Half the Weight of the Carpet is … What?!

A friend called the other day excited about peeling up a corner of her wall-to-wall carpeting in her new condo and finding a wood floor underneath! She was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to send me a picture (it was Red Oak). Wood flooring immediately raises the value of your property most always in excess of its cost. Those home improvement shows on TV that have “stagers” prepare a house for sale are a good example. If they do something beyond a paint job and removing the clutter, they’re tearing out a carpet and replacing it with wood flooring. If they’re flipping the property, there’s a wood floor going in somewhere. Wood flooring is a universally recognized signature of quality. Check out the real estate ads in your town and see how often wood flooring is mentioned as a selling point.

Her next phone call wasn’t as pleasant as she was in the middle having the carpet removed, and getting a firsthand experience of what that carpet was harboring. What she saw was bad enough, and what she couldn’t see was worse: colonies of dust mites. In fact, if your job was researching dust mites, and you wanted to create the perfect environment to raise generations of them, you’d design and build a carpet from the ground up.

We get trade magazines that report on the entire flooring industry. Most of the contents are devoted to product categories we don’t sell, like carpet or plastic laminate. Given the lifespan of these products they’re destined to spend most of their time on this earth leaching poisons into a landfill. Some companies brag about they’re recycling efforts but there is none for laminate and the only use for recycled carpeting is as a contributing ingredient to the pad (which merely postpones the trip to the landfill). The magazine article about this subject explained that they’re not interested in your carpeting, so don’t expect a carpet recycling center in your neighborhood any time soon. They prefer a trailer load of the same stuff which can only come from large renovations like hotels or offices. So it’s high-end, commercially rated carpet, that’s been professionally maintained since day one. Here’s the punchline: 46% of the weight of the used carpet, is dirt!

 

This Might Be the Hardwood We’ve Touched the Most, and It’s Disappearing

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN for short) is a non-profit that identifies flora and fauna threatened with extinction. They’re committed to conservation and to provide the world “with the most objective, scientifically-based information on the current status of globally threatened biodiversity.”

The Emerald Ash Borer beetle arrived in Michigan from Asia in the late 1990s via infested shipping pallets. Without predators they’ve spread rapidly. In their larval stage they bore a channel under the bark that girdles and kills the tree. Tens of millions of Ash trees in North America have died as a result. An entire Ash forest can be wiped out within six years of infection. The IUCN just classified five of the six most prominent Ash tree species in North America as “Critically Endangered.” The sixth Ash specie is assessed as “Endangered.” The only classification beyond “Critically Endangered” is “Extinct”, which means that the IUCN has just reported that Ash trees in North America are on the verge of extinction.

It’s hard to imagine the North American deciduous forests without Ash trees. They are a key component to the forest ecology providing habitat and food for squirrels, birds and insects. They are also a valuable timber used in the production of furniture and flooring. Ash has beautiful white and creamy colors with a grain pattern as distinctive as Oak. Its natural elasticity and a high resistance to impact made it a favorite wood for tool handles, baseball bats, and hockey sticks. It’s quite possible that we’ve held Ash in our hands more than any other hardwood. Planet Hardwood recognized early signs of stress when many flooring mills removed Ash from their menu. Mainstream flooring production with the color consistency necessary to qualify as a “select” grade of Ash has been unavailable for over two years. There’s a frantic effort to stem the destruction, but the Ash Borers’ range naturally increases with higher average temperatures, threatening six billion trees. Human activity via the movement of lumber and firewood unintentionally contributes to the spread. Every Vermont state park has signs that remind people of the danger.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this. Only a tiny fraction of Elm trees proved resistant to Dutch Elm Disease. It’s caused by an invasive spore that attaches itself to bark beetles. Postcards from the fifties still showed Elm trees, with their fluted profile, providing a beautiful tunnel of green for city streets in Burlington Vermont. By the time I got here in the 1970’s most were gone or dying. The most famous instance of an invasive species impacting our hardwood forest is the Chestnut blight. It’s estimated that the American Chestnut tree was between 1/4 and a 1/2 of the entire volume of hardwood that grew within its range. The contribution Chestnut made to the forest ecology and to human survival is difficult to appreciate. Its wood was used in all phases of construction; its bark was a source of tannins for making leather; and its nuts provided nourishment for wildlife, livestock, and people. Chestnut was soft enough to work with hand tools, and its natural resistance to environmental degradation made it a popular wood for hand-hewn post-and-beam construction. In the beginning of the twentieth century a fungus was imported from Asia and within fifty years ten billion Chestnut trees succumbed. When it comes to the destruction of an entire well-established species by a disease, it’s hard to find an example in modern history that compares to the Chestnut blight.

American Chestnut flooring is only available now using wood rescued from old buildings, and it’s very expensive. Ash might follow a similar path. As for your old baseball bats and hockey sticks?… Hold on to those. Anything made from Ash could be the last of its kind.

Backwards Pricing in Wood Flooring Explained

At Planet Hardwood, we are often asked questions like:
“What’s more expensive, solid wood flooring or engineered wood flooring?”
“What’s more expensive, domestic or imported?”
“Are hardwoods harder than softwoods?”

A single answer to each of these questions covers most of the bases, but exceptions immediately spring to mind. Australian Cypress is a softwood that’s harder than Oak. Caribbean Pine is harder than Walnut or Cherry. There are cheap and expensive versions of both solid and engineered wood floors. Engineered flooring uses less of the desirable wood but is more expensive to produce. The most popular non-native wood for flooring is Jatoba (also known as Brazilian Cherry). For most of its history, it was cheaper than the select grade of nearly every domestic hardwood.

It’s hard to find a “universal truth” in the wood flooring business except for perhaps one: If it’s solid wood flooring of the same description from the same source, wider is always more expensive than narrower. Really? Wider is more expensive? Isn’t that backwards? A flooring mill is a linear foot operation. A thousand linear feet of 3″ flooring equals 250 square feet. A thousand linear feet of 6″ wide flooring equals 500 square feet. By rights, 3″ flooring should be twice the price of 6″. It’s simple math, but as anyone who has shopped for solid wood flooring already knows, the wider material carries a premium. The narrowest standard flooring width (2 1/4″) is often the least expensive, even though it’s the most costly width to produce.

Wood is an organic raw material, and logs, in the rough shape of a cylinder, are cut lengthwise into lumber. The resulting rough hardwood boards are of different grades, widths and lengths which maximizes the yield from the log. I’ll simplify the math to illustrate the geometry that leads to the backwards pricing structure. A 5″ wide floor needs a minimum 6″ wide board as a raw material. But randomly there will only be a tiny percentage of optimally sized 6″ wide lumber off the log. That 5″ production will also have to draw from the other qualifying lumber that’s randomly wider than 6″. If the lumber gets wide enough at 9″ to offer a remaining 3″ strip, that 3″ ripping becomes the raw material for 2 1/4″ wide flooring. Any board that falls between 6″ and 9″ yields a strip too narrow to produce conventionally-sized flooring… and so is considered “waste.* Only a small percentage of the logs’ yield qualifies to make the wider flooring in the first place, and the “waste factor” is higher for the wider production. The challenge for any mill is to balance sales and yields so that nothing accumulates to big piles of unsold inventory on a routine basis. Since the wider flooring is dearer, and the waste factors higher, the pricing is structured to support a balanced exit of the mix of finished product.

  • There is no true “waste” in wood production. All rippings, shavings, sawdust and even the bark from the log has a further downstream value including fuel, bedding, soil conditioning, landscape material and as a contributing ingredient to the many products that contain wood fiber.

Why “Zero VOC’s” can still shorten your life

“Zero VOC’s” has become a the tipping point between products judged “good” or “bad”. This is misleading. Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) describes a molecular relationship, not a material. There are VOC’s that are harmful to the environment because they react photochemically and contribute to smog. Additionally there are VOC’s that have no evidence or history of being deleterious to human health.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) mandate is about what happens outdoors. Indoor air pollution is not addressed by the EPA (or any other government agency). The following is a list the EPA excludes from being defined as a “harmful” VOC because (quoted directly from their intro to this list) “This includes any such organic compound other than the following, which have been determined to have negligible photochemical reactivity”… in other words, not contributing to smog.

So “Zero VOC, or VOC-free” can include the following:

  • methane
  • ethane
  • methylene chloride (dichloromethane)
  • 1,1,1-trichloroethane (methyl chloroform)
  • 1,1,2-trichloro-1,2,2-trifluoroethane (CFC-113)
  • trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11)
  • dichlorodifluoromethane (CFC-12)
  • chlorodifluoromethane (HCFC-22)
  • trifluoromethane (HFC-23)
  • 1,2-dichloro 1,1,2,2-tetrafluoroethane (CFC-114)
  • chloropentafluoroethane (CFC-115)
  • 1,1,1-trifluoro 2,2-dichloroethane (HCFC-123)
  • 1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane (HFC-134a)
  • 1,1-dichloro 1-fluoroethane (HCFC-141b)
  • 1-chloro 1,1-difluoroethane (HCFC-142b)
  • 2-chloro-1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane (HCFC-124)
  • pentafluoroethane (HFC-125)
  • 1,1,2,2-tetrafluoroethane (HFC-134)
  • 1,1,1-trifluoroethane (HFC-143a)
  • 1,1-difluoroethane (HFC-152a)
  • parachlorobenzotrifluoride (PCBTF)
  • cyclic, branched, or linear completely methylated siloxanes
  • acetone
  • perchloroethylene (tetrachloroethylene)
  • 3,3-dichloro-1,1,1,2,2-pentafluoropropane (HCFC-225ca)
  • 1,3-dichloro-1,1,2,2,3-pentafluoropropane (HCFC-225cb)
  • 1,1,1,2,3,4,4,5,5,5-decafluoropentane (HFC 43-10mee)
  • difluoromethane (HFC-32)
  • ethylfluoride (HFC-161)
  • 1,1,1,3,3,3-hexafluoropropane (HFC-236fa)
  • 1,1,2,2,3-pentafluoropropane (HFC-245ca)
  • 1,1,2,3,3-pentafluoropropane (HFC-245ea)
  • 1,1,1,2,3-pentafluoropropane (HFC-245eb)
  • 1,1,1,3,3-pentafluoropropane (HFC-245fa)
  • 1,1,1,2,3,3-hexafluoropropane (HFC-236ea)
  • 1,1,1,3,3-pentafluorobutane (HFC-365mfc)
  • chlorofluoromethane (HCFC-31)
  • 1-chloro-1-fluoroethane (HCFC-151a)
  • 1,2-dichloro-1,1,2-trifluoroethane (HCFC-123a)
  • 1,1,1,2,2,3,3,4,4-nonafluoro-4-methoxy-butane (C4F9OCH3 or HFE-7100)
  • 2-(difluoromethoxymethyl)-1,1,1,2,3,3,3-heptafluoropropane ((CF3)2CFCF2OCH3)
  • 1-ethoxy-1,1,2,2,3,3,4,4,4-nonafluorobutane (C4F9OC2H5 or HFE-7200)
  • 2-(ethoxydifluoromethyl)-1,1,1,2,3,3,3-heptafluoropropane ((CF3)2CFCF2OC2H5)
  • methyl acetate
  • 1,1,1,2,2,3,3-heptafluoro-3-methoxy-propane (n-C3F7OCH3 or HFE-7000)
  • 3-ethoxy-1,1,1,2,3,4,4,5,5,6,6,6-dodecafluoro-2-(trifluoromethyl) hexane (HFE-7500)
  • 1,1,1,2,3,3,3-heptafluoropropane (HFC 227ea)
  • methyl formate (HCOOCH3)
  • 1,1,1,2,2,3,4,5,5,5-decafluoro-3-methoxy-4-trifluoromethyl-pentane (HFE-7300)
  • dimethyl carbonate
  • propylene carbonate

and perfluorocarbon compounds which fall into these classes:

  1. cyclic, branched, or linear, completely fluorinated alkanes,
  2. cyclic, branched, or linear, completely fluorinated ethers with no unsaturations,
  3. cyclic, branched, or linear, completely fluorinated tertiary amines with no unsaturations, and
  4. sulfur containing perfluorocarbons with no unsaturations and with sulfur bonds only to carbon and fluorine.

“The Ravages Of Time”

The fashion-forward direction of the wood flooring industry is to offer products that look like they’ve already had a history of use. To recreate a time-worn floor in a brand new box is nearly a museum exercise, involving individual attention to each board. There are seven different ways to express this history, and they are often used in combination:

1) Hand scraping.

This is the most popular technique for simulating a foot-worn floor. When wood flooring was exclusively for the rich, and before drum sanders, a method of smoothing a floor was called hand-scraping. This made the wood as smooth as glass. The modern term “hand-scraping” has come to mean the opposite… and it’s a way of gently gouging the surface and edges of flooring planks to mimic the effect of a century or more of footfalls. Remarkably, most of this is in fact is done by hand. The result is that each board has a unique wear pattern.

2) Wire-brushing.

Wire-brushing mimics the accumulated effects that grittiness (like sand) has when walked on wood. The softer spring wood (the wider of the growth rings) wears off quicker than the harder summer wood, leaving a three dimensional texture that conforms with the grain pattern. Since all beach-front houses go through this history, wire-brushing often accompanies pigmenting the wood to various shades of white and grey. Those colors are associated with the long term bleaching effects of the sun (think driftwood).

3) Saw-marks.

All lumber is “rough-cut” from a log using a circular saw or band-saw. These leave saw-blade marks that are routinely smoothed out in downstream production by planers and sanders. Back in the day when most wood flooring was used for its utility, and not additionally for its appearance, the flooring was merely rough cut lumber and those saw marks remained. Over time, much of that evidence is walked off, leaving only a suggestion of its history. This is the look targeted by manufacturers who employ this visual technique… remnants of saw-marks mixed with smooth.

4) Pillowed edges.

When most first floors sat over crawlspaces or dug basements, wood flooring went through some serious seasonal movement. Moisture from below swells the bottom of the wood and results in cupping. Cupping makes the top edges of the floor proud of the surface of the rest of the floor. This becomes a “corner” that your footfall wears down to a broken edge. When the floor flattens out, the edge is now softened (“pillowed” is what they call it in the industry). That edge was often dirtier than the rest of the floor, making each individual plank look like it had a dark border. This distinctive look is called a French Bleed.

5) Character grades.

When fashioning wood was without the benefit of motors they weren’t interested for the sake of appearance in the extra effort, and waste, that results from excluding usable parts of the log. They exercised that discretion for fine furniture, but not for flooring. So color variation, knots, shorter pieces… if it functioned as a wood floor it was used. Many people prefer the presence of these features in their wood floors… these highlight the fact that every piece of wood is unique to all the world and all of history. Because of the excess movement, sometimes these planks cracked in place and manufacturers have even found a way to mimic that history also.

6) Low gloss finishes.

The first stuff to be applied to wood for the purpose of preservation was most likely a plant-based penetrating oil. These finishes are still used today and in Europe they protect about half the wood floors in service. Planet Hardwood holds an inventory from two of the leading flooring oil manufacturers… still plant-based (and VOC-free). One can buff a penetrating oil to a “glow”, but never to a “gloss”… in other words, the appearance of a penetrating oil is never shiny. Even a shiny finish will lose its glossiness over time with use, and that’s “history”. A low gloss level can be achieved with a variety of finishes… not just a penetrating oil.

7) Authentic History.

Woods like American Chestnut and Longleaf Pine are no longer commercially available from the forest. They either succumbed to an imported blight (Chestnut), or were overharvested and never replanted for the purpose of timber (Longleaf). The only modern source for these species are from reclaimed structural timbers remanufactured into flooring. They have a history by definition. These were virgin first-growth trees hundreds of years older than the average age of a modern harvest. The growth rings are tighter and obviously more numerous. Additionally, their service as structural timbers can include other evidence of history like nail-holes or a patina. We buy recycled wood flooring by the flatbed to serve it up at a reasonable cost.

Planet Hardwood shows a wider variety of these wood flooring choices than any showroom in America. No fooling!

Our response to the Lumber Liquidators 60 Minutes Expose

Some of you may have seen the 60 Minutes piece about Lumber Liquidators (LL) this past Sunday. If you haven’t, I encourage you to do so (the youtube link may be liable to change but here’s a current link to the report). Reading with interest the blogs and feedback on their web and Facebook pages, and from our experience here at Planet Hardwood, I’d like to dispel some commonly held misconceptions:

  1. Within the industry “laminate” refers exclusively to plastic laminate which is the product category in question. This product is a layer of clear melamine plastic over a picture of wood (or tile or your cousin Henry) on a substrate of high density fiberboard (HDF). Outside the industry it is very common to incorrectly include wood engineered flooring in that category of “laminate” since thin layers of anything satisfies the dictionary definition of that word. Formaldehyde emission mis-labeling is not a problem in the wood business. It’s about as unlikely as finding something other than rice in the rice box at the supermarket.
  2. Not everything produced in China is suspect or deficient. Also, the Chinese don’t conspire to mis-label and confuse. Remember, this is a factory producing a private label product to a Lumber Liquidator specification packaged in a box designed by Lumber Liquidators. Lumber Liquidators brands it and that’s how they conduct their entire business. They’ve never produced a square foot of their “own” flooring. The Chinese mill managers immediately answered the tough questions posed by the undercover 60 Minute “buyers” in an entirely honest and forthcoming manner. This has also been our experience at Planet Hardwood when dealing with Chinese mills. You either pay for quality or pay for crap… there are no secrets. The customer is boss.
  3. Planet Hardwood decided years ago not to sell plastic laminate flooring. Or carpeting. Or vinyl. All of these products leave toxic trails in production, have a limited life span, will spend most of their time on this earth leaching poisons into the environment, and are unhealthy to live with while in your home.

Engineered Wood: At the top (and bottom) of the totem pole

At Planet Hardwood we get a full range of reactions to the consideration of engineered wood flooring. Engineered wood flooring is an all-wood floor that puts the specie one desires on the top layer only. The rest of the thickness has layers of wood arranged alternately lengthwise and crosswise thereby making it stable.

Engineered wood in other building applications is either fundamental (like plywood) or a signature of quality (like joists and rafters). In wood flooring it’s perceived most of the time as a “less-than” option to solid wood flooring.

Some of this is sound judgment, as the cheapest, crummiest, poorest performing, ugliest (in our opinion) wood flooring is engineered.

But, the best performing, most versatile, most efficient, most developed, most stylish wood flooring in our showroom is also engineered.

So engineered wood flooring occupies every rung of the ladder in terms of quality and value, but most people’s frame of reference is with the crummy stuff.

Sustainability and Engineered Flooring

I’ve come to appreciate engineered flooring from a resource-use, or sustainability, standpoint.

The North American profile for solid wood flooring is pretty familiar: 3/4″ thick and tongue-and-grooved. I distinguish it by North American because it’s fairly exclusive to us. They take a different approach in the rest of the world to wood flooring, and here’s one of the reasons why:

The only theoretically usable portion of that 3/4″ tongue-and-groove profile is from the top of the tongue to the surface. However, when refinishing the floor, one of the first investigations of a sand-and-refinish crew is how much of that distance above the tongue is left from the previous and/or initial sanding(s). If anything approaching half that distance is gone, they run the risk of making it too thin on the groove side to survive a footfall without cracking.

The equipment is simply too big and heavy and the sandpaper too gritty to offer a consistently fine enough tolerance to avoid that risk.

So in practice, the only usable portion of that piece of solid wood flooring is about half the distance from the tongue to the surface. With our 3/4″ profile that translates to 1/8″. This end result is that with a solid wood floor around 80% of the resource is wasted.

A quality engineered wood floor offers the same usable top wear layer as a solid wood floor with a support package of ‘lesser’ woods arranged in an alternating 90 degree stack. This makes the flooring six times more stable than its solid counterpart, allowing its use below-grade and/or directly on concrete.

The lesser woods could mean lower grades of the same species, faster or plantation-grown species, pre or post production wood waste or plywood. All of these options take the pressure off the primary forest and ultimately maximize the yield from the log.

Making the right choices when sourcing wood

Some of the flooring mills that supply us have the versatility to take the raw material downstream in production and make either a solid or an engineered floor. In two recent cases we directed the mills to produce the engineered format.

In one case, it involved a species available to us only sporadically. It comes from an environmentally certified mill that manages their forest to the highest environmental standard in the world. The restrictions result in a harvest-driven menu of choices, not a market-driven menu. Years could separate access to this species. By maximizing the usable material through the use of the engineered format, more total square feet of flooring becomes available.

The other case involved a figured domestic hardwood rarely found in wide dimensions, but the raw material could result in flooring up to 7″ wide. It would have been irresponsible to waste 80% of the Canarywood or Birdseye Maple resource. Instead, we multiplied the square footage.

All of this is to point out that whether we’re looking at sustainability, product availability or performance aspects like stability, a quality engineered wood floor is not a compromise in any way and often, it’s the best recommendation.

General wood flooring installation instructions

Job site conditions

Outside

Check the jobsite for conditions that will result in excess moisture or high humidity.
Surface drainage should be away from the house. The slope should be minimum 6″ in 10′. Gutters, drains and downspouts should be unclogged and functional, draining water away from the house. Eave overhangs should be sufficient to prevent rain from flooding the foundation.

If there is a crawlspace, it must be cross-ventilated with a total ventilating area exceeding 1 1/2% of the first floor area, with no dead air spaces. For example, a 2,000 sq. ft. crawl space must have 30 sq. ft. of year-round open venting area.

If the ground under the house feels damp, or is giving off excess moisture, lay a 6mil. polyfilm vapor barrier on the ground in the crawlspace below the installation area.
Remember to take into account seasonal changes in relative humidity which might affect jobsite suitability. (more…)

Wood flooring care & maintenance

Wood floors are beautiful, unique, and with the proper care and common sense will last for as long as the building is standing. Most wood flooring problems occur due to abrasive material scratching the finish, excessive water or moisture exposure, or subjecting the wood to an extremely dry environment. The following suggestions will help take the guesswork out of proper maintenance. (more…)

To acclimate or not to acclimate?

The reason for wood to be in the environment of the occupied building prior to installation is to “acclimate” to the prevailing relative humidity (RH). Wood is hygroscopic, that is, it acts like a sponge, either soaking up moisture or giving up that moisture to a drier environment as it arrives to a balance with its surroundings. This balance, where the wood is theoretically inert, is called the “equilibrium moisture content” (EMC).

During construction, especially new construction, there are wild swings in RH (more…)

Things to consider when choosing wood

Wood flooring adds value to your home and is an investment, not an expense. Look at the real estate ads and count the number of times hardwood flooring is mentioned as a selling point. Now compare that to carpet or laminate. Carpet and plastic laminate are disposable floors, whereas wood flooring lasts for centuries if properly maintained, and can be returned to brand new condition. Wood flooring does not harbor allergens like animal dander, fleas, ticks, mites, or hold dirt like carpet. After a few years, nearly half the weight of carpet is accumulated trapped dirt.

Wood is a naturally renewable and biodegradable material, and is probably the only material in your home that satisfies those criteria. We also think it is more beautiful and individual than any other flooring material (more…)

Refinishing wood floors

Job-site applied oil or water based polyurethanes require sanding off old finish and reapplying a new finish on unfinished an unfinished wood surface. Some of the wood surface will be sanded off as well. Factory applied finishes are compatible with the common water-based acrylic polyurethanes now widely used in favor of oil- based finishes. So a re-coating no longer requires the factory-applied finish to be removed, but merely abraded sufficiently for the new finish to adhere. This is much less of a mess than a full sanding, and does not remove any wood from the surface of the flooring, unless you’re dealing with dents.

There are two things that accumulate on a wood floor after years of use. (more…)

Wood hardness

Different woods have different degrees of hardness and density which will affect how they look over time. Eastern White Pine, the softest wood used for flooring, has in many cases withstood over 200 years of use and abuse. You’ll never “walk through” a wood floor.

Hardness and response to moisture are individual to each species, and these properties are important considerations when choosing a wood floor.

The hardness of wood is measured scientifically by the “Janka” test. This test measures the pressure it takes to sink a .444 inch steel ball one half its diameter into the surface of the wood. A higher number denotes a harder wood. Woods that are naturally harder than others will show less dents and evidence of traffic, but this relative standard is mostly for cosmetic reasons as all wood floors will last hundreds of years before they are worn through.

Aging gracefully: wood and sunlight.

All wood exposed to sunlight changes color over time. In furniture, this acquired color is called “patina” and is desirable. Anything organic exposed to the sun changes color, including you and me. (more…)

Pre-finished or unfinished wood flooring?

There is no single answer for whether to choose pre-finished or un-finished flooring. In this article we’ll get into details about how each is produced and the advantages of each. But for those who are looking for a quick answer, here’s a summary.

Advantages of pre-finished flooring include:

  • Faster and cleaner installation, since no sanding is required at the job-site.
  • Often comes with a warranty on the finish.
  • Lower labor costs can lead to an overall lower cost depending on your situation.
  • Factory-applied finishes are generally more durable and longer-lasting than those that can eb applied at a job-site.

Advantages of unfinished flooring include:

  • A completely-smooth surface, since sanding is done after installation. (Pre-finished floors usually have a microbevel).
  • A wide variety of finishes and staining are possible.
  • If penetrating oil is used as a finish then partial refinishing becomes possible.
  • Longer plank-lengths are available, as well as custom milling.

Which should you choose then, let’s dig in a little deeper. (more…)

Choosing wood grades

An Explanation of “Country”* Grade

“Country” grade is generated exclusively for Planet Hardwood as a function of a mill’s broader production. In other words, it is only available to us on an accumulation basis and not on an order-driven basis. Because the deal is so good, we get as much as we can, when we can, but there are often gaps in availability. Please check with us before budgeting. Any domestic specie in any width is our open purchase order with the mill. It’s cheaper than a quality laminate and it’s a solid wood floor!

The major aspect of the country grade is shorter pieces. (more…)

Indoor air pollution in depth

Indoor air pollution, in homes as well as commercial buildings, is being recognized as a serious health problem. Because most people in the United States spend an estimated 90 percent of their time indoors, the health risks of poor indoor air quality can significantly increase the risk of health problems. You may think indoor air pollution won’t affect you, but chances are it already has. Have you ever felt nauseated after painting or cleaning? Well, that’s a neurotoxin for you. The problem is, these toxins affect you all the time. You might not feel downright sick, but maybe you’ll feel run down and headachy as the day wears on. And it gets worse. Many of these toxins have a cumulative effect. You never get rid of them. They collect until you reach your threshold. Every year thousands of men, women and children will suffer illnesses from indoor air pollution. (more…)

Some reasons to choose wood flooring

Wood flooring is an investment rather than an expense, increasing the value of any property. Count how many times wood flooring is mentioned as a selling point for houses on the market. It will last for the life of the building, and can always be refinished to “brand new” condition … even after centuries of use. It contributes to a healthy living environment because it will not harbor dust mites or molds. Wood is the only building material that is both bio-degradable and renewable, two cornerstones of environmental friendliness. The “cradle-to-grave” environmental impact of wood production, transportation and installation, is far less than that of any competing construction material. Wood flooring production is very efficient and generates nearly no waste … every part of the tree is used. Considering its lifespan, wood flooring is the most cost-effective floor covering.

Most importantly, wood flooring is just plain beautiful. Each piece is as unique to the entire world and all of history as you are. We think it transforms a space like no other home improvement and is one of the most rewarding do-it-yourself projects.

Humidity and the health of you and your wood floor

Wood acts like a sponge. It expands in the presence of excess moisture, and contracts when that moisture is given up to a dryer environment. It is always trying to achieve a balance with the prevailing relative humidity. In the Northeast, the natural seasonal swings in relative humidity are wide, and will stress the wood at each extreme. All wood responds in the same way, no matter how it’s mixed, shaved, turned it into powder and glued back together again (like the cores of plastic laminate flooring), wood will react dimensionally to the presence or absence of moisture. Wood flooring is the most stable between 35% and 65% relative humidity, the same range comfortable for people, pets, plants and other living things. Here in New England, even though human activity adds moisture to the air, it is important to humidify your home during the heating season.

Dogs and wood floors

Every wood flooring manufacturer mentions pets in their maintenance instructions (we do too). The recommendation is to keep their nails clipped so as not to leave any potential scratches or gouging in the floor. Our 55-pound poodle can leave occasional evidence in our American Cherry, which is the softest hardwood we carry. It only happens when the neighborhood kids come over and throw the ball down the winding Cherry staircase, and the dog slips. Our Maple floors, which are substantially harder than Cherry, survive anything she can dish out. The real big and heavy dogs (i.e. Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands) usually don’t move around fast enough to leave marks.