hardwood flooring

August 2016 Newsletter

hardwood flooring: a warm backdrop for your cool furniture

Together with the wall treatment, the material and finish you select for your flooring can affect the overall quality of your space greatly. While there are endless choices of flooring materials in the market, hardwood remains a perpetual favorite in residential remodels. Among its many advantages, it is often chosen for its resiliency, warm touch, and its ability to match with existing floors seamlessly. For the design-conscious, hardwood can be transformed into different personalities with the latest finishes and techniques. To learn more, we turn to Or Dobrin and Mark Whatley of Amber Flooring.

two main types of wood flooring

Or, owner and manager of the firm, starts with showing me 2 samples: one is a 3/4" thick piece of solid wood flooring , another is an 1/2" engineered wood plank.

He explains that a traditional solid hardwood floor is usually made with solid wood pieces 2 1/2" wide and 3/4" thick, with tongue and groove sides. Other thinner gages such as 1/2" or 5/16" are also available. Despite its being a solid piece of wood, only the top 1/4" of the board is really useful (available for re-sanding multiple times.) You cannot sand the wood down below the groove. In the East and West Coasts, where there are older traditional buildings, narrower solid strips (2" wide by 5/16" thick, attached to the sub-floor with top nails) are popular. In this type of flooring, about half of its thickness is useful, capable of being re-sanded four to five times in its life.

Another type of flooring that is gaining popularity is called engineered hardwood flooring. It is constructed with a hardwood veneer (ranges from paper thin, to 1/8" and 1/4" thick) laminated with multiple sheets of plywood laid in opposite directions. This "cross-ply" construction makes a hardwood floor that is more dimensionally stable and is less affected by temperature and humidity variations when compared to traditional solid wood floors. Engineered wood floors are very versatile; they can be installed in almost any interior conditions, including below grade, and on top of concrete slabs. They also come in a wide variety of widths and thicknesses, making a custom look possible.

installation and finishes

Mark, project manager and certified inspector, has worked on many highly refined projects with building Lab. In this type of custom work, unfinished hardwood strips or planks are first installed, then sanded smooth by using a drum sander (from rough to fine grits). An edger is used for the borders. Finally the surfaces are brought together into one consistent whole by using a buffer. Depending on the design, stain can be brushed or mopped on, and then three coats of clear finish are applied on top. He explains that the resistance to scratches and dents depends on both the hardness of the wood specie and on the finish. As examples, he points out that sand and grits on the shoe can scratch the finish, while a pebble embedded in the sole can dent the wood, and also scratch the finish as the foot drags it out of the dent. Obviously, spiky heels can easily dent the wood.

In terms of finishes, there are two main kinds in the market: oil-based polyurethane and the newer water-based urethane. Traditional poly has a rich amber color and is often selected to match existing flooring. Many clients with modern interiors prefer Bona® (a leading water-based finish) for its clean natural look that doesn't yellow with age. It is better for the environment and indoor air quality since it has lower VOC (volatile organic compounds). With less of an off-gassing problem, homeowners can move back to their house soon after their hardwood floor is completed. About 80-85% of the sanding and finishing pros at Amber Flooring are certified by Bona®.

tips for homeowners

  • One important trade secret that Or and Mark shows us is called acclimatization. They take raw wood into the project house to let it get used to the typical condition of the house. The strips or planks are stacked in a 'matchsticking' (crisscrossing) fashion so that air flow can get through. This is to minimize expansion and contraction after installation.
  • For the same reason, it is good practice to maintain a consistent indoor environment if you are going to be away for an extended period. A stale interior with a drastic change in temperature and humidity can cause warping or buckling.
  • Select the wood specie and finish to fit your lifestyle and budget: oak, maple, and American walnut are all versatile; harder exotic wood species and strand woven bamboo are slightly more expensive to install; Bona® Traffic HD is one of the most expensive finishes but it may well be worth the expense in the long run.

Amber Flooring

Founded in 1992 by Ilan Zamir, Amber Flooring grew from a one-man operation into a well known company of fifteen employees today. They specialize in custom wood flooring, intricate staircases, and offer carpet, vinyl, and Marmoleum® flooring products and installation service. They source their products from North America, South America, and Asia, either with direct importation or through other local suppliers.
Photo captions: L-R  (interior projects designed by bL, photos by Scott Hargis.)
1. Quarter sawn oak solid hardwood plank  2. Clear American Walnut
3. Solid wood plank (top 1/4" useful)  4. Engineered wood plank (top 1/8" useful)
5. Solid white oak select custom finished on site  6. Engineered pre-finished hardwood flooring  
7. Amber Flooring showroom  8
. L-R: Or Dobrin, Mark Whatley

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