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Remodel: Picking a hardwood floor

May 27, 2017

If you're a homeowner you know that there's always a new project around the corner-- something to tweak, adjust or update. 


Last year I remodeled a portion of my house (kitchen, replaced all the windows, added a sliding door to my master, and tore out all the flooring in the house and replaced it with hardwood) -- which naturally meant that as soon as one project was done, I was already thinking of my next. 

Going into the remodel, I expected to make a lot of tough choices, but none of them proved to be as difficult as the flooring. Prior to the work, my house was mostly cheap, tan carpet -- with the exception of my entry way, dining room and kitchen -- those all were a horrible, cheap yellow-y faux oak laminate (can you tell I didn't like it?). While I may not have known what was going in, I did know what was currently installed was coming out! 


In my world, there were a few things that helped guide my decision making process and material selection:

  • Style / color

  • Material

  • Durability

  • Cost

For most people remodeling, there are similar guiding principles that we all work by -- I just didn't realize how few options there were that met them! When you go into a flooring store (big box, mom and pop or online) you see tons of flooring options -- but in reality, they can all be bucketed into a few groups, some of which have additional sub-categories

  • Laminate

  • Engineered wood

  • Solid wood (hardwood)

    • Pre-finished

    • Unfinished / finish in place


In my house, there's a lot of movement and foot traffic. Not from people, but from a high-speed border collie named Turbo, and two crazy cats that run like terrors in the night... and day. For me, if I was going to go through the expense of replacing my flooring, I wanted it done right, to look right, and to last. 


Loads of folks lean towards laminate (popular brands like Pergo make it easy to install) as it's quick to clean up, resists sun damage and stains, and depending on the quality and strength rating can be resistant to scratches. It's also significantly cheaper than solid wood flooring or engineered wood floors. But in my  house, this is a no go-- you see, Turbo is a ping-pong machine -- in that he pings and pongs off of every wall in the house, sliding into them (and that's with carpet!) -- Hardwood would only make the problem worse, and would need to be able to withstand his mach speeds. 


But how do you test the durability of flooring when you're only given a tiny scrap piece of wood? Keys, my friend. Keys. For every (small) sample of flooring I brought home, I tried to grind / scrape away the top layer of the flooring with my keys. You'd be surprised at how quickly keys can damage hardwood (and are similar to dog and cat nails grinding / running across flooring!) If they were large samples, I lined them up end to end and had my dog stand at one end, and I at the other -- and called him -- full speed-- having him run across the samples and then checking for damage. Or, had a cat roll around on a board and scratch at it. The verdict? Laminate didn't cut the mustard and for many iterations, the top layer cut away, exposing the composite material beneath. Yuck. Plus, to me, it felt fake which was a bummer. So, laminate was off my list. 



Engineered wood is real wood flooring that is built in layers and bonded (glued) together-- which means in some situations, it can be sanded and treated like hardwood. It can be installed the same as other flooring -- stapled, glued or floated -- and comes in a ton of finishes and colors. And, because it is made of real wood, it feels like real wood under your feet, which is what I was looking for. 


Lastly, there's solid wood-- there are lots of options, and as a result, LOTS of price points. Softer woods dented, but the benefit of hardwood was that it could be refinished, which means any damage from the animals could be fixed (to a degree) in the future. I


No matter the type of flooring, I loved dark, rustic woods (originally I was looking at doing reclaimed flooring, but was also looked at acacia). Then, I found it: solid bamboo. Modern bamboo flooring is extremely hard -- bamboo averages 25 percent harder than red oak and 12 percent harder than North American maple -- which meant it could withstand the crazy animals in my house. And, it came in a ton of colors and finishes. 


I finally selected Cali Bamboo's Antique Java wide plank flooring which I love-- and had installed throughout the house, and would recommend to anyone. It's been about 8 months since I had my floors installed and have moved furniture in and out, the dog and cats have run around at full speed and more, and I've yet to see a scratch-- worth the money and the deliberation! 

At the end of the day, everyone's list of what matters to them / what influences their decision is different, but I strongly recommend making a list. Flooring is an expensive and pretty long-lasting decision, so you want to make sure you're happy and well informed on your selection. 


PS: be sure to follow the instructions from the manufacturer on acclimating -- it's a pain having to stack and un-stack all the boards in the house, but it would be a bigger pain if your flooring shrunk / expanded too much after install! 

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