Hardwood or laminate?

Laminate floors (Pergo, Wilsonart, etc., etc.) are plastic-covered, fiberboard-based photographs of wood. If you like plastic, buy laminates. If you like wood, buy wood because the laminates do not sound, feel, or even look very much like real wood. They are only meant to be a floor covering (as in "floating"), not a real part of the actual floor, and will therefore, need to be replaced eventually. Wood floors last lifetimes and, with the new finishes, they are very low maintenance. They are natural. They add real value to your home (talk to your banker, real estate appraiser, or or read the real estate ads). They are not much more expensive (if at all) than the better laminates, especially when you consider their value to re-sale and longevity. Wood is good! Top

What are hardwood floors?

Sounds like a silly question, but this term is often misleading. Most people assume a hardwood floor is a hardwood floor, but there can be a huge difference in quality and durability among hardwood flooring products. The products that fall into the category of "hardwood flooring" range from 3/8" thick engineered flooring with a paper thin veneer for the wear layer to a full 3/4" thick solid wood board. Species range from virtually every American hardwood to many options of imported species, offering a myriad of choices for appearance. Also, it is important to note that hardwoods differ in hardness. A hardwood is considered to be any wood that comes from a deciduous tree (they lose their leaves in the fall). Some are relatively soft, such as poplar, but most are harder than the softwoods, which are conifers, or evergreens (pines, etc.) Top

Wide boards or narrow boards?

Wide, or plank flooring boards are usually selected because they allow the grain pattern to develop more completely and offer a prettier, more interesting floor to look at than the narrower strip flooring, in which the grain patterns are interrupted every 1.5" - 2.25". In larger rooms, they can also look more proportionate. Top

One important consideration in choosing wider boards is that of humidity control, which is important in dealing with all wood products and floors of any width, but especially when wide flooring boards are present. Being a dried fibrous product, wood expands and contracts with humidity changes. Increased humidity causes the wood to expand, while drier conditions cause the wood to contract, or shrink. After the wood is finished on one side, expansion tends to cause cupping, or raised edges. Shrinking causes cracks to open between the boards. The wider the board, the more dramatically it responds to humidity changes. This is because the wider the board, the more fibers there are per unit. Top

Some cupping during the humid summer months and some separation between boards in dry winter months is normal. Assuming all other conditions are normal, air conditioning in the summer and an effective humidifier during the winter are adequate measures to control the humidity for normal plank performance. Top

During new construction, care must be taken to avoid dramatic moisture-changing conditions after the floor is on site, such as wet basements, drywall mud or masonry applied, plumbing leaks, inadequate weather sealing, wet framing or subflooring due to rain or snow before roofing, etc. which all add inordinate amounts of moisture to the wood. Another problem can be the opposite - extremely dry conditions due to high temperatures without humidity. Some painters like to dry their paint fast this way, which "bakes" the wood and shrinks it. If you like the look of wide plank flooring (as many people do), it is very important to make sure you and your builder are on the same page when it comes to moisture control during construction. Top

The remodeling of existing homes is usually less of a problem because most of the materials in the house have had years to stabilize. Even so, it is still important to control humidity with air conditioning during the humid summer months and humidifiers during the winter, and to eliminate any conditions that might cause damp basements, etc. If you are like millions of other discriminating homeowners who like the special look of wide plank flooring, you can enjoy years of trouble-free beautiful hardwood floors by taking some reasonable, common-sense precautions which will not only stabilize your wood, but make your home more comfortable for you, too! Top

Prefinished or unfinished?

The most obvious advantage to installing prefinished flooring is convenience. Nail it down and you are done. No sanding dust, no fumes, no waiting for drying time. With a high quality brand of prefinished flooring, other advantages are the consistency and durability of the finish itself. We Ihink our Model brand of prefinished flooring is the best in the industry, offering either a 25 year or a lifetime residential (10 year commercial with a 1 year loss of luster) warranty*.

One advantage that some homeowners feel goes to unfinished flooring is that it is square edged; that is, it has no bevel around the edges and butts up tight between boards. Another advantage is that it is sanded flat on site and is, therefore, somewhat flatter than a prefinished floor (a difference that is not normally noticed by the homeowner) These advantages do not, however, translate into another advantage sometimes mistakenly attributed to an unfinished floor; that the floor sanded and finished on site acts like one solid piece of wood to keep any spills, etc. from seeping down between the boards. In reality, all wood expands and contracts somewhat from season to season with humidity changes and you will eventually find some separation between flooring boards in various places, at least during the winter months. Major spills will seep down between either type of flooring but, if dried in time, will only cause minor, temporary swelling in the floor. In consideration of the flatness of a floor, our Model brand of prefinished floor has been precisely sanded on both sides before finishing to ensure the most consistent thickness from board to board possible This precision manufacturing process also makes it possible to provide the smallest micro bevel in the industry.

Another advantage that goes to the unfinished category is that there is virtually no limit to the color possibilities of staining on site. In prefinished, you are limited to the colors that the manufacturer offers (although quite a few are offered). If you don't like the grain of oak, maple looks much better stained in a prefinished version than unfinished. While on the subject of maple, it is worth noting that in a natural or light color, the separation between boards in the winter months will look much more natural in the prefinished micro bevel, where a subtle line between boards is expected, than in the unfinished, where the eye expects the boards to meet flush all the time, Model's micro bevel is so small that it will not be a "dirt catcher" and is considered a "non-issue" for most homeowners and project managers.Top

How can I determine the quality of a prefinished floor?

The quality of a prefinished floor may initially be judged by the quality of the finish. Allow light to reflect from the surface toward you and it should be smooth, without "fish~eye", or an "orange peel" texture. There should be no "pinholes" on oak grain and the finish should look like it has been generously applied (our Model "Plus" 25 year finish has 9 coats and the top 3 coats contain aluminum oxide, a state-of-the-art scuff resistant material). The finish should also be scuff resistant (contain aluminum oxide), although the degree to which the finish resists scuffing is difficult to judge, unless compared to another brand. Model's "Extreme" finish carries a lifetime residential and a 10 year commercial warranty against wear·through. In addition, the Extreme finish is warranted against loss of luster for one year in a commercial environment *. Some of the properties of a good finish are difficult to observe offhand. For example, cheaper finishes may look good initially but can develop cracks during installation because they are too brittle. The finish needs to be tough but flexible. Another problem that may develop with a cheaper finish is delamination, or separation from the wood over time. This should be covered by a warranty but isn't, always, and anyway, who wants a replacement of more of the same in an inferior product? No less important than the finish is the quality of the milling, or manufacturing. The boards need to be straight and fit together well so that no violent pounding is necessary during installation, which could damage the finish, not flooring. Unusable flooring increases the waste in your project, which drives up the cost unnecessarily. While the industry standard for floor waste is 5% overage on accurate measurements, our experience with Model flooring is that most projects can be successfully installed with only 3% or so overage. We think that Model prefinished flooring is the best in the business in all categories.
* see www.pgflooring.com for warranty details.. Top

What about warranties?

If you can get a written warranty to read, you will find that the time warranties advertised for prefinished flooring (25 year, etc.) are know as "wear through warranties", which mean that the manufacturer will guarantee that, with normal use, you will not wear completely through the finish to the wood surface in the time specified. And, if you should happen to wear through to the wood, which is highly unlikely, the manufacturer will replace only the particular board(s) on which this occurs, which would not give you a satisfactory appearance (old and new boards in the same floor). Note that the warranty* has nothing to do with scratching, scuffing, milling, general appearance, cupping, etc. It also will include a disclaimer regarding site-related problems. It is highly unlikely, then, that homeowners will ever collect on a flooring warranty*, because any significant problems you might ever have with a wood floor will be site-related and not manufacturing related --- that is, something will happen after installation to affect your floor. The most likely problems have to with wood movement due to moisture, or humidity. Other manufacturing defects that may be covered would be something like delamination of the finish from the wood, or some other defect obviously caused by faulty manufacturing. There is also normally a 5% allowable error for the wood being out of grade or mis-manufactured. So, for example, 5 sq. ft. of a 100 sq. ft. order would not count toward the warranty. Model's new "Extreme" finish is so durable that they have issued a unique 10 year commercial warranty* that covers the loss of shine on their floors for 1 year.

*Visit pgmodel.com for more pictures and information about Model flooring.

Model at Lancaster Hardwoods Model at Lancast Hardwoods


How many coats of finish should be applied to an unfinished floor?

The industry standard for flooring requires 3 coats. Some installers prefer an initial sealer coat, with two more coats of polyurethane. Others put a coat of thinned polyurethane for the first coat, but it is just as effective and more cost-effective if you are a do-it-yourselfer to put three straight coats of polyurethane on (we recommend three coats of satin). An exception to this is, if you use waterborne polyurethane, which goes on about half as thick as the oil. At least four total coats should be used, the first being a special sealer, with three or four coats of poly on top. All quality waterborne finishes require a catalyst, which cross-links the molecules to make the finish more durable.

Our Model prefinished floors have 9 coats of ultraviolet cured polyurethane, of which the top 3 all contain aluminum oxide -- the state-of-the-art scuff-resistant material in the industry. Model’s Extreme commercial finish is even tougher! Top

Oil-based or water-based polyurethane?

The best prefinished floors are most often coated with an ultraviolet-cured polyurethane (no solvent). Water-based polyurethanes that require a catalyst have developed into a very durable finish also. They are very scuff resistant (some think more so than oil base). This quality may be a result of the light color produced by these finishes, however. They generally do not change the color of the raw wood much, making them desirable if you desire an especially light finish, such as when "pickling" wood white, or with maple if you want it whiter than with an oil based product. Some of these products have had a color enhancer added to resemble an oil base, but we don't think they enhance the wood color as well as the oil-based urethanes. Quality waterborne urethanes are generally quite a bit more expensive than quality oil-based. Top

Our personal preference for unfinished floors is high-quality, oil-based polyurethane. The solids content and the quality of the resin used determine the ease of application and durability of this familiar product. There can be a big difference in the quality of these products --- you usually get what you pay for. The oil base produces rich tones in the wood by highlighting the natural color and grain of the species and produces various tones of amber (lighter or darker, depending on the brand) that do not yellow over time, like the old varnishes and shellacs of yesteryear. It is relatively easy to use for the do-it-yourselfer. Top

Whether oil or water based, polyurethane floor finishes are tough finishes that are meant to be low-maintenance. Some years after the initial application, if the surface appears to need renewing, oil based polyurethane may be surface-scuffed and recoated to recolor any scuffs or scratches it may have picked up over the years. We are told by our manufacturers and many installers that water-base finishes require sanding to the bare wood for renewal. This may or may not be the case with all brands. Some water based urethanes can inhibit the natural color change of some photosensitive woods, like American or Brazilian cherry. Top

Never wax your polyurethane floor. Never clean your floor with cleaners that leave residue. Either one of these mistakes will create a potential problem with the adhesion of another coat of polyurethane if it becomes necessary. Never clean your floor with vinegar, as the acetic acid in it will etch, or dull your finish over time, creating the need for buffing or recoating prematurely. Use Polycare to clean your floor, as recommended on our General Information page, under Care of Your Wood Floor. Most wood species develop a subtle "patina" (or darkening) over time, which is generally not noticed by the homeowner. Exceptions to this are American and Brazilian Cherry, which darken dramatically relatively quickly with exposure to sunlight. The amount and intensity of the sunlight determines the rate of change. Top

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