Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

Flooring options beyond hardwood (1)

Canadian Contractor

Is hardwood really your client's best choice for flooring after you've ripped out those stained, smelly carpets? Most contractors seem to think so, but John Bleasby offers alternatives to hardwood in this series of articles on flooring options.

Contributing editor John Bleasby begins a multi-part series that considers alternative flooring materials versus solid hardwood flooring and associated derivatives such as engineered hardwood and laminate flooring.

Not long ago, wall-to-wall broadloom was the height of residential elegance and fashion. Nowadays renovators are ripping out those stained, smelly carpets and replacing them with hardwood surfaces. In new home construction projects, hardwood surfaces are almost always the preferred choice. But is hardwood really the best alternative to broadloom?

The definition of “best” really comes down to budget, fashion, and suitability for various locations within the home. The world beyond hardwood is actually a vast one. In this series of articles, we will explore many options including bamboo, ceramics, stone, cork, and even concrete along various criteria: cost, feel, durability, and installation, to mention just a few. But let’s start with a primer on hardwood and build up our file of knowledge from there.

Solid hardwood, engineered hardwood flooring or laminate?
You might think that solid hardwood is an easy ‘best choice’ for overall quality. However, to understand the world of hardwoods, you must understand the Janka Rating System, the most objective measure of wood’s resistance to denting. Each species has its own Janka rating; the higher the number, the more resistance to denting. However, don’t confuse hardness with the scratch-resistance of the finish! Many flooring products come pre-finished from the factory. Be sure to check what coatings are used. If finishes are to be applied after installation, research extensively before you decide what to use. The wear and tear of pets and children must be considered.


hardwood flooring veneerWhile the luxurious look and feel to solid wood planks cannot be denied, engineered hardwood flooring has certain advantages in terms of dimensional stability and suitability for installation over a variety of sub-floors. In fact, little is sacrificed when choosing engineered wood flooring planks over solid wood planks. The price may be lower depending on wood species, but be aware: the key to quality is the thickness of the hardwood top layer used in the construction. Look for a thickness between 4 mm and 8 mm. If the top layer is thinner, something a low price will suggest, the flooring might reveal damage more easily and cannot be satisfactorily refinished or repaired.

Laminate_cross_sectionLaminate flooring may look like hardwood but often has little or no solid wood at all. It may simply consist of a plastic or foil photographic wood image glued to the surface of a fiberboard base plank. Cheap, easy to install and a bit of a gamble when it comes to scratch and dent resistance, it is probably best left to basement rec-rooms, not the high fashion areas on the upper levels.

What about radiant floor heating and hardwood floors?
Be careful. The dry heat created through radiant heat can potentially ruin a solid hardwood floor. Even an engineered wood floor can be vulnerable. The best option is to install a ‘floating engineered floor’ (i.e., no glue, no nails) if radiant heat is your client’s choice. With a floating floor, the floor boards are locked together at the joints of each board, not nailed or adhered to the subfloor, thus allowing the whole floor to move as a single unit if a dimensional change within the wood floor takes place.

Next up: The debate between Hardwood and Bamboo flooring. Myths and facts are exposed.


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