Hardwood flooring is ‘in’ again: Glossy floors return to former popularity

That’s the story one Kitchener resident tells, as he describes the floors he installed back in the 1950s with his brother. The story is very different today. Installation is much easier and wood floors are being put in many areas of the home. What remains the same is the classic appeal of hardwood floors.

“One of the biggest reasons for choosing hardwood floors today is for allergies. People are thinking more and more about air quality, and the choice of flooring affects that directly,” said Christian Wingelaar, a local builder and owner of Wingelaar Estate Homes. “I’ve been talking with a lot of people lately who just don’t want carpet in their homes.”

Also, as the trend to renovating existing homes continues, more people are choosing hardwood floors as a way to increase the value and enjoyment of their homes.

“The most popular areas for hardwood floors in the home today are the front foyer and the kitchen, said Diana Brenchley, who co-owns Ayr Hardwood Flooring Inc. in Waterloo with her husband. “We’re still doing dining rooms and dens, but there are some distinct advantages to a hardwood floor in the kitchen.”

Those advantages include appearance, comfort and surprisingly, durability.

“Wood floors are more esthetically pleasing,” said Brenchley. “They have warmer look than ceramic, which can appear and feel cold.”

Wood floors are also kinder to your back when you stand for long periods of time. Ceramic and linoleum can be difficult for people who have back problems.

Durability is also an issue to consider when installing a kitchen floor, as well as any floor in the home. Each option has its drawbacks. Linoleum tears and can be difficult to clean thoroughly. Ceramic is cold and can crack. And wood can scratch, dent and wear down. While all of these products also have their advantages, Brenchley says wood, the only natural product, does tend to be more giving.

There are many things to take into account when considering hardwood floors for the kitchen. Ensure that the bevel (groove between planks) is not very deep because it is likely food and dirt will fall on the floor and find the grooves, making cleaning difficult.

Also consider traffic. Some areas, such as around the sink, will sustain more use and show wear. This problem is easily fixed with a decorative rug or mat, but make sure the backing of the rug is suitable for wood floors.

Another option for hardwood floors today is in the basement. Although the higher level of moisture likely rules out solid wood floors because they might buckle and shift, laminated floors provide a good alternative. With the appearance of wood, a laminate looks just as warm and cosy, but can be glued directly to the concrete subfloor. Being more stable, this flooring will not likely sustain damage due to moisture. It’s slightly more expensive and less linear looking because it is made up of smaller, shorter pieces.

Of course, hardwood floors are popular in most rooms of the house, but what is often not popular or even conceivable to the faint of heart is installation. There is something about hardwood floors that makes them seem like an insurmountable challenge to install. Perhaps that was true in the ’50s, but not today.

“We get a lot of people who do the installation themselves,” said Brenchley. “When it’s one or two rooms, they can do as good a job as we do.” Brenchley is referring to pre-finished wood flooring and installation. Pre-finished wood comes in easy-to-install planks, with as many as seven coats of urethane baked on at the factory. With a nail gun (often supplied by the flooring distributor), installation advice and tips (also from the distributor), and one day’s work per room, installing pre-finished hardwood flooring is not a difficult task.

“We’ve never had anyone give up and ask us to come in and finish the job,” Brenchley said. “Once you get going, it’s quite simple.”

Brenchley does not recommend that homeowners try to do custom flooring themselves. This involves buying the raw wood, laying it down, and then doing the sanding and finishing. This is difficult, and takes days of quite intensive labor. Sanding and finishing also involve a higher level of skill and experience.

If the thought of oil-based urethane is not appealing, there are also water-based finishes that are extremely durable and negate the potential for chemical “off-gassing,” but they’re harder to work with because they dry so fast.

However, says Brenchley, “water-based is about five times more expensive – nut it will last about that much longer, too.”

Oil-based finishes can cause an “ambering” affect, so in the case of maples (where the lightness of the wood is a selling point), almost everybody uses water-based polyurethanes.

Before putting down the first piece of wood, make certain to consider the different styles and colors of flooring. Oak, maple, ash and birch are some of the many kinds of wood, each with its own look. While natural wood is by far the most popular, some people opt for stains such as burgundy or brandy. Other color techniques include bleaching or pickling.

When choosing a color, keep in mind your furniture and the size of the room. For example, with a dining room, it’s a good idea to go with lighter colored flooring to “pick up” the furniture, if it happens to be a darker wood.

And remember, what looks good as a sample in the store, may not be as appealing across your entire floor.

The width of your planks is also important to prevent future problems. Brenchley suggests no more than

3 1/4-inch width or you could sacrifice the stability of the surface. A common width is 2 1/4 inches.

One aspect that often deters people from hardwood flooring is the cost.

“We have people come in and say, ‘You know? This really isn’t much more than good-quality carpet.’ ” Brenchley said. “But the difference is, the carpet will last for maybe 10 years. Hardwood flooring can last forever, with the occasional refinishing.”

Prices vary among retailers and installers. Ayr Hardwood Flooring charges $7 per square foot for Select and Better Grid (a more uniform pattern of wood) installed and about $1 less for Traditional (more variation in the wood grain). For pre-finished projects, add $1 per square foot, and do-it-yourself takes off $2, Stains cost 50 cents extra.

For inspiration, consider a home recently built by Wingelaar Estate Homes in Hidden Valley. It’s a $2.6-million home, with 50-per-cent hardwood flooring.

“This particular home is really well-designed,” said Wingelaar. “The owners are interested in Oriental design and don’t want floors that compete for attention. They have chosen a neutral, low-grain maple. It is bright and very strong, resistant to denting.”

“We also tried to dress the floor up a bit with a border of Brazilian cherry, that runs about 12 inches from the wall. Everything has a real look of cleanliness and openness, with a lot of warmth.”

Of course, you don’t have to have a $2.6-million home to install hardwood floors. Brenchley says that while most of the new homes that have hardwood floors installed are in the upper price range, installing hardwood as a renovation project is being done in everything from a small bungalow to a sprawling estate home.

Maintenance tips for hardwood floors

Shoes should be removed before walking on wood floors. Shoes carry sand and grit that scrapes away at the floor surface.

Stiletto heels are extremely damaging and should never be worn on wood floors. (Vinyl and linoleum aren’t fond of them, either.)

Chairs and moveable furniture should have floor protectors or pads to prevent rubbing down the finish.

Vacuum with a soft brush head.

Do not overuse water when cleaning wood floors as this can cause extensive damage. Use a damp wipe method, using minimal liquid.

Only clean wood floors with products recommended by companies selling hardwood floors. Never use oils or detergents. Use a gentle cleaner that leaves no film. (Brenchley does not recommend Murphy’s Oil Soap for hardwood floors, although the product is commonly used.)

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