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Wood Flooring.

In this page, we will attempt to give you an overview of hardwood floors. Please remember that although we will try to provide unbiased information, our personal opinions will no doubt shine through at some point. These opinions are based on the cumulative knowledge of our staff from seminars, classes and experience.

We hope that you find the following helpful. We know that it can be confusing when trying to research your particular project, so please feel free to call us and ask us any questions that may be bothering you.

Also cross reference any information with this website which can be invaluable resource:

  • www.woodfloors.org -The NWFA’s principal website for consumer information on wood flooring installation and maintenance.

How much expansion and contraction should I expect?
Should I use engineered wood flooring?
Should I use solid wood flooring?
Pre-finished or Un-finished?
What kind of finish should I use?
What species of wood is the best?
Can I glue solid wood to my concrete?

How much expansion and contraction should I expect?

This is perhaps the most important and equally the most overlooked part of a hardwood floor. Wood will expand and contract. It is hygroscopic, gathering and releasing the moisture that is around it. It is impossible to stop. The questions that should be asked are:

  • Have I allowed a proper amount of time to let the wood acclimate to its environment?
  • Can I accept that the wider the board, the more noticeable movement is?
  • Is the species of wood that I have, known to be stable when conditions change?
  • Can I accept that no matter what I do, hardwood floors will move?

Once these questions are answered, you can begin to properly build your expectations. Remember that jobsite conditions, the time of year it was installed, type of finish, type and width of wood, type of heating in the house, type of cooling in the house, and where your house is located all contribute to how much or little movement your floor will have. Also remember that it takes time for a hardwood floor to acclimate. Expect the floor to move more drastically in the first year of its installation. As time passes and the wood has been exposed to all seasons, it will establish an average and yearly expansion and contraction will be less noticeable. Above all, have realistic expectations of wood as an organic product. If it is professionally installed it and the proper precautions have been taken, seasonal movement will never compromise the structural integrity of the floor.
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Should I use engineered wood flooring?

Engineered wood floors are produced by bonding several layers of veneer and lumber with an adhesive. It is primarily pre-finished, although some manufacturers offer them un-finished. These products are more dimensionally stable than solid hardwood and are used for glue down installation or floating installation. Though most flooring products are either glue-down or floating, some can be used as both. Engineered products come in varying thickness up to 11/16” and widths up to 12”.

Generally speaking, engineered products were created for installation over concrete slabs and that is primarily where they are still used today. They are available in a wide range of species, stain colors and finishes. There are several manufacturers that offer engineered floors in a hand-scraped look. Within this grouping of engineered, are the acrylic impregnated floors. Using vacuum pressure, acrylic and color are forced into the grain of the wood. The acrylic is inside the wood, creating an incredibly hard surface. These floors cannot be refinished, but they are so durable it is not needed. Most often these floors are used in commercial/industrial applications, but it is becoming more common for residential use.

Manufacturers specify that the underlying substrate have no more than 3/16” undulation within an eight foot span for the installation of an engineered floor. This can create problems in budgeting for many homeowners, as it is impossible to know the condition of the concrete until after the existing flooring is removed (i.e. carpet, tile). In new construction, however, it becomes much easier to ascertain what will be involved.

If the concrete is not flattened before installation, the warranty of the product will be voided by the manufacturer and the installer. It seems to be a common practice in New Mexico to not worry that much about how flat the substrate is. We find that a high amount of our service calls are customers who hired an installer that did not take the time to flatten the floor. This is a very difficult and expensive problem to fix after the flooring is installed. Problems that can develop include large hollow spots in the floor, buckling, uneven floor boards, and many times complete floor failure. With our dustless concrete grinding system and years of experience, we are experts at leveling concrete slabs for wood installation.
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Should I use solid wood flooring?

Solid hardwood flooring is a constructed from a single piece of hardwood. There are no layers. Thickness can be as thin as 5/16” to a full inch, but ¾” is the most widely used. Widths will be from ¾” for bowling alleys, up to 15”-16” in some reclaimed material with 2-¼“ the standard. There are many different species and grades to choose from. The majority of solid wood floors are made to be nailed or stapled down over wood substrate.

Since most new construction is with concrete slabs, the installation of a wood sub-floor system is the most common form of new installation. Each area that will have hardwood is recessed and when we install the hardwood system, all floors in the homes are at the same elevation. Even if the concrete is not recessed, we can install the system and build reducers to other flooring types. If the height difference is in excess of 1”, reducers can be built that do not interfere with function and attractive in appearance. In the past, solid wood floors expanded and contracted more than standard adhesives could contain without breaking the adhesive bond. Within the last 10 years, however, technology has produced adhesives that have elastic in them that allow the installation of solid hardwood up to 1” thick to be glued directly to the slab (see Can I glue solid hardwood to my concrete slab? ).

Solid hardwoods offer the greatest ability to get the look that you want with no compromise. They have the depth of color, grain and beauty that people have long identified with hardwood floors. Engineered and laminate floors can dilut this beauty. The greatest advantage to solid floors is the ability to sand and finish them up to 6 or 7 times. This creates a floor that will last the life of the house. This is by far largest part of our business and there is no doubt that as a company we prefer the look and relationship with solids over engineered floors. There are times, however, when an engineered floor makes the most sense and with recent advances in construction (Owens for example) can produce the same look.

One thing to keep in mind when weighing the decision between solid and engineered is the following: most retail stores that sell hardwood flooring offer installation. They do not offer sanding and finishing because of the expense in machines and the lack of skilled finishers. This always slants their pitch to sell you an engineered, pre-finished product. Citing such things as aluminum-oxide finishes and stability of the product, you will be told that engineered floors are better than solid. They are not better, just different , and each customer should make decisions based on what they need, not on what is most convenient for the store.
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Pre-finished or un-finished?

This is a difficult decision for many of our customers. Many manufacturers claim that their finish and their techniques of application, create a far superior finish than what can be applied in the field. This is what we have noticed while observing both types of products in both commercial and residential applications.

* Generally speaking, pre-finished wood floors have been sprayed with finish in a clean and sterile environment. This eliminates foreign matter and debris from drying in the finish. On a jobsite, it becomes impossible to create an environment that has no dust or debris in the air, so a small amount of pollutants must be accepted. Although it is common to have a pre-finished floor with small defects in the finish, as a whole they contain less debris and imperfection than a field applied finish.

* Claims from companies regarding the finishes are approaching ridiculous. 50 year warranties sound great, but the reality is that they do not cover actual problems that you will have such as scratches and marring. No finish is impenetrable regardless of a claim. The stronger and thicker the finish is, the more noticeable scratches become. The stronger aluminum-oxide finishes are no doubt extremely hard, but they seem to be brittle as well and this causes the wear marks and any scratches to be highly noticeable. An example of this is the Bella Wood products sold by Lumber Liquidators. They have a very thick build-up of finish and it seems to give the wood a plastic like appearance. Small scratches are very visible. The installations that we have done with this product have been problematic because of this. Straight urethane finishes may not be as hard in scientific tests, but they seem to hold up better because of the flexibility of the finish when pressure is applied by a sharp object.

* Having someone sand and finish your new hardwood floor will be create more dust and take longer than having a pre-finished floor installed. There is no way around this. Even with Dust Containment Systems that attach to all the sanding equipment, a noticeable amount of dust is still created. The time involved in letting a finish cure is also a factor to consider.
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What kind of finish should I use?

There are many different kind of floor finishes and there is not one that should be used universally. It all depends on how you want the floor to look and perform. Listed below are the most popular types of finishes.

Oil Base Urethanes- with an oil-modified base, these finishes have been the staple for years. They are single component finishes that usually go on thick, and give a slight yellow or amber color to the wood. Curing can take as much as 2-3 weeks and at least 8-10 hours are needed for a single coat to dry. Standard procedure is one coat of sealer and two coats of finish. These finishes will primarily rest on top of the wood. We primarily use oil base urethane on floors that need a darker look or on a wood that has large open pores like pine or fur. As a whole they are reasonably durable, but the odor of the finish is strong. These finishes will yellow in time drastically. To enhance durability, a moisture cure urethane could be used. The same basic application rules apply, except that a high degree of moisture is needed to speed up the dry time.

Water Borne Urethanes- all having water as the carrier of the urethane. They dry much faster and although they are harder to work with, are more convenient for homeowners for both scheduling and their light odor. Most off gassing is complete in a number of hours with total cure time being four days at the most. There are single component and cross linked water borne finishes. The cross linked finishes are usually the more durable. These finishes will leave the floor light in appearance and most have UV ray blocking chemicals in them to minimize any color change. Depending on the manufacturer and the type of finish, they can be much more durable than oil base finishes. These finishes will not build up as thickly and if you are used to oil base finishes, you may feel that the floor looks “dry”. This is due to the way the finish is designed, not improper application.

Hybrid Urethanes- these are one of the fastest growing types of finishes. By using the process of emulsification, both oil and water are used to carry the urethane. The result is the advantages of both finishes in one. Quick drying along with a thicker build and a more amber colored finish make these finishes ideal for residential use over stains and to achieve a darker look than straight water base. These finishes have a tendency to be a little less durable so four coats of finish is recommended. These finishes do not require a separate sealer.

Acid Cure or Conversion Finishes- these seem to be the most durable type of finishes. They are also the most toxic, sometimes referred to as Swedish Finishes because of their origin. Because of their strong smells, difficulty in applying and extreme flammability, these finishes are rarely used in existing refinishing, and primarily used for new construction or commercial applications. An orange/yellow color is present initially and gets more intense with exposure to the sun.

All finishes have different looks and advantages. Your choice of finish should be made according to what type of floor you have and what type of look you want.
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What species of wood is the best?

Obviously this question could be answered many different ways. Like everything else, different species of wood offer different advantages. Things to consider when choosing your species are stability when exposed to humidity, hardness, grain appearance, inherent color and do you like how it looks. This link shows different species available and their appearances: www.woodfloors.org/consumer/whyTypesSpecies.aspx

The Janka Hardness scale rates the overall hardness of wood based on a scientific test using a small steel ball and the indention that it creates. Here are the numbers for various species. The higher the number, the harder the wood. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janka_Wood_Hardness_Rating

Usually the best choice combines three factors. What is your personal preference? How stable is the wood when exposed to changes in humidity? Will the wood be hard enough for its exposure?
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Can I glue solid wood to my concrete slab?

The simple answer is yes. For many years, the adhesives used to glue wood floors to concrete were unable to facilitate the movement of solid wood floors due to moisture change. However with the production of elastic urethanes, glues can now easily maintain their bond as the wood expands and contracts. We have been installing solid wood directly glued to concrete for over 8 years in the Southwest with absolutely no issues. Most important is the flattening of the concrete before this type of installation is accomplished.
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