Hardwood Flooring: the good, the bad, & the ugly

Hardwood flooring.  You have walked on it countless times in your life, but have you ever really thought about it?  How it is made?  Where it comes from?  I know, I know.  Wood comes from trees.  Pretty straightforward, right?  Or is it?  Hardwood flooring can be solid or engineered.  It can have a polyurethane finish, an oiled finish, or even a waxed finish.  It can be manufactured and milled using several different methods.  All of these things can make a significant difference in quality, how well it wears, maintenance routines, pricing, and overall appearance.  There are also many inherent qualities of wood that vary dependent on the wood species such as hardness, durability, how it is affected by UV light, and much more.  In other words, not all hardwood is created equal!


Here is the low-down on this beautiful flooring choice- the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of hardwood. (Okay, so there isn’t really an ugly side. Hardwood is too beautiful for that!)


Solid vs. Engineered

Both solid & engineered wood options add value to your home.  They are both available in many styles, finishes, species, and colors.  Many people think that engineered wood isn’t real wood.  This is false.  It is absolutely 100% natural wood.  Check out these facts:

SOLID WOOD

  1. Solid wood is generally 3/4″ thick, and is solid natural wood all the way through.

  2. Solid wood is durable and timeless.  It has been considered the “gold standard” for wood floors for generations.

  3. Solid wood can be sanded and refinished many times throughout its life.  Keep in mind, however, that solid wood cannot be sanded all the way down to the tongue and groove which connects each plank.

  4. Solid wood is available in many species, finishes, styles, and colors.  It is available in widths up to 5″.  You should NEVER exceed 5″ in width with a solid hardwood, as the solid planks are much more prone to issues caused by movement when they are wider than 5″.  In our Wisconsin climate, we suggest nothing wider than 4″ in a solid wood.

ENGINEERED WOOD

  1. Engineered wood ranges from 5/16″ to 3/4″ thick, with an average thickness of 1/2″.  It has a top layer of solid natural wood applied over a manufactured core.  Due to this construction, engineered wood is much more stable, which means it works well in situations where solid hardwood would not be a suitable option.

  2. Engineered construction creates a highly stable core that minimizes expansion, contraction, and shifting when exposed to humidity and temperature fluctuations.

  3. Engineered wood is generally safe to be installed at, above, or below grade.  It can be installed over concrete substrates.  It can be installed over radiant heat systems, in most situations.

  4. Due to its manufacturing, engineered wood is more stable at wider widths, allowing for planks as wide as 12″.

  5. Most engineered floors can be refinished a few times in their lifetime.

  6. Engineered floors can be installed in a “floating” method, meaning not fastened to the substrate.  This method is generally used over radiant heat systems or concrete, but may also be desirable in additional situations for various other reasons.  Some engineered floors even offer a “drop-and-lock” type of installation, allowing homeowners to easily install their own flooring.

Polyurethane Finish vs. Oiled Finish

Oil and urethane finishes reflect two completely different approaches – oils work by fortifying and sealing the wood fibers, while urethane works by walling them off.  With an oiled floor, you are walking on the natural wood surface.  With a urethane floor, you are walking on a man-made barrier.  The finish applied to the surface of the hardwood affects the appearance, as well as the durability, of the final product.  It also determines the type of maintenance that your hardwood flooring will require throughout its life.  Both options are beautiful and have their own set of pros and cons:

POLYURETHANE FINISH 

  1. A urethane finish is hard, durable, and stain resistant. The maintenance routine is fairly simple- vacuuming, dust mopping, and occasional damp mopping with the proper products, such as Bona Hardwood Cleaner.

  2. This finish provides excellent protection, but its appearance and performance are never again as good as on the day it is installed. Gradually the floor will become more scratched and abraded until eventually you may wish to sand and refinish it.  A urethane-coated floor will, on average, need to be sanded and refinished every 10-15 years, though many UV-cured urethane finishes (found on prefinished hardwood) can last 5-15 years longer.

  3. Urethane finishes are very difficult, if not impossible, to patch or touch up without the repair being highly visible. Repairing scratches generally requires replacing individual boards, or refinishing the entire floor.

  4. Because a polyurethane finish is a topical finish that sits on the surface of the hardwood, most surface wear and scratches are limited to the finish itself.  However, the finish can alter the appearance & texture of the hardwood, which can sometimes look “artificial”, “shiny”, or “plastic”.

OILED FINISH

  1. An oil finish is a penetrating finish that soaks into the hardwood and hardens to become an integral part of the floor rather than a topical “coating.”

  2. Oil finished hardwood will gain a patina and many homeowners feel that the appearance of their hardwood improves over time.

  3. Touch ups and repairs are easy with an oil-finished floor and can be accomplished by the homeowner as it only requires an application of the appropriate oil to the offending area.

  4. Because the finish penetrates into the wood, the scratches and wear will be within the actual wood.  However, a simple application of refresher oil will minimize the appearance of light scuffs, wear, and scratches.  This application of oil also adds the aforementioned patina to the flooring, improving the overall appearance over time.

Milling & Manufacturing

There are significant differences in how hardwood is milled and manufactured by different hardwood suppliers.  These variations can mean the difference between a level installation or warped planks.  They can mean the difference between a 25+ year floor or a 5+ year floor.  They can mean the difference between a natural looking floor color throughout the life of the floor or an ambered, yellowed floor finish after a few years.  They can mean the difference between a significant wear layer or a paper thin veneer surface.  They can mean the difference between a beautiful end result or a “cheap, fake” looking wood floor.  While there are too many milling and manufacturing differences to list here, our showroom staff can help you understand the differences between each line we display.


Hardwood Species

Hardwood flooring comes in many species, with some being more common than others.  Typical North American species include Red or White Oak, Hard Maple, and Hickory, while North American species such as Walnut & Cherry are less common.  There are even exotic species such as Brazilian Cherry, Acacia, and Tigerwood.   All of these species (and more) contribute different attributes to the finished flooring product.  Some are harder than others, generally offering better wear.  Some are more affected by exposure to light and will deepen or lighten over time.  Some have more “character” or graining, while others offer a “cleaner” visual.


Other Factors

Other things that may influence your final hardwood purchase decision include things such as FSC certification & compliance, carbon footprint of the manufacturer, country of origin, country of manufacturing/finishing, warranty, maintenance requirements, and much more.  We can provide you with this information for every manufacturer that we display.  If you have a question that we can’t answer, we will find the answer for you.


The “Ugly” Side

So there really isn’t an ugly side to hardwood.  It is beautiful, durable, and timeless.  But, there are some things that you should know-

  1. Hardwood is affected by temperature and humidity fluctuations.  You must maintain the temperature and humidity in your home to maintain your warranty coverage.

  2. Hardwood is in the “resilient” flooring category, the same as vinyl or cork.  This means that it can (and will) scratch, dent, gouge, and abrade.  The above information can help you make a selection that will minimize this concern, but it is very unlikely that you will never add “character marks” to your floor in this way.

  3. Hardwood and moisture do not mix.  You should avoid using hardwood flooring in areas where moisture is prevalent or of concern.

What’s the Right Choice For Your Project?

All of the above factors should be considered when determining what type of hardwood flooring is best for your project.  Our showroom designers are ready and able to direct you to your perfect hardwood “fit.”   Stop in today to take a look at our expansive array of hardwood selections!