What You Need to Know to Get What You Want Underfoot
The Whitney Museum in New York City has 50,000 feet of wide-plank floors made out of recycled wood collected from old factories in Connecticut, Michigan, and South Carolina. Clearly the American settlers had no idea that they would be starting a long lasting trend that would continue to charm and fascinate home and commercial builders alike for centuries.
Colonial Americans used thick, wide, hardwood planks that came from cutting down some of this nation's oldest forests – the trees with large diameters and tight grained heartwood – which rendered the lumber hard and durable. The woods used depended on the region.
As you search among new house plans for your dream home, you may want to consider how wood floors will fit into your floor plan. Wood floors are a natural choice for a Craftsman home, an Arts and Crafts house, or a Cabin, for example. If a room can accept it, wood is the go-to material for flooring to maximize looks, comfort, style, and return on investment. Any type of wood is an instant focal point, as no other material (carpet, tile, or even stone) can match the warmth, versatility, and charm of natural grains against diverse shades of both light and dark timber.
When we say any type of wood floor, we're not necessarily referring to oak over cherry or choosing a maple species instead of a dark mahogany. Instead, when it comes to wood flooring options, the “types” available consist of either laminate, engineered, or solid planks. Each of these manufactured wood flooring options has its pros and cons regardless of the species of wood selected – here’s how the three types break down.
Whether or not the room can accept wood is arguably the most important factor in choosing the type of flooring you are going to have installed. What this boils down to is the fact that solid hardwood or perhaps even some engineered wood planks aren't suitable to be installed in a home plan's basement or bathroom because moisture wrinkles, warps, and bows the boards.
When a homeowner wants the looks of wood in a room that is determined risky to install actual wood, the answer may be laminate flooring. This is a layered material that features a moisture-resistant backing, inner resin for further protection against humidity changes, and a top textured (or not) surface with a realistic image of wood. On top of the image there is a protective clear surface that provides protection against scratches, stains, etc. The floor lays easily, with the pieces snapping into each other over an underlayment of plastic foam sheeting for a floating installation that moves as one when there is expansion and contraction.
Laminate is installed not only because it has more durable characteristics than products containing actual wood, it is easily the most affordable of the three types of wood flooring. The image on the laminate flooring is high-resolution and the material provides worry-free living in a house with kids and pets.
Engineered Wood Flooring
When a homeowner contracts a renovation project or plans to build a new home from house plans, he or she should do so not only for the time being but also with an eye on resale value down the line. Laminate flooring does not fulfill this quota because it is not a major selling point for potential buyers. Engineered wood flooring, on the other hand, is. Whereas laminate flooring features a picture of wood, engineered pieces have a prefinished thin veneer of the actual species on the surface giving it the look, feel, and texture of a solid hardwood floor.
The reason a consumer would choose engineered wood over solid hardwood is because of the internal makeup of the engineered pieces. Just below the veneer surface are anywhere from 3-12 additional layers of plywood (or similar dimensionally stable materials) that are glued and pressed together to create a stable, often moisture-resistant product.
With proper underlayment (vapor barrier, protective coating) engineered wood floors can be installed in bathrooms and some basements while suffering minimal effects from moisture and humidity exposure. The floor is almost identical to a solid hardwood floor and and either be laid similarly to laminate as a floating floor or glued to a sturdy subfloor.
Engineered wood flooring with a tough factory-applied urethane finish – like this floor in a 2-story, 4-bedroom Craftsman home plan – is suitable for use in kitchens (Plan #153-1781).
Solid Hardwood Flooring
While an engineered wood floor may mimic the appearance of a solid hardwood layout, the veneer piece (wear layer) on the surface is generally 1/8 to 3/16 inch thick even on high end products. This means the product can be sanded and refinished once and at the very maximum twice, which would shorten the lifespan to at the most 40 years or so. Solid hardwood on the other hand is 3/4 inch thick, which means it can be sanded and stained a different color 4 to 5 times, making it a legitimate 100-year product. It comes prefinished with a tough urethane coating or unfinished – you’ll have to sand, stain, and coat it with varnish or polyurethane.
From the coast of California to the Northeast to the mid-Atlantic states – and on to the East Coast, hardwood floors remain the most popular flooring for homeowners. Why? Because hardwood is hard wearing, stylish and renewable. Today's hardwood floors come in myriad different designs, sheens, color choices, and woodgrains range from the traditional oak or pine to pecan, fir, hickory, maple, birch, walnut, bamboo or beech woods. Of all of these pine dents ore easily, while bamboo is quite resilliant, and has become a popular choice among home owners recently. It is durable and eco-freindly—since bamboo grows fast.
Wood flooring comes in three installation types:
1.Wood planks - are usually tongue-and-groove boards available in a variety of widths and lengths.
2. Hard wood tiles - these are usually patterned parquet style tiles that can be laid in geometric patterns.
3. Strips - which are narrow tongue-and-groove boards often cut in random lengths.
Homebuyers are most enamored with solid hardwood compared with laminate or even engineered pieces. Of course, solid hardwood isn't an option in some climates or some rooms because it will definitely bow and buckle as it reacts to humidity changes. Plus, solid hardwood is installed by nailing the planks, tiles or strips to a subfloor, so it takes longer to put down than snapping together or gluing down a tongue-and-groove engineered wood.
Solid wood flooring like this is often distinguishable from engineered wood by its narrower, longer boards: engineered wood looks more piecemeal. This beautiful floor in the open floor plan layout of a 1-story, 5-bedroom Luxury home plan unifies the space and will stand up to decades of use (Plan #161-1042).
Reclaimed Vintage Hardwood or Distressed Hardwood Floors
Many people love the distressed “old world” style wood floors such as are in the new Whitney Museum referenced above, which is not only eco-friendly, but is stylish, harder to get, and – a bonus – costs much less! Authentic old world hardwood is being reclaimed from houses from the 1700s and 1800s and from some vintage homes from the '60s and '70s that remained in good condition thanks to the advent of carpeting.
The latest modern vintage hardwood floors are wide, featuring seven-plus-inch planks, stained in muted tones, and sometimes highlighted with mineral streaks, complete with flaws in the wood that add some character. In some cases these finishes have been rubbed with wire brushes and have a gloss for a weathered look.
Determining which wood flooring type is right for your home depends on what type of room you are looking to install it in, whether you are laying the planks yourself, and as always your budget. If you want the floor to be the last one you ever install, solid hardwood is recommended. If you plan on selling your home within 10 to 15 years, it's hard to argue with engineered wood (especially in kitchens and bathrooms). If the floor is going to serve as a temporary holdover until the kids are older or for a major renovation down the line (or installed in a basement) laminate is the best bet.
Today's Wood Floor Finishes
Should you choose dark hardwood floor finish – or lighter shades? Contemporary yet classic, the two top dark stains are jacobean and ebony. Jacobean tends to be a very dark brown, yet a little warmer than ebony; some people mix the two into a tone that has been dubbed expresso, which is as dark and rich as the coffee. Keep in mind, however, that darker floors are harder to maintain since they tend to show dirt and scratches.
For those who are not into the darker side of hardwood flooring there is an elegant contrasting choice known as white washed hardwood which is made out of maple. This trend is very popular at high-end homes near beach communities. The hottest look favors wide, whitewashed planks, adding light to spaces. These floors require a water-based poly finish – also more costly – so as not to ever turn yellow.
The next popular color trend in hardwood floors is gray, also known as the “new neutral” because it truely does not fight with any of the other colors in a home’s decore. Duely noted is the fact that gray hardwood flooring is more expensive than other types of wood floor, since achieving the perfect color balance is more difficult to do. This color also requires a water-based poly finish.
The popular oil finish now is a plant-based, zero-VOC oil treatment, which really brings out the natural wood grain in flooring. Oil sealers are easy to apply, long-lasting and less-expensive than water-based polys. But beware - oil-based polys contain a higher VOC content which means they emit a much stronger odor during the application process, which can take from eight to 10 hours to dry.
Homeowners and pets must vacate the premises of your home during the refinishing process which requires at least two to three coats when done properly.Low-luster satin sheens are the most popular by far. The benefits include the fact that these finishes shows footprints far less than other finishes.
A lovely hardwood floor like this one in your new home should be installed – and refinished – by a professional.
There are several types of wood flooring from unfinished to factory prefinished. Whatever the wood, finish, tone or plank style, most homeowners agree that wood flooring is one ofthe most enjoyable features of their new home.
Footnote: The lead image is of a large bonus room in a Creaftsman-inspired home with rustic attributes. For more information, visit Plan #153-1781.