If you’re in the market for finished hardwood flooring, you have so many choices, it can be overwhelming. Solid planks or engineered wood flooring? Prefinished or sand on site? Domestic or exotic species?
It hasn’t always been this way. In fact, just a generation ago, solid plank flooring sanded and finished on site was essentially the only option for homeowners. Then in the 1990s, engineered and pre-finished alternatives entered the picture.
This variety makes it easier to find finished hardwood flooring that fits your taste, needs, and budget, but to navigate the multitude of options, you need to understand the fundamental differences between the choices. Here’s a brief primer.
Solid plank vs. Engineered
Despite the availability of alternatives, solid plank finished hardwood flooring is still the choice of many—and with good reason. It lasts longer than engineered hardwood because it can be re-sanded more times. It’s generally less expensive than good quality engineered wood flooring And with solid plank flooring, you know exactly what you’re getting, whereas with engineered wood flooring, you also have to consider the quality of the manufacturing process and the composite material that’s used below the top layer of genuine hardwood.
The quality of engineered flooring has come a long way, though. It’s not at all a matter of “solid plank is always better.” In fact, in many cases—such as in basements or high-moisture areas—engineered wood flooring is clearly the better choice because it is more stable. This stability also might appeal to you, even in areas where solid plank could just as easily be used.
You can find outstanding engineered wood floor products, particularly by consulting with a hardwood flooring company you trust, to help you evaluate the quality of the products you’re considering and recommend the best-performing engineered flooring.
Sand on Site vs. Prefinished
With both solid plank and engineered flooring, you can choose to have the flooring sanded on site, or you can buy flooring that’s been finished in the factory.
When done by an experienced, skilled hardwood floor installer, sanding on site—and then staining (if you want) and finishing—will provide a floor with more richness, depth, and character. And by sanding on site, you’re not limited to the finishes chosen by the manufacturer.
If you decide on prefinished hardwood flooring, it’s once again important to consult with a hardwood floor expert to find the best products on the market.
Domestic vs. Exotic
Today, there’s more availability of exotic wood flooring from other parts of the world than ever before, even as engineered hardwood. Exotic species provide a unique, luxurious look that appeals to many people. Some are also harder than any domestic species you’ll find. But the supply is still relatively limited compared to domestic hardwoods, and transportation also drives up the cost.
Point2Homes recently analyzed 300,000 real estate listings from 2012 to find out what words are most often used to describe homes for sale.
Not surprisingly, “beautiful” topped the list, but in the second spot was “hardwood floors.” That’s not surprising either—people love finished hardwood flooring, and it’s a great selling point. The fact that “hardwood floors” ranked second in Point2Homes’ list clearly shows that real estate agents have seen how much value home buyers place on hardwood flooring.
But hardwood floors’ contribution to a home’s value has many variables. Here are four to consider.
1. A lot of the value depends on where you live. For example, in areas where finished hardwood flooring is common, not having it could lower resale value. But in places where hardwood flooring isn’t expected, it might not add much value because home buyers looking in that area won’t (or can’t) pay extra for them.
2. A primary attraction of custom hardwood floors is that you can express your personality and taste. But if you chose an uncommon hardwood floor, you should realize that not all home buyers will share your taste, possibly increasing time on the market as you wait for just the right buyer to come along. On the other hand, a distinct floor can really pay off if you find a buyer who falls in love with that particular look and is willing to pay for it.
3. The value you get from your floors can’t always be quantified in the sales price. In many cases, finished hardwood flooring doesn’t make a home sell for more—but it does make it sell faster, which can have immense value.
4. Make sure you buy quality hardwood floors. Low-quality floors can go downhill to the point that the best option before a sale is complete replacement—and there goes your “investment.”
In some cases, the primary advantage of finished hardwood flooring in terms of home sales may be that you can sell your home faster, which is nothing to scoff at. But, although it’s not a given, you can most likely also offset some of the cost of hardwood floors when you sell your home.
Every hardwood floor creates a distinct feel. It might be cozy, casual, rustic, formal, elegant, dark, bright, or any number of other moods, but each floor has a character that sets the tone for a room.
Five elements will be crucial in determining the feel of your finished hardwood flooring.
Each species has a unique grain pattern. Some species have prominent patterns; others are more subtle. For a sleek, minimalist look, or for a formal room, less-prominent grain is often preferred, whereas bolder grain patterns create a more traditional, casual look.
You’ll also need to consider whether you can see pores within the grain (“open” grain) and how the boards are cut.
Each species also has a unique color. Light colors create a more open, breezy feel, while dark colors generally help “warm up” a room.
You also can decide to stain your hardwood floors to alter the natural color or accentuate it.
Hardwood floors can be wire-brushed, hand-scraped, or hand-distressed to add texture that helps create rustic, aged, and well-lived-in looks.
Hardwood is generally categorized as first, second, third, or rustic grade, but first grade isn’t necessarily the best—it just means it has the least color variation, knots, wormholes and other “defects.” Which grade is best depends on the look you’re after. If you want a natural look, irregularities in the wood are signs of character.
Finished hardwood flooring will reflect light, but how much (its “sheen”) depends on how it’s finished. There are various levels of sheen, ranging from high-gloss (very reflective) to low luster (the appearance of no finish at all). Typically, the more reflective a finish, the more formal floors appear.
Putting It All Together: Ralph’s Hardwood Floor Collections
We’ve been installing finished wood floors for almost half a century, giving us plenty of opportunity to learn firsthand which combinations of species, color, texture, grade, and sheen work best together to create certain moods.
Over the years, we’ve used this knowledge to develop a line of hardwood floor Collections. Each Collection consists of multiple hardwood floor choices, which we designed by matching each of the five elements above to achieve a specific look and mood.
If you’re after a particular feel, there’s a good chance we have a product in one of our Collections that was designed with that feel in mind.
Not sure of what you want? Looking over our Collections can help you see the possibilities.
When building a home with finished wood floors or installing them in an existing home, you have an abundance of choices. You can completely customized your hardwood flooring, by choosing the species, grade, width, color, texture, and sheen. A pre-finished floor may be exactly what you are looking for.
Custom Hardwood Flooring
This choice is for homeowners who want to specify every aspect of the flooring—species, grade, color, finish, and surface. This control may be necessary to get exactly the look you’re after.
This type of flooring is finished before it’s installed, but there is nonetheless a wide choice of species, color, width, grade, and finish (e.g., distressed, bevel, wire brush). There are also other pre-finished hardwood-like materials available, such as cork (made from the bark of the cork tree) and laminate. Pre-finished products don’t have to be the poorly made flooring you see in the big-box home-improvement stores; there are plenty of quality manufacturers to select from.
Have Fun and Get the Floor You Want
Whichever option you choose, the process of selecting the floor that best fits your home can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of building or renovating. Finished wood flooring can be used in so many creative and exciting ways to express your taste and help define your home’s “personality.” Visit our showroom and talk to the experts about how you can get the finished hardwood floors of your dreams.
In our two previous posts about how to compare hardwood flooring, we discussed the quality of various types of wood and how to have floors installed to reduce the likelihood of cupping, crowing, or gapping.
Knowledge is critical in choosing the right hardwood flooring for your home, but let’s face it—appearance is what drives our selection. Hardwood floors can be used in a myriad of beautiful ways to enhance a home’s interior design and to express the personality of a homeowner. That creative flexibility is what gets homeowners excited.
You may desire an elegant look, or you may be after something rustic. You might like the traditional look of hardwood floors, or you may want to make a bold statement. Hardwood floors can provide whatever appearance you seek.
Hardwood flooring offers such a wide range of options because there are so many variables that go into its appearance. As you decide on the appearance you want, you’ll can enjoy selecting the following:
- Species—Each species projects a different feel. For example, maple, with its light grain, is a popular choice among homeowners who desire a contemporary look. On the other hand, oak and ash, both of which have heavy, bold grain, are common choices for people who want a more casual appearance. Open grains tend to create a cozier feel, while closed grains are sleeker in appearance.
- Color—Another difference between species is color. You can choose to leave the color natural or to stain it. With staining, color can be adjusted in innumerable ways to help achieve the look you desire.
- Sheen—A glossy finish tends to project a more formal atmosphere; whereas the natural look of a satin finish will feel homier and disguises wear and tear better.
- Grades—Each species of wood is graded, from the clearest grade to the most rustic. The higher the grade, the more uniform the wood will be. The lower the grade, the more color variation you’ll see, as well as more knots, mineral streaks, and wormholes. Some people like the character of lower grades, so higher is not necessarily better—it all depends on your taste.
- Width—Wider planks, which are becoming increasingly popular, tend to create a more casual appearance, while narrow planks are more formal. Narrow planks also work to “lengthen” a room. Many homeowners choose to use random-width boards to create a less formal look.
- Length—Longer boards are generally used to create a sense of elegance, while shorter boards are the more casual choice. As with width, a mixture of board sizes is a frequent choice (in part due to lower cost), and unless the floors have beveled edges, will be almost unnoticeable.
- Sand on Site or Pre-Finished—With sand-on-site custom hardwood flooring, the stain and finish are applied after the sanding, so you can specify exactly the color and sheen you want. The beveled edge that is almost always seen on a pre-finished floor is absent in sand-on-site floors. If you prefer pre-finished flooring, there’s an abundance of quality pre-finished products on the market, including distressed and hand-scraped finishes. So you can most likely chose pre-finished flooring without sacrificing your aesthetic vision.
- Solid or Engineered—The decision to use engineered flooring is often driven by stability issues (as discussed on our last post), but there is an appearance factor as well. Engineered flooring typically is made with beveled edges to lessen the visibility of small differences in milling thickness and subfloor irregularities, and many people don’t like this look. On the other hand, some people love beveled edges. We’ll repeat our mantra—it’s all about your taste.
This concludes our three-part series on comparing hardwood floors. We hope you’ll visit us in our showroom to learn more about how you can select the floor of your dreams.
When building or renovating a home, selecting hardwood flooring is great fun—but it’s also a challenge. The diversity of options allows you to pick out exactly what you want, but the multitude of choices can be overwhelming.
To help in the process of deciding on the perfect floors for your home, we’ve found that it’s useful for homeowners to focus on three different aspects of finished hardwood floors—quality, function, and appearance. In this post, we’ll discuss quality, and our next two posts will explore function and appearance.
When referring to quality, we’re talking about all elements that make up quality, not just the finish. Also, choosing the right product for your application is extremely important. You can have the highest quality solid hardwood floor and if you put it in the wrong environment, it will most likely fail. Always consider the following in regards to quality. Is the wood species hard enough to live up to your lifestyle? Is the milling of the flooring such that the product fits together snugly and doesn't move around a lot? If engineered, look at the wear layer.
The harder the wood, the less likely it will dent, and there are significant differences in hardness among species. Even within a species, there can be variation. For example, the Northern oak we use is substantially harder than oak from the South.
The importance of hardness will largely depend on how the floor will be used. If it’s in a heavily traveled area, the ability to withstand wear becomes an especially attractive characteristic. Particularly if you anticipate your floors will be exposed to pets’ nails and children playing, or if the flooring will go in a kitchen, harder woods are usually a smart move. Although, having a wood species with a little texture in the surface can more than make up for a little difference in hardness. In an area that is going to take some abuse, I would recommend a white oak with a little texture on the surface over a smooth-grain species like maple. Although the maple is harder, the dents will show up a lot more due to its smoothness.
But harder wood isn’t always the right choice. If you are absolutely in love with the way a particular wood looks but it’s not one of the harder woods, don’t automatically write it off. Like all aspects of finished hardwood flooring, your choice will depend on your personal taste and situation.
There’s also cost to consider. Although not always the case, harder woods (especially exotic hardwoods) are typically more expensive. But as you compare price, remember that the harder the wood, the longer you can probably go without re-sanding it.
Wood that is milled precisely will fit together just right, while wood that has been milled according to less-stringent specifications often ends up showing irregularities. Unfortunately, raw wood from the United States is often shipped overseas (e.g., China) where it is milled with less quality control than if it had been milled here. It’s shipped back to the U.S. and sold at a lesser cost than properly milled wood. But as the adage goes, you get what you pay for.
Most 3/4" thick solid hardwood flooring material has a wear layer of approximately 1/4". This means you can refinish this floor about five times before sanding through its wear layer. Engineered floors very significantly, from being able to sand and finish them about four times to not at all. Make sure the floor you choose has a thick enough wear layer that it can be resanded and finished in the future if necessary?
In our next post, we will turn our attention to “function”—the ability of hardwood floors to resist cupping, crowning, and gapping.
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Many customers who come into our hardwood floors showroom ask about acclimating hardwood flooring to their home. They’ve done some research and have read that it’s important to put wood into a home a few days before installation, so it can acclimate (contract or expand) to the temperature and humidity level of the home.
The theory is that, once acclimated to the home’s conditions, the wood should have most of the expanding or contracting “out of its system,” making for a more-stable floor less likely to cup, crown, buckle, or gap.
We agree that acclimation to a home’s environment can be important, but it’s not the only factor related to wood stability that must be considered during wood floor installation.
Acclimating to the Real Conditions
Oftentimes hardwood floor installation in new construction can be tricky. There tends to be a good deal of moisture due to foundation curing, moisture picked up before the home was fully enclosed, plastering, painting, etc. This requires careful monitoring of conditions, and advising our contractors on acceptable moisture levels and sometimes assisting them to reach approppriate levels to keep the project on schedule. Getting the HVAC running as soon as possible and sometimes even bringing in commercial-grade dehumidifiers is necessary. It stands to reason that acclimating wood in such wet conditions would be a very bad idea.
Installation techniques can be altered to offset humidity levels to some extent. Subfloor and material moisture is checked prior to each installation and if necessary the installation method is adjusted.
Once a home is occupied, temperature and humidity still vary according to the season. Most people keep it a little warmer inside during the summer and a little cooler in the winter to save on their energy bills. That means that in the summer it’s a little more humid also, because the hotter the air is, the more moisture it can hold. Therefore, more moisture is transferred to the wood, causing it to expand. The opposite happens in winter.
When we install hardwood floors, we always take into account the season. Winter installs are adjusted to leave room for some expansion as the weather warms—or vice versa in the summer. The real conditions in the home—and how those conditions will affect the wood—can’t be determined without factoring in seasonal changes.
Making the Right Adjustments
In his free e-book, Dispelling the Myths of Hardwood Flooring, our owner Rod Lorenz tells the story of learning this lesson about seasonal considerations from his father, Ralph, who founded Ralph’s Hardwood Floors. Ralph was installing a wood floor for a gym, and he determined that the wood was too dry and that gaps needed to be left. Several people came to look at the floor right after installation, many of whom were employed by a local hardwood flooring mill so they were very familiar with wood. They were upset about how ugly the floor looked after installation.
But they didn’t know wood as well as Ralph did. A month later, as the wood warmed and picked up moisture, the floor was beautifully perfect. All the gaps had disappeared.
It takes such an understanding of the stability of each type of hardwood—combined with knowledge of how seasonal changes will affect the wood—to properly install wood floors. Rod learned this skill from his father and has passed it on to each of our installers.
And because most of our customers are in Wisconsin (and we live here, too!) we are intimately familiar with the weather patterns that affect our clients. We know just how much of an allowance for the seasons to make.
We take great pride in satisfying our customers with beautiful, correctly installed hardwood floors. But that wouldn’t be possible without the hardwood-stability expertise we’ve picked up through the years.
One of the major custom hardwood flooring trends we’re seeing is the growing popularity of exotic hardwoods. Trees from all over the world can be used for hardwood floors, and many homeowners love the uncommonness and natural beauty of exotic species.
Because of their rarity, exotic woods are an excellent way to achieve the distinction and uniqueness that homeowners are looking for in custom hardwood flooring. Trees from other countries can vary dramatically from those we’re used to in the U.S. Brazilian or Asian walnut will look quite different than American walnut grown here.
And because of the rich variety of woods available—with their wide selection of colors and grain patterns—exotic woods can greatly expand your interior design options, such as allowing you to "tie in" your flooring with furniture, bookshelves, walls, or windows.
At Ralph’s, the most-popular exotic hardwoods among our customers include Asian Walnut, Brazilian Walnut, Spotted Gum, Cumaru, Santos Mahogany, Brazilian Cherry, and Amendoim.
If you’re intrigued by the possibilities opened up by using exotic wood, you probably have some questions about it. Here are three facts about exotic hardwoods that we hope will answer a few of them.
1. Many exotic woods are extremely hard.
The hardness of hardwood is measured on the Janka scale, and exotic hardwoods dominate the top of the Janka ratings. For example, Brazilian Cherry—perhaps the most popular exotic wood—has a rating of 2350, compared to only 1450 for Hard Maple and 995 for regular Cherry. And many exotic woods rank higher than Brazilian Cherry.
Hardness is particularly important if you expect your floors to see rough use. Pets, children, or having the floors in a heavy traffic area are all good reasons to consider hardness an important factor.
2. Exotic hardwood is available in solid, engineered, prefinished, and finished on site products.
Most options available with traditional hardwood flooring are also available with exotic woods. It comes in different sheens, widths, and lengths.
3. Responsible harvesters replenish what they cut.
Some may be concerned about the environmental harm that could come from harvesting exotic species for use as flooring. But, by and large, the industry is diligent about replanting. At Ralph’s, we work only with suppliers that practice sustainable forest management.
We’d be glad to talk with you more about how you can stylishly use exotic wood in your home. There’s a whole world of possibilities.
Is the cost of installing or restoring hardwood floors matched by a corresponding increase in a home’s resale value?
That’s obviously a vital question for homeowners who are considering new hardwood floors, especially in anticipation of putting their home on the market. If the existing flooring isn’t hardwood, then wooden floors installation to replace the old flooring stands a great chance of elevating resale value.
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer. A multitude of variables can influence how hardwood flooring affects resale value, including these four common factors:
1. The type and condition of the existing floor (in cases of restoration).
If the floor is hardwood and in pretty good shape, but you re-sand and change the color to achieve a new look, the resale value gained will depend on the buyer.
If an existing hardwood floor is looks dull and worn, and you recoat or resand and finish it, then you’re adding some real value beyond aesthetic taste. An appraiser may recognize this value by rating the overall condition of the home as very good versus fair. A potential buyer, on the other hand, almost certainly will see the value of a new-looking floor versus one that will take significant resources (time and money) to rennovate.
2. The location of the home.
If you live or are building in an area where hardwood floors are common and expected, to not have them—or to have them in poor condition—could lower resale value. Therefore, installing, re-sanding, or simply refinishing can have a significant positive effect on a home's sales price.
On the other hand, wood floor installation or restoration in a neighborhood or region in which hardwood floors aren’t common isn't likely to result in a higher resale price because of the low demand for them.
3. The type of home.
If you install or restore hardwood floors in a low-price home, buyers probably aren’t going to pay extra for them because they can’t afford to.
Likewise, if you install expensive custom hardwood flooring in a mid-priced home, potential buyers may want hardwood floors but won’t be willing to pay extra for high-end or exotic hardwood.
In general, the most-positive effects on resale value occur when the level of extravagance is matched to that of the home.
4. Where the floors are in the home.
Because so many people suffer from allergies, hardwood floors in bedrooms can be a huge selling feature. Hardwood floors in the kitchen, because they are so easy to clean, are also highly desireable.
Value Beyond Resale
Keep in mind that resale value is by no means the only potential benefit of wood floor installation or restoration. There’s the likelihood that you’ll sell your home faster, even if it’s not for more. And of course—if you’re not selling right away—there’s the value of the sheer enjoyment you’ll get from having the hardwood floors you've always wanted.
Remember how great your finished wood floors looked when they were new? Take a good look at them now. Do they still look as beautiful? Or have they become dull and scratched?
You may not have even noticed this wear and tear because it happened gradually and you see the floors every day. But people who visit your home will notice. It’s the same phenomenon that occurs when you haven't seen a niece or nephew for some time—people who see them every day may only be vaguely aware of how much they have changed, but to someone who hasn’t seen them in a while, the change is dramatic.
And worn-looking hardwood flooring isn’t just an aesthetic problem—it’s a sign that the finish is wearing off. If the finish gets too thin, water can turn the floor grey, and the wood is highly susceptible to other damage.
So what can you do to restore your finished hardwood flooring to its previous splendor and provide the necessary protection for the wood? Will hardwood floor sanding be necessary?
When Refinishing Is the Answer
There are cases when a worn floor will need to be re-sanded, or even replaced if there’s not a thick enough layer of wood to allow for sanding. But often you can restore the beauty and protection to your floors by simply recoating them, which is of course the less-expensive option.
If you think you can get by with recoating, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the floor have deep scratches, gouges, or areas of water damage in it? If so, hardwood floor sanding is called for. Recoating can’t fix or hide those problems.
- Have you cleaned your floor properly? Finished hardwood flooring should be cleaned with an approved cleaning product specifically designed for finished hardwood floors. If you’ve used oil soaps or furniture polish on your floor, the new finish can wrinkle or separate, so re-coating will not work and re-sanding is necessary.
- Do you want to change the color of your finished hardwood floors? To change the color of the stain, you’ll have to re-sand. That said, you can affect the appearance by recoating only. The finish determines the sheen—gloss, semi-gloss, satin, or matte— and tints in the finish can modify the color.
Of course, there are other considerations in deciding how to reinvigorate your finished hardwood floors. We’ll be glad to schedule an inspection to discuss your situation and determine whether recoating without sanding will do the trick.