Hardwood floors give any home an elegant, classic appearance and can add thousands of dollars to the resale value of a home. Hardwoods are beautiful, and they're also long-lasting, easy to care for, ecologically responsible, and a healthy choice for a family. If you're thinking about installing hardwood floors in your home, here's some basic information to keep in mind.
Hardwoods are Ecologically Responsible
We all know that wood is a renewable resource, but may not be aware the North American hardwood used for floors today mainly comes from a highly managed woodland resource. US Forest Service statistics indicate that almost twice as much hardwood timber is added each year as is harvested, and there is more standing timber today than 50 years ago.
Hardwoods are Healthy
Unlike soft surfaces, hardwoods don't harbor dust mites or mold, so help provide a cleaner environment for your family. Since hardwood floors don’t give off any volatile organic compounds (VOC's) from synthetic components they won't cause breathing problems for anyone living in the house, particularly anyone suffering from Asthma.
Hardwood is Versatile
One of the great features about hardwood is its versatility. You can put hardwood on your floors in virtually any room — living rooms, family rooms, dining rooms, and even kitchens. It can be installed over concrete or directly onto conventions wood joist construction either on or above grade. Engineered hardwood can even be installed below grade (in basements).
All Hardwoods Aren't the Same
In the US we generally consider oak, maple, and cherry as the primary woods for floors, while other native woods like ash are popular and are also commonly used. "Exotic" hardwoods such as Tasmanian Oak or Brazilian Cherry from other parts of the world are also widely available. While exotic hardwoods can be beautiful and quite different in appearance from American hardwoods, keep in mind they didn't grow in North America's temperate climate so may react differently in our air-conditioned home environments.
Hardwoods are graded based on their appearance. Grades range from clear (with virtually no eye-catching blemishes) through select (some burls and markings) to common (more grain differences to catch the eye). All are equally strong and serviceable and the choice of one grade over the other is essentially a personal choice based on appearance.
Engineered hardwoods are a manufactured product. Planks are made using three to five layers of wood laminated in a cross-directional pattern then covered with a top layer of premium hardwood. This method of construction helps prevent the natural tendency of wood to expand and contract with changes in temperature or moisture content in the air.
Prefinished Versus Unfinished?
More and more hardwood is being sold already finished. Prefinished gives you the opportunity to see exactly what your floor will look like before it's ever installed. There's no dust from sanding the floors after installation and no objectionable fumes. As an added bonus, a prefinished floor can be installed in a shorter time than an unfinished floor since it's a one-phase project rather than two-phase.
However, since prefinished floors aren't sanded after installation, both your subfloor and installation need to be perfect. There's no opportunity to remove any minor imperfections that you get with the sanding step necessary as part of installing unfinished wood.
Maintaining Hardwood Floors
Hardwood floors are amazingly easy to keep clean. Keep them dust free and clean with a dust mop and regular vacuuming and have dirt-trapping walk-off mats at doors and entrances to pick up any grit or dirt.