatile materials for flooring. No two hardwoods are exactly the same, which means each house gets a unique look as far as the floor goes. In addition to this, wood naturally has different patterns meaning that you will not be stuck with a particular shade or color.

Durability: hardwood is solid and sturdy, making it resistant to dents and scratches, which are part of daily life. This type of flooring is easily able to withstand heavy furniture as well as items being accidentally dropped on the floor.

Value addition: 99.9% or realtors agree that hardwood floors add significant value to the home. This is both in the monetary sense, as well as the perceived value. Apart from hardwood floors increasing the price tag on the home significantly, they are also attractive to prospective buyers, which makes it easier to sell the house quickly and closer to the asking price should such a situation arise.

Aesthetics: the beauty of hardwood floors is undeniable. It is reminiscent of nature in all its glory. Wood floors can also be sanded and refinished easily to change the color of the floor should you get tired of the current look. The versatility of wood floors also makes it perfect for any kind of interior design conceivable.

How to care for hardwood flooring

As mentioned earlier, installing hardwood floors is a significant investment which therefore requires proper maintenance to protect your investment and enjoy it for as long as possible. With that in mind, below are some helpful tips on hardwood flooring:

Make sure you know your specific type of flooring and finish. You should also be sure to follow the specific manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and general maintenance. Do some research on how to care for your particular kind of finish. For example, paste wax should never be used on polyurethane finish. Sweeping hardwood floors with a soft broom on a regular basis naturally buffs the surface, therefore protecting it from scratches. Another obvious advantage of this is that it will keep the floor clean. Where possible, leave shoes at the door to avoid dragging extra dirt and grime onto the floor. If not, consider using rugs in high traffic areas such as hallways and entrances to keep feet clean. Remove any solid materials from the floor such as sand, grit and dirt among others. These materials are abrasive and can dull and even scratch the floor’s finish. Use a dry towel to wipe spills and other messes from wood floors. Oils soaps should NEVER be used on hardwood floors. These oils will eventually build up and will dull the surface of the floor. In addition to this, it will make it difficult to refinish the floor whenever needed. Use a vacuum with a bare floor attachment. Such a vacuum easily removes dirt and dust without scratching or otherwise damaging the floor. Do not drag furniture across the floor when moving it. Instead, lift the furniture when moving it. Where dragging is inevitable, invest in a set of slip-mats. Where these are not available, lids from plastic food containers work just as well. Use only cleaners that have specifically been manufactured for use on hardwood floors. Do not substitute with linoleum, laminate or tile cleaners as these can cause the floor to become extra slippery. Use as little water as possible when cleaning wood floors. Wet spots should also be immediately wiped up after cleaning.

A Final Thought

These are simple helpful tips on hardwood flooring maintenance. Although these are do-it-yourself (DIY) options, it is important to pay close attention as if done incorrectly they can damage your floors. Do not attempt any renovation work on your flooring if you don’t have the necessary expertise and experience. Where you are in doubt, it is best to contact your manufacturer or seller and they will be able to give you the directions you need. The great thing about hardwood floors is that they are a solid investment and will pay dividends in the long run with only the minimum care and maintenance needed.