Hardwood Flooring 101
If you're thinking about installing hardwood floors, you’ll be happy to know that not only are they beautiful—something you’ve already figured out—but they’re one of the most practical decisions you can make. Think about it, good grade carpeting lasts 10–15 years maximum, while vinyl flooring lasts at most 20 years—and shows it’s age long before that. Hardwood flooring lasts the life of a house, and then some. It can be even given a “mid life kicker” by refinishing it, at minimal cost. It will be reborn as a beautiful new floor.
The Versatility of Hardwood Flooring
Hardwood isn’t only economically practical, it is also functionally practical. You can put it in living rooms, dining rooms, family rooms, and kitchens. In other words, it can go anywhere you want to be able to enjoy the beauty of wood flooring. In addition, hardwood can be installed directly onto concrete slabs, either on grade or above grade, and on conventional wood joist construction over a basement or a crawl space.
Are All Hardwoods the Same?
Definitely not. What we think of as hardwoods are primarily oak, ash, cherry, maple, and poplar that have grown in North America’s temperate climate. Oak, maple, and cherry are the most popular choices for flooring. There are also a number of imported "exotic hardwoods” available that use North American sounding names. But in reality, they are not true hardwoods. According to the American Hardwood Information Center, so-called "Tasmanian Oak" is not oak at all. It's eucalyptus from Down Under. "Brazilian Cherry" isn't cherry either, and "Malaysian Oak" actually is rubber wood from tropical rubber tree plantations. So if you are considering hardwood flooring, ask questions to be sure you are getting true American hardwood.
Is All American Hardwood the Same?
Aside from the obvious differences between species of hardwood in color and grain patterns, they are all equally strong and serviceable. There are grades of wood based on their appearance, going from clear, which has no eye catching blemishes; through select, which has some burls and markings; to common. The choice of grade is really one of aesthetics. Some people favor the totally clear look, while others prefer the more of the natural beauty of the wood, markings and all.
What About Finishes?
Hardwoods are finished in 1 of 2 ways, either surface finishes or penetrating finishes.
Polyurethane surface finishes form a protective layer on the flooring. They produce an extremely durable coating, which is moisture- and wear-resistant and suitable for use in any floor in the home.
Penetrating finishes do just what the name implies. They’re absorbed right into the floorboards and are then covered with a coat of floor wax. Penetrating finishes provide a good durable finish for any floor in the house, and they have the added benefit of being less costly to refinish—just remove the old wax and lay down a new coat.
Is One Finish Better Than the Other?
"Urethanes" are usually recommended for kitchens or other areas exposed to stains and spills. The downside to urethanes is once they wear through, they are more costly and time consuming to refinish than woods finished with penetrating stains. Refinishing urethane requires sanding down to bare wood, and then refinishing.
What About Prefinished Hardwood Flooring?
Just as the name implies, prefinished flooring comes from the factory already finished. Advantages are you’ll know exactly how your floor is going to look, and you can walk on it as soon as it is installed.
A disadvantage is both your sub floor and installation have to be perfect, because there’s no opportunity for sanding to erase any mistakes.
Is It Tough to Keep Hardwood Floors Looking Good?
No, it’s amazingly easy, just clean them. The single most important thing you can do to preserve the look of your floors is to keep them clean and dust free.
Regularly use a dust mop and vacuum cleaner to remove all traces of dust or dirt. Any grit on the floor acts just like sandpaper and grinds through the finish faster than years of walking. Also, be sure to keep your mop grit free, since a mop rubbing a piece of grit across the surface can make an awful gouge on that beautiful hardwood.
Is that it? Here are just a few more suggestions to keep hardwood floors in great shape.
- Use dirt-trapping walk off mats at entry doors to pick up any dirt or grit.
- Place area rugs in front of sinks, refrigerators, and other high foot traffic areas—like in front of the couch.
- Put felt pads on the legs of your furniture. If you have to move the furniture, lift it, don’t slide it.
- If you have shoes with deep treads, be sure they don’t have any stones trapped in the treads that will scratch or dent the floors.
- Remember, high heels can dent a hardwood floor.
A Floor to Last a Lifetime
Pick the color and grain you like, do the simple maintenance on a regular basis, and you will be able to enjoy your floors for as long as live in your home. Hardwood is truly your floor for a lifetime.
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Author: Murray Anderson