Remodeling Handbook: Wood Flooring

Add beauty and value to your home with the classic look of wood.

Article by Jenny de Jesus

Issue Date:  (Wed) November 7, 2012

Hardwood is hard to beat. Nothing quite compares to its natural warmth and good looks, hard-wearing durability and ability to add value to your home. Whether you’re putting down a wood floor in a new space or replacing an existing floor, there is an immense array of options from which to choose. Here, we cover all the basics to help you select the one that’s right for you.


Getting Started: What You Need to Know Before You Buy

Where will it go?
Assess your lifestyle. Consider where the flooring will go and how much traffic, sunlight, and other wear and tear it will get. High-traffic areas, such as entryways and kitchens, require a harder, more durable wood that’s less prone to denting. Rooms with less traffic, such as bedrooms and offices, can stand a softer wood. Avoid wood in areas with moisture, such as bathrooms.

What’s it going over? 
Different subfloors require different materials and installation techniques. With a plywood subfloor, your options for wood flooring are limitless. You can install any type of nail- or glue-down hardwood, as well as click-together engineered-strip or floating floors. If you have concrete slab or tile, nails aren’t an option. A click-together floating floor or glue-down floor will be your best bet. There are four constructions of hardwood floors to address each primary type of subfloor: 3/4-inch solid wood, 5/16-inch solid wood, engineered hardwood and locking hardwood. A 3/4-inch thick solid piece of hardwood floor is the most traditional choice of hardwood flooring and is installed over a plywood subfloor. A 5/16-inch wood is thin enough to glue down to concrete or install over plywood.

Engineered hardwood uses a thin veneer of prefinished wood over a base of structural plywood. Strips can be fastened or glued down, or left to float.  “Engineered-wood flooring is always a popular choice,” Janice Onishi of Pacific American Lumber notes, “because homeowners can walk on it right after installation.”

Lastly, locking or floating floors are also engineered, but with the advantage of a locking tongue-and-groove system.

Go with the Grain: What’s Your Style?

Domestic woods are available in a variety of different colors, grain patterns and hardnesses (e.g., oak, maple, cherry)

A sustainable choice, locally grown woods have a warm, unique look and support the local economy (e.g., eucalyptus robusta, ohia, koa).

Known for rich color, distinct grain patterns and extreme hardness (e.g., tigerwood, ipe, Brazilian cherry).

There are many types of textures to choose from, including smooth, hand-scraped, distressed
and wirebrushed.

Flatsawn vs. Quartersawn
Hardwoods come in two cuts. Flatsawn boards are cut so the wood growth rings are roughly parallel with the face, leaving a distinctive flamelike grain pattern. Quartersawn boards are more expensive and have a straight grain.


The Alternatives

Typically made of dense fiberboard with a photo beneath a clear plastic protective layer, synthetic laminate can mimic nearly any style of natural wood. It is affordable as well as quick and easy to install; however, once damaged, it needs to be replaced.

Made from the bark of renewable cork oak trees, this click-together or glue-down flooring is soft underfoot, a natural insulator and sound absorber.

A type of grass, bamboo has physical similarities to hardwoods. High-quality, eco-friendly bamboo flooring is known for its strength and durability.


Take Care

The key to a longer lasting floor is care and maintenance. Luckily, hardwood floors are relatively easy to maintain.

Just remember to keep them dry — water can cause floors to warp, shift or dull. The best way to avoid these problems? Wipe up spills with a dry cloth and never use a wet mop to clean the floors. Keep floors clean with a broom or vacuum and only use cleaning products that are safe for wood.

Another idea for keeping your floors looking good? Place rugs in high-traffic areas. When moving furniture around the room, make sure to use felt gliders or something similar, such as a rug, to protect the wood. In Hawaii, sunlight can be an unexpected enemy to your floors. If parts of the floor get strong, direct sun, consider using curtains or blinds to limit sun exposure.

Take proper care of your hardwood floors and they can last a lifetime with only periodic refinishing. One of the perks of hardwood floors is that scuffs, scratches and imperfections can be sanded out every few years, so that your floors will continue to look as good as new for years to come.

Janka Hardness Rating

The relative hardness of wood species is measured using the Janka Hardness Rating. This test measures the force needed to embed a steel ball (.444 inch in diameter) to half its diameter in the piece of 3/4-inch solid wood being tested. The higher the number, the harder the wood. This means the wood is more resistant to indentations.


Find a Pro

Do your homework. 
“Check referrals for past jobs — the last three jobs, not the three best jobs — from the flooring professional,” Charlie Toyama of Homeowners Design Center says. “They should be licensed to do business and be up-to-date on their product knowledge. Using a licensed flooring installer also protects you in warranty situations where the manufacturer will pay for the removal and reinstallation of the damaged product in cases of nonperformance of product.”

Do the Math
Calculate the room’s square footage then add 5 to 10 percent for cuts and waste. Multiply this figure by the board’s square-foot price to get your cost. Add on a little extra for door thresholds, moldings and any nails or staples you might need if you’re doing it yourself.

What’s New

The Look for Less: Go Faux

If you want the look of wood, but aren’t sure you can make the investment, you have options, including porcelain tile. “Simulated wood porcelain tile is a good alternative to a natural stone or wood product,” Kevin Nip of Selective Stone says. “First and foremost, it’s dense, hard and a lot easier to maintain. It’s also scratch resistant and quite resilient to normal foot traffic. Unlike wood, it won’t curdle or warp with moisture.” Faux wood tile is available with the look of a variety of different natural wood species, such as mahogany. “It can be installed in all interior areas utilizing a tight joint for grouting,” Nip adds. Selective Stone carries its own brand, as well as other formats, colors and shades from Mohawk. Hawaii Home Expo has tiles from Eleganza, Stonepeak and Bedrosian for many different wood looks.

“Luxury vinyl plank flooring is another increasingly popular option,” Toyama says. “It looks so much like the real deal that you have to reach down and touch it to see the difference. It’s also moisture proof.” Find it at Homeowners Design Center.

Top it Off: Stains and Finishes

Keep the natural look of wood floors or stain them a different shade or color. On-site finishes are typically oil-based polyurethane or water-based polyurethane and come in gloss, semigloss or matte.



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