Planet Hardwood
PlanetHardwood

“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!

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…)

Posted in Wood.

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…)

Posted in Wood.

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.

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…)

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.

Wood flooring in the bathroom & kitchen

The only difference between these two rooms, and the rest of the house, is that there is more moisture generated in these two rooms. If spills are cleaned up when they happen, and water is not left standing, then wood floors are as good as any other flooring material. If you leave puddles of water to dry on their own, then an inorganic inert flooring material may be a better choice. The biggest danger is not any surface abuse, but in trapping water between the finish floor and the subfloor, which could occur with any material. The trapped moisture cannot dry out, and this leads to an environment that promotes mold and mildew growth. Cork floors and floating floors offer slight cushioning underfoot, and are recommended for kitchens, exercise rooms, or any room where you’re on your feet most of the time.

Using wood flooring with radiant heat

Radiant Heat refers to a heating system that raises the temperature of a floor or wall surface. Radiant heat in the floor creates a macroclimate of dry air that can put undue stress on a wood floor if not properly designed and regulated. Engineered flooring is routinely warranteed for radiant heat as long as correct installation procedures are followed. Before installation, the system should be slowly brought to operating temperature (3-4 days), and then turned off. This is designed to drive any latent moisture out of the subfloor. After installation, the same procedure is repeated, taking care to ramp up to operating temperature slowly (so as not to “shock” the wood). (more…)

Wood floor installation in brief

In most cases, the installation of wood flooring is well within the average do-it-yourselfer’s ability, and is a very satisfying job because it results in such a dramatic transformation. Job-site sanding and finishing, which is only required for unfinished wood flooring, is a job we think best left to the professionals. If the room is ready for installation, and all materials and tools are present, one can expect to lay about 200 square feet in a day. Professional installers, working as a team, can often accomplish three times that amount.

There are three common ways to install a wood floor: (more…)

Solid vs Engineered Flooring

Solid Wood Flooring is the term for individual pieces of wood milled to a tongue-and-groove profile, typically ¾” thick. It is available with a factory-applied finish, or as an unfinished floor (requiring jobsite sanding and finishing). The use of prefinished flooring is popular because it avoids the delays and mess of a sand-in-place floor, and because the new generation of factory-applied finishes is considered superior and longer-lasting. Solid wood flooring offers the most choices in specie, grade and dimension.

Engineered Wood Flooring is a sandwich of alternating wood layers designed to provide stability. It’s basically a solid wood top (or “wear”) layer that is permanently bonded to its own wood subfloor, thereby allowing it to be installed directly over concrete or below grade. An engineered floor will be subject to over 75% less seasonal movement than a solid wood floor of the same specie and width. It makes good use of the timber resource by concentrating the best wood on the wear layer. Planet Hardwood recommends engineered flooring for glue-down and floating installations, and for flooring wider than 6” in width. Many engineered floors can be nailed down also, and some offer a thick re-sandable wear layer comparable to a solid wood floor.

Learning about Bamboo

Although many characteristics of bamboo are similar to those of hardwoods, bamboo is not a wood but a grass, with remarkable characteristics of its own. Its tensile strength and weight-to-strength ratio make it the strongest growing woody plant on earth. There are over 1500 different varieties growing up to 60 feet tall, from sea level to12,000 feet, on every continent but the North and South poles. Three species are natural to the United States, thriving best in the cotton states and the valleys of Southern California. Some species grow over four feet a day! Most bamboo is found in China, and starting over 4,000 years ago Chinese people used bamboo, then silk, then paper to record history and spread culture.
All Bamboo regenerates naturally from its root system like a lawn and is the fastest growing canopy for the re-greening of degraded lands. The bamboo specie used for flooring is harvested every 4 – 8 years, is not a food source or habitat for pandas, and releases 35% more oxygen than the equivalent stands of trees. (more…)

Wood plantations, forestry, and the real causes of deforestation.

Nearly 25% of all industrial wood consumption is from plantation sources, and that number is expected to double over the next 50 years. Most of the Teak flooring sold in America is sourced from plantations in Central America, and just about all of our Southern Yellow Pine is plantation grown. Radiata Pine plantations occupy nearly 8% of New Zealand’s land area and Palm Oil and Rubberwood plantations occupy over 80% of Malaysia’s arable land.

Plantations are a mixed blessing. They remove pressure from the primary forests and can additionally reclaim degraded lands, halt soil erosion and sequester carbon. However, they can also replace a bio-diverse native forest with a mono-specie. Most woods do not lend themselves to plantation forestry and can only grow in a natural habitat. (more…)