Walk into any room and chances are that the first thing you notice is the flooring. Very few flooring options have the visual impact of hardwood. It exudes warmth, elegance, and natural charm.
Hardwood floors have been popular for decades because of their practicality, beauty and value. They offer a lot of advantages over carpet and linoleum.
Preverco PreLoc engineered flooring
King Canada flooring nailer
Hardwood flooring is:
• easy to clean (it doesn’t accumulate dust and debris like carpeting does)
• long lasting (as long as you maintain it properly; in the event of damage it can be re-finished)
• durable and hard-wearing (it stands up to heavy foot traffic, but be careful of those high heels)
• hypoallergenic (doesn’t trap dust, pollen, animal dander and allergens)
• sustainable (a range of sustainably harvested hardwood products are now available)
• versatile (you can choose from a range of colours, board widths, surface textures and finishes)
• an excellent investment (increases property and re-sale values)
• easy to install (for those with basic woodworking skills)
There are two broad categories of hardwood flooring: solid wood and engineered. Laminate flooring doesn’t contain any wood (the wood look consists of a photographic layer of resin infused paper). Bamboo is made from grass, not wood, while cork is made from bark. Coconut flooring (sold under the trade name Durapalm) is somewhat new to the market, and not widely available in Canada. Currently it’s only available in a single dark colour. A ‘floating floor’ isn’t a type of flooring at all, but a method of installation (the boards are glued or snapped together and ‘float’ on the subfloor.)
Engineered flooring is comprised of real wood on top of two or more laminations of plywood, which makes it more dimensionally stable than solid wood flooring. More laminations make for a more stable floor. The solid wood top layer can be anywhere from 1⁄32″ to 5⁄32″ thick. While these floors can be re-sanded and re-finished, damaged sections are typically removed and replaced.
Engineered flooring comes in a wide range of wood species and stains, and is sold pre-finished. Typically ½” thick, tongue and groove engineered flooring can be nailed, stapled or glued down, while the ‘European style’ flooring is installed as a floating floor. Engineered flooring is the choice wherever moisture is an issue – below grade installations, basements, and on concrete floors. It’s also the best choice over radiant heating systems.
Solid Wood Flooring
Solid wood flooring is, as the name implies, all wood. While you can purchase it unfinished, most retailers sell pre-finished flooring. Unless you have finishing experience I recommend that you use pre-finished flooring. Hardwood flooring is ideal for family rooms, living rooms, hallways, bedrooms and dens. You might consider other flooring types, such as vinyl or ceramic, for kitchens, bathrooms, and entrance ways.
Most manufacturers provide both strip and plank flooring. Strip flooring comes in thicknesses from 5⁄16″ to ¾” and widths from 1 ½” to 2 ½”, while plank flooring is available in ½” and ¾” thicknesses and widths 3″ and greater. Unlike engineered flooring, hardwood floors must be nailed to the subfloor. The process of installing hardwood flooring is not difficult – however it is somewhat time consuming, and it’s definitely not for those with back problems.
Today you can purchase hardwood flooring in a wide range of wood species, cuts and finishes. Ash, beech, birch, cherry, maple, oak and walnut are among the most popular of domestic species. Ipe (Brazilian walnut), jatoba (Brazalian cherry), merbau (kwila), sapele, and tigerwood (goncalo alves) are some of the more fashionable exotics. Increasingly, both domestic and exotic woods are available from ecologically harvested supplies; look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo.
The harder the wood, the better the floor will stand up under day-to-day use. Of the species mentioned above, jatoba has the highest rating (2820) on the Janka hardness scale (a measurement of the force required to embed a 0.4″ steel ball to half its depth in a piece of wood), followed by sapele (1500), hard maple (1450) and ash (1450). Cherry, at 950 is the ‘softest’ of these hardwoods.
As with the lumber for your woodworking projects, you can purchase different grades of flooring, from ‘Select and Better’, which is the most uniform in colour and virtually knot free, to ‘#1 Common’, which can have the most variation in colour and grain as well as small, but tight knots. Also available is a ‘Character’ grade, which is similar to a #2 or #3 Common grade; it has the greatest variation of colour and knots of up to ½” (the knots are typically filled with a putty or epoxy).
While most hardwood flooring is flat-sawn (or plain-sawn), you can also purchase, at a premium, quarter-sawn or rift-sawn flooring. Quarter-sawn boards are less likely to warp, particularly if you choose very wide plank flooring. Otherwise, it comes down to a matter of the look you want to achieve.
While you can save a couple of dollars per square foot buying unfinished flooring, applying a finish is a lot of work, and I believe that the resulting finish is not as durable as a factory applied finish. Plus you don’t have to deal with taping off rooms, sanding, dust, and the long wait time for the finish to cure. Depending on the manufacturer, pre-finished floors can have acrylic monomers injected into the wood cell structure to increase hardness, be cured with ultra violet lights, and have seven or more coats of finish applied. While the 15 to 25 year warranties are common, some floorings come with 30 and 40 year warranties. These warranties cover degradation of the finish, not scratching or other damage that can be caused by not properly maintaining the floors, or by neglect.
Manufacturers provide detailed instructions for installing hardwood flooring, and it’s a good idea to read and understand the instructions before you begin. Most woodworkers will have all the tools needed to do the job, except for a flooring nailer, which you can rent from most tool rental outlets. I like a nailer like the King Canada #8260 (KingCanada.com) which enables you to drive up to 2″ crown stables and 2″ cleat nails.
The installation process involves removing the existing flooring (and baseboards) down to the subfloor, preparing the subfloor (depending on the condition of the subfloor you may need to screw the subfloor to the floor joists, install a ¼” underlay, or level the subfloor), laying down 15 pound felt over the subfloor, trimming the bottom of door jambs, and then nailing down the hardwood flooring. Over the years I’ve done dozens of hardwood floors – they’re a piece of cake, but tough on your back.
A hardwood floor is a great investment to make in any home, and one that you can enjoy to boot. It can dramatically improve the looks of any room, and is easier to install than you might think.