Wood Flooring: Benefits and Limitations

Some Flooring Types Work Better in Certain Areas than Others

hardwood flooring

Hardwood is one of the most desirable flooring types in the housing and commercial markets. Homeowners and homebuyers alike are drawn to the beauty and elegance that enter rooms that feature hardwood flooring. Consumers used to be limited to one hardwood flooring choice: ¾-inch planks of American red oak. Not that this was a bad thing; red oak is a beautiful species, and used to be inexpensive and easy to obtain. Consumers now have two other options: engineered wood flooring and laminate flooring.

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is a solid wood material that is milled into planks from 5/16-inch thick to ¾-inch thick or more, with varying lengths, and widths 2-1/4-inch to over 6 inches wide. Each plank has a tongued edge and a grooved edge that is typically nailed or stapled to a wooden subfloor. Installation directly over concrete is not recommended, but it is possible.

Create a framework on the surface of the concrete floor by attaching 2 x 3s or 2 x 4s to the concrete surface with a low-velocity gun and 3-inch nails. Space the lumber to mimic floor joists by attaching them to the concrete surface every sixteen to eighteen inches. Then attach ¾-inch plywood or OSB (oriented stranded board) to the “joists” with 1-5/8-inch drywall screws for a tight, secure fit. Hardwood flooring can then be installed over the new subfloor using staples or nails, depending on the manufacturer’s requirements.

Many species of hardwood flooring are available, including but not limited to:

  • White Oak
  • Red Oak
  • Alder
  • Maple
  • Birch
  • Mahogany
  • Walnut
  • Hickory
  • Bamboo
  • White Ash
  • Beech
  • Cherry
  • Brazilian Cherry
  • Douglas Fir
  • Pecan
  • Mesquite
  • Southern Yellow Pine

This list includes both domestic and exotic hardwoods. Shop local flooring dealers for a more complete idea of what is available. These flooring options are also available with multiple finish options as well:

  • Unfinished
  • Natural, or clear finish
  • Hand-scraped
  • Distressed
  • Stained
  • Aluminum oxide

The list may be short, but because hardwood is a natural product, the results will always look different. Hardwood flooring can be refinished multiple times for years and years to come. Refinishing projects can be completed by homeowners, or by professional refinishing companies that specialize in hardwood flooring restoration. Hardwood floor refinishing tools can be rented for a modest price.

Engineered Wood Flooring

Engineered wood flooring, when viewed in cross-section, looks exactly like plywood. And, in fact, that is what engineered flooring is: an expensive form of plywood. Layers of different kinds of wood or MDF products are laminated together to form a very rigid structure. The top wood layer is solid hardwood that is finished and ready to install. The other layers are a combination of less expensive, softer woods that may or may not have an MDF core. There are many species options available. Refer to the list of hardwoods above, and visit local flooring retailers for a more exhaustive list of options.

Engineered wood flooring is also finished in many different ways. Each finishing technique has a certain charm to it. These techniques are also the same as the list above. Engineered wood possesses many desirable qualities. It can be installed anywhere in the home. Rooms that are susceptible to a small amount of moisture, like kitchens, bathrooms, and basements, are also okay. But rooms that are susceptible to floodings, like kids’ bathrooms and basements, are not good options. When exposed to large amounts of water, the wood will swell, warp and twist, which will ruin the flooring.

Engineered wood can also be refinished one or two times if the flooring is lightly sanded. The top layer of solid wood is not very thick and can be sanded through quite easily. After sanding, engineered wood flooring can be stained a different color, or with a clear coat only. Staining and top-coating methods for engineered wood flooring are the same as for hardwood flooring.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is made of a material that is similar to MDF (medium-density fiberboard) that is topped with a picture of either wood or stone tile. A laminate floor must be installed over a layer of foam underlayment that acts as a sound barrier and as a moisture barrier. One of the great features of laminate flooring is that it can be warranted for up to thirty years, depending on the quality of the flooring and the manufacturer. Laminate flooring is very dense and does not scrape or gouge very easily. It is also very easy to install without the assistance of a professional installer. Install laminate flooring wherever you can install engineered wood flooring.

Laminate flooring is a good option for families with small children and pets. Higher-priced laminate floor materials are manufactured with a 10-millimeter wear layer that is made out of aluminum oxide—a material that is almost as hard and durable as diamonds. This wear layer creates a water-resistant barrier as well, but the seams are not protected at all. High-quality laminate flooring is designed to seam together tightly, but pooling water will eventually seep into the seams if it is not wiped up either immediately or soon after wetting the floor.

There are many different options to consider when choosing a wood flooring product for a home or commercial building. Great results can be achieved from both professional installation and from DIY installation. Professional and DIY resources are available on the Internet, at flooring stores, and at home improvement stores to make installation projects easier to complete.

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