Homeowner Expectations for a Hardwood Flooring Purchase
by Crystal Hosking, Hosking Hardwood Flooring
We have found that when homeowners come to us looking for hardwood flooring, there are three major requirements that they are aiming to fulfill: value, reliability and appearance. During the decision making process, different consumers will have different expectations and needs for each of the three.
Value is all about how much you’re paying for something in relation to what you’re actually getting. Some homeowners have it in their budget and are willing to pay a little more for a higher quality product. These could be considered premium products from premium manufacturers, like Muskoka or Lauzon, or they could be considered products with a more specific stylized appearance, like a handscraped surface or an exotic wood species. Some homeowners are looking for a more affordable hardwood product and are willing to consider hardwoods with less uniformity of color or shorter board lengths. It’s important to be familiar with what kind of budget you’re working with in order to determine what kind of hardwood flooring product would work within your budget’s parameters.
As with any consumer product, different manufacturers are going to offer different levels of quality and reliability. Typically, hardwood manufacturers which have been around for decades will have proven track records, vouching for their dependability. These well known brands are known for their reliability and work hard for excellence in both their products and their customer service because any negative reviews would hurt the reputation they’ve spent so many years building. Lesser known manufacturers tend to feel less accountability and may not be up to par when it comes to product warranties, communication or milling standards.
What a hardwood floor actually looks like is usually the deciding factor when it comes to making a final purchase; after all, the visual is what you’re going to be seeing day in and day out: you want to make sure it’s something that you actually like. It’s important to keep in mind that hardwood flooring is a natural product, though. While the small sample in a showroom may give you a good idea of what the product might look like in your home, it can’t be used as a complete representation of what the hardwood floor will exactly look like when installed.
Depending on the wood species, natural products can have slight (White Oak) to moderate (Hickory) to extensive (Brazilian Cherry) color variation from board to board. It’s hard to see this color variation from a small sample or even in a larger showroom display board. Stained products sometimes face the same dilemma, as different parts of the same tree can take a stain color slightly differently.
Grain patterns can’t always be counted on either. Depending on what region the specific tree came from and, especially with exotic wood species, sometimes grain patterns can be completely off the map.
Additionally, natural wood flooring will change color a bit over time. With exposure to light, natural wood flooring will get richer and darken in color, ultimately reaching maturation at about 6 to 8 months. Again, this is due to the face that hardwood flooring is a natural product. The photosensitivity of different wood species can vary greatly: Red Oak and White Oak change so slightly that it’s hardly noticeable, while exotics like Brazilian Cherry go through a metamorphosis in color, becoming much richer in tone at the point of maturation. For more on the specific characteristics of different wood species: Choosing a Hardwood Flooring Wood Species.
Most homeowners interested in hardwood flooring know about these variances and appreciate the uniqueness and authentic feel that natural wood flooring brings to their home. Other homeowners want a very specific look and are unwilling to accept the fact that there may be slight variances within the natural wood product they select. In this case, it might be best to look into a fabricated flooring material, like laminate or vinyl, in order to get that very specific color desired.
Wood grading refers to the way hardwood flooring raw material is sorted when it is first milled. Sometimes it’s human observation that is used to determine grade, other times grades are determine through computer scans of each milled board. Different grade levels are dependent on color variation from board to board as well as amount of character present on that board. The clearer grades are generally more expensive, the mid range grades are typically more popular and the rustic grades will have the most character and color variation.
Not all manufacturers will offer multiple grades in their product lines. Most brands will focus on one or two of the grades that they think will appeal to their target market and/or price points.
Clear Grade products are going to be the most uniform hardwood floors on the market. Boards are clear and the color from board to board is pretty uniform. Unusual character marks or crazy grain patterns are virtually non-existent. Not too many hardwood manufacturers offer a Clear Grade.
Select & Better Grade is the most popular choice for manufacturers to use when creating their natural hardwood flooring. The S&B Grade offers slight color variation but relatively standard grain patterns and typically little to no darker character marks.
Select Grade is a step down from S&B. There will be slight color variation and some darker grain patterns. Small knots are allowed in this grade. It’s common for manufacturers to use a Select Grade when creating their stained products, as much of the color variation from board to board and the more visible grain patterns are covered up by the stain.
Rustic Grade hardwood flooring features color variation, darker grain patters, filled knot holes and sometimes a mixture of heartwood and sapwood. Ultimately, this creates a very distinct mosaic of the nature of real hardwood. Rustic Grade hardwood has the same quality as other grades, so it shouldn’t be seen as less durable or junk flooring — it’s just graded according to the appearance of the board and is much sought after for homeowners interested in a “country” aesthetic.
Cabin, Value or Tavern Grade flooring is the lowest grade available. Lots of times, these grades contain shorter boards, unusual coloring, unfilled knot holes, dark graining, etc. These grades are not 1st run products, but rather, are considered 2nds as they are boards manufacturers don’t feel fill the requirements necessary of their 1st run material.
To a certain point, the grade of flooring you purchase has an impact on how much of a waste factor you’ll need to account for in your order of hardwood flooring. A waste factor is the extra percentage of material needed to cover cutting waste and board selection. With a Clear Grade, Select & Better Grade or Select Grade floor, you will get mostly good boards — but there may be one or two that you just don’t like the looks of and don’t want installed. The waste factor is recommended to cover being choosey like this. With these higher wood grades, it’s generally recommended to order a 5% to 8% waste factor over the actual square footage needed. With lower grades, like Rustic or Cabin, it’s generally recommended to order 8% to 10% overage as a waste factor.
For more information: How to Measure for Hardwood Flooring or Laminate Flooring.
Many homeowners who purchase hardwood flooring products don’t have a clear understanding as to what is included in a manufacturer’s warranty. A brand typically boasts 25 Years, 50 Years or even a Lifetime Finish Warranty. But this can be deceiving and consumers come away with the idea that their new hardwood flooring is guaranteed not to scratch or dent. What a finish warranty really means is that over that span of time, with normal household traffic, the factory applied finish will not wear off. Finish warranties do not cover scratching or denting to the surface. Additionally, if you sand and refinish at any point in the future, you’re void that factory finish warranty.
Structural warranties are also included on hardwood flooring products by manufacturers. Structural warranties are typically good for the lifetime of the hardwood flooring, but they don’t cover water damage or cupping/buckling that may occur as a result of high or low moisture content in the air. When warranty issues do arise, manufacturers will often ask for an inspection to be done. Guidelines from the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) state that inspections are to be performed from a standing position and not down on hands and knees. Warranties also do not cover the installation of undesirable boards (boards with darker streaking or giant knot holes). Once the board is installed, it’s considered to be accepted by the purchaser. Ugly boards that you do not want in your floor should be pulled from the carton and counted as part of the waste factor.
For a more in-depth look at hardwood flooring warranties: Hardwood Flooring Warranty Expectations.
Overall, hardwood flooring is a beautiful and financially beneficial upgrade to any home. However, it’s important for to have the right expectations of this natural product before ultimately deciding on what’s right for you and your home.
You may also be interested in: What is the FSC?, Finding the Perfect Hardwood Floor, Molding & Trim Guide for Hardwood and Laminate Flooring, Water vs. Wood.