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Household Hints & HELP!

Wood Flooring Offers Many Options

submitted by Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator
This article appeared in the February 23, 2003 Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper.

Are you considering new flooring for your home? Whether you are building a new home or replacing the flooring in your present home there are many decisions to make.

Hardwood floors have long been a premium flooring choice for homes, and they have become even more popular in recent years.

Oak is the most common wood species used, but a variety of species are available. Hardwood floors consist of narrow, unfinished tongue and grove boards called strips or wider boards called planks. The boards are nailed to the subfloor, sanded to level any thickness differences and coated with sealer. When the sealer wears off and the surface darkens, the floor can be sanded and refinished.

Sanding and sealing a hardwood floor can take several days. To speed installation, manufacturers have introduced pre-finished hardwood flooring. Once it's nailed in place it usually isn't quite as even as the finished-in-place floor so each piece may have a slight bevel on each side. An advantage of pre-finished flooring is the finish may be much more wear-resistant.

In recent years a number of engineered wood products have been introduced such as hardwood veneer glued to a plywood base. The veneer may either be rotary cut, giving it a plywood-like look, or sawn, giving a look similar to solid wood flooring. Traditional finishing products are used on some engineered wood, but other finishes are available for pre-finished wood and engineered wood that are much more durable than the products available for site application. Some use aluminum oxide crystals or diamond dust to make the finish harder. These finishes come with as much as a 25-year warranty.

Other engineered products are impregnated with acrylic resins, which are then factory hardened. These products are several times harder than ordinary hardwood flooring and highly impact-resistant. Plastic laminate flooring also offers the look of wood. It consists of a thin wear layer, much like laminate counter tops, covering a pattern layer glued to fiberboard. Laminate flooring is suitable for installation in damp areas and is highly impact resistant.

While installation specifications vary, generally the installation begins by preparing the surface so it's as even as possible. A vapor barrier is applied followed by a thin layer of foam underlayment. The flooring is then glued and clamped together. The floating system allows easy installation over concrete slabs. It also can be installed over existing vinyl flooring. Engineered wood and laminate flooring offer variety and uniformity of colors and patterns and durability.

Laminates tend to be somewhat cheaper and longer wearing but can't be refinished and may not offer a quality wood look. Engineered wood is roughly the same price as pre-finished wood or site-finished wood but usually can't be refinished as often as real wood. It also comes in panels, so joints may be more obvious. Since the difference in appearance can be substantial it's a good idea to insist on seeing full floor installation before purchasing rather than making a selection based on viewing samples alone.

Check with family, friends and neighbors who have hardwood floors to see how they like them and to get advice about care before making your final selection.

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