The beauty of hardwood flooring is timeless. For hundreds of years, North Americans have been using hardwood to clad their floors. Why? Because hardwood grain has the depth of nature in it. It is beautiful, and part of that beauty is in its unique variation: in pattern, colour and texture. Sometimes it is tempting to see this natural variation as an imperfection. In our day and age of synthetic materials, sometimes we want our patterns to be perfectly symmetrical and predictable.
A hardwood floor however, cannot be perfectly identical throughout. Each board will be unique and will have slight variations in colour and pattern. Similarly, hardwood flooring does not behave like a synthetic material. Rather, as a wood product, it is sensitive to light, moisture and it ages and colours with time. This is only a downside if you perceive it to be a downside. Having realistic expectations of your prospective hardwood floor is important when making a selection. Here’s some information to keep in mind.
All hardwood has grain variation. This is what makes it beautiful. Variation includes grain pattern, colour shifts and mineral streaks, all of which can be subtle or drastic depending on the choice of species and the ‘grade’ of the cut. Species like Hickory and Walnut tend to have quite strong grain and colour variations. Hickory in particular tends to have drastic colour variation and can have blonde and dark brown sections within the same board. Other species like Oak and Maple typically show only slight variations, mostly in pattern and very little in colour.
The ‘grade’ of the cut however, makes the biggest difference. In both site-finished and pre-finished lines, grades range from very clear to very rustic: clearer containing less variation and rustic containing more variation. The names of the grades are different for every manufacturer, which a sales rep can explain if you come to our showroom. In any case, variations will be present in all types of wood. It is important to know what kind and how much to expect in the hardwood you choose. If you’re not a fan of variation, then be sure to choose a species and a grade with as little variation as possible.
Expansion & Contraction
Hardwood is hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs moisture. This includes pools of water and liquid spills, but it also includes moisture from the air. When the air inside your home is humid, the hardwood expands and when it is dry the hardwood contracts. Because of this, humidity levels are very very important. If the humidity changes are relatively mild however, the expansion and contraction will be subtle and will not endanger your floor.
In Calgary, the climate is dry. Summers are moderately dry and winters are very dry. So naturally, you will see a bit of expansion and contraction occurring as the seasons change. During winter, the joints between boards will expand slightly. This is natural and perfectly acceptable behavior to expect from your hardwood floor. To prevent drastic expansion and contraction however, be sure to keep your furnace humidifier at a minimum of 35%. Otherwise, the dry air could damage your hardwood.
The colour of your hardwood will change over time. Exposure to light either darkens or lightens hardwood. Like with grain variation, the intensity of that change will depend on the species of the wood. For example, exotic species like Brazilian Cherry are quite photosensitive, so they darken faster and more substantially, while domestics like Oak and Maple will change colour more slowly and subtly. For most folks, this typically isn’t a problem… that is unless they remove an area rug that has been sitting on the hardwood since it was installed, only to realize there is a big light square in the middle of their living room. It’s important to remember that sections of hardwood exposed to light will darken while sections that remain covered will not. If you’re set on using an area rug off the bat, make sure to remove it occasionally and place it in a different location to even out the darkening process as much as possible.
Hardwood is hard but it isn’t invincible. All hardwoods can be dented, scratched and will show surface abrasions. Once again, the extent to which they are vulnerable depends on the species and board construction. If you have energetic dogs or young kids, and want to avoid scratches, best to go with a harder hardwood like Maple or White Oak.
Certain hardwood manufacturers coat their engineered lines with finishes that contain strengthening additives. These products can be substantially more durable than your typical hardwood. In any event, your hardwood floor will dent, scratch and experience surface wear over time. If the wear becomes too much, you can always re-sand and refinish your hardwood to refresh the surface and give it a clean, new look.
If you have any more questions about what to expect from a hardwood floor, send us an email or give us a call. Better yet, if you live in Calgary and you’re in the flooring market, stop by our showroom at 525 58th Aveue SE. The Floorscapes team has as much experience as we do passion: combined, we have over 150 years in the world of Calgary flooring. We offer our knowledge, our expertise and our aesthetic sensibility in order to help you create a space that you will love.
Written by guest author Eric Osborne.