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Flooring guide

The Material
Among the wide array of possible floor coverings, hardwood provides some incomparable qualities. It's natural, environmentally friendly, attractive, warm and easy to maintain – giving any home's decor a rich and distinctive feel while increasing resale value. Hardwood flooring also helps create a healthy home environment by eliminating the allergens associated with dust-trapping carpet.

The Choice

Hardwood flooring is the easy choice for your needs – it's suitable for most every application and environment. Hardwood flooring is divided into broad categories by manufacturing methods. There are three types of hardwood; choose the one that's right for you.

Solid Hardwood

These are boards made entirely of hardwood, generally 3/4″ (19 mm) thick. Unfinished hardwood comes as plain unfinished boards. After installation, a specialist sands the wood and then applies stain and three or four coats of varnish. Finish applied on-site like this does not resist wear nearly as well as a factory-applied finish (as is found on prefinished wood). Guarantees on this type of hardwood cover only installation and exclude wear and tear. Prefinished solid hardwood is pre-sanded, stained and finished with factory-applied protection. It is prepared in a controlled and ideal environment. This type of flooring is installation-ready. Installation is fast and easy, without the offensive varnish odors that occur when finishing is done on-site in the home. You won't have to leave the house during installation and you'll be able to return your furniture to its normal position very shortly after installation.

Glueless Engineered Hardwood

This kind of flooring combines the beauty of hardwood with a number of environmental and economic advantages. The boards are made of a high-density fiber (HDF) base whose engineered edges fit together perfectly with a simple motion. This flooring does not require glue, nails or staples – hence the common term “floating floor.” This environmentally friendly product contains recycled content and can be removed from one room and re-installed in another room or building – making it a reusable resource and sound ecological choice.

Engineered Hardwood
A technological masterpiece, this hardwood combines a real wood surface with a solid plywood base. Created for environments with varying humidity, engineered flooring is more stable than solid hardwood flooring. Boards can be glued directly to concrete (even with a radiant heating system) or on an acoustic membrane. They can also be stapled to a plywood subfloor. This type of flooring is ideal for condominiums, basements, or commercial use. There are four criteria to evaluate the quality of engineered flooring: the thickness of the hardwood layer; the number of plywood plies (layers); the cutting process used for the hardwood surface; and the precision of the cut for the base layers. The hardwood layer, or “wear layer”, must have a minimal thickness of 5/32″ (4 mm) to allow sanding as needed, similar to solid hardwood. The plywood must have at least five plies to ensure good floor stability. Dry saw cutting provides a higher-quality hardwood layer with a genuinely natural look and is preferable to rotary peeling or slice cutting.

The Style
Even after you have analyzed all your options and decided on the type of hardwood that you want, the process isn't finished. There are still many choices to make: the color of the floor, the width of the boards, and the shine of the finish. These all depend on your taste and the look you desire… things that deserve careful consideration. An installed floor will last for decades upon decades – choose wisely.

The Color
Once considered a mere construction material, hardwood flooring is now recognized as a distinct decorative element. Expanding color choices have certainly helped with that shift in perception. Prefinished floors provide an opportunity to create some very interesting contrast effects. The insertion of boards that differ from the dominant color can accent the shape of a room, or draw attention to an area or element in particular. Adding a touch of refinement and originality can be simplicity itself.

The Species

Each species of wood has a different grain, color and texture. Personal taste and preference lead us to choose one species over another. Your room decor and your desired effect will influence your decision. Oak and maple are the best-known and most popular species, followed by birch, cherry and walnut. More and more consumers are attracted to the warmth and richness of higher-end exotic species – consider the prestige that comes with a floor made from Brazilian cherry, mahogany, Sapele or tigerwood. The high durability of exotic hardwoods can be ideal for commercial use.

The Gloss
Products currently on the market fall into one of three categories:

  • High-gloss: Very shiny, smooth surface that reflects a lot of light but tends to amplify marks and scratches.
  • Semi-gloss: A medium shine, the most common for prefinished floors.
  • Matte :A satin or completely matte finish that reduces the appearance of marks and scratches.

The Grade

Boards are classified according to variations in their natural color. A board with a more uniform color will be graded “select and better”. The “exclusive” grade is given to boards with some pronounced and nuanced color variation. Depending on what you're looking for, the “rustic” grade could be of interest, with its evident knots, small cracks and other natural characteristics. By examining several boards from the same box, you can confirm if the product is classified accurately and also see the quality of the manufacturing. Some manufacturers use third-category grades to accommodate significant manufacturing and finishing defects and to sell these products with no guarantee.

The Width

There are many different board widths on the market, matching almost all possible decor and style choices. Narrower boards make a room look longer, while wider boards make it appear shorter. Remember, however, that a tight-grained wood like maple expands more with humidity, which may make narrower boards preferable for some uses.

The Board Direction
Along the length of the room, the width of the room, diagonal or patterned? Aesthetics and personal taste will direct you toward your choice of board direction. When the boards are being installed on a wood subfloor, it's recommended to position them perpendicular to the joists. Similarly, you should pay attention to optical illusions – it's better, for instance, to avoid placing boards widthwise in a long, narrow room. Those looking for a different style can plan a diagonal placement or the traditional, but still distinctive, open-ended herringbone design.

The Quality
All hardwood floor manufacturers say they offer high quality and reliable products. It's hard to really know if what they're saying is true. Before you buy, review all the criteria of a quality floor and examine the product carefully to see that it meets these criteria. Make an informed choice and avoid common pitfalls. In the end, quality is what separates the leaders from the rest of the pack!

The Uniformity
Put some boards on the floor and assemble them – the tongues and grooves should mesh together perfectly. Run your hand over the surface – you shouldn't be able to perceive a difference in thickness. Lastly, there shouldn't be any space between the boards (where dirt could accumulate).

The Imperfections

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