Wood floors have been used in home construction for centuries, but in the last two decades there has been a strong resurgence in the popularity of hardwood floors. In spite of increasing wood costs, the variety and demand are greater than ever. It’s easy to see why. Wood is warm and beautiful, and has strength and durability. A properly finished hardwood floor gives a home character, charm and a unique personal touch. Every room in a modern house – from a hallway or bathroom to dining and family rooms – can be completed with a hardwood floor.
Wood is not cheap, so great care needs to be taken to choose the right species and grade. Generally, hardwood floors come in many types:
- Strip – narrow boards top nailed to the sub floor,5/16 thick various widths.
- Plank – or tongue and groove,blind nailed on the tongue or glued into place.
- Engineered – made of plywood back with flooring on top,very stable on radiant heat,nailed, glued or floated
- Laminate – man made,very durable,many applications.
- Parquet – those familiar individual patterned tiles that are glued to the floor. Parquet has decreased sharply in popularity in the past few years.
Wayne Sandover, owner and manager of Sandover Floors in Vancouver, says a major consideration for new homebuilders is whether the home will be heated through the floor slab. In this case, a laminated pre-finished floor might be the answer. Sandover says this type of flooring doesn’t have expansion and contraction problems because it “floats” on a layer of thin foam backing. Sandover also installs pre-finished floors when homeowners don’t want the dust and mess of sanding and finishing the installed boards. If there are people in the home with allergies, or you want to avoid the odours of the finishes, this might be a good option.
The classic and time-honoured wood floor installation, however, is raw wood that is sanded and finished following installation. The resulting patina is appealing and attractive. Although red oak remains popular, there are a variety of wood species available. It’s a matter of preference and price. Maple, birch, cherry, fir, hemlock, pine and walnut are all possibilities.
The subject of grade is somewhat subjective. Sandover says, “Normally I go with select.” This refers to clear plainsawn or quartersawn boards, which have the best appearance and uniform colour. If the wood is to be stained, or there is a definite preference for a rustic look, common-grade material might do nicely, particularly if it is to be stained a dark colour that covers knots, worm holes and other imperfections.
There are numerous ways to lay hardwood floor strips, planks or parquet in order to vary the design. A rectangular room with flooring installed perpendicular to the length can make the space appear shorter and wider. Conversely, when installed to the length, it appears longer and narrower. Flooring laid diagonally in a room can look either dramatic or chaotic. A good way to anticipate a certain look is to do a dry layout of wood in various directions.
Installation of a hardwood floor can be a do-it-yourself job, as long as you know how to use a power saw properly. Sandover cautions against doing sanding and finishing yourself. He says, “The machines that they rent aren’t anything like the ones I have and usually have never been professionally set up to run properly.” An improperly set drum sander can leave grooves or ridges that are difficult to correct. The final sanding and finishing process – always a messy business – is best left to the pros.
Many different finishes can be used to complete the process. Finishes such as oil urethane and low voc water bourne can be applied. Sandover prefers the low voc water bourne finish,but will still use the tried and true oil urethane. He uses three coats with a light sanding between each one. Urethane maintains the natural colour of the wood unlike a stain, which darkens it. Following staining, a varathane can be applied.
The single biggest problem for hardwood floors is moisture. Although wood in your home is no longer alive, it does still have a cellular structure that must be maintained. This is why moisture barriers are placed under flooring and sealants over top. Once the cell structure is permanently damaged by too much or too little humidity, cracks or buckling appear. Often these ugly effects are permanent. Proper planning and installation will prevent these potential problems, even in extreme climates. With proper care, a hardwood floor will last a long time, providing a lovely, finished look to your home.