Hardwood Flooring has experienced a revival over the past several years. During the Golden Age of carpet, hardwood flooring experienced an unprecedented reduction in market share. Cost per square foot, sustainability of forests, and the durability of hardwood finishes, all became primary influences in the consumer’s flooring purchase decisions. The most important aspect of hardwood floors, especially to home owners, is not only the affordability of wood flooring, but their ability to maintain value over time. In a recent national real-estate survey, 90% of agents stated that homes with hardwood flooring sold faster and appraised higher than homes without hardwood floors.
Hardwood, always has been one of the most beautiful flooring options and durability was really never an issue, since basketball courts, bowling alleys, and many skating rinks were constructed of hardwood. However, the scratch resistance and quality of finish coatings were highly variable and many consumers opted for lower maintenance flooring options. The idea of sanding and refinishing hardwood flooring every few years to maintain the beautiful finish was less than attractive to homeowners. Hardwood flooring cost continues to exceed other flooring options in cost per square foot, but over the lifetime of hardwood flooring, the cost of hardwood flooring is actually quite similar.
Advances in the quality of today’s flooring finishes has been one of the primary reasons for the revival in hardwood usage in residential applications. While numerous surface finish types can be found, each of these finishes offer superior scratch resistant properties as compared to the finishes of the past.
The choice of flooring is typically one of the most important design elements in a room and is a primary focal point for secondary design elements. New design trends have made the implementation of hardwood floors into the design element a key ingredient for a balanced design palette. Complementing the hardwood flooring with area rugs, contrasting paint colors, and various lighting levels can manipulate any mood desired.
The choices of hardwood flooring types have expanded, as well. Once upon a time, the selection of hardwood flooring amounted to the tree-type of hardwood plank you wanted. Various widths were seldom available, a variety of surface finishes were limited, and color choices were limited. Today, hardwood flooring choices appear to be near limitless and this flexibility has been a primary reason for the resurgence in hardwood flooring as a key design trend.
There are three predominate styles of hardwood flooring available today: Parquet (pronounced par-kay), hardwood plank flooring , and hardwood strip flooring.
To the novice, there is very little visual difference between these two flooring types. The difference actually originates in the types of materials that are used to construct the material. Engineered wood typically utilizes a combination of wood surface material and plastic laminates underneath. Laminate flooring uses no wood products and are constructed entirely of plastic laminate materials.
For the novice, hardwood is hardwood, but various hardwoods are tougher than other hardwoods. The Janka Ball Rating system provides a relative hardness ranking of the various hardwoods available for hardwood flooring. This relative ranking system measures the force required to drive a .444 inch steel ball to a depth where half the janka ball is imbedded in the wood.
Wood Species: Hardness Rating
Brazilian Cherry: 2350
Santos Mahogany: 2200
Hard Maple: 1450
Australian Cypress: 1375
White Oak: 1360
American Beech: 1300
Red Oak: 1290
Yellow Birch: 1260
Heart Pine 1225
Black Walnut: 1010
Southern Yellow Pine: 870
Douglas Fir: 660
So now you have decided on plank or strip or parquet and you like a specific species of hardwood and you arrive at the Hardwood retailer with your mind made up. Then you learn there are several different grades of hardwood flooring. Back to the research to decide which grade of hardwood flooring is the right choice for your needs.
There are a variety of grades, and some hardwood flooring retailers may confuse your decision by adding their own grade or by naming their own grading system. Grading is a system created by The Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association (NOFMA) to describe the appearance of hardwood floors. The grades take into account things like color, grain and markings. The best grades of wood are "clear" and "select". These woods have fewer markings and are more consistent in appearance than the "common" grades, which may have a variety of markings. The next item you should understand is the NOFMA Grading system applies to unfinished hardwood flooring only.
In shopping for hardwood, I have found names like cabin grade, contractors grade, and other names that do not fit into the description noted above. Essentially each manufacturer is free to develop their own proprietary grading system. This can create confusion in the market place when a consumer is performing a diligent search for hardwood flooring. There is nothing worse than waiting for the happy day for your hardwood flooring to be installed and then finding the floor does not meet your expectations. To make matters worse, a maple flooring manufacturer may use a different grading systems than an oak manufacturer.
We have attempted to perform a thorough search of all hardwood grades available (this is impossible) and a few of the grades seem to be consistent across the board (so to speak). The following exact definitions or descriptions have been found in numerous locations using identical wording and it is impossible to note the original source of the definition. Our apologies to the original author.
Cabin Grade - Should lay a serviceable floor with unlimited amount of unfilled/unfinished open characters admitted. Unlimited sound knots with open cracks to ½", worm holes, bark pockets, open checks and splits to ¼" x 3". The face may contain the following imperfections in the finishing as bubbles, skips in the finish, lines, stain/color variations, surface handling scratches, rough finish, unlimited white grain, debris to ¼ of a piece and wood filler. The following characteristics are NOT admitted: improperly manufactured boards; shattered or rotten ends; large open knots and other unsound defects of similar nature; pieces with less than ¼ full tongue; delamination.
Waste is highly dependent upon the quality of floor desired. When installed by a professional flooring installer familiar with cabin grade grading rules, there is around a 15% waste factor.
Select & Better - This is considered top grade by some hardwood flooring manufacturers. Some color variation is normal due to grain differences, wood grain density variations, and how these hardwoods accept stain. Color difference also may vary due to differences of natural heartwood and sapwood.
Planks may range in length from 12" minimum to 72" maximum.
Minimum average length is 2 ½'.
Common Grade - contains more prominent variation in coloration than select & Better, along with some of the following characteristics.
The face of a plank may contain unlimited sound sapwood and extensive variations of the color; small burls; light brown streaks; small tight knots; broken knots or worm holes, only if properly filled; all other open characteristics to be properly filled and finished; slight imperfections in the face work (torn grain) and burns. Pieces with ½ tongue are admitted.
Planks may range in length from 9" minimum to 72" maximum.
Minimum average length is 2 ¼'.
Tavern Grade - A flooring product which contains heavy variation in coloration, along with some of the following characteristics.
The face of plank may contain unlimited burls; brown streaks; tight knots; broken knots, only if properly filled; open worm holes; all other open characteristics if properly filled and finished; imperfections in the face work (torn grain) and burns. Pieces with ½ tongue are admitted.
Planks may range in length from 9" minimum to 72" maximum.
Minimum average length is 2'.
Carpet installation is the single biggest problem with new carpet purchases. Often, once the installation goes bad, the entire purchase begins to sour. Carpet installation should be carefully researched to make sure the carpet installer uses CRI 104 -CRI 105 Carpet Installation Standards. Failure to follow recommended installation procedures can allow for a shoddy installation. Always preserve about 1 square foot piece of the original uninstalled carpet. Some manufacturing defect analysis only can be performed on unused (untrafficked) carpet. Also, should the carpet fail (which is rare), it is helpful to evaluate a new piece versus a sample that has been trafficked. Attic stock (preserved carpet) also can be used to plug damaged areas or heavily stained or soiled areas.