Once you have decided upon a style, period or region of the world that you want your new house to emulate, you will soon be faced with the daunting task of selecting finishes for everything from walls, ceilings and floors. These must be complimentary to one another, create a sense of balance, yet provide enough contrast to provide interest within each room and from room to room.
Flooring materials will have some of the biggest visual impact of any of the interior finishes and therefore must be appropriate to the house style as well as for the use they will receive. They also will get the most wear, so choose carefully! Certain residential styles call for a select range of flooring possibilities. “Old World” homes such as English cottage, French country, Italian or American classic, offer great opportunities for creativity with flooring materials and installation techniques. The space will dictate your material options making your selection easier, yet many times wood, stone, tile or a combination of the same may be an appropriate choice. It usually comes down to personal preference. There are virtually unlimited possibilities available to you.
Determining which material to use is of primary consideration. Once that decision has been made, the variations within that material group are overwhelming. We will start our discussion with wood flooring. Wood offers a wide variety of color and texture options. Its warm, natural beauty compliments virtually any residential design. From wide plank flooring to narrow, light, medium or dark, traditional, rustic, formal or contemporary, heart pine or hardwood, wood has a character to compliment any style.
It is a renewable resource and with proper prep, installation and care, will last for years. When selecting a wood floor, it will be important to consider factors such as wood species, cut, color, grade and finish. Many manufacturers offer “distressed” finishes to enhance the aged look often preferred in an Old World house. On top of this, you can now choose from re-claimed antique woods, old growth wood, engineered lumber, and a wide variety of finishes. If sustainability, conservation and preservation is of importance to you, there are many considerations when selecting wood flooring such as whether the wood was harvested from a “certified” sustainable forest or if it was reclaimed from historic structures. With engineered wood, consider using wood “certified” as laminated with low emissions glue.
Your choice may make a difference in not only appearance but in the way your new floor performs once it is installed. Installation is as important as the floor you choose and the floor you choose will dictate the way it is treated, prepared, installed and maintained.
Because wood floors are subject to movement, it is important that wood flooring be installed with consideration of moisture content, and what conditions they will be exposed to for the life of the floor. The environment in which the floors are being installed is a contributing factor to the success of your floor installation.
On a concrete slab or in a basement, moisture problems can be reduced by installing a class-1 vapor retarder over the concrete slab and attaching the wood flooring to a sub-floor that is installed over “sleepers”. You may want to discuss the possibility of depressing your slab if this floor will run into a tile or carpeted area. Shrink or swell varies with the orientations in the wood. The cut (plain sawn, or quarter sawn), respond differently to moisture changes. Conditions such as buckling, cupping and peeling can occur in certain atmospheric conditions.
Cupping occurs when the bottom of a board has a higher moisture content than the top. The edges warp up higher than the center and is caused when there is a moisture imbalance through the thickness of the board. This can occur over a crawl space or basement. Crowned flooring refers to just the opposite condition caused when flooring looses some excess moisture and shrinks on the underside leaving the edges lower then the center.
Buckling is the result of flooring that is so wet it expands and actually moves off the sub-floor. If floor boards are not acclimated properly before installation, they may push together and lift up. Our link here will show some examples of these various conditions so you can recognize and avoid them. Shrinking and swelling can be reduced in “engineered” products by gluing layers together with the alternate layers turned ninety degrees to one another. The look and feel of engineered wood flooring can be just as convincing as that of solid wood, if selected carefully.
Be sure to ask your builder to install according to the written installation specifications of the flooring manufacturer and comply with the highest installation standards established by current industry guidelines. Manufacturers’ and Industry standards such as those provided by the Forest Products Laboratory offer guidelines to determine proper moisture content in given situations.
Floor finishes affect the wearability and appearance of wood floors. “Distressing” can further add the aged character so often associated with the “Old World” look. Wood flooring material may be pre-finished or site finished. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Check with your manufacturer and installer to determine what may be best in your situation. Some of the sites we are referring you to have suggestions that address this question as well. Proper cleaning, prep and finishing is imperative.
Finally, proper maintenance once the flooring is installed will do as much for your floor as proper instalation. Be sure to follow manufacturer’s proper maintenance instructions. Also, many manufacturers provide answers to their most frequently asked questions and may answer additional wood flooring product and installation questions you may have.
For additional material that may be of interest, be sure to visit New South Classics at www.newsouthclassics.com
Bruce Eason, AIA