Flooring: It’s a Hard Choice
by Samantha Sannella
Wood floors can be extremely durable and offer an unparalleled natural beauty. Wood floors must be chosen carefully whether solid or engineered. There are many things that should be considered: hardness, finish, pattern and maintenance. The National Wood Floor Association (NWFA) sets standards for flooring and produces guidelines that manufacturers must meet to be certified. You can also refer to the Canadian National Floor Covering Association for guidelines when sourcing flooring.
The hardness of a wood is rated on an industry-wide standard known as the Janka test. It measures the force required to embed a .444-inch steel ball into the wood by half its diameter. This test is one of the best measures of the ability of a wood species to withstand denting and wear. It is also a good indicator of how hard wood is to saw, mill and nail.
For example, Brazilian cherry, mahogany and pecan are at the top of the scale, while maple, ash and oak are in the middle. Soft woods include southern pine and Douglas fir. The NWFA also sets forth acceptable moisture content, board lengths, edge dimensions and thickness for both finished and unfinished hardwood. There are installation guidelines along with sanding and finishing.
One of the most important things to consider when choosing hardwood floors is the extent to which is will be used throughout the home. Due to its structural stability, engineered flooring is recommended for the basement. Many times, owners desire heated floors so recommending engineered flooring throughout the home can be a practical solution. Engineered flooring offers more stability during moisture shifts and typical problems seen in hardwood floors can be avoided when using a good quality engineered flooring.
Not all flooring is created equal. There are many foreign sourced floors on the market that don’t meet strict North American quality guidelines. These product choices can be risky. Also, be aware that some product packaging can be misleading and make buyers believe that the products are Canadian, but they are not. Sticking with reputable products that provide good customer service is highly recommended when sourcing flooring.
One of the biggest trends on the market today is large-scale floor and wall tile. Some of these tiles are full-scale slab size 48-inch by 98-inch or larger. While the aesthetic of large tiles can be a bold choice, they sometimes also bring a large installation price. Ultrathin porcelain tiles can require special backings before installation to strengthen them, which can greatly increase the installation price. Tiles that are $12 per square foot can easily be $30 per square foot or more to install.
Tile patterns can be a unique way to add interest to floors. Many of the newer patterns — such as hexagons, herringbones and chevrons — can make beautiful entries, kitchens, laundry rooms and bathrooms. One of the biggest benefits to porcelain floors is durability and ease of maintenance. Through-body porcelains also offer aesthetic protection in case of deep scratches or chips. Many of the newer choices also mimic natural stone and can be almost identical at a fraction of the cost.
To be certain of the quality of porcelain products, consider doing your homework at the Tile Council of North America. Porcelain products are moisture tested to ensure that they meet the strict standards set forth for non-absorption. Certified porcelain products can be used outside and are considered frost proof. Certified products carry the Porcelain Tile Certification Association label.
While natural stone carries a lifetime of beauty, careful thought must be given to using natural stone, a non-renewable resource, in appropriate situations. Building interiors that have long life spans, such as commercial lobby spaces, are the perfect choice natural stone. Homes that are designed to be timeless, rather than trendy, are also a good choice for natural stone products.
Visiting showrooms to view natural stone products can be like visiting a candy store. Marble, granite, onyx, limestone, quartzite and slate (among others) are some of the most beautiful finishes our earth offers.
Stone requires special maintenance, so reviewing this with the client before specifying it is necessary. While clients may like the idea of natural stone, many won’t like the idea of the special maintenance it requires.
There are numerous associations that regulate standards and make recommendations for installation. The Natural Stone Council is a good resource for designers to learn about natural stone characteristics.
One of the most interesting things about designing with stone is the ability to create your own patterns through water-jet cutting. It can be as simple as providing a vector file to a supplier and specifying sizes, repeats and dimensions. Cutting in metal or glass inlays can also offer something unique. While this can be costly, creating your own patterns or inlays can offer clients original ideas and solutions for their spaces.
|SAMANTHA SANNELLA, BFA ID, M ARCH, is a designer, educator and principal at Urban Retreat Homes.|
She is an expert in the field of design and construction and is a columnist for RENO & DECOR and editor of the Ontario Design Trade Sourcebook.