Ralph's Blog

The Basic Characteristics of Hardwood Floors: Stability

Posted on Thu, Jul 30, 2015 @ 15:07 PM

When the humidity fluctuates in a room, or an entire home, hardwood flooring will shrink or expand. As wood  loses moisture, it contracts. As it gains moisture, it expands.

The degree to which this occurs for a particular species of wood is known as “species dimensional stability." Red Oak, White Oak, and Ash are examples of woods with high stability. Maple, Hickory, and Cumaru are examples of less-stable species.

foggy_homeIt’s important to know the stability of the woods you’re considering—particularly if the flooring will be in a home that experiences wide swings in temperature or humidity.

Preventing Cupping and Gapping

The more stable a wood is, the less likely it is to cup (when the edges of a wood plank become higher than its center) or to gap (when spaces open up between planks).

Another factor in preventing cupping and gapping is the width of the flooring planks—narrower boards will show less movement than wider boards.

It's important to have the floors installed by professionals who understand how moisture will impact wood and who have the experience to make adjustments during installation to achieve optimal long-term results.

Manufacturers recommend bringing the wood into the house several days before installation to allow the floor to acclimate to the conditions of the home. We have a different approach at Ralph’s.

Acclimating within a home during the summer results in the floor taking on too much moisture, causing gapping for most of the year. Acclimating in winter results in the floor becoming too dry, causing cupping most of the year. The right approach is to acclimate the wood (before it’s brought into the home) to a moisture level between the high and low moisture levels the home will experience and/or to allow the floor to have extra room for growth.

Also, in the case of installations in homes under construction, the houses are often not being heated or cooled yet, so acclimating to those conditions is actually counterproductive. Even if the HVAC is already running, the concrete, plaster, and paint often raise the humidity level.

To ensure they are placing boards correctly, professional installers who truly understand wood will ensure that the boards are acclimated to the average living environment to which they will be exposed.


Prior to installation, a veteran installer will also address any problems related to the subfloor's moisture level, which should not be much more than that of the wood, Otherwise, the wood will excessively pick up moisture from the subfloor and the rest of the home. That's why we monitor the moisture level and won’t install until the conditions are right—and why we'll provide a dehumidifier to remove excess humidity prior to installation.

In cases where radiant floor heat is used or the installation is below ground, engineered wood is almost always the better choice because of its greater stability, and hardwood flooring specialists can help you make that determination.

Ralph’s is glad to offer our expert advice to help you select the right species for your home, environment, and lifestyle. Please give us a call (920-984-3383 or toll free 800-354-9902) or stop by our showroom.

Tags: engineered hardwood flooring, about hardwood floors, picking the right floor for your lifestyle

Getting Just the Look You Want: "Rustic Cabin"

Posted on Thu, Jul 23, 2015 @ 15:07 PM

Rustic antique oak hardwood flooring

In this installment of our series on using hardwood floors in popular interior design styles, we turn our attention to the warm comfort of the Rustic Cabin look.

Whether it’s a home in the mountains, by a lake, or deep in the woods, many people in relaxing natural settings want an interior design that’s equally relaxing and fits with the beauty outside. That desire has given rise to the popularity of the “Rustic Cabin” look.

This look is natural, casual, soft, and warm, inviting you to come in and put your feet up by the fireplace. Hardwood floors, with their inherently natural beauty, play a big part in creating that cozy atmosphere.

Rustic-grade hardwood has a “rugged” feel that’s perfect for a cabin-style home. You can add even more depth of character with hardwood that’s hand-scraped, wire-brushed, or distressed. This type of flooring really makes a home feel like a getaway.

Homeowners going for the Rustic Cabin look often have great success using hardwood walls, which can be just the thing to really create a “woodsy” cabin feel and can be used to great stylistic effect in combination with the floors. Exposed rafters in the ceiling, which are a common element of the Rustic Cabin style, can also be matched (or contrasted) with the flooring.

With a Rustic Cabin interior design, you can have a home worthy of the beauty of the great outdoors. Please stop by our showroom or give us a call to discuss how you can use hardwood floors to make that look happen.


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Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, special series: Getting Just the Look You Want, custom hardwood flooring, hardwood flooring trends, remodeling

Hardwood floors as interesting as the people who own them

Posted on Sat, Jul 18, 2015 @ 10:07 AM


We’ve done work for a lot of fascinating people during our 50 years in business.

Some of them grabbed my attention because of their jobs. We’ve put in new floors for professional football players, musicians, local TV celebrities, and prominent business executives—to name a few of the many intriguing occupations represented among our customers.

Others stand out in my mind because of their passions and creativity. One customer, for example, was a big-time nautical buff. He loved navigating the open seas and travelling around the world on boating adventures. I realized just how deep this passion ran when he told us he wanted hardwood floors with a nautical theme … with a rectangular “Old World” map made of hardwood in the center, accented by a hardwood border featuring ships, mermaids, and sea serpents!

As someone who loves surprising customers with how beautifully we can make their dream floors come to life, I immediately got excited. Ralph’s has always taken pride in being able to create floors as unique and interesting as our customers’ personalities, and here was a real test of how well we could do that. What he was asking for wasn’t easy, but I knew we were up to it.

Happily, the floor turned out better than even I had hoped. And there’s no question that no one else has a floor like it.

Another very unique floor that I’ll always remember was the dream of a couple who were in a “mixed marriage”—the wife was a Packers fan, the husband pulled for the Vikings! They were very funny, and had a pleasant sense of humor about their rivalry, but I could tell it was an important part of what made them the couple they were.

They also had other passions. The husband was captivated by all things to do with printing presses and their history. The wife was a horse lover and equestrian enthusiast.

This couple had a brilliant idea about how to express their personality as a couple, while not sacrificing their distinctly individual personalities—and I was thrilled to hear that hardwood floors were the basis of their plan.

They wanted what they called a “family crest” on their floor. One side of the floor would feature green and gold color for the Packers, along with in-laid horse imagery. The other side would have purple and gold color for the Vikings, with a printing press image.

It’s hard to be more unique than that! But I’m pleased to say it wasn’t too unique for Ralph’s. The job presented some unusual difficulties, but we were able to create the floor they wanted, and they now have a floor that’s so much “them” that it’s like a personal signature.

These examples are extremes, but the lesson behind them applies to everyone—don’t be afraid to think outside of the box when deciding on the right hardwood floors for your home. We all have fascinating aspects of our personality, and hardwood floors are a way to express those parts of ourselves.

 Ralph's 50th Anniversary Flooring Specials




Tags: stories

Getting Just the Look You Want: "Victorian"

Posted on Tue, Jul 14, 2015 @ 15:07 PM

Intricate hardwood floors help pull off the Victorian interior design style.Continuing with our series on using hardwood floors in interior design styles that are currently popular, we take a look at the time-tested Victorian style.

The Victorian Era (1837-1901) was a golden age of peace and prosperity for Britain, and it gave rise to a refined sense of style that’s still popular today.

Hardwood floors have always been an integral part of the Victorian look, which is built on elaborate ornamentation. In Queen Victoria’s time, a cutting-edge style was to install intricate parquet flooring as a border of several feet around an entire room, and then cover the center of the room with an elegant rug.

Hardwood floor borders are still widely used to create a Victorian look, and while borders can be beautiful without being parquet, the geometric details of parquet borders continue to appeal to many homeowners.

Ornately patterned rugs also remain a standard of the Victorian style, adding to the highly crafted feel of the look. Other creative ways to recall the ornateness of the Victorian era include having in-laid hardwood floor medallions installed and varying hardwood floor color to create visual stimulation.

The refined beauty of the Victorian Era isn’t a thing of the past. You can have it in your home, and it all starts with your floors. Please stop by our showroom or give us a call—we’re happy to discuss a Victorian look for your home.


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Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, special series: Getting Just the Look You Want, custom hardwood flooring, hardwood flooring trends, remodeling

The Basic Characteristics of Hardwood Floors: Grade

Posted on Thu, Jul 02, 2015 @ 15:07 PM


With hardwood flooring, “grade” refers to the amount of color variation visible in the hardwood planks, as well as other character marks, such as mineral streaks, knots, and worm holes.

Different hardwood floor manufacturers often use their own terms for the grades, but generally hardwood flooring falls into one of four categories: 

First Grade

Also known as “clear,” this grade has the least amount of variation and is relatively uniform in color and appearance.

Second Grade

Also known as “select,” hardwood in this grade has a mild to moderate amount of natural variation, such as mineral streaks, very small knots, and color changes.

Third Grade

Also known as “common” grade, this hardwood has the most variation. Common-grade hardwood makes a perfect choice for a more relaxed feel.

Rustic or Character Grade

In this grade (sometimes also called “glacier,” “eco,” “natural,” etc.), a substantial amount of color variation is usually found, as well as mineral streaks, larger knots, and worm holes.


Often, when people hear “first grade,” they assume it’s the best quality of wood, better than second grade and so on.  But that’s not how it works. The grades are not a reflection of quality; they merely describe the look of the wood. Which grade is best is a personal preference.


Tags: about hardwood floors

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