So you have chosen to put hardwood floors in your home. Congratulations! Not only do hardwood floors increase the value of your home but hardwood is the most abundantly renewable flooring material available. Sustainable forest management makes it possible to harvest wood without any serious impact on the environment, because trees are a renewable resource that can be regrown time and time again.
Hardwood floors also improve indoor air quality. They do not harbor allergens, microorganisms or harmful pesticides tracked in from outdoors. When properly installed and maintained, hardwood floors can last for hundreds of years. Other floor covering options that won’t last as long will need to be replaced more often, at additional expense both financially and to the environment.
On this page, we have answered some of the most common questions that consumers have when it comes to making an investment in hardwood floors.
What is your Lifestyle?
This is the one of the very first, if not THE first questions, your hardwood flooring sales specialist should be asking you!
- Do you keep your shoes on in the house?
- Do you have small children or pets?
- Do you vacation for long periods throughout the year? Maybe you visit Arizona for the long Canadian winter months and come back home to Vancouver for our beautiful summers.
- What are your expectations of your hardwood floor?
- How long do you plan to stay in your home?
Believe it or not, these are all really important questions to ask yourself when considering hardwood floors for your home! If you are a person who takes their shoes off and expects their guests to take their shoes off at the door, then a CLEAR or SELECT & BETTER grade with fewer knots and character in the floor might be more of a desirable option for you when considering hardwood floors.
If you have small children, pets and don’t mind when your family or guests have their first “life moment” on your brand new hardwood floors then a #1 & #2 COMMON Grade might be a better option for you to hide those minor imperfections amongst the character displayed in the wood.
Understanding the different grades of hardwood and how hardwood floors are cut from the Mill will greatly help you navigate the world of hardwood flooring as a consumer.
The Difference in Wood Grades
Information sourced from the NWFA
As a consumer, it is important to understand how to determine the difference between the top four grades of hardwood species to understand what a hardwood floor is going to look like after it is installed. It is very hard to determine the final look of a floor from a 2’x3′ sample without understanding these different grades of hardwood.
*Please note that these grades are for unfinished wood products. After the material is graded it can then be stained and finished at the manufacturer and “re-graded” with the manufacturer’s own grading system. Sound confusing? It really isn’t confusing when you work with a reputable hardwood flooring professional who can help you make the best choices for your home!
This grade of flooring is mostly heartwood. It allows all the natural heartwood colour variations and infinite variable grain patterns but with minimal distraction from character marks and limited colour variation.
This grade contains variations in colouration produced by the contrast between heartwood and sapwood along with minimal character marks such as small knots, worm holes, mineral streaks and slightly open characters. The resulting floor is a combination of light sapwood and dark heartwood with small characters and other small colour interruptions.
NO. 1 COMMON
This grade is characterized by prominent colour variations and characters (with size limits) that may include knots, open checks and worm holes, along with machining and drying variations. No. 1 Common is a tasteful floor where prominent variation is expected.
NO. 2 COMMON
This contains sound natural and manufacturing variations such as drying characters and machining variations along with knot holes, open worm holes and other open characters and prominent colour variations. No. 2 Common is most desirable for applications where numerous notable character marks and prominent colour contrast is desired.
Heartwood Definition: The dense inner part of a tree trunk, yielding the hardest timber
Sapwood Definition: The soft outer layers of recently formed wood between the heartwood and the bark, containing the functioning vascular tissue.
How Hardwood is Cut & Why it Matters
The angle at which a board is cut determines the final appearance of the hardwood floors and how dimensionally stable they will be. Hardwood flooring is either plainsawn, quartersawn, riftsawn or livesawn.
PLAIN SAWN / FLATSAWN
Plain sawn, also commonly called flatsawn, is the most common and least expensive way to manufacture logs into lumber. Plain sawn lumber is the most common type of cut. The annular rings are generally 30° or less to the face of the board; this is often referred to as tangential grain. The resulting wood displays a cathedral pattern on the face of the board.
Quarter sawing gets its name from the fact that the log is first quartered lengthwise, resulting in wedges with a right angle ending at approximately the center of the original log. Each quarter is then cut separately by tipping it up on its point and sawing boards successively along the axis. This results in boards with the annual rings mostly perpendicular to the faces. Quarter sawing yields boards with straight grain lines which gives them greater stability than flatsawn wood. Those with the distinctive ray and fleck figures are known as quarter sawn while those without are called rift sawn.
Rift sawn lumber is typically narrow with a very straight grain pattern on the face of the board. Rift sawn lumber is usually used with oak to avoid the flecks that are common in the species. Although the annular rings of a rift sawn board can be between 30–60° to the face of the board, 45° is the most optimum. Similar to quarter sawn lumber, rift sawn lumber is also referred to as radial grain. The most stable boards, and also the most wasteful to produce, are rift sawn planks. Each of these boards is cut radially perpendicular to the growth rings of the tree which leaves large triangles of waste from between each board. As a result, rift sawn lumber is costly to produce and therefore, the most expensive type of planks available from a log and the most expensive cut in hardwood floors.
Source: National Wood Flooring Association
Livesawn is a combination of plainsawn, quartersawn and riftsawn. This is an old method of sawing lumber used by old world European Craftsmen. To make live sawn, the sawyer slices the log directly through.
Hardwood Floor Species
Information sourced from the NWFA
Hardwood floors come in a variety of species, each offering a look that is unique to itself with its own color and physical characteristics. Some species are light, like maple; some are medium, like oak, and some are dark, like walnut. Each species also possess natural characteristics that are inherent to its’ appearance such as knot holes, mineral streaks or grain variations.
Depending on the room where the hardwood flooring will be installed, a certain level of hardness may be a desirable option. Generally speaking, the higher the number on the Janka scale, the harder and more scratch resistant a wood is. The harder a wood is, the more difficult it becomes to saw or run through a mill. Surprisingly, though, how hard a species is does not affect its pricing‚—how readily available the species of wood is the deciding factor.
Dimensional stability is a coefficient which assesses the resistance of wood to environmental changes such as moisture or temperature. Different hardwood species are more resistant to the impacts of water. Species with a higher resistance to moisture are the better choice when installed in rooms with higher moisture conditions such as basements and laundry rooms. While it does not necessarily mean that they will be impervious to moisture damage, resistance to the impact of moisture will be higher. For rooms that are below grade or that have a potential higher moisture content, engineered hardwood flooring becomes the better choice due to its dimensional stability.
Other factors that are important to understand is how different species of wood react to staining and exposure to natural light as this can affect its colour over time.
Hardwood Floor Finishes
Information sourced from the NWFA
When choosing the finish for wood floors, consider your lifestyle and maintenance preferences. All wood floors will require routine maintenance, such as sweeping or dust mopping, to keep them looking beautiful and new, but the finish will have a big impact on how the floor is maintained long-term, as well as how it will look in the years to come.
Each finish comes in a variety of sheens. Each sheen has a different level of shine which will impact the appearance of the floor.
Gloss sheens offer the most shine and reflect the most light.
Semi-gloss sheens offer less shine than gloss and will reflect less light than gloss, but more light than satin.
Satin sheens offer less shine than semi-gloss and will reflect less light than semi-gloss, but more light than matte.
Matte sheens offer the least shine and will reflect the least light. This finish also is sometimes referred to as flat.
Surface finishes are durable, water-resistant, and require minimal maintenance. They remain on the surface of the wood to form a protective coating and are considered to be film-forming. There are several types of surface finishes available:
Water-based finishes are clear and will resist turning yellow over time. They are very durable.
Oil-based finishes are amber in color. They are very durable.
Moisture-cured finishes are clear to amber in color. They are extremely durable and are more moisture-resistant than other surface finishes.
Wax finishes soak into the wood and harden to form a protective penetrating seal, which will appear low luster and amber in color. They are durable, but can show spots from water and other contaminates.
UV cured finishes are finishes that are instantly cured using ultraviolet light. Multiple sheens are available.
Natural oil finishes can be penetrating oils or hard wax oil finishes. They penetrate into the pores of the wood to achieve a durable, long-lasting finish.
Oil protects and nourishes the wood
Easy to touch-up and refresh
Change color without sanding
Stains can be removed and spot treated
Spills will bead on the surface offering protection from liquid absorption
Provides a low gloss/matte look and conceals dust, dirt, and repair-marks
Texture remains even after color has been changed
Requires periodic care and attention
Only available in low gloss/matte look
Constant spills erode protection, requires maintenance oil
10 Tips to Keep Your Floors Beautiful & Long Lasting
UV Cured Urethane Oil – Vintage Pre-Finished Hardwood Floors
- Never clean your hardwood floor with a steam mop, water or use a cleaner that is mixed with water. Do not use vinegar or bleach on your hardwood flooring.
- Keep floor mats at all entrance-ways to keep dirt and moisture from being tracked on your floor. Place walk-off mats at all exterior entrances. This will capture much of the harmful dirt before it ever reaches the hardwood floor. Shake out, wash and vacuum mats and rugs frequently.
- To avoid water marks, never let spills of any type remain on the surface of the floor. Wipe up spills immediately.
- Rotate area rugs occasionally to minimize discoloration from sunlight.
- Use soft protectors under all furniture.
- Vacuum and sweep your floor as often as required to eliminate dust and debris from your floor. This may have to be done on a daily basis; depending on the amount of traffic in your home.
- When moving heavy furniture or appliances put a large heavy blanket underneath them to avoid scratches and dents.
- Do not wear high heels on your hardwood floor. Spiked shoes exert approximately 1000 pounds per square inch. Old, unprotected tips will dent any hardwood floor.
- Try to maintain an average humidity level of 45% in order to minimize the expansion and contraction in your floor.
- Use a recommended hardwood flooring cleaner. Vintage Hardwood Cleaner has been specially formulated to eliminate streaking and residue.