Decorating trends tend to come, go, and eventually come back in style. Some trends, however, are classic. They never go completely out of style although they may be more and less popular in different time periods. For centuries people have used wood floors in homes, churches and even stores.
Flooring is decorating fashion underfoot, and the look of hardwood floors are among the classics. Beautiful wood floors have graced homes, businesses, schools and other buildings for centuries. Although fashion trends put them under the cover of carpets at times, eventually wood re-emerges to be made beautiful again. Today, consumers have several options for the wood look including real wood products and laminate products with the look of hardwood. What are the pros and cons of the various products?
Hardwood floors look rich and add warmth and charm to rooms, but have always had drawbacks, too. They tend to scratch easily, are damaged by moisture, and stains are hard to remove. New finishes, more stable products, and better construction techniques have solved many of these problems. Now hardwood can go in nearly any room in the home over many types of subfloors, including dry, fully-cured concrete slabs.
Oak, maple and ash are the most popular and well-known favorites, but exotic hardwoods from all over the world are more available now and offer unique grains and colorings.
Trends have leaned back toward early-day rooms with handscraped hardwood floors.
Putting in the floor is much easier with new techniques. Although there is still the option of putting the floor down plank by plank, modern engineering allows for pre-glued planks and longstrip hardwood floors. The end results look much the same but there are distinct advantages for using each type under different applications.
• Solid hardwood floors are recommended only for above ground-level applications — not for concrete slabs. The planks in these floors are generally 3/4 inch thick. Lay them, then sand them smooth to create an even and smooth surface.
• Engineered hardwood floors are made from several plies of wood that are glued and laminated together to form a plank. These are generally wider with the look of several hardwood slabs put together. They can go anywhere in the home including over dry concrete slabs. They are 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. The glue helps keep the planks stable so they are good on regular floors or job sites with higher than normal moisture.
• Longstrip hardwood floors are also engineered, but the planks are longer and wider. Each covers more area and reduces the time and effort required to install them. These can go down anywhere — even dry, concrete basements.
• Purchase exotic hardwood floors in solid hardwood planks or engineered wood construction. Once the work is done, you will have a difficult time telling the three construction types apart.
At one time, hardwood floors meant laying down the lumber, then sanding and sanding, tediously finishing edges and then sealing. Now, builders can purchase a pre-finished wood floor or the unfinished type. Pre-finishing leaves the work and mess in the factory while using unfinished wood allows for a really custom, job-site finish. Warranties are available for factory finishing, but seldom for job-site finishing.
Laminate floors have come into their own in recent years. Laminate flooring made its debut in Europe and spread to North America. It is available in a wide range of realistic wood and stone looks.
Laminate flooring textures offer the realism of hardwood graining and natural tile etching. A wide range of colors is available from natural to dark to warm or cool tones of popular woods, or choose rare, exotic wood species. Undoubtedly cost is a major reason that these have become a major flooring category. These floors tend to be less expensive than hardwood.
Don’t be biased in favor of real hardwood for durability. Laminate floors are incredibly durable and easy to care for.
Computer technology develops the wood grains, and they are well-protected by a tough outer coating. The coating makes them suitable for areas where stains, spills, burns and scratches are a problem, and both the plank and tile versions rest safely on most subfloors including concrete slabs and existing floor coverings.
Put a thin plastic underlayment (four mil poly) to seal out moisture from below and put the planks or squares in place. Another option is to add a vapor barrier or noise reduction underlay before installing the laminate flooring.
A couple of foam underlayment materials are available to cushion the floor and help deaden sound, especially if you have rooms below. There is also a plastic vapor barrier you need to put down if you are installing the flooring over concrete.
Laminate flooring comes in several different forms:
• Original laminate floors required a specially formulated glue to be applied to the tongue and grooved areas of each plank to hold them solidly together.
• Pre-glued laminate flooring leaves the mess at the factory because the glue is already applied to the tongue and grooves. The floors are quick and easy-to-install. A thin, plastic underlayment is needed to seal out moisture and prevent the glue from sticking to the substrate.
• Other, newer products leave out the glue altogether. They are easy to lay. They require no glue and with a tongue and groove locking system, they install quickly and easily. The floors are not secured directly to the subfloor, they float over the subfloor. Because of this they adapt well to a variety of subfloors including concrete, existing floors and concrete slabs. Glueless laminate flooring is quick and easy to install as either planks.