Your floor is one of the largest surfaces in your home but with so many choices it’s hard to know what to choose. Let us help you choose the best flooring option for your lifestyle and budget. In this post, we’ll give you a rundown on the wood and laminate options. In next post, we’ll tackle carpeting, vinyl and linoleum, then finish in a third with tile and stone.
Wood flooring can be adapted to any style: a distressed surface and wide planks work for cottage or industrial style, detailed parquet suits a traditional look, while glossy strips favor the contemporary look.
How and Where to Use It
With it’s warm beauty, timeless character, and durability, wood looks wonderful in any room, but it really shines in living rooms, dining rooms, and dens where it provides a rich background for area rugs and furnishings.
Traditional solid hardwood floors are comprised of a single piece of wood with tongue and groove sides. Most come unfinished, but there are many pre-finished 3/4″ solid hardwood floors.
This type of wood flooring is very sensitive to moisture. As a result, the solid planks are typically nailed down over a wood type sub-floor and not recommended for use directly over a concrete slab or below ground level (such as a floodable basement).
What’s great about solid wood floors is that they can be refinished and recoated multiple times throughout their lifespan — which can be decades or longer.
Installing hardwood floors is an art. Go with a professional who can guarantee a beautiful, efficient and correct installation.
Engineered wood flooring has become an extremely popular hardwood flooring type. Mainly because it can be used in many areas of the home where solid hardwood is not recommended.
Engineered wood floors are constructed of 3 or more thin sheets (called plies) of wood that are laminated together to form a single plank. The plies are usually laid in opposite directions (called cross-ply construction) to each other during the manufacturing process. This “cross-ply” type of construction creates a hardwood floor that is dimensionally stable and not affected by changes in moisture and temperature variations like traditional 3/4″ solid wood floors.
Finish in Place
The term “finish in place” refers to having unfinished hardwood installed, sanded, stained and then finished with 2-3 coats of urethane right there in your home. Finishing in place can take a lot more time than installing pre-finished boards but the result is a level of customization and uniqueness that can’t be found on any store shelf.
Floating Floor Installation
With this method of installation, hardwood floors are not mechanically fastened to any part of the subfloor. Instead, a thin pad is placed between the wood and the subfloor and a recommended wood glue is applied in the tongue and groove of each plank. This technique protects against moisture, reduces noise, feels softer and provides for some additional “R” value. Some engineered floors and all longstrip floors can be floated.
Each species of wood has its own unique texture, color and graining, determined by the way it was cut.
Janka Hardness Test
The standard test for determining a wood’s hardness rating in which the force required to embed a .444 inch steel ball to half its diameter in a piece of wood is measured. The higher the number, the harder the wood. Only used as a general guideline.
One of the three common types of hardwood floor (the others are Solid and Engineered). Similar to Engineered floors in that multiple layers or plies are glued together on top of a center core that is typically a softer wood material that is also used to make the tongue and groove. The result is a board that appears to be 3 rows wide and several planks long. Comes in a wide variety of domestic and exotic hardwood species. Easy to replace if damaged.
A plank is a length of wood that is three to six inches wide.
Pre-finished hardwood floors come already sanded, screened and stained from highly efficient manufacturing plants. Multiple coats of urethane are sprayed on the hardwood boards, which are then UV dried to create a lasting finish.
Each species of hardwood comes with its own unique characteristics. Color is determined by the species and from which part of the tree the wood is cut. Grain pattern is determined by the species and how the wood is cut. Natural variations in the color and grain are to be expected.
Strips are lengths of wood that are one and one-half to three inches wide.
The “cost per square foot” of your hardwood floor is just one aspect of the entire price tag of a new hardwood floor. Ask your retailer to calculate the total cost of your floor covering project. Some of the things that may be included in the equation are furniture removal/replacement, removal of old flooring, subfloor preparation, delivery of product, and installation and materials.
Care and Cleaning
Don’t use a wax on a wood floor with a urethane finish.
Do use cleaners that won’t leave a film or residue.
Don’t use ammonia cleaners or oil soaps on a wood floor — they’ll dull the finish and affect your ability to recoat later.
Don’t wet mop or use excessive water to clean your floor.
To avoid permanent marks and scratches, it’s a good idea to cover furniture and table legs with flannel protectors. Be careful when moving heavy objects across your floor to avoid scuffing.
Likewise, trim your pet’s nails regularly and keep any and all other sharp objects away from your wood floors. Also, pet water and food bowls should not be placed directly onto a hardwood floor.
Stiletto heels may be fashionable, but what’s not in fashion (or covered by your warranty) are the dents and dings they may cause to wood floors.
What the Pros say:
Wood is a natural product that expands and contracts unevenly with changes in moisture and temperature. The result can be hairline cracks and/or minor variations in height or width. If you live in a wet climate, make sure your home is well insulated. If you live in a dry climate, consider the use of a whole house humidifier to minimize the effects of weather.
All hardwood floors will fade or change shades over time. Exposure to sunlight greatly accelerates this process. We recommend window treatments, as well as rotating area rugs and furniture regularly, to allow floors to age evenly from UV exposure.
Laminate flooring is the ideal choice for the do-it-yourselfer with its good looks and ease of installation. The product comes in planks or squares that fit together with tongue-and-groove edges. It’s a convincing and affordable copycat that mimics wood, tile, brick, or stone and offers a durable surface that cleans up easily.
How and Where to Use It
Laminate flooring is a multi-layer synthetic flooring product fused together using a lamination process. A photographic applique layer that accurately simulates wood, stone, or ceramic is covered with a clear protective layer. The interior layer is typically composed of melamine resin and fiberboard materials.
Use laminate in the same spaces you would employ the materials that it imitates. Since it resists moisture and fading, it can be installed in areas where wood might not fare as well, such as below-grade rooms, laundries, and basements. Laminate can be installed over most level existing flooring. A thin underlayment cushions the product. Unlike wood, laminate cannot be refinished.
The adaptation of laminate flooring to its installation environment.
The bottom layer of laminate flooring is a melamine plastic layer that lends dimensional stability to the planks and helps guard against moisture from below.
End Molding/Carpet Reducer
Used as a transition from a laminate floor to a different flooring surface when a reducer strip doesn’t allow enough height, such as with high-pile carpet or thick laminate tile.
Trim pieces that cover the spaces where laminate flooring is permitted to expand and move naturally atop a subfloor. Also assist with the transition to an adjacent floor covering. Often slightly larger than their wood or laminate tile counterparts.
A laminate’s quality is partially dependent on the photography and number of photos used to achieve a “realistic” appearance. The more screens used, the more variation it can offer and the more “authentic” the laminate appears.
The junction where laminate panels connect.
A material used between laminate flooring and a subfloor that acts as a sound and moisture barrier and also allows the floor to expand and contract with temperature change.
The durable top layer of laminate flooring that provides protection and stain resistance. Many contain aluminum oxide, as well as melamine resin, which results in outstanding durability.
There isn’t a whole lot of price difference between laminates types. A dark hardwood laminate may cost just about the same as a marble laminate. The reason is that the manufacturing process is basically the same, regardless of style, color or type. It’s a photograph that provides the decorative surface.
What does increase cost is the addition of texture to a laminate, as well as more natural looking surfaces that require a greater number of screens. Laminates can cost less than $2 per square foot or over $18 per square foot. These higher-end laminates may cost more, but they’re also more durable and often come with longer warranties.
Care and Cleaning
Dust and dirt act as an abrasive on a laminate’s surface and seriously dull its appearance. This fact of life can be avoided by regular sweeping, dust mopping or vacuuming to remove loose dirt and grime. Either a broom or a vacuum cleaner without a beater bar will do the trick. Vacuum cleaner attachments are useful to capture dust and dirt between planks or along edges.
Do use glides or floor protectors on the bottom of furniture to prevent scratching or abrasion.
Don’t use soap-based detergents or “mop-and-shine” products.
Do lift heavy furniture instead of dragging or pulling it to avoid scratching and abrasion.
Don’t use abrasive cleaners, steel wool or scouring powder.
Do use carpet fragments face down under heavy objects when moving them across a laminate floor.
Don’t flood your floor with water or cleaner.
What the Pros Say
The most important component of laminate is the underlayment. Like a carpet cushion, this is the soft subfloor that acts as a moisture barrier, absorbs sound and keeps the floating floor in place.
Some newer underlayments feature antimicrobial properties to keep mold from growing, should it ever get wet under there. Some laminates come pre-attached to an underlayment padding.
There’s always the possibility that doors, especially closet, basement and bedroom doors, may not clear your new laminate floors. You may need to shave or cut your doors down after installation.
Thanks to the World Floor Covering Association for their valuable assistance and input; wfca.org.
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