One reason hardwood floors are so popular is that they can retain their beauty for years. In fact, some would argue that wood floors become more beautiful with age, as they acquire a rich patina over time. But long-lasting beauty isn’t something that can be taken for granted. If you’re planning to install new floors, you should know what you’ll be able to expect from them in the future. Let’s take a look at some of the factors you’ll need to consider.
Hardwood floors come in several dozen types of woods, and the choices can be almost overwhelming. But you can focus your options on the right woods by examining your lifestyle and your priorities. If you’re particularly concerned about durability – if you’ve got pets and kids, for example – you’ll want to lean towards harder woods. If you’re a city-dweller with no pets or children, and can expect lighter traffic on your floors, a softer floor that captures your fancy might be just fine for you.
The Janka hardness test makes it easy to compare woods, and to identify better choices for your lifestyle. Red oak, a very popular wood, is considered to be average in hardness and has a Janka score of 1290. Woods such as pine, walnut, teak, and cherry are softer, have lower Janka scores, and are more likely to show marks and dents; woods such as hickory, pecan, or wenge have higher scores and will be more durable. You can find the Janka scores for a great number of woods here on Wikipedia.
As mentioned above, hardwood floors acquire a patina as they age, and this patina varies depending on the type of wood. This is especially true today, as more exotic woods are used in flooring. Wenge, for example, will darken to a near black; purpleheart can evolve from a reddish-brown to a dark purple over time. At minimum, you can expect your floor to grow lighter or darker. With that in mind, it’s clear that you should plan to choose a wood that not only looks great today, but will continue to appeal to you as its color changes over time.
There is another factor that affects the color of a wood floor, and that’s the finish. Modern floors can feature either water-based or oil-based polyurethane finishes, or can simply be oiled. Water-based poly finishes let the natural color of the wood shine through, and their own color changes little over time. Oil-based poly finishes provide their own color, lending the floor a darker, warmer, more golden tone; these finishes also tend to darken over time, and while many find that change in color pleasing, it’s certainly something you need to consider.
Although oiled finishes lack the protective sheen of their polyurethane cousins, they’re quite durable. Oiled floors tend to quickly look older and lived-in, but their surfaces are actually less subject to everyday wear and tear. Oil finishes also develop their own patina over time, so you’ll want to take care to learn what you can expect in the future.
If you’re early in the process of planning a hardwood floor installation, you ought to look for local installers that work with a variety of types of finishes as well as a large selection of woods. Not all installers employ more than one type of finish, as many strongly prefer one over the others. The installer who handled my floors, Buff & Coat, offers several types of finishes so you can choose the one that best suits your lifestyle and will complement the color of wood you plan to use.
No matter what you do, you should plan to do your homework. With any luck, you’ll be living with your hardwood floor for the next few decades. If you take the time to make smart decisions before installation, you’ll be able to love your floor for decades, too.