As wood flooring professionals, it is our job to educate the customer about what’s involved in a wood flooring job from start to finish. However, we realize there is a lot for consumers to consider in trying to understand everything involved.
We have compiled some of the most common aspects of wood flooring that cause consumer confusion. Our hope is that the information in this article can help you educate your own clients, preventing frustration all around.
If clients aren’t told up-front about the difference in wood hardness up-front during the selection process, they will end up with a species that isn’t suitable for their lifestyle. For example, the Birch floor shown above is a much softer wood and will show toenail scratches from a large dog a lot more than a traditional oak floor will.
The reason for that difference is the wood’s Janka hardness. The Janka test measures the force required to embed a 0.444-inch-diameter steel ball halfway into a sample of wood. Yellow birch has a hardness of 1,260, while white oak has a hardness of 1,360. Some exotic woods have a hardness over 2,000. The Janka test gives you a good general idea of how readily different species may dent—with some caveats:
1) For engineered flooring, the thickness of the veneer is important. If a floor has a thin veneer, the core material hardness is more significant for dent-resistance than the Janka rating of the wear layer species.
2) The Janka test uses a round ball, not something pointy. Even wood species with a high Janka rating are helpless against a stiletto, for example, which can pulverize concrete. Rolling a piano or a refrigerator is going to dent almost any wood floor.
Choosing a harder species helps prevent dents, and some additional choices that can help disguise wear include distressed floors, as well as species and grades of flooring that have character and grain: Wear won’t be as obvious on a No. 1 red oak floor as it will be on a clear maple floor.
The floor species and type must be chosen with the customers’ lifestyle in mind, not just aesthetics.
“Sheen” means, basically, how shiny a floor is, typically described from matte (not shiny) to satin to semi-gloss and gloss (super shiny). In the floor-coatings world, gloss is measured with a gloss meter, which measures the amount of reflected light from the light beamed at a given angle onto the floor. As noted in the quote above, the sheen can affect the perception of the floor color.
Sheen is also a big factor in how much scratches and wear will show on a wood floor. The glossier the floor, the more obvious wear on the finish will be. Conversely, a low-gloss floor helps disguise scratches and other marks on the finish, making it an ideal choice for clients concerned about seeing finish wear.
Sheen can affect the appearance of color and wear, and it is important customers understand that.
THE SANDING PROCESS
There’s a good reason floor sanding is a professional job: It’s a highly involved process that requires many steps and expertise to know which products will work best and how to do it correctly, all with professional sanding machines.
When pros sand a floor, they determine what is the least aggressive grit to make the floor flat. But that is just a starting point—leaving the floor sanded with that roughest grit would leave long scratches in the floor that are like mountain peaks. Going immediately to too fine of a grit just sands off the very top of the peaks, leaving the deep grooves. This is why pros use a carefully chosen progression of grits to sand the floor correctly to make it flat. After those sandings with the big machine (for the main area of the floor) and the edger (for the perimeter), these days they may use any number of rotary sanders to blend the sanded areas so they have a consistent appearance. Any sanding inconsistencies are highlighted if stain is applied, so a good sanding job is particularly crucial for floors that have any sort of color, such as stain, dye or colored oil finishes.
Sanding a wood floor correctly takes lots of time, expertise and professional products.
It’s hard to blame consumers for not understanding acclimation when there are still a fair number of installers who don’t understand it, either. A valid reason is that, unfortunately, for years the industry preached a time frame for acclimation—the wood had to sit on a job site for X number or days or weeks before it could be installed. As wood flooring experts, we know that acclimation is not simply a time-frame.
It’s getting the wood to the desired moisture content (MC) before installation. Wood is hygroscopic, meaning it gains and loses moisture to be in balance with the relative humidity and temperature in its environment. Before it’s installed, the wood flooring should be at a MC that is close to the average of the MC it will have year-round after installation; that way it shouldn’t have drastic changes in dimension as it shrinks or swells to be in balance with the ambient air.
To be clear, some movement in wood flooring with changes in humidity is to be expected. Gaps that appear and then close with the seasons are considered “normal gaps.” Because of its construction, engineered flooring has less movement than solid flooring, although it will still change to some degree.
Using a moisture meter is the only way to determine wood’s MC at the job site and know if it’s ready to be installed (meaning it’s within the required range of the target MC) or if it needs to acclimate (meaning it needs to gain or lose moisture before installation, a process that can take considerable time).
An exception to this: The directions for some engineered wood flooring state that the plastic packaging of the flooring should not be opened until the flooring is going to be installed.
To avoid future problems, most wood flooring needs to acclimate, meaning it needs to have the right moisture content to be in balance with the long-term humidity and temperature of the building.
WOOD IS AN INVESTMENT
Wood floors are generally more costly compared with most other flooring types. But it’s important that potential clients understand that their wood floors are an investment instead of just money spent. According to the 2019 Remodeling Impact Report from the National Association of Realtors, homeowners can recover 106% of the cost of installing a wood floor when selling their home, and refinishing provides a value that recovers 100% of the cost. The report estimated that installation of new wood floors costs a median of $4,700, but sellers recover $5,000 from the investment.
On a related note, another pro wrote that customers don’t understand that “a quality engineered wood product is a lifetime floor unlike other cheap flooring options.” Understandably, the world of engineered flooring is confusing for many consumers. Many tend to lump it all together when, in fact, quality ranges from bargain-basement options with thin veneers, inexpensive finish and questionable construction to options with quality construction, a thick wear layer and a durable finish which is what we carry at Mansion Hill Custom Floors.
Money spent on a wood floor is actually recovered in home value.
RECOATING VS. REFINISHING
When consumers determine that their floors look worn, there are two options:
1) A recoat. That means the floor isn’t sanded down to bare wood; instead, the floor is cleaned well and a new coat of finish is applied.
When recoating, there are two options. The contractor can “mechanically” abrade it, meaning use an abrasive to roughen the existing top layer of finish and allow the new coat of finish to bond to it. Or the pro can use a chemical adhesion system that involves a process of cleaning and then application of chemicals that allow the new finish to chemically bond to the old finish.
2) A refinish. With refinishing, the floor is sanded down to bare wood and new coats of finish are applied.
Which is the way to go? If the finish is worn off down to bare wood or the wood has lots of damage (like from the dog claws already discussed), resanding is the only option. If the finish is just looking worn, then recoating is still on the table. Some contractors will only do total refinishes, not recoats, because of the potential for the floor to be contaminated with non-recommended cleaning products or other contaminants (see the section on “Oil Soaps” below), causing problems with finish adhesion.
Consumers often ask if the contractor can just fix the areas that are looking worn out. In the majority of cases, the answer is no. An exception is when the floor has oil finish, such as tung oil or hardwax oil, or wax finish. With those finishes, finish can usually be spot-applied to only the worn areas instead of the entire floor.
A wood floor that looks worn might need to be recoated (the finish abraded and new finish applied) or totally refinished (which involves sanding to bare wood and new finish applied) depending on how worn the floor is.
WOOD IS A NATURAL PRODUCT
One of the best things about wood flooring is that each piece of wood is unique and a product of nature. That’s a huge selling point, but some customers can be upset about the variation in the appearance of their floors. That’s where good samples are critical: The customer needs to see samples that show all the color variation and character that will be included in the grade of the flooring chosen, whether those are mineral streaks, knots, etc.
If customers want zero variation, they need to either buy what wood floor pros might derisively refer to as a “fake floor” or pay an extraordinary premium for wood with that consistent appearance. Customers who are interested in sustainability might be interested to know that lower grades of flooring, which have color variation and character, are generally considered the “greenest” since they use more of the original lumber in the final product.
Wood is a natural product, so it isn’t reasonable to expect perfect consistency from piece to piece.
As reflected in the quote above, frustration over consumers’ unfortunate maintenance choices is commonplace among wood flooring pros, and, along with steam mops, oil soaps are top contenders for the worst offense.
Contractors complain that not only do oil soaps make wood floor finish look bad over time (something exacerbated by most consumers’ failure to follow the oil soap directions and use the correct dilution ratio), they contaminate the floor when it’s time to recoat.
It’s imperative to educate your clients on the type of cleaners that should be used on their specific flooring so that it doesn’t end up ruining the finish or costing them more down the line if they are unable to do a re-coat and have to do a complete re-finish because they used the wrong cleaning products.
Consumers should use only cleaning products recommended by the finish manufacturer (for a site-finished floor) or the flooring manufacturer (for a prefinished floor). Using non-recommended products can cause issues with recoating the floor.
As you can see there are a lot of things that can confuse the average consumer about hardwood flooring. At Mansion Hill Custom Floors, we are your trusted resource for your design and remodeling projects. We can help with specification and installation questions as well as cleaning/maintenance recommendations for your specific flooring. Contact us today about your next project! https://mansionhillcustomfloors.com/contact/