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Hardwood Basics

Hardwood is a broad category of flooring and there is a lot to learn about this larger investment in your home. Below you can find some of the more pertinent things to think about when buying hardwood.

Pop quiz: name an abundant North American renewable natural resource that has been a hallmark of beautiful home interiors for centuries. Yes, it is hardwood. Macco’s Floor Covering Centers are great resources for you in selecting and installing hardwood floors for your home. While we have your attention, here are some interesting facts and ideas about hardwood floors.

Pre-Finished or Job Site Finished?

Pre-finished means the flooring planks have been sanded (or scraped), cleaned, stained for color, and have had protective coatings applied in a controlled manufacturing environment. The benefits associated with pre-finished flooring include great consistency of color and protective coat (really, the expertise and quality focus of the people who do this work is admirable). Homeowners avoid the mess associated with site-finished floors – the dust, the “can’t walk on it” drying and curing period, and the effects on the finish of random factors such as temperature, humidity, and so forth. We offer pre-finished hardwood flooring from the best manufacturers in the business, including   Anderson Floors, Armstrong, Bruce, Kahrs, Mannington, and Mullican.

Job-site finishing is exactly what it sounds like – the planks are installed, cleaned, sanded, cleaned again, stained, dried, and finish coat applied. Why would anyone choose this approach? Well, it makes sense in some cases. At some stage, the economy of scale comes into play if your job is really large, because an unfinished board costs more than an equivalent finished board…enough of those and you might want job-site finishing. Beyond that, if you have some out-of-the-available-range need…a color that can’t be found among the pre-finished spectrum of colors, matching an unusual existing flooring, something like that, there may be a case for site finishing. Most people will be well served by pre-finished flooring.

More About Pre-Finished Floors

If we are beginning to sound like cheerleaders for pre-finished flooring, sorry, but it is really difficult to argue with the superior appearance and performance of the finishes that can be applied in a controlled environment, with specialized processes and equipment such as UV curing. Here are some finishing terms you may encounter:

  • UV-cured – Factory finishes that are cured with Ultra Violet lights versus heat.
  • Polyurethane – A clear, tough and durable finish that is applied as a wear layer. The urethane finishes are far more impervious to liquid staining than the old-time finishes. And they accommodate helpful additives to reduce scratching.
  • Acrylic-urethane – A slightly different chemical make up than Polyurethane with the same benefits.
  • Ceramic – Advanced technology that allows the use of ceramics to increase the abrasion resistance of the wear layer.
  • Aluminum Oxide – Added to the urethane finish for increased abrasion resistance of the wear layer, which is becoming extremely popular on the better grade wood floors. The added aluminum oxide is invisible, but the floors with this in the finish have better scratch resistance.
  • Acrylic Impregnated – This is really interesting. Under a high-powered microscope, you would see that the cell structure of a piece of wood looks like a kitchen sponge – lots of hollow spaces. When a plank gets dented, it is because there was sufficient force to collapse these voids. How to make a plank more dent resistant? Fill those voids with a form of acrylic. Under the right temperature and pressure, manufacturers can do that, and the result is a hardness enhanced hardwood.

Solid or Engineered Hardwood Planks?

A solid plank is a slice of a tree, plain and simple. An engineered hardwood plank is built from layers of wood, glued at perpendicular angles, with the top layer being the species of wood, stained and finished, that will be visible when the floor is installed. If you installed two floors side-by-side, one solid and one engineered, using the same species/stain/finish, you would not be able to see which was which.

Solid planks have functional pluses and minuses: as the decades pass (or in the event of a bad scratch or stain on the surface) solid planks can be re-sanded and re-refinished, multiple times. Engineered planks do have the same degree of re-finish-ability, because the top layer is only about a half-inch thick. Advantage goes to solid planks on that score. But, engineered hardwood is more dimensionally stable, which is a big deal. Wood is porous, and will shrink and swell (more than you might expect) with changes in humidity. It shrinks and swells long-ways and sideways, but mostly sideways. Advantage to engineered planks.

But don’t worry…your Macco Floor Covering expert will help you get the right stuff. DO NOT plan to install solid plank flooring “below grade” in your home (basements)…See Hardwood Enemies below.

Visual Considerations

Take all the time you want and need to feel comfortable with your floor color choice. Changing wall colors, curtains, and area rugs – those are easy. Changing your installed floor color…not so much. There is another color factor to consider: uniformity of color vs. variable coloring. The more varied the grain and color tones, the better the floor will hide wear and tear. So, a medium colored, heavily grained oak is a good choice for a high-traffic space, for example.

Visit a Macco’s Floor Covering Center showroom and you’ll see the differences in plank width and length, in the edge treatment of the planks (square, eased, beveled – which determine whether the individual planks will be well defined or subtly visible in the finished floor), surface options such as distressed and hand-scraped, and more.

Hardwood’s Natural Enemies

Hardwood has a natural enemy, and its name is moisture. Moisture from above, moisture from below: concrete slabs, weather, showers, dishwashers, spills…all are sources of moisture, which have the potential to wreck your beautiful hardwood floor. Impacts are enemies of hardwood…dropping heavy objects, walking on the floor in high heels, etc. have the potential for denting the surface. Some species are harder than others (see list below) and some manufacturers offer specially treated boards to minimize the potential for impact damage. Similarly, abrasion-shoe grit, dragging furniture – is a natural hardwood enemy.

Hardness Rating

Different species have different levels of hardness. Below you’ll find a sample of some common hardness rating by species (higher rating number equals harder):

Wood Species Hardness Rating
Douglas Fir 660
Southern Yellow Pine (short leaf) 690
Southern Yellow Pine (Long leaf) 870
Black Cherry 950
Teak 1000
Black Walnut 1010
Heart Pine 1225
Yellow Birch 1260
Red Oak (Northern) 1290

Hardwood Flooring Costs – We Hate Surprises Too

Fundamental truth about buying hardwood flooring (or any flooring, really) from Macco’s Flooring Centers: the key factor to our success as a business is having customers who are happy with the results of doing business with us. When they are, they tell their family and friends, and they come back the next time they need flooring. Maybe that is how you found us. Our staff focuses on making sure you get the right products and makes sure you understand all the costs.

With that in mind, the cost-per-square-foot of hardwood flooring is just one part of the entire project cost. Your Macco’s Floor Covering Center expert will help you calculate the total cost of your floor-covering project, which may include:

  • Removal, demolition and disposal of old floor covering – Depending on the existing floor covering, this can be an expensive item.
  • Subfloor preparation – Depending on the condition of the subfloor, it may require additional work.
  • Product delivery.
  • Installation – Determine the cost per square foot to install it.
  • Materials required to complete the installation (molding, transom pieces, etc).

Installing Hardwood Flooring

We’re going to be honest: installing hardwood flooring is not for the beginner or possibly even the intermediate DIYer. Installing hardwood requires expertise and specialized tools. If you have those, congrats. If you don’t, fear not for we have them (and we know how to use them!) Depending on the type of hardwood and the location of the installation, your floor may be a nailed, stapled, glued, or even “floating” installation. We’ll help you with these details when you come in the store.

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