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Hardwood flooring is one of the best options out there, and it's tough to make a decent pros and cons list, because there just aren't many cons. Unlike some of the new manmade flooring materials on the market, hardwoods have been proven by the test of time. There are homes that are more than a century home with original hardwood flooring that still looks fabulous. Sure, they'll need to be refinished now and then, but few materials have the proven track record of natural wood.
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Hardwood floors are durable and easy to clean. They look beautiful, offering a warm and natural effect. They match homes of all ages and styles. Hardwood floors increase the value of a home. They're particularly suitable for living rooms, dens, hallways, and stairs.
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Hardwoods can be noisy if they're not sound insulated. They can be drafty and dusty if placed directly onto joists. Hardwood flooring does require periodic maintenance, and it can be scratched (think pet claws) and dented.
Wood isn't the best choice in rooms that are likely to get wet frequently, like a bathroom or foyer.
Hardwood Flooring, Laminate, or Carpeting?
You'd have a hard time finding a homeowner who doesn't want hardwood floors. Everybody's talking about its resurgence as the floor of choice (well, everybody in the housing business). Wall-to-wall carpeting is out, and hardwood floors are in. But are they worth the price? Or should you save money and go with laminate or carpeting? Let's face it: at $8-$10 per square foot (installed), wood flooring is more expensive than carpeting or the
increasingly common laminates that look similar to wood. If you're on the line and can't decide whether to install new hardwood floors (or maybe tear up your old carpeting to refinish the wood underneath), the following list might help. We're going to take a look at some of the benefits of hardwoods (AKA why they're still the most popular choice): 1. Longevity Thanks to today's durable finishes that are easy to maintain, solid-wood floors can last for a hundred years or more. There are very few residential flooring materials that have been around this long. Over the centuries, wood has shown itself to be a lovely and durable floor choice. Other newer materials have yet to prove themselves. 2. Coziness and Warmth Not only are hardwood floors more pleasant to walk on than laminate (which always feel cold and a little "fake" underfoot), but it is naturally warm. Wood acts as an excellent insulator, thanks to its thousands of tiny air chambers per cubic inch, which work to naturally hold in heat. 3. Hardwood is Hypoallergenic Got allergies? Unlike carpets (AKA breeding grounds for mold, mildew, and dust mites), wood floors don't give pollen, animal dander, mold, etc. any place to hide and thrive. Even when you professionally clean carpets, it's impossible to get them entirely clean. In fact, getting them wet just makes things worse. Hardwood flooring is an excellent choice for anyone with any kind of environmental allergy. (And it makes good sense for everyone else too--who wants to lie down on a floor that's hiding mold?) 4. Easy to Clean With the occasional sweep and mop, your hardwood floors will look nice for a long time to come. Even families with dogs and kids are realizing that it's easier to mop a hardwood floor than try to spray/scrub/wash grape Kool-Aid out of a stained carpet. Another perk is that a scratch here or a gouge there just adds character to wood floors (but, hey, you can always have them refinished if you prefer perfection). 5. Hardwood Floors Increase Home Value Unless you're going to live in the same house for the rest of your life, you should think about how the flooring choices you make today will affect the price you can get for your home tomorrow. Carpet will look worn and used in just a few years, whereas wood floors last a long time and add value to a home. Even laminate flooring, which looks like wood flooring, is a distant second choice for homebuyers. It just doesn't have the same warmth and feel of real wood. These are just a few of the benefits of hardwood floors. We didn't even mention the aesthetic value: at the end of the day, wood just looks better than the alternatives. If you can afford to pay an extra couple dollars per square foot, go with hardwood. If you have hardwoods hiding under your existing carpets, tear the carpeting up and get the wood refinished. If you settle for laminate or just replacing the carpeting, you may regret it down the road.
Solid Wood Boards vs. Engineered Wood Boards
If you're shopping for new hardwood flooring, you might have been asked whether you want engineered or solid wood boards. Or maybe you've just been browsing different samples at home improvement stores, and you're wondering what the difference is. Here's a quick lowdown on each:
Engineered Wood Boards
Engineered wood is made by attaching a layer of hardwood to a softwood base, often with a plywood bottom. Unlike with solid wood boards, you're not getting pure hardwood. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, because the plywood base improves moisture resistance and stability. The hardwood layer on the top is made from one, two, or three strips of wood (the one-strip version is called "plank").
Engineered wood boards come pre-finished and are laid as a floating floor. They don't need to be glued or nailed to a base. They usually come with tongue-and-grove edges that are fitted together like puzzle pieces as you lay them. You glue along the edge of the board that's already down, then ease the other board into place along side it. Some of today's engineered boards also have edges that "click" together, much like laminate flooring, and they don't require glue.
There is more than one kind of engineered wood. Some types have a high-density base with a very thin wood veneer, and they're cheaper than other types, though still more expensive than laminate. You get what you pay for, and these cheaper versions are less durable than other engineered wood.
Solid Wood Boards
Solid wood boards come in random lengths with tongue-and-groove edges for nailing and gluing, and they fit together much as engineered wood boards do. (In the old days, all solid wood boards came with straight edges, which had to be butted up closely to each other and glued to the sub-floor. You may still encounter these kind of boards if you work with reclaimed or salvaged flooring. Labor and installation costs may be higher since it requires more effort to install.)
Solid wood boards often come unfinished, so you may use a varnish, oil, or wax that you like. However, you can also buy pre-finished wood, just as with engineered boards. It's just a matter of your preferences and cost (unfinished wood is generally less expensive, but if you don't fancy the idea of regularly reapplying a varnish or waxing your floors, pre-finished may be a better fit for you).
Sometimes solid wood boards are laminated together into 2- or 3-strip-wide planks that are treated as solid single-strip boards. These planks are easy to mistake for engineered boards, but they're heavier than
engineered wood, and that makes them hard to nail or glue--however, you can lay them on the existing surface to make a floating wood floor.
No matter which solid wood board you choose, be careful with the installation because solid wood boards are more prone to expansion and contraction than engineered wood. You want to leave a little room at the edges for the wood to breath and expand. (Because of its plywood base, engineered wood is less susceptible to this.)
Are Hardwood Floors a Good Idea in the Kitchen?
Hardwood floors are wonderful in living rooms, hallways, and on stairs, but you really have to think about the pros and cons of them when you consider installing them in rooms that have the potential to become wet frequently, like bathrooms and, yes, sometimes kitchens. This is because continuous exposure to water, such as might happen around the sink or dishwasher, can cause warping or buckling, which will mean portions of the floor will need to be replaced down the line. However, this doesn't mean hardwood floors should never be found in the kitchen. It's just important to know what you're getting into. If you do have spills, clean them up promptly, and if something leaks, get it fixed right away. With that said, let's take a look at what else you need to think about when considering a wood floor for the kitchen. Wood floors add warmth and homey comfort to this popular part of the house, but because the kitchen is such a busy room, you'll want to be careful selecting your species of wood. Some woods work better than others in a high traffic room. Oak, ash, maple, and other "hard" hardwoods stand up better than the less durable woods like pine, fir, or cherry. When you're shopping for flooring, make sure to talk to the seller and let them know you're planning on installing it in the kitchen. He or she may have some good recommendations to make. Aside from choosing a wood, you'll have to decide on a finish. Wood floors finished on-site (with wax or oil) tend to have a beautiful sheen, but know that they will require yearly refinishing. Polyurethane finishes last longer, and they don't need stripping, waxing, or buffing. Today, many people are opting for high-quality pre-finished floors, which is an alternative that saves time, mess, and the addition of toxic fumes to your home during the finishing process. Also popular today is turning new wood into "distressed wood" to give floors an old-world feel. People will hand-scrape and dent the wood after the flooring is installed in order to create a rustic appearance. These floors need to be finished, too, though. A properly finished floor is what will allow hardwoods to work in the kitchen. That's what makes them easy to maintain and promises that minor spills won't be a problem.
Parquet Flooring/Wood Tiles
Just what is parquet flooring anyway? It's basically a way of putting wood together that's different from the traditional engineered or solid wood boards. Parquet is made up of wood blocks composed of strips of wood arranged in all sorts of patterns (i.e. herringbone). In the old days, these patterns were created individually by human hands, each wood block a piece of art. If you've got an older home with parquet floors, they're definitely worth restoring.
Today's parquet is a bit different. It's still made patterned wood, but it's machine manufactured into thin wood tiles. The strips of wood are arranged, then glued to a square of plywood or MDF. To install parquet today, you glue the tiles to the sub-floor, just as you would with cork or other types of tiles. If you don't want to bother with the hassle of glue, you can also find "self-stick" parquet too.
Parquet is comparable to hardwood flooring in cost.
Choosing the Best Wood Flooring for You
There is nothing as beautiful as wood flooring. If you are tired of vacuuming and shampooing carpets, you might want to consider changing the entire décor of your home by installing wood flooring. Easy to clean, hardwearing, and stylish, wood has become the dominant flooring material. If you think wood might be for you, your first step will be to check under your present carpeting to see if there are floorboards already there. Floorboards in newer houses are usually not substantial enough for refinishing but older houses might already have wood floorboards that can be sanded and polished beautifully. Nothing beneath your carpets? Well that doesn't mean you can't install new flooring. Now, before you go shopping, let's go into the nitty gritty, to make sure you get exactly what you want. If you are thinking that a “wood floor is a wood floor is a wood floor”---well, think again. A variety of different woods are available with colors ranging from near-white to deep brown-blacks, and today’s wood floors are suitable for nearly every room in your house. Different woods have different properties, including distinctive colors and grains. You will also discover that different grades are available at different costs so that you can find something that you will fall in love in your price range. Basic decisions need to be made in regards to hardwood vs. softwood or even bamboo (not, in fact, a wood at all, but a fast-growing grass). In order to discover the best flooring option for you, talk to a contractor and learn what materials will meet both your budget and your personal preferences. What is the difference between hardwood and softwood? Softwood is soft, as the name implies. Softwood is not as durable as hardwood and is going to show more scrapes, dents and general wear and tear, but it can be refinished. Soft wood is also less expensive and many people like that soft woodsy feel and scent. Popular softwoods are pine, beech and fir. Pine is the most popular softwood and is naturally pale. Birch is similar to pine but tends to have more knotholes which give it more character. Fir ranges in color from a pale yellow to a light red which is very attractive, but it is very soft so needs to be used in areas with less traffic. Hardwood flooring is the most durable and will resist damage from everyday wear and tear more than most. Hardwood is available in a wide range of colors and grain patterns and of course is more expensive than softwood. The advantage of hardwood is that it is durable, easy to clean and has a warm natural effect. When hardwood flooring starts to show wear and tear you can refinish it to look like new. If you're sold on hardwood, then you need to choose a species. Each type of wood has its own characteristic grain pattern, coloring, feel and scent. The most popular hardwoods include oak, maple and ash. You are probably most familiar with oak as it is universally popular and has a mid-brown color and a tight
dark grain. Maple is the second most popular hardwood. Maple is pale and has a fine grain pattern that will give your room a lighter and softer look. Ash is also quite popular with its uniform light texture and consistent grain. If you like more dramatic colors, look at walnut, which has a deep brown color, or at cherry with its rich red-brown tones. Beech has a mid-brown to pinkish tint with a flecked grain. You can buy wood flooring as solid-wood boards, as manufactured boards called engineered wood boards (hardwood veneer on a softwood base) and as wood tiles (parquet) that are thin wood strips arranged in various patterns and glued to a square of plywood. Solid wood is most expensive, but it can also be sanded down and refinished many times (plenty of woody thickness). You may also be wondering about bamboo, which we briefly mentioned. Bamboo is environmentally friendly, tough and from a renewable resource. As mentioned, bamboo is a grass rather than a tree and grows back quickly when harvested. This is why it is often considered an eco-friendly flooring option. Do a little home work and talk to a wood flooring contractor about they types of flooring to determine what will best meet your needs.
Hardwood Floor Installation Information
Fallen in love with hardwood floors? Ease to clean, durability and sheer beauty have made wood the dominant flooring material. So, what's involved with hardwood floor installation? Is it a chore or a snap? Well, let's take a look. While once wood floor boards had to be laid and nailed piece by piece and finished on site, technology has made the process easier. The introduction of quick-installation systems has helped make wood flooring more popular than ever. Many types come pre-finished with shines built to last so you won't have to strip and refinish your floors every couple years, as they did in the not-to-distant past. You can buy just about any kind of wood in ready to use form, from the old standbys like maple, oak and cherry, to harder to find exotic varieties. In the interest of the environment, be sure that you are considering wood that comes from a sustainable (environmentally friendly) source. The most economical option, if you need to install a completely new floor, is to use softwood instead of hardwood and refinish it by painting or staining. Softwood is less expensive but it is not as durable as hardwood and can be easily dented. Because of the “soft” finish, softwood flooring is not advisable for use in high traffic areas. Your first choice is to decide on the form of wood that you want to use, as this will determine the method of installation. Your choices include engineered board, solid board, or wood tile. Engineered boards are the most popular choices. They are pre-finished boards that are laid as a floating floor. They are manufactured by fusing a hardwood layer to a softwood base (some have a thin plywood layer at the bottom to improve moisture resistance and stability). They are supplied with “tongue and groove” edges for gluing together. No nails required, thank you very much. Some engineered boards use a click system where the tongues and grooves simply click together. Engineered boards are usually pre-finished and need no further finishing. Solid wood boards have tongue and groove edges that slot together before the boards are glued or nailed to the sub-floor. If you are laying down solid wood planks that do not have the tongue and groove feature such as with reclaimed wood, you will just glue the boards tightly to the sub-floor. The sub-floor is the flooring underneath the finished floor. Solid boards are often unfinished and you will need to finish them yourself after installation. Solid wood boards are heavier and nailing and laying them down is more difficult than laying a floating floor. The third choice is wood tile. Wood tiles are thin strips of wood arranged in various patterns that are glued to a square of plywood. To install the tiles, you glue them to a sub-floor. Self stick stiles are also available.
Confused by some of the industry terms? Wondering what a floating floor is? (This term surfaces continually whether you are reading about engineered wood flooring or laminate.) Let's explain: A resilient layer is sandwiched between the hard wood layer and the structural layer underneath it. The board is held down by its own weight and does not need to be glued or nailed to the sub-floor. A floating floor can be laid straight onto existing boards but a damp-proof membrane and cushioning foam is installed first. You can buy a combined under-lay composed of foam with a waterproof backing. This layer protects your wood layer from moisture and prevents the transmission of impact sound. What does “click system” mean? The click system is an installation method in which the tongues and grooves on the side of the board are slotted together without gluing and simply click together. The development of these floating floors, with the tongue and groove set up has simplified the installation process and brought the installation of wood into everyone’s reach. Source: The Flooring Handbook: The Complete Guide to Choosing and Installing Floors
Care and Cleaning of Hardwood Floors
The main threats to hardwood floors are dirt, sand, and grit. These abrasive materials act like sandpaper on your floor's finish, which results in dents and scratches, as well as a general dulling over time. So, how do you protect your hardwoods? Here's a care and cleaning list that can help you keep those floors looking shiny and new, like they've just been installed:
Use floor mats or area rugs by your home's entrances. These will help trap dirt and prevent damage.
Wipe away spills promptly. It's okay to vacuum hardwood floors, but make sure you use a vacuum with a brush attachment instead of a beater bar.
In addition to vacuuming and sweeping, you may want to damp mop your floor, but be sure to use a neutral pH floor cleaner. (As long as your floor is properly sealed, this won't damage the wood.)
Don't stress too much over dents and dings that will occur naturally over time (especially if you have pets or children!); consider it a part of the natural aging process of wood, which helps to build character. However, if the floors become too scratched up for your tastes, you can always have them sanded and refinished.
By following these simple rules, you and your hardwood floors should have many happy years together. Unlike laminates and vinyl floors, a well-maintained hardwood floor can last a lifetime.
How to Protect Your Hardwood Floors
Hardwood floors are magnificent, and if you've just had yours installed (or maybe you've had old floors refinished), you're probably concerned about protection. How do you keep them looking good? Cleaning is one of the best forms of protection, but there are other things to worry about too. Here are some tips:
Sweep or vacuum regularly to keep sand, dirt, and grime from accumulating (this can scratch the finish).
Use doormats outside every exterior door, and use rugs in heavily trafficked parts of the house.
If you wear high-heel shoes, keep them in good condition. Worn or damaged heels can expose a metal tip that can mess up your floors.
Keep the relative humidity in your home between %40-%50 year around (wood reacts to changes in humidity, and can shrink and warp). You can maintain your humidity at a fixed level by using a humidifier.
If possible, use rugs in front of windows where direct sunlight comes in. Prolonged exposure to intense light discolors wood (this is completely natural). It is most noticeable with light colored woods.
Use wood floor protector pads under furniture, especially chair and table legs, so they won't scratch the floor when they're moved.
If your floors have a wax finish, buffing will restore the shine. (When buffing doesn't make it gleam again, it's time to reapply the wax finish.)
If your floors have a urethane or polyurethane finish, use the manufacturer's recommended no-wax cleaner.
Keep in mind, these protection tips are for prevention. If you already have problems (scratches, stains, gouges, etc.), you may want to check out these articles:
Hardwood Floor Cleaning Tips
Wood floors remain one of the most popular flooring choices. But is it just because they look pretty? How difficult is cleaning hardwood floors?
Fortunately, they're not terribly high maintenance.
The only upkeep precaution reiterated over and over by the professionals is to protect your wood flooring from moisture.
Wood flooring is beautiful and it can be environmentally friendly. Also it is extremely durable and will last a lifetime--if you take care of it. Cleaning solid hardwood floors is easy and a little common sense will keep them looking lovely for a very long time.
Dirt and grime are your worse enemies because they act as sandpaper on the finish and can result in scratches, dents, and dulling. You don’t have to be anal to the point of making everyone remove their shoes at the door (although this certainly does keep the amount of sweeping needed down), but floor mats at the entrances will go a long way toward trapping dirt that can be dragged in from the outdoors.
Water and other spills can warp poorly finished wood flooring but all you have to do is wipe up the spills as they happen, and you would do that anyway, regardless of your floor finish.
Avoid oil soaps because they can create a build up and cause problems later on. You can find some good neutral pH cleaners that are made especially for wood floors and most manufacturers will give you some ideas about their pet brands. They will also recommend various cleaning products that you apply with your mop and then wipe/buff it off when dry, but these products are not always necessary. Generally the stuff you can buy in the stores (at a significantly reduced price) works fine.
For the most part, cleaning hardwood floors simply means using a soft broom to remove abrasive particles of dirt. For stains or sticky patches, you can wash your wood floor with a clean sponge mop, using diluted household detergent as long as you wring out the mop before slopping water on the floor.
Wood will scratch so lift your furniture when moving it rather dragging it across the floor boards or put some
pieces of felt under the legs to prevent scratching. If you prefer to vacuum rather than sweep use a vacuum with a brush attachment rather than beater bars.
Basic care can be done with a broom, vacuum or dust mop. That doesn’t sound so hard, does it?
How to Get Rid of Stains in Your Hardwood Floors
In the showroom, hardwood floors stay looking good forever. But once you install them in your home, invariably some dog or child will come along and leave creative stains in the wood. What are your options? Covering the stain up with a piece of furniture? Tossing a throw rug over it? How about we just get rid of the problem?
If you've already tried sanding, you may have discovered that it isn't always enough.
As you've doubtlessly discovered, water and other liquids can penetrate deep into the grain of wood floorboards. This can leave dark stains that are often impossible to remove just by sanding. However, there is still hope. Try bleaching the hardwood with oxalic acid, which is available in crystal form from paint stores and home improvement centers. Here are the steps you need to take to bleach your stained floor:
1. First, sand the stained area to remove the existing floor finish. Then use a disposable cup to dissolve the oxalic acid crystals in the amount of water listed on the package. Make sure to wear rubber gloves and eye protection when working with acid. Pour the solution over the stain--make sure to cover only the darkened stain.
2. Let the acid solution stand for an hour. Then repeat the application if you can still see the stain. Next wash the area with 2 tablespoons of borax dissolved into a pint of water (this will neutralize the acid). Rinse the area with clear water and let the wood dry.
3. The last step is to sand the area smooth and apply several coats of wood restorer. Keep applying it until the bleached area matches the finish of the surrounding hardwood floor.
What's Involved in Refinishing Your Hardwood Floor?
Thinking of refinishing your hardwood floors? If you've recently yanked up the carpets and found the wood gouged and beaten by nails and staples, it's probably a necessity. Or maybe you've just moved into a new home and the old homeowners didn't bother keeping the floors looking good. Either way, you're probably wondering what all is involved in refinishing those wood floors.
It's actually not a complicated process, but it is a laborious process, unless you have access to a big professional sander. That's why most people pay someone else to refinish their floors. Here's a look at what's involved:
First, the workers will load a "medium-grit" belt on the sander, then they'll sand in the direction of the wood strips. The tool must be kept moving in order to avoid damaging the floor.
After two passes with the sander, the floor will be vacuumed completely. Then a stain, or the first coat of polyurethane, is applied.
After the polyurethane dries, a steel-wool disk is attached to a rotary buffer. When buffing, the grain of the wood should be followed.
When the floor is completely clean (often a tack cloth will be used on it), at least one more coat of finish will be applied.
Floors are done--enjoy!
5 Tips to Help You Shop for Hardwood Floors
Shopping for hardwood flooring? There's a lot to know about the stuff. I've put together a list of five tips to help educate you on hardwoods. This way, you'll have a good idea what you want before you even step into the showroom (where the salesman will try to tell you what you want...).
Know the two kinds of genuine hardwood flooring -- Hardwood floorboards come as either solid or engineered wood. Which you choose will affect how much you pay (click the link to read an article comparing the two).
Laminates aren't the same thing as hardwoods -- Laminates can look like hardwood, but they aren't made from wood--at all. They're generally less desirable to potential homebuyers, but they are more affordable.
Hardwood flooring isn't for every room in the house -- Since wood is susceptible to water damage (it can rot, warp, etc.), it's usually not recommended for bathrooms. Engineered boards can be installed on any floor, but solid wood boards (because they're more susceptible to shrinking and expanding from moisture/temperature changes) aren't usually used below ground level, such as in basements.
Species makes a big difference -- Depending on what tree is used, hardwood floors can vary a lot in color, grain patterns, and texture. Look at a lot of different species of wood when you're shopping around. If possible, see the wood installed (or at least photographs of it in a room), rather than just looking at sample boards.
Save time with pre-finished hardwoods -- You can either buy pre-finished hardwoods or you can buy them unfinished, meaning they will be stained on site. The latter require a lot more maintenance and frequent re-staining. Pre-finished boards are much less hassle in the long run.
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