Shopping for Hardwood 101

large room with hardwood floorsHardwood floors are like a piece of furniture on your floor. They are an investment that can add warmth and comfort to your home’s design, but are not indestructible. All woods can dent, ding, and scratch…period. I don’t care what marketing key words you see (“diamond” or “titanium” for example) or what thousand year Armageddon warranty they carry.

There are 4 main factors to seek out when looking for maximum performance in your hardwood floor: grain, low gloss level, texture, and hardness. The more of these factors you have, the better your floor will handle the everyday rigors of the average household. If you do not have pets/kids/high traffic areas, the more you can throw this advice out the window, but I find this is not the case for most of my residential customers.

1. Grain – Basically the more going on in a floor, the more it is going to hide or distract your eye from dirt, wear, and imperfections. I stress getting a wood with grain the most for households with pets. Pets (particularly dogs) can cause surface scratches. A wood with more distinct grain patterns (like oaks, ash, and hickory) are going to hide more surface scratches than less grainy woods (like maple and birch).

2. Lower sheen/low gloss level – Any floor that is less shiny is reflecting less light, so the less it shows dust, scuffs and traffic patterns. As a finish wears, it dulls. Think of a set of old wood steps that are dull in the middle (where you always walk) and still shiny on the sides. When you have a floor that is more matte to begin with the less it will show this wear over time.

3. Texture – Texture, in general, tends to hide dents and dings the most. Floors with texture tend to already look old and “beat up”, so they wear their imperfections better, longer. Distressing, wire-brushing, etching and handscraping (both people scraped and machine scraped) all fall under the texture category.

4. Hardness – I list hardness last as I find a lot of my clients get too caught up in this factor. Hardness ratings on the Janka scale are measured by the force it takes to insert a steel ball to it’s halfway point into a piece of wood. Janka ratings can vary from test to test, as your heartwood of the tree is harder than the sapwood. The hardest woods I sell can still dent, the dent just may be smaller than on a softer floor. Also, when it comes to surface scratches (like what dogs can cause) you are just scratching the finish…it doesn’t really have to do with how hard the wood is below the surface.

I consider color choice to be personal preference and not a performance indicator as far as wear and tear, HOWEVER the darker the color you choose the more it is going to show dust and smudges. The very dark floors are going to look great when they are clean, but are going to appear dustier faster than lighter options, and therefore may not be the most practical for the average household.

Interior design is basically fashion for your home. It is not one size fits all, and there are always going to be trends that are popular, but may not work for you (I never wear skinny jeans whether they are in style or not…they just do not work for me). You have a dog, but you can’t stand textured floors? Don’t worry! Just be sure to choose a wood with grain and look for a mill that offers a satin or a low gloss finish. Everything is going to have pros and cons, it’s just about weighing all the options and finding what is going to work best for your preference, lifestyle, and budget.

Blog written by Amanda Rieffer – Boardwalk Architectural / Design Representative- arieffer@boardwalkhardwood.com