If you are planning to install wood flooring in your home or business it is important to know how to choose the best options. Although it is tempting to pick out the color and plank size that matches your decor and have it installed, to get the best flooring requires that you understand certain characteristics about wood floors and how they act under certain conditions.
One of the most important characteristics of wood to be familiar with is dimensional stability. This refers to how a wood reacts to changes in humidity. All wood expands and contracts with changes in humidity, but certain wood, such as Santos mahogany, is extremely stable and expands and contracts significantly less than other varieties.
If you choose to use air conditioning and a humidifier to keep a constant level of humidity in your home or business, you can use a less stable wood, such as maple or birch, whereas wood floors that are exposed to the elements or are installed over basement concrete floors should be stronger, more stable woods such as mahogany, cherry, walnut, or ash.
In addition to understanding dimensional stability, you must have realistic expectations of your traffic. High traffic areas must have the hardest wood possible, while lower traffic areas may have softer wood. You should compare a wood's hardness to its dimensional stability to choose three or four different options and then decide what fits with your decorating needs. Some of the hardest woods are pine, California redwood, and African mahogany.
Be aware that the hardest woods, as measured by the Janka scale, do not necessarily have the most dimensional stability, so it is important to weigh all your options carefully. For example, although Santos mahogany is extremely stable and flexes with humidity, it is a relatively soft wood that will dent easily. It is best used in a bedroom or sitting room as opposed to a hallway or entryway where it can be dented.
In addition to traditional nailed down wood flooring, another option is engineered hardwood. This flooring material is made specifically for areas that have high moisture. It is composed of a core that has a thin layer of wood veneer on top and sometimes a thin layer of real hardwood. Engineered flooring offers more stability in moisture, but less expensive, veneer versions cannot be sanded or refinished as true solid hardwood floors can.