When choosing a wood for flooring, does hardness matter? Absolutely, and the hardness chosen will also dictate the kinds of wood you can choose for flooring. How a flooring will be used and by whom is very important. Some woods look absolutely beautiful in appearance, but they won’t do well with active use, children, and pets. Other woods can take a beating and never show a scratch, but they also look a bit dull and colorless. However, given the fact that there’s an entire spectrum of woods to choose from, most people are able to find a mix that works in their favor.
Wood flooring hardness in the U.S. is determined based on a standard industry spectrum named the Janka test. The test involves taking a steel ball and measuring how much pressure it takes to insert the ball into the given wood. Softer woods obviously take less pressure and hard woods take more. For example, Red Oak is very soft and measures at 1,290 lbs per square foot. Brazilian Cherry, on the other hand, is a bit harder and takes more effort. It rates at 2,350 lbs per square foot of pressure. Between the two woods, the Brazilian Cherry is harder. However, the same wood could be very soft to something else entirely.
Most hardwoods for flooring are sufficiently durable to be used as a general foot surface. However, the term “general” often assumes grown adults who don’t go barreling through the house on a wheelchair or run with four paws complete with claw nails that gouge into the flooring when making a sharp turn. As a result, some flooring buyers find out the hard way that the uniquely-colored wood they chose is particularly vulnerable to marks and scratches from harder than “general” use. This sort of scenario often pops up after the wood has been installed and some months have passed with regular exposure and traffic.
One aspect of wood flooring that is extremely important is the finish. Bare wood isn’t just left to itself once it is installed as flooring pieces. A final finish is applied to the top of the wood to seal in the material and avoid it from drying out, splitting or graying with age. However, when the finish is damaged or broken, the wood underneath can begin to deteriorate, especially when exposed to moisture and sitting water. This is why homeowners sand down and re-finish their natural wood flooring every ten years or so, especially when the flooring is looking worn and dulled. A finish can’t be protected forever, but it does help protect the wood underneath.
Some impacts will make a dent in most woods. If a person drops a can of food from a height of three feet or more, the can edge is likely to leave a dent on impact. However, softer woods will show a deeper impact, and harder woods will show a mild or smaller dent. That said, harder woods definitely have their place, including:
• Hallways and areas where there is heavy foot traffic and no rugs
• Any kind of home with small children and/or pets
• Homes with big dogs, especially multiple canines
• Places where furniture is moved around regularly
These impacts have to be considered by a homeowner before choosing a particular wood. It just makes sense to at least use a flooring that will stand up to these uses versus one that shows wear and tear quickly.
However, for homes where the homeowners don’t have the issues noted above, softer woods can definitely be used. One of the most colorful and unique woods used in flooring tends to be bamboo. This wood comes with a very vibrant color and is often installed in homes with low foot traffic in various rooms. It will literally bring out a mood in a room when installed, a reason why the flooring is so popular in Asian countries.
Another aspect to keep in mind when choosing hard or soft is maintenance. As noted earlier, sanding the flooring is often needed every ten years or so where there is regular traffic or the environment just has more moisture in it (ex. Coastal homes). Softer woods will lose more of their surface to sanding than harder woods. Finishes, which often include urethane or similar chemicals will soak deeper into softer woods, leaving less of a top finish. Both factors mean that soft wood flooring will wear down faster over time. If a prime look is expected, the maintenance issue can end up costing more with softer woods than harder flooring. Just another factor to keep in mind when choosing between hard and soft woods.
Ultimately, the color and feel a homeowner wants, the cost, and the use of the flooring will be factors in deciding what type of wood to choose for your renovation needs. Whichever the case, buyers should take the time to understand flooring differences with natural wood, as some issues can end up being big surprises later on after the wood is installed.