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25 Years of Hardwood Flooring

by JonesRichard

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There is a huge variety to choose from in today's hardwood flooring industry with more species and finish choices than ever before.

Are you tired of red oak? How about trying Brazilian cherry or Australian cypress? Considering that nearly 50 species of wood are now used for flooring, almost half of them are "offshore" Charleston tile hardwoods from places like Brazil and Australia. Then there's wood from sustainable forests, grown under controlled conditions and lumber reclaimed from old buildings, railroad ties and river bottoms. Your finish options are also wide-ranging with new, safer formulations and more flooring available prefinished from the factory. The biggest change has been the rise in demand for engineered flooring.

In the past, most hardwood flooring was made of solid 2 1/4 inch wide by 3/4 inch thick red oak strips that were nailed in place by a carpenter and finished on site. Now, over half of all flooring is prefinished in the factory and 60 percent of that is engineered flooring.

The look, performance and cost of solid hardwood flooring depend on how the boards are cut from the log. Plain sawn or flat sawn boards have growth rings that run at angles from 0 to 45 degrees to the wide surfaces of the board which result in a lively face with loops and swirls similar to a topographic map. In contrast, the face of a quarter sawn board is orderly and restrained which is the result of growth rings that run from 45 to 90 degrees to the wide surfaces. Different sawing methods also affect how a floor reacts to changes in moisture levels. Plain sawn boards shrink and swell primarily across their width which can open or close gaps between boards as the seasons change. Quarter sawn boards change primarily in thickness, where movement is less dramatic and far less noticeable. Quarter sawn boards also wear more evenly and take finishes better. When you factor in higher manufacturing costs, it's no surprise that quarter sawn flooring typically costs 25 to 50 percent more than flat sawn hardwood whether it’s solid or engineered.

One of the most noticeable changes in wood flooring over the last 25 years has been the development of engineered flooring. Basically, it’s high-end plywood that consists of three, five or seven layers of wood veneer each oriented at 90 degrees to the adjacent ones. This layered construction makes engineered flooring more stable than solid wood so it will shrink and swell less with changes in moisture levels. Today, you'll see hardwood flooring in many rooms that previously were thought to be unsuitable such as kitchens, basements or bathrooms. Engineered flooring prices are comparable to that of solid wood but the installation cost is typically less.

The top or "wear" layer of engineered products is what gives the floor its look as well as its durability. This layer ranges from 1/10 inch to almost 1/4 inch in premium flooring. That may not seem like a huge difference until you consider that one measure of a hardwood floors life is how many times it can be sanded and refinished (typically one -four times). Traditional solid wood flooring is 3/4 inch thick while engineered flooring—the base plus the wear layer—ranges from 3/8 to 9/16 inch thick.

If the current trend for hardwood flooring continues, future consumers will most likely have even more species to choose from. Increasingly, solid wood flooring will be considered merely as one form of a natural resource that could otherwise be chipped, peeled, ground, sliced or in some way disassembled and then, reassembled with the help of adhesives, resins and other ingredients into engineered flooring.

Wood from sustainable forests, grown and harvested under carefully managed conditions, will be another source of new hardwood flooring material. One example is Lyptus, a natural hybrid of two eucalyptus species being grown on plantations in Brazil. An importer of Lyptus flooring, Craig Anderson of Weyerhaeuser, says that 120 foot tall trees can be harvested about 15 years after planting; by comparison, red oak takes about 40 years to reach a salable size and cherry takes 80 years. As we move into the future, look for calculated hybridization to provide other options for fast-growing, renewable resources.


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