If you’re a fan of home renovation television shows (and who isn’t?), then you know that one of the first things the renovation experts focus on is flooring.
Just about any televised home makeover includes the removal of old, dirty, damaged flooring and the installation of gleaming hardwood floors. They may be dark and trendy or light and traditional. Whatever the style or the color, they are usually placed throughout the entire home.
But have you ever wondered why hardwood has become the go-to material for residential flooring in recent years? Actually, it isn’t really a new development at all.
“Hardwoods may be thought of as more popular today, but it has been the first choice of flooring for over 100 years,” says Jerry Park of MODA Floors & Interiors. And the reasons are pretty clear. He continues, “Hardwood floors provide an innate beauty with lasting durability. And not only is wood durable enough to last for generations, but it also can incorporate the green label as it applies to sustainability and environmental stewardship.”
Joann Kandrac of Kandrac & Kole Interior Designs, Inc., concurs, adding, “I believe there are three very important reasons for hardwood’s popularity. First, hardwoods are timeless. They can go with any décor, whether it is traditional or modern. They last a very long time and never go out of style. Second, hardwood flooring improves the value of your home. And third, hardwoods are easy to clean and less expensive than cleaning and maintaining carpet.”
Whatever your reason for choosing hardwoods for your home, it’s important to understand what decisions you face as you make your selection. “Most people put very little thought into their flooring except to choose a color,” reveals Cheryl Draa of Cheryl Draa Interior Designs. “But there are so many options available in size, placement and pattern that you have a chance to make a statement with your floors. It’s a quarter of your home’s surfaces. Don’t disregard the impact they can have when done well.”
Type A or B?
There are two main types of hardwood flooring, says Laurie Clark of Floor & Décor. Solid hardwood consists of a single piece of wood that is between 5/8 and ¾ inches thick. Engineered hardwoods are made of multiple layers of flooring (often a veneer of hardwood backed by layers of plywood or recycled wood fibers) that are typically 3/8 to ½ inches thick. In addition to a difference in price, with solid wood being more expensive, a key distinction between the two involves where the hardwood can be installed.
“Solid wood floors are suitable for on or above-grade installation,” Clark explains. That’s because solid wood will expand based on humidity and temperature levels in a home and needs to be applied over plywood or a level subfloor. That makes it ideal for rooms on a main level or above. However, engineered hardwoods offer a bit more flexibility. Clark notes, “Engineered floors are very dimensionally stable and are suitable for all flooring levels in your home—on, above or below grade.” Engineered wood can be used throughout a home without the concern about warping, shifting or cupping.
Once you decide on the type of hardwood and where you are going to place it, you need to decide if you want to install prefinished or unfinished (site finished) hardwoods. “With prefinished woods, the wood is stained and finished at the factory,” says Elisabeth Stubbs of Enhance Floors & More. “With unfinished woods, the raw wood is brought into the home and sanded and stained onsite.” Obviously, the process associated with prefinished hardwoods is less difficult and time consuming, and this flooring can be walked on immediately after installation. While unfinished woods present a longer and more involved installation, including drying time, these floors can be customized onsite and offer a larger choice of finishes.
A Question of Style
Choosing the style of your hardwood begins with the species. “There is a vast amount of different species of wood to choose from,” observes Mallory Bernard of Enhance Floors & More. “The most popular today is the traditional oak, but hickories and maples are also very popular. There are also exotic species like Acacia and Brazilian Cherry, which offer more unique looks.” And it doesn’t stop there, with everything from pine and walnut to tigerwood and teak being used today.
In addition to the dozens of species available, you might be surprised about how many other decisions there are to make. “There are so many options in the marketplace today. Wide plank or narrow plank. Handscraped, wire-brushed or smooth. High gloss, semi-gloss, matte finish or oil finish. There are beveled edges, square edges and micro-beveled edges. And don’t forget the more than 1,000 stain colors for both site finished and prefinished wood,” Kandrac says. “The options are almost endless.”
Whatever you choose, the experts recommend keeping your family in mind as you move through the decision making process, as this will help you choose the most appropriate type and style of hardwood. “It is important to evaluate your lifestyle before deciding on a particular hardwood floor,” Stubbs advises. “For instance, if you have an active family, it is best to steer clear of a high gloss, dark wood floor, as it will show scratches more readily.” Kandrac recommends that you ask yourself certain questions, including what the room will be used for, if it is a high traffic area and if children and pets are part of the equation. “This will determine the durability of the wood you need,” she says. “And it is helpful to bring fabric and paint colors to the showroom with you so you can coordinate with the wood.”
While hardwood is a traditional choice, there are a number of trends that can help give your flooring an extra aesthetic boost, particularly when it comes to color, finish and pattern. “Color is trending to more brown and grey tones,” Clark notes. In fact, Kandrac states that “grey is the new beige” when it comes to flooring. Many homeowners also are turning to wire-brushed and scraped finishes, which give the wood a subtle texture but a smooth finish. Also, the weathered or distressed look is sought after not only for its rustic feel, but also for its ability to show fewer scratches—a perfect fit for families with children and pets.
Plank width and length are changing as well. Standard planks, or “strips,” are smaller than three inches wide and have been used for years. However, Kandrac observes, “Today, wider planks of five, six and seven inches, as well as longer planks, up to as long as six feet or more, are very popular.” And how those planks are laid down can make a difference in the look of a room. According to Bernard, “The majority of hardwoods are installed straight, but you can install them in a diagonal or herringbone pattern. You can also customize your floor with a border with wood in a contrasting color.”
According to Park, many of the innovations in hardwood flooring today involve the installation of the product. “There has been more innovation in installation due to the environment, such as no VOCs, no odor, adhesive upgrade and the quality of polyurethane,” he says. “There have been great strides in products, and it is usually represented in longer warranties. If the manufacturer stands behind the product from 25 years to a lifetime, you are making a good decision.”
Floyd Abdul of GA Flooring, Inc., agrees, stating, “The finishes used today are made to last a lifetime.” This includes the newest aluminum oxide finishes, which Stubbs says are one of the biggest innovations in prefinished woods today. “Finishes will continue to be developed so that they are harder and more scratch resistant,” she explains. “And with increasing technologies, hardwood floors will become easier to care for.”
The Investment of a Lifetime
Of course, your budget will play a key role in your hardwood flooring choices. As Bernard notes, “Putting in hardwood will on average be about two times greater than the installation of carpet.” The ultimate cost will relate to the species of wood and finishes you choose. But it’s also important to keep in mind that the final cost does not include the materials alone. “Always look at the entire quote, as many stores price labor and materials differently. That can be confusing for consumers,” Abdul states. From subflooring to sanding and finishing, there are several elements that go into a quote for hardwood installation. Kandrac recommends getting multiple quotes and using a professional installation company that is insured.
When you do your homework, you’ll be sure to have a positive experience. And in the end, you’ll have a home that you can enjoy for years to come. As Clark concludes, “Hardwood flooring is an investment that will last a lifetime.”
ALL THESE BEAUTIFUL HARDWOOD OPTIONS!
BUT WHAT WORKS WITH YOUR SPECIFIC BUDGET?
We asked Judi Provence of Glover’s Flooring America to help us create a quick “Good, Better, Best” chart. She agreed—with a few important caveats.
She says, “Price alone doesn’t equal good, better, best! Choosing flooring that is appropriate for the style of the house and the lifestyle of the people who live there…and choosing flooring that meets their budget…that is what is important!” She also points out that the prices listed below include only “basic” labor installation.
Good: $3 – $6/ Sq. ft. Better: $7 – $11/Sq. ft. Best: $12 – $22 /Sq. ft.
Hardwood Laminate Engineered Hardwood Solid Hardwoods
Vinyl Wood Planks Prefinished Flooring Unfinished Sand, Stain & Sealed Onsite or Factory Finished
Easy Installation Handscraped, Distressed Finishes Wide Selection of Colors
Scratch Resistant Long Lasting Wide Selection of Wood Species
Bamboo, Cork & Exotics
ALLERGY SUFFERERS REJOICE!
Hardwood flooring is perfect for people who suffer from allergies or asthma, as it does not trap allergens like carpet does. The American Lung Association has declared that wood flooring in a main living area can help improve indoor air quality.
How you can keep your hardwood floors in
tip-top shape? Tint your windows! In Atlanta, the sun can be brutal not only to drapes and rugs, but to flooring as well!
WARM THINGS UP
Speedheat’s “WoodBeWarmer” floor heating systems are specially designed for safe and efficient heating under hardwood floors. The lower lineal power density and smaller pitch between element runs of the Speedheat system ensures an even heat distribution over the entire floor without drying out the wood. The smart thermostat controls floor temperature to ensure that the wood manufacturer’s specifications are not compromised.
“Hardwood floors are definitely becoming more popular as a replacement for carpeting in new and remodeled homes. While there are many benefits to hardwood floors, they can feel colder than carpet during the winter months,” says Peter Newman of Speedheat US, LLC. “Hardwood floors are generally glued or nailed to subfloors, and some are installed as ‘floating’ floors. Speedheat has a solution for all three of these installation methods.”