Crash Course - Hardwood Flooring

June 2, 2015

Ever wondered why solid hardwood isn’t recommended for condos?  I have a team of people I rely on when it comes to sourcing and installing the perfect flooring for clients but I’ve also picked up some important lessons along the way.

 Here’s a quick recap of the four main types of hardwood flooring available, their approximate costs as well as their pros & cons:

 

Solid Wood

($3-12/sq. ft. Regular, $6-$30/sq. ft. Reclaimed – both pre installation)

                                                   (Reclaimed boards by Northern Wide Plank shown above)

 

Solid hardwood’s main benefit is that it lasts forever.  It’s cozy, warm, hypoallergenic and can be refinished anywhere from 5 to 7 times.  To many people’s amazement it’s also compatible with radiant heating. 

Solid hardwood comes in countless forms and varieties – narrow strip like we see in old homes downtown, plank typically 2.5 to 12” wide and parquet that consists of shorter pieces fused together to form a pattern. 

 

Even the way the woods been cut has an impact on its density, look and appeal.  Plain sawn is the most cost effective and common, rift sawn is more linear while quarter sawn is less likely to expand or contract.  We tend to see more uniform rift sawn boards in contemporary homes whereas plain sawn, that displays the woods natural grain, is considered more traditional.

 

 All of these benefits do come at a higher price tag and with a few cons.  For one, natural wood expands and contracts more due to temperature and humidity changes in Canada.  It’s therefore never recommended for “below grade” basement installations.  It requires a craft paper layer/vapour barrier as well as a subfloor to be glued and nailed or stapled – doing both minimizes movement and prevents squeaking but at an additional cost. 

 

Up until recently very little beat the look and feel of solid hardwood, especially when customized and finished onsite, however modern technology has given real wood a run for it’s money.  Although still up for debate a lot of designers, tradespeople and retailers don’t see much benefit to solid wood anymore.  Instead they are opting for more durable alternatives like engineered or porcelain tiles that give the same look and feel.     

 

Be sure to also consider the type of wood you’re selecting in terms of density.  As much as I love the look of solid walnut floors, walnut isn’t anywhere near as durable as oak and therefore ill-advised for families with children, pets etc. 

Engineered

($5-12/sq. ft. pre installation)

 Engineered hardwood consists of wood or a wood veneer on top of several layers of plywood or MDF.  Because it’s mostly manmade, the properties of engineered wood are more durable and stable.  It also moves less and is considered more sustainable because it uses and depletes less of our forests.  From an installation perspective it doesn’t get much easier than a tongue & groove or click method.  Depending on the brand and configuration it can be nailed, glued or floating – the latter of which is more DIY friendly.  Since it’s not as susceptible to humidity and temperature changes it’s great for basements and condos when also installed with a vapour barrier.  An important lesson is to avoid installing engineered on freshly poured concrete since it can take months for the moisture to deplete.  Planks come up to 7 ½ “ wide and can also be refinished up to 5 times.  A word to the wise, I have seen engineered flooring cup due to moisture, split due to dryness and separate due to humidity – especially if it’s floating.  Make sure you hire a skilled installer when replacing your floors unless you’re willing to tackle the job yourself.  Repairs can be made after the fact but it’s always easier, more efficient and less expensive to do it right the first time. 

 

Laminate

($0.50-6/sq. ft. pre installation)

Laminate is essentially an image of wood that’s been printed onto paper and fused onto layers of core fibers or pulp forming a high-density fiberboard core.  It’s extremely durable and can be backed with cork to absorb moisture and provide extra cushioning.  It’s the easiest of the floor flooring options to install yourself given its tongue & groove method but also since it doesn’t require nails or glue.  Although it is durable, I wouldn’t recommend it in a potentially wet area like an entrance, laundry room or bathroom given it’s pulp core that can expand when wet.  Picture IKEA furniture left out in the rain – never a good end result! 

 

Bamboo

($2-5/sq. ft. pre installation)

 Arguably the most sustainable of the wood floor options on the market.  We’ve deemed it so because the Moso Bamboo it comes from is the tallest, fastest growing and therefore most renewable “wood” or grass in the world.  Moso Bamboo grows up to 39” in 24 hours and takes only 3 to 5 years to reach full maturity.  It is however flown from China, which creates some debate over its true sustainability given its carbon footprint.  One board typically consists of 15 strips of bamboo, pressed and fused together horizontally or vertically, horizontally being the strongest.  It comes in two formats/colours – either natural or carbonized giving it a warmer, caramel tone.  Bamboo is a look unto it’s own and not for everyone but it’s often used for flooring, decking, cabinetry and even basketball courts given it’s durability.  

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