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Hardwood Flooring

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Hardwood flooring types, finishes, cleaning and more

Hardwood is one of the most versatile, beautiful, and long-lasting of all flooring materials. It is comparable to a fine piece of furniture and instantly glamorizes a room.

Hardwood flooring comes in three basic styles: strip, plank, and parquet.

Strip is the most widely used hardwood floor style and gives rooms a more formal appearance. Strip flooring comes in standard widths of 2 1/4 inches, but it ranges from 1 1/2 inches to 3 1/4 inches wide. Strip flooring is commonly tongue and groove and is often blind nailed, meaning that the nails cannot be seen.

Planks are wider boards, three inches to six inches and even eight inches wide. Boards more than 4 inches wide, however, are more subject to cupping and warping than narrower planks. Plank flooring was one of the first types of wood flooring and is not as formal in appearance as strip flooring. The boards were attached by driving pegs through the boards into the floor joists underneath. That same look is seen today when the planks are screwed to the subfloor and then the screw holes are filled with wooden plugs.

Parquet flooring is made up of narrow blocks of wood, generally in a six-inch square pattern. Parquet floors can be sanded perfectly smooth and then finished for a formal look. A more informal appearance can be achieved by using irregular parquet pieces that are not sanded completely smooth. Because the blocks of wood lie at opposing angles, the pattern picks up light in different manners, creating an always intriguing floor.

Wood Species

The most widely used domestic wood flooring species include red oak, white oak, maple, and cherry. Some of the top imported varieties people uses for hardwood floors involve mahogany, teak, Brazilian cherry, and bamboo.

After sanding, the selected flooring material can be stained to enhance the wood color or left unstained and natural.

Floor Finishes

Traditionally, wood floors were waxed and buffed regularly to bring out the beauty of the grain. Today, there is a wider choice of finishes, and most of them save a lot of housework. Two basic types of floor finishes are penetrating or surface finishes.

Penetrating finishes soak into the wood and leave a matte or satin appearance on the surface. If you run your hand over the wood and can feel the grain, it is likely a penetrating finish. These finishes leave the floors looking more natural and help preserve the wood. After the penetrating finish has been applied, the floors can be waxed and buffed. Penetrating stains are sold either with or without staining colors in them. The Hardwood Council notes, however, that if using a penetrating stain on maple or cherry, which do not absorb stains evenly, you should use a clear penetrating finish rather than one containing stain.

Surface finishes are protective coats on top of the wood to shield it from wear. The most common surface finish for modern floors is polyurethane. For hardwood floors, most pros recommend a minimum of three coats for a durable, long-lasting finish. Some experts believe that first applying two coats of satin finish and then a final coat of gloss achieves the best effect.

Urethane is either oil based or water based. Both come in satin, semigloss, and gloss finishes. Oil-based urethanes require eight hours or more to dry and contain powerful, strong-smelling solvents. The rooms must be ventilated for several days. Water-based polyurethane dries in four hours or less and does not require extensive ventilation. Water-based polyurethane remains clear over the years, while oil-based varieties tend to turn amber as they age.

Care and Maintenance

Hardwood floors should be swept and dust mopped regularly to remove fine grit that will wear away the finish and leave a dull looking floor. Keep doormats clean so grit is not tracked into the house.

Water can damage wood floors by causing them to swell and even buckle. Wood floors routinely expand and contract with humidity changes, but not enough to damage a properly laid floor. There should be a 1/4-inch gap between the flooring and the wall to allow expansion. Baseboards cover this gap.

Any spilled food or liquids should be mopped up before they can do damage. If the floor is wet mopped, the mop should be only damp. No water should be left standing on the floor. It will not only stain the floor, but also could cause the wood to expand beyond its limits. Water-penetrating floors finished with polyurethane are not a significant problem. Rather the problem lies in water getting under the floor between the flooring and the wall beneath the baseboard. Because hardwood floors normally now have polyurethane finishes, water will rarely penetrate the surface. The real risk is liquid getting underneath the flooring around the perimeter.

Hardwood floors that have been sealed and waxed are more subject to damage than floors finished with polyurethane. Here are some repair tips for waxed floors:

    • Cigarette burns: Rub with fine steel wool, then rewax.
    • Chewing gum: Rub with peanut butter to soften the gum and then wipe away; alternatively, chill with ice in a plastic bag and then scrape it away.
    • Scuff marks: Rub with fine steel wool and then wipe clean and reapply wax.
    • Alcohol spots: Rub with paste wax.
    • Water spots: Rub with very fine steel wool and rewax.
    • Dark stains: If the stain has penetrated to the wood, sand away the wax and sand out the spot. Feather the sanding out from the stain as you work. When completed, restain and rewax.

Radiant Heat

A few years ago, radiant heating could not be used with hardwood floors. The amount of heat required to warm the floor and the room caused the wood to swell and crack. But with more sophisticated technology and because homes are better insulated, radiant heating under hardwood floors is now routine. Because homes are less subject to drafts, radiant floor heaters do not have to expend as much energy. This means not as much heat is required and the floors are not subjected to extreme temperature variations as before.

However, the Hardwood Council recommends against radiant heating systems under plank floors wider than four inches because they are more prone to cupping and warping.

Hardwood Flooring DIYS

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