Admiring a new hardwood floor, you gaze at its natural beauty, alluring color, intricate graining and depth of shine. It’s so good to walk on wood—except you are not really walking on wood. The work surface that you tread is actually a clear finish that’s been formulated for toughness, sprayed on wood and baked to a hard-as-nails finish.
State-of-the-art factory finish clear urethane finishes are salted with aluminum oxide—microscopic metal crystals—to increase durability. Several coats are sprayed on and dried under ultraviolet lighting. The finish is about 10 times harder than is possible with a site-finished floor. With prefinished, you’ll also avoid the odorous off-gassing, labor and the time required for finishing a floor in place.
The moment after prefinished flooring is installed, it can be walked on. Instant gratification.
Conventional wisdom promotes solid wood flooring because it can be sanded and refinished repeatedly. Sounds impressive, but when was the last time you sanded and refinished a floor? Safe bet that the answer is, “Never, with no plans to start.”
Unless you plan on living in the same house for 10 to 15 years or more, engineered wood is usually a better answer. Engineered floors are constructed of 3 or more thin sheets or “plies” of wood cross laminated together to form a single stable plank. Each plank is made like a sandwich, with stable, low-cost woods providing the foundation and the prettiest, more costly showpiece woods as the top surface.
Most engineered flooring comes pre-finished and goes down with relative ease. Fix it in place with nails, staples or glue. It can even be installed as a “floating” floor, a very quick way to put a floor in place. Regardless of the method for holding it down, these floors offer the beauty of solid wood without the price. They are more likely to be replaced than refinished (though many can be sanded and re-coated)—emphasizing their use as a design element in your house rather than a feature you may feel you have to endure. Plus, because they are dimensionally stable, engineered wood, unlike solid wood, can be installed below grade.
Concern for the environment shapes the way we live, the laws we follow, and what we value. Hardwood flooring is a big part of this discussion for homeowners who want to play a part in preserving the world’s natural beauty.
The days of clear-cutting forests to produce lumber are fading as manufacturers turn to managed forests, tree farms, engineered flooring and different woods for the supply of raw material. If you want a hardwood exotic, you may wind up with a sustainable domestic species—probably oak—that has been finished to mimic the look of an exotic. Or you might choose bamboo or cork, which offer performance similar to hardwood, but without the need to cut down even a farmed tree. Instead, bamboo is a grass that regrows after it is cut. Cork is made from tree bark, which regenerates.
Concern for forests and the environment are making an impact on how wood flooring is produced. Governments, environmental groups and industry leaders are adopting certification programs and tracking systems to validate the sustainability of wood supplies.
For more information and choices please visit our “Thinking Green” page.
Hardwood flooring doesn’t have to be a sea of brown. Widely available finish colors include an amazing array of whites, browns, blacks, greys, and reds. Not enough? Purchase unfinished flooring and stain it with in any of a rainbow of colors.
Color choices allow floors to better serve interior style as a full partner. Why should colors be limited to walls? Colorful flooring, in turn, allows for rooms that authentically express the desires, style sense, personality and idiosyncrasies of the homeowner or designer.
This trend can be summed up as “I want it the way I want it.” You can certainly have it.
To some manufacturers, retailers, and even customers, value means getting flooring at the lowest price possible. But that misses the mark. You may save a few dollars on the purchase, but that will prove foolish savings if you are constantly spending on maintenance, repair and replacement over time.
Value is getting the highest quality product at the best price. To do that, look for manufacturers who are committed to product performance. Look for brand names from companies who aggressively improve their product and back their products with warranties. Real value comes at a cost—but so does buying strictly on price.