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Installing a Hardwood Flooring - Your Starter Guide

Installing a hardwood floor in your house is a very important decision and a significant investment. Before you decide to commit to this investment, you should be sure that the floor of your choice meets your needs perfectly. It is important to choose your flooring with care. You will not be able to change it as easily as you can rearrange your furniture – you should be thinking long-term for this once-in-a-lifetime purchase. This guide can be a useful tool to help you make a sound choice.

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

Hardwood flooring is the easy choice for your needs – it is suitable for almost 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 the boards that are made entirely of hardwood, generally 3/4" (19 mm) thick. Unfinished hardwood is available as plain unfinished boards. After installation, an expert sands the wood and then applies stain followed by three or four coats of varnish. This type of finishing applied at the site is not as resistant to wear as well as the factory-applied finish as is available on the prefinished wood. Guarantee for this sort of hardwood is only covered for installation and excludes the 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 flooring is a combination of 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.

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 atention 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.

The Gloss: Products currently on the market fall into one of three categories: High-gloss, which is a very shiny, smooth surface that reflects a lot of light but tends to amplify marks and scratches. Semi-gloss is a medium shine, the most common for prefinished floors. Matte is a satin or completely matte finish that reduces the appearance of marks and scratches.

Specialist retailers are dedicated to finding the best possible product to meet their clients’ needs, and their advice is usually sound and helpful. They can guide the users in the following terms:

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.

Even after going through all the above, there are still things to consider following the choice of a hardwood floor – elements that can have good or bad long-term consequences. What treatments should be used to avoid unpleasant surprises? What steps should be taken to ensure that this investment remains a good one? Taking time to think things over is never a cause for regret.

The Retailer: Your choice of retailer is almost as important as your choice of flooring, because the retailer should also serve as your advisor. They have to respect your tastes and help you choose a product that meets your needs perfectly.

The Installation: A quality hardwood floor can easily last over a century. Since buying this type of floor represents a significant investment, it is smart to trust a professional with the installation work. This will make the most of the money you are investing.

The Humidity: Although very durable, wood does react to its environment, especially humidity. It is recommended that you keep humidity levels at around 45% to prevent unfavorable conditions for the floor and make your house more comfortable in general.

The Maintenance: Hardwood floors are more durable and stable than ever. But water, soap and sand are still a constant threat. You must absolutely avoid washing your hardwood floor with an excess of water, excessively wet mops, and commercial soaps. Regular vacuuming, a damp cloth and manufacturer-recommended products are all you need to keep your floor looking great.

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