Ralph's Blog

3 Fundamental Options for Hardwood Flooring

Posted on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 @ 16:08 PM

As you shop for hardwood floors to install in your new or existing home, you’ll discover quite a wide range of choices. You’ll certainly have no problem finding flooring that fits your taste.

As you consider these many choices, you’ll of course need to begin narrowing down toward your final selection. And one of the first decisions most people make is which of three basic types of hardwood flooring they will buy—the flooring structure (solid or engineered), customized finished onsite hardwood floors, or pre-finished flooring.

Custom Hardwood Flooring

This choice is for homeowners who want to specify every aspect of the flooring—species, grade, color, width, length, and finish. This control may be necessary to get exactly the look you’re after.

An important characteristic of customized hardwood floors is that they are finished onsite, a process that allows for the ultimate in customization. You choose the wood species, grade, width of planks, color, bevel or no bevel, and finish sheen.

Pre-finished Flooring

This type of flooring is finished before it’s shipped to your installer, so in a sense, you’re limited by a selection of pre-manufactured products. But there is nonetheless an extensive choice of all characteristics, including texture (e.g., distressed, bevel, wire brush). Although there are some low-quality pre-finished products on the market, “pre-finished” does not equate to “less classy.” It’s all a matter of taste, and homeowners have plenty of quality manufacturers of pre-finished products to select from.

Solid or Engineered

The structure of the flooring you choose is sometimes simply a personal choice, and other times the environment dictates which type is most appropriate for your home. If there are height issues with meeting up to existing flooring, an engineered floor is thinner, and an experienced installer can help you choose a quality product. In-floor heat or an environment where it is extremely difficult to control the humidity may also call for engineered flooring. In most situations, a solid flooring works very well. Both solid and engineered are available in customized site-finished and prefinished options.

Asian Walnut Hardwood Floor

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, because hardwood floors can be used in so many creative and exciting ways to express your taste and help define your home’s “personality.” Visit a showroom today and get started!

Tags: prefinished hardwood flooring, engineered hardwood flooring, about hardwood floors

Finish Off Your Hardwood Floors with Style

Posted on Fri, Aug 24, 2012 @ 16:08 PM

Have you ever heard the saying, “God is in the details”? The point is that a lack of attention to detail can hamper the best of plans.

That’s certainly true with custom hardwood flooring. It’s a shame to spend the money for beautiful hardwood floors and not to pay attention to the seemingly small details. As we’ve seen over and over again in our many years of wooden floors installation, those details do matter—they can make the difference between a good floor and a great floor.


In many cases, the custom hardwood flooring is being installed adjacent to a staircase. What a delightful opportunity to pull together the entire space with a staircase that complements the flooring!

Even when staircases aren’t in view beside the hardwood flooring, the use of complementary wood, stain, and finish can establish a pleasing continuity of design within the home.

We frequently custom install, stain, and finish hardwood treads to pair with our customers’ floors. In some cases, we can simply install hardwood tread overlays on top of the existing treads. We also can install and stain (or paint) wood risers to complete the design unity.

The effect of this harmonizing is quite pronounced—the floor design “swoops up” along the stairs, creating a sense of flow in the home.

Dorsch 2 Resized for blog















Gaps between your hardwood flooring and the base trim, as well as gaps between the floor and cabinets, can cause a flawed appearance. We suggest covering these gaps with wooden trim stained to match existing trim or cabinets.


Who wants metal HVAC vents in their gorgeous new floors? Talk about an eyesore.

The solution we recommend is to install wooden vents that are flush with the floor. The vents suddenly disappear! The floor is smooth and there’s nothing to distract from its beauty. The eye glides right over the vents.

Vent Flush Mount Resized

Our installers will custom-fit the vents and match them to the color of your custom hardwood flooring.


Getting the finishing touches right is vitally important in the appearance of custom hardwood flooring. Visit us in our showroom, give us a call, or contact us online to learn more about the many exciting design possibilities available within the “small” details.

Ralph's Essential Guide to Selecting the Perfect Hardwood Floor  

Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, custom hardwood flooring, finishes, stains & textures

Common Misconceptions About Engineered Hardwood Floors.

Posted on Thu, Aug 09, 2012 @ 13:08 PM

When selecting a wood floor, engineered floors may be a great option. Before you can make that determination, though, it's important to define what “engineered floor" actually means and to make sure you aren't under any misconceptions.

"Engineered" refers to the floor's structure.

When we refer to the structure of a floor, we are talking about its layers. For engineered  floors, this includes a hardwood layer that is adhered to a multi-layer plywood. Floors that are factory-finished are referred to as “prefinished engineered floors.” This is important because engineered floors are available in both prefinished and finished-on-site varieties.

A good-quality engineered floor is designed to look and feel exactly like solid hardwood flooring. However, because of its structure, it's designed to expand and contract less, making it a great choice in an unstable environment.

Quality Engineered versus Solid photo resized 600

Hardwood Floor Misconceptions

When it comes to engineered hardwood versus solid-plank hardwood, we hear a lot of misconceptions:

  1. Hardwood cannot be installed below grade. You can certainly install below grade as long as you use engineered hardwood. For example, check out this amazing floor.

    Engineered Reclaimed3 resized 600
    Reclaimed Engineered Floor
  2. You can't install hardwood over in-floor heat. You absolutely can as long as it is engineered.

  3. Engineered wood floors are “fake” and “cheap” compared to solid wood floors. For some of the very inexpensive engineered floors, this might be true. But a quality engineered floor will look and feel exactly like a high-quality solid hardwood floor.

  4. Engineered wood won't cup or gap. The plywood layers of engineered flooring help keep the floor from moving too much, thus minimizing cupping and gapping.That being said, there is no way to completely prevent hardwood from expanding and contracting as temperature and humidity change, and this fluctuation can cause any hardwood flooring to cup from too much moisture or gap from excessive dryness. 

  5. Wood floors can't be installed in existing homes because it is too thick. Engineered wood is usually thinner than solid flooring, so it can be installed in areas where a thicker solid wood simply will not work.

  6. Engineered floors always have that "hollow" sound. By gluing or nailing it down, depending on the surface it is installed over, you can avoid that "hollow" sound.

  7. Engineered floors can't be sanded and refinished. Quality engineered floors are designed to last a very long time and include a generous wear layer. If you ever need to refinish, it is possible.

  8. Solid hardwood is more expensive than engineered flooring. Despite the fact that solid wood has more actual wood in it, it's typically less expensive than quality engineered flooring. This is because the manufacturing process involved in producing good-quality engineered flooring is more labor-intensive.

When it comes to engineered hardwood, it really isn't a case of preferences but rather function and location. To make a fully informed choice about whether to select solid or engineered hardwood flooring, review the pros and cons of each option and then contact a knowledgeable professional to assist you in making your decision.

Ralph's is proud to provide both solid and engineered hardwood floor options for our customers.

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Tags: engineered hardwood flooring, about hardwood floors

Hardwood Floors Are Good for Your Health.

Posted on Wed, Aug 08, 2012 @ 14:08 PM

There are many reasons for choosing a hardwood floor, they look great and can last a lifetime. However, another important reason is they can provide a healthier environment.

indoor air pollution 1

To understand why finished wood floors can help keep you and your family healthier, consider the following five facts.

  1. Carpet traps germs and bacteria. Hardwood floors, on the other hand, can be easily disinfected utilizing cleaners safe for finished wood flooring.
  2. Dust mites love carpet. Some people think wall-to-wall carpeting is cozy, but it’s also cozy for dust mites. Carpeting provides an ideal home for these microscopic pests, and most carpeting harbors unhealthy levels of them. Dust mites are a problem because their body parts, discarded husks, and excrement pose a health risk. This is particularly true for people with asthma or allergies, especially in small children. 
  3. Hardwood floors—unlike carpeting—give dust mites no place to hide. Unlike other flooring choices, hardwood floors don’t have spaces where mold and bacteria can grow. Pollen, dander, and other allergens can be easily eliminated with regular cleaning.
  4. Prefinished floors do not offgas VOCs. Did you know, according to ecologycenter.org, carpet can continue to offgass for five years or longer? Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) cause some people to suffer asthma attacks, headaches, coughing, eye irritation, and fatigue. If you want to avoid VOCs, speak with your hardwood flooring professional about prefinished or low-VOC finished flooring. 
  5. Hardwood floors are the easiest floors to keep clean. Finished wood floors can be dust mopped regularly to keep them free of dust, hair, dander, and other particles that can trigger asthma or allergic reactions. Vacuuming or shampooing carpets cannot achieve this level of cleanliness (and wears out the carpet). When you dust mop, use a microfiber pad, which will electrostatically attract particles, keeping bacteria and alergens to a minimum.

The bottom line is that carpets hold dirt. You can clean them, but it’s much more difficult than cleaning hardwood floors, and not nearly as effective. This isn’t a minor issue. The dust mites, bacteria, germs, and other allergens that populate carpeting can lead to serious health problems.

Tags: the value of hardwood floors, why choose hardwood floors?

Is bamboo the greenest hardwood floor choice?

Posted on Wed, Aug 01, 2012 @ 09:08 AM

Bamboo flooring is an increasingly popular choice for homeowners who want to install finished wood floors.


Actually, bamboo isn’t wood—it’s a grass. Through manufacturing techniques, the grass has been sliced into reeds, bonded together with adhesive, and sawn into planks, which allows it to be used in place of real hardwood. Driving its recent upsurge in popularity is the perception—encouraged by bamboo flooring manufacturers—that bamboo is a more environmentally friendly option than actual hardwood.

But is bamboo really a “greener” selection than traditional finished wood flooring?

To answer this question, let’s look at three crucial elements that go into determining how eco-friendly a flooring product truly is.

1. Sustainability

The key point made by bamboo proponents is that bamboo grows back after five to seven years—as compared to the 70 or 80 years it takes for most hardwoods to reach harvesting size. The argument is that this faster regeneration is better for the environment.

But the hardwood industry does a great job of managing the sustainability of their hardwood resources, planting more trees than they harvest. In fact, there are more hardwood trees standing today than 100 years ago.

And the increased popularity of bamboo is actually leading to clear-cutting of forests in order to plant bamboo. In addition to the loss of environmentally important forest resources, this clear-cutting is problematic because bamboo plantations are often on hilly terrain, and the removal of the forest vegetation creates erosion problems before the newly planted bamboo can become established.

Bamboo growers also tend to overuse “non-green” insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.

2. The Milling Process

As mentioned, bamboo is a grass and the only way to utilize this material for flooring is to slice it into small pieces and glue it together. Adhesives used in this process can be environmentally harmful—particularly in countries where regulations may be somewhat lax, such as China, where much bamboo flooring is manufactured.

3. Transportation

Whereas hardwood can be sourced locally—as Ralph’s Hardwoods does with Wisconsin hardwoods—bamboo must travel great distances to finally arrive in North American homes. This transportation involves more harmful emissions and more depletion of natural resources than locally grown and manufactured finished wood flooring does.


By no means are we suggesting that bamboo flooring is never the right choice for homeowners. But rather than be influenced by questionable claims about “greenness,” the decision should be based on the factors that are used to evaluate all flooring options—personal taste, durability, and cost.

Photo by Clarity Jones. Available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

Tags: types of hardwood used in flooring, hardwood flooring trends

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