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Longevity Of Hardwood Flooring

Your budget will often have much to do with what type of hardwood floor to choose. In direct relation it can also have an effect on how long your new floor will last. One element many do not think of is how long you expect to live in the home. Why spend more than you really need if you’re happy with the appearance? Times have changed and so have choices.

Today there are essentially five types of hardwood floor construction (excluding parquet and specialty designs) with the amount of hardwood that can be refinished being the major determining factor of longevity. Running a close second is the care of any hardwood floor. Five types? I know, you’re probably saying… "the flooring store said there were only two; engineered and solid."

Engineered Hardwood Flooring

  1. Sliced cut hardwoods
  2. Rotary peeled hardwoods
  3. Plain sawn or sawn hardwood

More on engineered hardwood floors...

Solid Hardwood Flooring

  1. Thin solid hardwoods
  2. Traditional 3/4" solid hardwoods

More on solid hardwood floors

Sliced Cut Hardwoods

Sliced cut is a manufacturing method of removing a thin veneer from the actual log. Material cut becomes the decorative top layer of an engineered hardwood. Also known as veneer, finish, or wear layer, this product is low on the longevity scale.

Yes, it is an engineered product with the actual amount of surface hardwood being less than 1 millimeter. These floors cannot be completely refinished and may not be suitable if you plan on living in your home for more than five to seven years.

Five to seven years is an arbitrary number. With any floor covering, a homeowners expectations play a role in determining how long a floor will last. With hardwood, some are not bothered by the inevitable scratching, while others may expect a flawless appearance or what it looked like when new. If the latter applies to you, sliced cut hardwoods are not the choice.

Rotary Peeled Hardwoods

This type of manufacturing is the most common among American manufacturers in the likes of Bruce, Hartco, Harris Wood, and Robbins to mention the larger ones. The veneer or actual surface layer is typically one millimeter to approximately 2.5 millimeters.

When looking at any engineered hardwood take a look at the cross section of the material. A ruler may help to determine the veneer thickness. More common rotary peeled hardwoods have a veneer in the 2.0 millimeter range, or approximately 1/16 of one inch. Over time if you’re not happy with the appearance, this type can be completely refinished at least once.

There are Exceptions

I said once, but in some cases it may not work once. Why? Much depends on the condition of the sub floor underneath the hardwood floor. Was it prepared properly before the floor was installed? Any iregularities in the flatness of the sub floor may determine if the floor can be successfully refinished.

What occurs is the sanding equipment’s inability to remove a consistant amount of hardwood. This is directly related to the flatness of the sub floor. Peeling a carrot can be used as an example. Once the peeling is started, higher areas of the skin are removed while some depressions are missed. It takes more work to reveal the carrot without the skin. Hence more material is removed.

The same is true with sanding any hardwood floor. Upon sanding a hardwood floor the old finish (skin) has to be completely removed for a successful application of any new finishes. Sanding machines run on a flat plane. They follow the contour of the floor while sanding the most accessible wood first. With flatter sub floors material can be removed in consistent fashion. Irregular sub floor conditions require more passes to remove enough hardwood to continue with the final finishing procedure.

Another important factor in determing if a floor can be refinished successfully is the experience of the finishers. Inexperienced finishers can ruin a floor in a matter of minutes. If you find yourself in this situation ask the finishers how much experience they have with engineered floors.

What Happens If They Sand Off Too Much Wood?

While rather uncommon, If you want a functional floor with added life and not choosey about the appearance, you can go forward with refinishing the floor if in doubt. Once the veneer is sanded through, layers of the engineered construction begin to show. The layer or grain beneath the actual veneer runs in a different direction and is often a different hardwood species. More experienced finishers may encounter this problem if the original sub floor is not flat. However small areas may show and not large sections.

More on when to refinish hardwood floors and what to expect.

Solid Sawn Hardwoods

Frequently this engineered product is of higher overall quality. The actual surface material may vary from 1/8 of one inch to 3/16” Once again your expectations and the veneer thickness will determine how many times it can be refinished. Nevertheless, as a general rule there’s no reason this type of floor cannot be successfully refinished once. With ideal sub floor conditions and experienced finisher knowledge, solid sawn hardwoods over 1/8 veneer can be refinished three times.

Thin Solid Hardwoods

Comparing a thin solid hardwood to a traditional 3/4" many cannot see the difference. Thin solids are a great alternative with a lower price tag compared to the traditional choice. Manufactures such as Bruce, Hartco, BR111, and Scandian offer an overall thickness of 5/16". Amount of material that can be refinished is approximately one eighth of an inch and similar to a solid sawn engineered hardwood regarding how many times it can be refinished.

Traditional Solid 3/4" Hardwoods

Most people will often choose this for more of a traditional choice, while others perceive it as top quality. This is not necessarily true when comparing to the thinner solid hardwood. Both will have the same appearance with the exception of overall lengths installed into the floor. Thinner products generally come with more shorter pieces than traditional choices.

Solid hardwood floors have been around for hundreds of years. With the advent of tongue and groove technology today’s solid ¾” floors will not last as long as those installed by many of our original settlers. Once the floor is sanded enough times the fasteners used to install the floor will begin to show. However for all intent and purposes you will probably not see this stage unless you’ve purchased an older home where the floor has been refinished several times. These types of floors can last into 100 years, but depends on the topics covered above.

The comparisons above represent prefinished hardwood floors. Other thicknesses in solids are available through unfinished manufacturers. Expect initial material costs to be higher due to supply and the added finishing labor costs after installation.

Article Contributed By: Ken Fisher

You can visit Ken and his site on Guide to Hardwood Flooring