Leslie Banker is co-author of The Pocket Decorator (2004) and The Pocket Renovator(2007), published by Universe.
Wide Appeal of Wood Floors
Impress clients with your firm grasp of the different styles of wood flooring and finishes.
March 1, 2006
Add durability and easy maintenance to the list of assets, and it's no wonder that wood floors land at the top of so many buyers' wish lists. By expanding your knowledge of wood flooring, you can guide buyers to their perfect home and help sellers show off wood floors to their fullest.
When you hear customers say they want wood floors, they can mean many different things. Floors can be made from dozens of wood species, from the more common domestic varieties to exotic imported species. There also are many different patterns, colors, and finishes to consider.
Learn the Species
Hardwood is a broad category of deciduous trees that includes oak, maple, ash, cherry, and walnut. The name has nothing to do with the hardness of the wood. The same goes for softwoods, which includes some species, such as pine, that are used for flooring.
And then there's bamboo, an increasingly popular choice among home owners and developers. Bamboo — technically a grass — is a hard, resilient material that looks like a light wood, unless it's treated to look darker. It's environmentally friendly because it grows exponentially faster than hardwood trees, and the plant doesn't have to be chopped down every time it's harvested.
So, if buyers say that hardwood floors are a must-have for their new home, it's smart to ask for more details. Do they really want a hardwood variety, or is bamboo or pine a viable option? It's possible that they are using the term generically.
When working with sellers, ask what type of wood is used for their flooring so you can highlight that detail in your marketing materials. The more specific you can be when explaining the floors, the more attention you'll attract from prospective home buyers.
Once you have the type of woods pinned down, move on to patterns. There are a few basic patterns for wood floors — each with its own distinct look:
- Strip. You'll recognize strip flooring by its uniform-width boards that are less than three inches wide and run in the same direction. This is the classic hardwood floor seen in all sorts of home designs, from traditional to modern. But it's not a rustic look.
- Plank. This style features boards that are three or more inches wide and of uniform width. When you think of an old farmhouse, it's likely to have knotty pine plank floors with the boards a foot or more wide. In contemporary design, you also may see plank floors, but probably made with a hardwood rather than with pine.
- Random-width plank. Planks of varying width and length are used to create a rustic look.
- Parquet. In this style, wood is inlaid in a repeated geometric pattern. A solid wood parquet floor can have a very sophisticated look with a distinct European feel. There are different parquet patterns, but a famous one is the Parquet de Versailles, which is in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles in France. These days it's expensive to install traditional solid wood parquet floors and often you'll see a more simple prefabricated parquet pattern made with a wood veneer (thin strips of wood affixed to a backing). Newer apartments will often have these veneered parquet floors.
- Herringbone. Strips of wood are set in a zig-zag design (also called a chevron pattern) to create the herringbone look. It has a formal appearance and often is seen in older apartments and houses. Brick and tile also can be laid in a herringbone pattern.
Is It the Real Thing?
Sometimes wood floors aren't what they first appear to be. It's not easy to tell just by glancing at a floor whether it's made of solid wood, a veneer, or a laminate. When in doubt, ask the owner or call in an expert.
Traditional wood floors are made with solid wood that is typically three-quarters of an inch thick. A solid-wood floor can be refinished numerous times and will last for decades, possibly even generations. Solid wood floors are a great asset to a house and will certainly catch the attention of buyers.
Other floors seen in today's homes are made with a veneer of wood, which isn't as solid as the traditional wood floor but can look very attractive and might be thick enough to refinish a couple of times. The lifespan of veneer wood floors can be decades long, depending on the product and the wear it gets.
Laminate floors — the most economical option — have been popular in Europe for years and are now gaining popularity in the United States. A photographic image of wood is glued to a backing, creating the appearance of a wood floor. The main benefits are affordability, easy installation, and durability. They can't be refinished, but boards can be replaced if there's damage. These, too, can last for years, but are not as permanent a fixture as a real wood floor.
Flexibility of Refinishing
The ability to refinish wood gives home owners lots of flexibility in the appearance of their floors, allowing them to change the color of the stain, remove paint, or fix up an overly distressed finish.
Refinishing a wood floor entails sanding, then staining or painting, and coating the floor with a finish. Wood floors historically had a wax finish, which develops a beautiful luster over the years but requires regular maintenance. Polyurethane finishes are more common now and require very little maintenance.
If you're working with buyers who love everything about a house except for the color or finish of the wood floors, remind them that staining and refinishing the wood will provide a whole new look.
National Wood Flooring Association
The Web site of this nonprofit trade group provides lots of handy resources for consumers, including maintenance tips, photo charts of wood species, in-room examples, and an interactive "design a room" tool.
DoItYourself.com: Wood Floors
This do-it-yourself site contains countless articles on how to complete hardwood floor projects, such as sanding a floor, applying a finish, or laying the planks.