Natural Variations in Appearance

Hardwood floors, like silks, leather and precious stones, are shaped by natural forces and they may display a variety of character markings. Even boards from the same tree will show significant variation in color. For instance, younger wood closer to the bark (sapwood) will be lighter than the central portion of the tree, known as heartwood. You can also see the effects of the minerals and other essential elements that the trees have absorbed over the years providing distinct markings to each board.

This natural variation in color and character is where wood floors get their beauty from.

Here are some of definitions of character markings that should help you when you are making your selection:

  • Knots: Hard, cylindrical regions marking locations of branches that have been encased by later growth of the tree.
  • Mineral streaks: Olive or grayish markings caused by such environmental factors as trace elements in the water and soil.
  • Sapwood: The paler-colored wood closer to the bark of the tree. In certain species there can be a dramatic difference in color between sapwood and the rest of the wood. Be sure to ask which wood species show these characteristics.
  • Grain: The direction, size, appearance and quality of wood fibers.
  • Growth ring: Layer of wood added to a tree during a single growing season and is made up of spring and summer wood. Usually identified as grain in the wood.

Wood´s Expansion and Contraction

Expansion and contraction of wood is perfectly normal during changes in weather. Wood is a natural material that seeks to be in balance with its surroundings and will take on, or give off, moisture with changes in relative humidity. When the air is warm and humid (summer) hardwood floors will absorb moisture and expand. Likewise, with cooler, drier air (winter) wood will give off moisture and contract. This is completely natural and craftsman design find hardwood flooring to accommodate these changes. Minimal expansion and contraction, including gaps, can be expected and are not considered a defect.

Here are a few tips to help you weather-wise: Maintain a relative humidity of at least 35%-50%, i.e. use a humidifier in winter and an air conditioner in summer. Don´t be afraid to let natural air into your home, especially in the summer. And finally, maintain a relative temperature of approximately 65-75 degrees. Remember, all wood will expand and contract with seasonal changes, the key is to keep the movement of the floor to a minimum.

 

Wood Quality

Today consumers have more choices in hardwood flooring than ever before. Unfortunately, not every choice is a good one. With the ever growing popularity of hardwood flooring more and more companies have entered the market, often times offering cheaper and cheaper selections and lesser quality. This has made it difficult for consumers to select a quality wood floor. Remember, a good hardwood floor will last a century or more so it is important that you take the time to select the right floor from the right company.

Every hardwood floor has certain elements that determine quality. Factors that affect quality include species, grade, finish, average length of the boards as well as dimensions of the flooring (ex. thickness and width of the boards). There are also certain intangible items that impact the quality including where the product is manufactured as well as the reputation of the manufacturer. Recently, the hardwood flooring industry has experienced an influx of foreign manufacturers located in third world countries producing low cost wood flooring. For some retailers, the temptation of quick profits cloud their vision of quality and they offer these floors knowing there is no credible manufacturer´s warranty and that the product is inferior. Worse yet, they offer product they know is illegally harvested hardwoods, for example from China. It is estimated over 70% of the hardwood floors manufactured in China are made from illegally harvested wood.

But how is a consumer to know how to select a quality wood floor? Probably the simplest way is to ask questions, lots of questions. For example, ask the following:

  • What is the species?
  • What is the grade of the wood?
  • If it is pre-finished wood, ask what type of finish it is and how many coats does the manufacturer use to finish the wood.
  • Does the manufacturer provide a warranty for the product?
  • Ask the average length of the boards.
  • Oddly enough, ask where the wood is grown. North American woods should come from Northern areas, not Southern areas.

And be sure to get a manufacturer´s brochure because the answers to many of these questions will be in a brochure from a reputable manufacturer.

There is also one other very important thing to look for – a trade association logo. Trade associations regulate the industry and set strict standards for grading hardwood, much like diamonds are graded in the diamond industry. This grading system allows consumers to feel comfortable that they are getting what they pay for. Today, grading is an essential part of doing business in the hardwood floor industry. Grades group flooring with similar qualities, bringing consistency to products from different mills. Grading also tells the purchaser the minimum to expect when buying the product, including surface characteristics, required lengths and milling tolerances.

In some cases, grades are established by industry associations, such as the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association (NOFMA) or the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association (MFMA). Association guidelines apply to more than 90% of the solid flooring manufactured in the United States and Canada. However, the same cannot be said for wood flooring manufactured in China, Indonesia and other third world countries.

How can you determine whether the wood you are about to purchase is from an Association certified manufacturer? It´s really quite simple . . . . ask for a brochure or check their website. Every manufacturer is honored to be a member of their governing association and will prominently display the logo on their brochure. For example, many manufacturers are members of the National Wood Flooring Association, or NWFA. Again, this is a trade group that regulates the industry including not only manufacturers, but also distributors, wholesalers, and retailers. If you don´t see a trade association logo, you have to dig a little deeper and determine where the wood is manufactured. For example, many European countries are not members of North American trade associations, but rather have their own associations and a long history of quality craftsmanship. This is in stark contrast to China, Indonesia and other third world countries that have neither their own regulating agencies nor a long tradition of quality craftsmanship. If the product is manufactured in any of these countries and they have not subscribed to North American grading associations, they are probably selling inferior products.

Finally, quality can go beyond the hardwood itself to the company selling it. For example, has the company been around for a long time or are they a new company that may not be around when you need them? Another important factor is whether the company is an outlet or liquidator of hardwood. Companies that carry “off spec” or “close outs” oftentimes offer prices that are too good to be true. As with anything in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Finally, are they rated by an independent agency such as the Better Business Bureau? Buffalo Hardwood Floor Center is proud to carry an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.

Wood Hardness

One of the best methods to measure the ability of a wood species to withstand the rigors of a busy lifestyle is the Janka hardness scale. Janka hardness is used to compare the relative hardness of various species and represents the pounds of pressure required to embed a 0.444 diameter steal ball one half of its diameter into the wood. The higher the number, the harder the wood. The scale is only one component of assessing the durability of the floor. Type of cut, denseness of cell structure (Northern growth v. Southern growth), construction and finish also play a role in determining the long term durability of your floor. Other things to consider are the color, character and finish. For example, a wood with a lot of grain and color variation will hide dents and dings better than a wood that has a very consistent grain pattern.

Janka Hardness Scale

The Higher the Number the Harder the Wood

JankaHardnessScale3

 

 

Wood Floor Finishes

Pre-finished

The days of having to wax and scrub your hardwood floors are gone forever. Manufacturers of pre-finished wood floors have developed sophisticated techniques to quickly apply hard, durable, urethane based finishes right at the factory. By using ultra violet lights hardwood flooring can have several coats of urethane applied within a matter of a few seconds. Today, many manufacturers put seven or more coats of a urethane finish on the wood before it leaves the factory. This is helping make hardwood floors both more affordable and much easier to maintain. Recently, hardwood flooring manufacturers have begun to add small amounts of Aluminum Oxide directly to the floor´s finish which dramatically increases the life of the finish.

There are basically two advantages to pre-finished floors: 1) time; and 2) cleanliness. After a pre-finished floor is installed it can be used immediately; unlike a site finished floor that must be sanded and finished, adding time to the length of a project and creating additional dust. Although there is much debate, no one has been able to establish whether pre-finished floors are more durable, although most people will agree they are.

Site finished

Site finished floors are completed in several steps. First, unfinished flooring must be installed. After it is installed the floor must be finished in place. This requires several steps of sanding to achieve a smooth and level floor. After sanding, the floor is either stained according to the customer´s desires, or if the customer wishes, it is left natural and finished with several coats of urethane or oil.

Because of the additional steps, site finished floors are often more expensive and time consuming. This is the major drawback to a site finished floor. However, for those who desire a particular look and feel, a site finished floor is the way to go. In addition, because site finished floors are sanded in place they do not have a beveled edge, which can be important to certain customers.

Solid vs Engineered

There are generally two types of hardwood floors: Solid and engineered. While engineered floors were always used for specific purposes (over radiant heat, concrete, basements, etc.) today more and more manufacturers are only making their product in engineered form.

Solid wood floors have been used for centuries and will never loose their charm and warmth. Solid hardwood flooring starts as a solid piece of hardwood and is milled into wood planks that are generally ¾” thick. Next the tongue and groove are added and finished according to whether the flooring will be unfinished or pre-finished. Because solid hardwood floors are more susceptible to moisture than engineered wood floors, they are installed on the first or second floor of a house over approved wooden sub-floors and must be nailed, stapled, or glued down. High quality solid wood floors can be sanded and refinished several times lasting a century or more.

Because of the warmth and durability of hardwood floors, customers began to look for a product they could put throughout their home even in high moisture areas such as basements. This demand led to the advent of engineered hardwood flooring which because of its cross-ply construction reduces the expansion/contraction caused by humidity and allows these floors to be installed anywhere in the home.

Instead of being cut as a solid piece of wood, engineered hardwood floors have a “wear layer” of solid hardwood on the surface, then several thin sheets of wood (called plies) are laminated together using heat, pressure, and glue to form a substrate or base (sort of like plywood). By reversing each ply of the base it helps counteract the natural tendency of wood to expand and contract with different levels of moisture. This is why engineered wood floors are much more dimensionally stable than solid wood and why engineered wood floors can be used over concrete slabs as well as below grade in basements. They are also required over radiant heat.

Concerned about engineered flooring? Don´t be. Engineered hardwood floors can be sanded and refinished just like any other hardwood floor. However, they are more dimensionally stable allowing for use below grade, over concrete and with radiant heat.

Engineered floors are generally nailed, stapled-down, glued-down, or in some cases floated. Depending on the installation method, engineered floors can be installed over many different types of substrates. For example, the glue-down installation allows the flooring to be used over concrete slabs.

Engineered wood floors range in thickness from 1/4″ to 3/4″ and from 2 ” to over 12″ wide. The sides have a tongue and groove for securing the boards together.

Don´t mistake engineered hardwood floors for laminates, such as Pergo. Laminates are a compressed composite such as saw dust with a picture of hardwood laminated on top. Laminates cannot be refinished and are susceptible to moisture because they will swell and distort if exposed to water. Furthermore, laminates add no lasting value to a home because they cannot be sanded and refinished. Don´t believe us? Find a real estate ad listing a home for sale with “Pergo throughout” and lunch is on us.

Hand-scraped, distressed and reclaimed hardwood floors

If you love the look of hardwood floors with lots of warmth and beauty, then you may want to look at one of today´s new floors that are actually old floors.

Hand-scraped floors have become a popular choice among homeowners wanting hardwood with the look and feel of an old wood floor, but with today´s exacting manufacturing process and finishes. Back when life was simpler, craftsman would install unfinished hardwood floors and scrape them in place, finishing them after they were “scraped flat.” While they would always strive for perfection, these men would often leave subtle signs of their hard work. Today, with the advent of technology, these men have been replaced by large machines achieving perfection. But like many other things in life, people have now found that a true hand-scraped floor offers a look and feel that no machine can match.

A true hand-scraped floor is scraped by hand, not machine and it´s easy to tell them apart. Remember, these craftsmen tried to achieve a floor that was flat and smooth, not one that looks like corduroy. If it looks wavy, it is fake.

One of the benefits of a hand-scraped floor is its inherent ability to hide life´s little “oops”. Where other floors will show the damage from that can of stewed tomatoes that you dropped, often times dents and dings will simply add to the beauty of a hand-scraped floor.

Distressed hardwood flooring is slightly different from hand-scraped. While hand-scraped floors replicate a process used centuries ago, distressed floors replicate centuries of living on the floor. Distressed floors offer markings on the face of the board, giving it a beautiful, rich appearance also called patina. Again, these floors are masters at hiding today´s damage and making it look like yesterday´s life experiences.

Reclaimed floors are very popular today. There are two ways to make reclaimed floors:

  • From actual flooring that is taken up and made into new hardwood flooring
  • By turning reclaimed wood such as hand-scraped and distressed into hardwood flooring

Today, more and more people are reclaiming old flooring and timber in order to turn it into flooring that has that feel and warmth of having been lived upon by generations before us. Reclaimed floors bring in the mystery of who may have walked across the floor hundreds of years ago and brings out the beauty of hundreds of years of aging. Reclaimed floors capture a look and feel that is nearly impossible to capture in any other fashion.

Wire brushed finishes are also popular today. Just like the name says, the boards face is wire brushed after milling to add luster before being stained or finished. Both unique and durable these floors are the perfect complement for the urban loft or the comfy home.

Different ways to install hardwood flooring

Nail down installation

Typically used when installing solid wood floors. Cleats or nails are used with a wood flooring nailer and mallet to attach the flooring to the sub-floor.

Staple down installation

Staples are used instead of nailing cleats to secure the hardwood flooring to the wood sub-floor. A pneumatic staple gun is used to drive the staples into the tongue of the wood plank and into the wood sub-floor underneath. Beware, not all hardwood flooring manufacturers approve of staple down installation.

Glue down installation

As part of a glue down installation, the boards are glued directly onto the sub-floor, whether the sub-floor is concrete or wood. The recommended mastic or adhesive is spread onto the sub-floor using the proper-sized notched trowel and than the planks are set into the adhesive. Glue-down installation of engineered wood floors can be done over wood sub-floors and dry, fully cured concrete slabs.

Be sure to sure to use manufacturer´s recommended adhesive with the proper notched trowel when gluing down a wood floor. Not using the manufacturer´s recommended adhesive and trowel size will void any warranties.

Floating

Recently hardwood flooring manufacturers have introduced wood floors with a special glueless locking system, also called “Clic” floors. These floors can be installed over a variety of sub-floors such as wood, concrete slabs and even some types of existing floors. Floating floors can also be installed using wood glue applied to the tongue and groove of each plank to hold the planks together. In either case, padding is placed under the floor which acts to protect against moisture and noise. Some engineered floors and long-strip floors can be floated. This is a very fast, easy, and clean method of installation.

Is a hardwood floor durable enough for my busy lifestyle?

Absolutely!! Hardwood floors are one of the most durable floor coverings you can purchase. While carpet, vinyl and laminates will show wear and tear and have to be replaced after only a few years, hardwood floors will last a century or more. Need proof? Take a stroll through an historic home, church, or building built in the 1700 or 1800s. Many of them still have the same floor as when they were built.

Today´s hardwood floors are more durable and scratch resistant than ever before. Many manufacturers use seven or more coats of polyurethane and add Aluminum Oxide to the finish to make their floors even harder and more scratch resistant. This is not to say hardwood floors can´t be damaged, but unlike many other products hardwood floors can be repaired or refinished to bring back the original look and feel for the next generation.

Hardwood floors also have one additional benefit over any other floor covering: they can change with the times. Like many things in life, styles change with time. Our hairstyles, clothes, and even the styles and colors we chose for our homes. Don´t like the color of your hardwood floor? Maybe a little too dark? Have it refinished and change the floor with a different color stain or leave the woods natural beauty to shine through with a natural finish. Let´s see you try that with carpet or tile.

Hardwood floors in the kitchenbuffalo hardwood photos 134

Kitchens were once considered out-of-bounds for hardwood flooring. However, that is no longer the case. In fact, hardwood floors in the kitchen are now the norm, as opposed to the exception, because today´s finishes make hardwood floors an attractive choice that is easy to maintain and keep clean. Renowned kitchen designer Wayne Watson, from Auburn Watson, loves the warmth wood floors bring to his client´s homes. “Wood floors allow my clients to bring warm, rich color tones into their kitchen, while meeting their needs to have a durable, easy to take care of, and comfortable surface to work on while enjoying their kitchen.”

Today, over 90% of new homes built by Western New York´s finest homebuilders and serviced by Buffalo Hardwood Floor Center have hardwood floors in the kitchen.

Are allergies a concern?

Does someone in your home suffer from allergies? According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 50 million Americans suffer from allergies. Even more alarming, allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States. Children, in particular, are most vulnerable. Fortunately, in most cases, allergies can be controlled. How? By avoiding the triggers that cause them. Unfortunately, one of the largest causeses of allergies can be found right in our own homes. Dust, mold and animal dander can cause or trigger allergies for many Americans, and especially children. Many doctors today recommend getting rid of items in our homes that can trap allergens and cause reactions, such as carpets. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to replace your existing flooring with hardwood floors.

According to an EPA study, wood floors do not harbor allergens, microorganisms or harmful pesticides that can be tracked in from outdoors. In addition, dust, mold and animal dander contamination is minimal in homes with wood floors. Why? Because wood floors are simple and easy to maintain. Simply sweep or vacuum your hardwood floor regularly and you can reduce or eliminate most allergens such as dust, mold and pet dander.