Last week we started a flooring theme by focusing on the most commonly used flooring material carpet. This week we continue the discussion with one of our favorite flooring options: wood.
Wood is among the most beautiful types of material available for residential floors. Besides being visually spectacular, it is easy to live with because it is soft underfoot and warmer than tile.
Traditionally, wood floors have been made of solid wood, which can last for decades by being refinished (sanded and stained) over the years. Longevity and beauty are its selling points, but price and installation are its drawbacks.
Solid-wood floors cost about $12 to $20 per square foot installed. The solid wood strips must be nailed to a subfloor, so they cannot be used directly over concrete. They can be installed over "sleepers" (special wood strips separating the concrete and wood flooring), but concerns over moisture rule out solid wood for most basement floors.
Traditional solid-wood floors are installed in their natural state and then sanded and stained in place. This allows for custom staining, but it's a messy process. With advances in flooring technology, pre-finished floor boards are now available, which cut down on the mess and they have a tougher factory-applied finish. But with no final sanding, this floor will not be as perfectly flat as one that has been sanded in place.
Another wood-flooring option is engineered wood. These floors have a thin veneer of wood over a plywood substrate and are a good choice for damp areas such as basements. Most engineered floors are stapled or glued to a subfloor, but some come as panels ready for floating installation, in which the boards are attached to each other but not the subfloor. Engineered floors are pre-finished and come in varying thicknesses of wood veneer. While some engineered floors are less expensive than solid wood (beginning at about $8 per square foot at the low end), high-quality floors can cost almost as much, so the difference is in function rather than cost.
Another category of real wood floors is exotic wood. Exotic wood is appealing on several levels: its unique and striking appearance, as well as its durability and its environmental friendliness. Bamboo and cork (while not technically wood) are two examples. A stamp from the Forest Stewardship Council confirms the species is a "green" choice due to the rapid regrowth characteristics of the material. Bamboo costs begin at approximately $8-9 per square foot installed.
Reclaimed wood is another option. This wood is recycled from a previous use. It can be flooring salvaged from a home, or wood used for another purpose such as barn siding or train trestles. The wood is milled the same way as any solid wood floor and usually comes unfinished. This type of floor generally costs 20 percent to 40 percent more than new wood.
The final type of wood flooring isn't wood at all but a laminate imitation. This flooring is made from photographs of wood placed between a fiberboard backing and a clear plastic coating. The advantages of this flooring material are the cost ($5-$8 per square foot installed), ease of installation (that homeowners can even do themselves), and its ability to take a beating.
It is exciting to have so many choices for a lovely wood floor. But like we always say, do your homework before you make your choice.
Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founding principals of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.