Real wood floors offer a rich, warm feeling to any home. They also add value to the home. You can choose from a square edge natural maple for a contemporary feel or a hand-scraped hickory for a more rustic look. As each species has its own unique characteristics, take your time looking at a variety of samples to determine which one is most appealing to you. Do you prefer a wood with knots and mineral streaks or one that is more “clean” looking? Maybe the uniqueness of an exotic species intrigues you. And don’t forget, if you are concerned about environmental issues with wood flooring, don’t be. Almost all of the wood that is sourced in the US and many species harvested overseas is now harvested in accordance with the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC is the “guard dog” of the world’s forests. Every wood product that is certified by the FSC must meet stringent guidelines that preserves biological diversity and benefits the lives of local people and workers, while ensuring that it sustains economic┬áviability.

Solid and Engineered

Wood floors are available either solid or engineered. Which type you choose will depend on the location of the flooring in your home and the type of subfloor that you have. Solid wood floors are just like the name implies – each piece is a solid piece of wood all the way through. Advantages to solid wood are that your floor can be customized with a variety of species, stains, medallions and borders, and you can sand and refinish the thick wear layer several times. Solid wood floors require a wood subfloor for a nail down installation and because they are more susceptible to moisture than engineered, they should not be installed below the ground level (Below grade).

Engineered wood floors are 3-7 thinner layers of wood bonded together with an alternating ply direction. The top layer is a hardwood veneer of the species you have chosen. Advantages to engineered wood flooring are that because it is more dimensionally stable, it adapts more easily to varying degrees of temperature and humidity (less cupping or warping of the boards), they can be installed below, at, or above grade, and finishes are factory applied where conditions are more stable. Engineered wood floors are installed over wood or concrete subfloors and sometimes over an existing floor. They are available in glue down, staple down and floating floor options.

Finishes and Finishing

Most popular now are urethane and aluminum oxide finishes. With urethane, there are multiple coats applied with a clear appearance. Aluminum oxide is the fourth hardest known substance and therefore a long wear warranty is typically provided with this finish. At this time, Aluminum Oxide finishes are only available on pre-finished products.. For the original wood floor finish look, wax is still available, but is not as popular as it once was – maybe it’s because of the continued maintenance that doesn’t fit our busy lifestyles. For commercial applications, an acrylic impregnated finish is a low maintenance option.

There are two places to have your wood floor finished – on the jobsite or at the factory. If done on the jobsite, the floor will need to be acclimated, installed, sanded, and then finished. Acclimation can take as long as two months and the installation, sanding and finishing is typically 1 to 2 weeks depending on the size of the job. The benefit to job-site finishing is that you have a limitless number of colors and stains to choose from, your floor can be sanded perfectly smooth, and you can create additional beauty with medallions, borders, and different patterns. A factory finish is one that has been prefinished before making it to your home. Installation is usually a week or less and the finish is factory controlled and therefore usually superior. Although you will have limited colors and styles with a prefinished floor and it may not turn out perfectly smooth, there are many selections to choose from now. Prefinished floors can be walked on as soon as the floor is installed. Job-site finished floors will need up to 72 hours depending on type of finish before they can be walked on or furniture is put back.

Sizes, Edges, Styles

Real wood flooring is available in strip (typically 1 1/4 – 2 1/4″ in width), plank (typically 3 – 8″ in width), and parquet (a patterned floor in many shapes and sizes).

There are also different edge options available. An eased edge offers a slight bevel between the strips of wood. These grooves are often referred to as dirt control channels because they give the dirt somewhere to go other than on top of your floor. A square edge is flat and smooth across the surface.

No matter what you are looking for, there is a real wood floor style for you. There are traditional Oak, Maple, and Hickory floors as well as more unique species such as Walnut, Birch, Acacia and many more. Most all of these species and many others can be found distressed or hand scraped. If you have not seen these yet, take a look. An old and worn appearance is obtained by using chains, torches, ice picks, scrapers, hammers, etc. You might also check out the exotic hardwoods such as Brazilian Cherry, Tiger wood or Santos Mahogany. They all have interesting and unique personalities and one is sure to complement your home perfectly.

Exotics and “Green” Products

With the current understanding of forestry management, the popularity of exotic hardwoods has been growing during the past decade. Exotics are from overseas – Brazilian Cherry, Australian Cypress, Teak, Merbau, and many others. These naturally colored floors can be quite beautiful and dramatic and are generally harder and more durable. As the color will naturally deepen with time, be open to your flooring varying somewhat from the sample you selected.

The term “Green” refers to products that are considered environmentally friendly. They are typically harvested sustainably and carry the FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) certification or they are products that can be quickly replenished such as cork and bamboo. Cork is actually the bark from a cork oak tree that is mostly found in coastal regions in Portugal and Spain. The trees can be re-harvested every 9-11 years and have a life expectancy of 100-150 years. As well as providing your home with an unusual look, cork is cushiony and quite resilient, antimicrobial, and even contains a natural insect repellent! The selection process can be quite fun with all of the looks to choose from.

Bamboo is also a product that is regenerated fairly quickly. It is actually a grass that is grown in China and takes 4-6 years to reach maturity for harvesting. On average, bamboo is harder than red oak. Like cork, bamboo is available in a variety of stains. To have a positive influence on our environment, consider these two renewable resources for your home.

Purchasing Your Wood Floor

Now that you have selected your amazing real wood floor, it’s time to make the purchase. Whether the purchase is made by you or your builder or installer, you will probably want to know what is being purchased and why. The wood itself will be purchased by the square footage amount needed to cover plus a waste factor of 5-10%. The waste factor is dependent upon factors such as width of plank, layout of the floor and location (more angles, more waste). Depending on the type of installation and finishing method, there will be items needed such as glue, visqueen, stain, etc. Good items to have on hand after your floor is installed is a touch up kit and the manufacturer recommended cleaners. And lastly, you will need transition pieces or moldings. Do not expect them to match your floor perfectly. They will blend nicely, but the shade will vary due mostly to shade and grain variation in wood.