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more like a solid plane, with­out gaps.

Choose the fin­ish

Most hard­wood floors to­day have a fin­ish­ing coat of clear polyuretha­ne. “Polyuretha­ne es­sen­tially sits on top of the wood,” pro­tect­ing it from mois­ture, wear and stain­ing, Hammel said.

Wa­ter-based polyuretha­nes have grown in pop­u­lar­ity in re­cent years, and the fin­ish­ing sheen can range from matte to glossy.

A polyuretha­ne fin­ish is very durable, but once dam­aged or worn, it can be dif­fi­cult to re­pair, Hammel said, be­cause it typ­i­cally re­quires re­fin­ish­ing an en­tire board, if not the whole floor.

An al­ter­na­tive is an oil-based fin­ish. “Oil pen­e­trates into the wood and there­fore tends to make it look a bit richer,” he said. And be­cause it doesn’t leave a film on top of the wood, it al­lows for rel­a­tively easy spot re­pairs.

The down­side to an oil fin­ish is that it re­quires more reg­u­lar main­te­nance.

Se­lect solid or en­gi­neered wood

Solid wood is just what it sounds like: a plank of your cho­sen wood, cut from a log. An en­gi­neered wood floor is com­posed of a thin­ner layer of your cho­sen wood on top of a man­u­fac­tured base of lay­ered wood, like ply­wood.

En­gi­neered wood has a num­ber of ben­e­fits. “It’s built to be more di­men­sion­ally sta­ble,” Hammel said. “It will ex­pand and con­tract less,” re­duc­ing the chance that the boards will warp or shrink over time.

En­gi­neered floor­ing is es­pe­cially good in base­ments, in high hu­mid­ity ar­eas and over ra­di­ant heat­ing sys­tems, he said.

And in homes with con­crete sub­floors, like many high-rise apart­ments, en­gi­neered floor­ing can be glued di­rectly to the slab, whereas solid wood usu­ally re­quires a ply­wood sub­floor so it can be nailed in place.

But it isn’t al­ways the best op­tion. Some peo­ple sim­ply like the idea of solid hard­wood bet­ter, and in ex­tremely dry ar­eas, solid wood may per­form bet­ter.

Pick plank widths and in­stal­la­tion pat­terns

Nar­row boards with widths of about 2 to 3 inches were once stan­dard for hard­wood floor­ing. Not any­more. Five- to 8-inch widths are now com­mon­place, and some home­own­ers opt to go even wider, with broad planks mea­sur­ing up to a foot wide and be­yond.

In gen­eral, the wider the boards, the higher the cost.

And “the wider it gets, the less sta­ble it gets, be­cause the wood wants to move,” Roberts said. “When we get into re­ally wide floor­ing, we al­most al­ways rec­om­mend an en­gi­neered floor, be­cause that pre­vents it from cup­ping and warp­ing.”

Most floors are in­stalled with the boards in straight lines, but there are many al­ter­na­tive in­stal­la­tion pat­terns, in­clud­ing her­ring­bone and chevron, which are en­joy­ing re­newed pop­u­lar­ity.

You can also mix it up. Roberts some­times uses wider boards and com­pli­cated in­stal­la­tion pat­terns in the pri­mary liv­ing spa­ces, and nar­rower boards in a straight­for­ward arrangemen­t in sec­ondary spa­ces, such as hall­ways and bed­rooms.


Ar­chi­tect El­iz­a­beth Roberts used pre­fin­ished boards in this Brook­lyn, New York, town­house.

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