One little decision can often lead to so many more. The same is true once you’ve decided on a hardwood floor. Will yours be pre-finished or unfinished? Which wood will you choose — red oak, white oak, maple, cherry, white ash, hickory or maybe pecan? Do you want light or dark? How wide? What type of edge? And how ‘bout a nice polyurethane finish to top it off?
Relax. The best way to determine the answers to these questions is to simply evaluate your home and your lifestyle — and educate yourself on all the options.
Are You Finished?
Pre-finished hardwood floors come ready to be installed. The hardwood boards have been sanded, stained and finished at the manufacturing plant, which often means a harder and better-protected surface with multiple coats of protectant.
Pre-finished floors offer more choices of wood and can save hours of labor and cleanup. But unfinished wood floors offer you the ability to truly customize your floor. You select the wood species. It’s then sanded and stained right in your home. With unfinished floors, you also have the opportunity to level the surface of the entire floor after it has been installed.
Pre-finished floors come with an extended factory finish warranty. Unfinished floors do not (though your installer may offer something similar).
Where’s The Floor?
Where do you plan to install your hardwood floor? There are limitations, you know — especially with ¾” thick solid wood floors, which are susceptible to moisture and therefore not a good idea for concrete slabs or basements or anyplace else where there is lots of moisture.
The installation method you choose may also determine where your floor can go. Study installation options before purchasing your floor. You may change your mind.
Go With The Grain
Hardwood styles are limited by the wood species available. Some of the more common species are red oak, white oak, maple, cherry, white ash, hickory and pecan. If you study them, you’ll find that each species has its own unique graining and texture. The graining on the boards is the result of how it was cut.
There are two cutting processes. “Sliced Cut” shows a more uniform pattern. “Rotary Cut” features a larger and bolder pattern.
What’s Your Favorite Color?
Once you’ve chosen your species of hardwood, it’s time to select your color and finish. When choosing a colour, consider coordinating or contrasting with your furniture and cabinetry. Darker woods feel a bit more formal, which lighter, natural colours feel more casual.
When it comes to finish, lower gloss levels are best suited for active rooms because matte finishes help minimize the appearance of scratches and dirt. High gloss like piano finishes may be best for a more formal room — the kind mom forbid you and the pets to play in.
The Cinderella Complex
We all have visions of Cinderella, sitting there on the floor scrubbing away while her little mice friends sing in high-pitched merriment. Thankfully, the era of having to scrub and wax your hardwood floors is gone — and good riddance.
Manufacturers of pre-finished wood floors have developed sophisticated techniques to apply durable urethane-based finishes at the factory.
By using ultraviolet lights, factories can apply several coats of urethane within minutes. As a result, pre-finished hardwood floors have become more affordable and easier to maintain.
Hardwood floor manufacturers have also begun adding small chips Aluminum Oxide directly to the floor’s finish, dramatically increasing the lifespan of the urethane finish.
Don’t Forget Your Coat(ing)
Pre-finished hardwood floors typically come with 6 to 10 coats of ultra-violet (UV) cured urethane applied to their surface. Try asking your installer to duplicate this process on an unfinished floor. You’ve probably never heard such a hearty laugh.
That’s why most builders, retailers and installers are promoting pre-finished hardwood floors. Installation can take as little as a day and maintenance is a breeze.
Pre-finished hardwood floors come with a variety of finishes:
- Factory finishes are cured with Ultraviolet lights instead of heat.
- A transparent and durable finish applied as a wear layer.
- A variation on Polyurethane with similar benefits.
- Advanced technology used to increase the abrasion resistance of the wear layer.
- Aluminum Oxide
- Often added to the urethane finish to increase abrasion resistance.
- Acrylic Impregnated
- Traditional wood floors that have been injected with high-strength acrylics for added durability against dents, dings and damage.
If you choose an unfinished hardwood floor, maybe because you need to match an existing trim, then a job-site finish is your only option. In this scenario, you begin with a bare floor that is sanded, stained and finished right before your eyes (if you decide to watch, of course).
The advantage of a job-site finish is that you can customize the heights between planks (to ensure they’re even), the color and the placement. The disadvantage is the mess — and the fact that the process can take several days!
Job-site finishing methods include:
- Water Based Urethane
- Water is added to the chemical composition of the polyurethane finish.
- Solvent Based Urethane
- Oil is added to the chemical composition of the polyurethane finish.
- Moisture Cured Urethane
- Similar to solvent based urethanes, but requires humidity in the air to cure.
Which Width is Which?
Hardwood floors come in various widths. Narrower boards are referred to as “strips” and wider boards are referred to as “planks.” It’s important to consider that the width you choose will greatly affect the visual impact of your room.
Narrow strips will expand the look and feel of a room, while wider planks can make a larger room feel more intimate.
Get Over the Edge
You can select either a beveled edge or a square edge for your hardwood floors. Today, most manufacturers refer to their beveled edge as an “eased edge” because the tapered edge has been reduced dramatically from the old fashioned grooved edges.
Beveled edges do serve a purpose, however. Manufacturers can produce beveled edge planks faster than square edge planks, which lowers their production costs — a savings they can pass on to the buyer. In addition, a beveled edge floor can be more forgiving when installed over irregular subfloors and uneven plank heights won’t abut each other — a situation called “overwood.”
In a nutshell:
Square Edge -Edges of all strips or planks meet squarely, creating a uniform smooth surface that blends the floor together from board to board. The result is a contemporary and formal look.