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ConsumerReports.org Buying Guide: Flooring

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Designer Clay Bernard

Getting Started

Begin by considering where the flooring will go and how much traffic, sunlight, and other wear and tear it will get. Vinyl proved tops in our moisture tests and most linoleum. Plastic laminates, and solid wood fared nearly as well. But many engineered woods, as well as some solid woods, and a linoleum product we tested flubbed that test – a serious drawback in a busy kitchen. And while the best vinyls and plastic-laminates fended off wear better than solid wood, they can’t be refinished when worn. 

How to Shop

Before settling on a product, spend a few dollars on two or three samples. That can be a lot less expensive than winding up with flooring that looks great in a catalog or on a website and then awful in your home. Manufacturers generally match most wood or engineered-wood flooring for color or grain. But variations can occur from one batch to the next, so buy the flooring you’ll need all at once. All the plastic-laminate floorboards in a package often have a similar pattern, so you may want to pull from multiple packages to avoid repetition.

To determine how much flooring you’ll need, measure the room’s square footage by multiplying its length times its width. (Divide an irregularly shaped room into smaller rectangles, calculate the square footage of each rectangle, and then add them together.) Then buy 7 to 10 percent extra to allow for mistakes, bad samples, and waste. You might also want to invest in an extra box of flooring for future repairs or additions. 

Where to Save

One way to save is on overstocks. Also, take advantage of mistakes. You can often save on opened or damaged boxes or on flooring with minor flaws that no one will notice.

Hiring a pro to do the installation? You can trim hundreds of dollars off the job by doing the time-consuming prep work like prying up the old flooring, leveling or filling the subfloor, and removing any baseboard that’s in the way. 

Green Floors That Didn’t Cut It

Bamboo is considered renewable because it’s a fast-growing grass. The best bamboo floorings we tested area stranded products such as the EcoTimber solid and Teragren engineered flooring, which are made of fibers that are shredded and compressed for strength. Cork floors are made of tree bark in a process that doesn’t kill trees.

Know How Rough You’ll Be

The best products in every category were also the best overall in our simulated foot-traffic tests. For less busy kitchens, you may want to consider the top engineered wood or bamboo, with its blend of natural veneer and easy installation.

Pick a Factory Finish

Prefinished wood and bamboo floors cost about 40 percent more than unfinished products. But you’re likely to save overall because a factory finish tends to last longer-and paying a pro to apply the finish adds costs, mess, and hassle. Factory finishes are also warranted by the manufacturer. 

Check for Certification

Vinyl floors with the industry’s FloorScore certification emit relatively low levels of volatile organic compounds, substances linked to health problems and pollution. All vinyl we recommend has that certification. For wood flooring, certification by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative offers some assurance that it comes from responsibly managed forests, a plus for the planet. The product and manufacturer must be certified; check the packaging. 

When You Get it Home

Before installing wood or laminate flooring, unpack it and let it sit for one to three days in the space where it will be installed so that its temperature and moisture match the levels in the room.

Keeping New Floors Looking Good

If you need to heat the room soon after installation, raise the temperature gradually over the course of a week – especially if you have radiant heat – to allow the flooring to adjust. Sweep or vacuum floors with a soft broom or brush, and clean with a damp but not overly wet mop. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines for recommended cleaning products. And put felt pads under furniture to prevent scratching. 

Types of Flooring

Though you’ll find a growing array of styles, most flooring falls into one of these six types. The type of flooring you choose will depend on your taste, needs, and budget.

Solid Wood

Photo: Mohawk Solid Wood in Oak ButterscotchAdvantages include its natural warmth and the ability to be sanded and refinished several times, along with impressive wear resistance for some. But except for the best solid bamboo, all the solid-wood products we tested dented easily, and some wore quickly and became discolored from sunlight. Pre-finished floors should hold up better than those finished on site, and their warranty comes from the factory, not the installer. But you may not like the beveled edges on many pre-finished products. While unfinished flooring costs about 40 percent less, higher installation costs can offset those savings, since the floor must be sanded and finished over several days to seal it from moisture. Wood flooring shouldn’t go in basements and other damp spaces. 

Engineered Wood

Photo: Mohawk Engineered Wood in Oak Natural

This flooring uses a thin veneer of real wood or bamboo over structural plywood. Most engineered wood doesn’t wear as well as solid wood or plastic laminate. It also dents easily, and small spills can damage it. Most can be carefully refinished once, but the veneer on some may be too thin. 

Plastic Laminate

Photo: Mannington Laminate in Black Forest Oak

Generally made of dense fiberboard with a photo beneath a clear plastic protective layer, laminate can mimic nearly anything from oak to marble. Some brands use real cork beneath the clear layer. But the repetitive pattern on some products compromises realism. The best laminates resist scratching, denting, and discoloration from sunlight better than most wood products, but as with engineered wood, a big spill can cause damage. You may be able to touch up minor flaws, but you’ll have to replace the flooring when its outer layer wears through. 

Vinyl

Photo: Shaw Resilient Vinyl Tile in Grey Skies

This option can be especially good at fending off wear, dents, scratches, discoloration from sunlight, and stains. Easy installation is another plus, especially for tiles or planks, as are more color and design choices than before. Premium vinyl does a better job of imitating stone, tile, and even oak, but even the best products still look like vinyl. And the best can cost at least as much as the best solid wood and laminate floors. 

Linoleum

Photo: Armstrong Linoleum in Firebird Red

Made of linseed oil and wood products, linoleum is a natural, resilient material. Today’s products offer far more styles and colors. Linoleum tends to fend off discoloration from sunlight, but resistance to wear, scratches, dents and moisture has varied widely in our tests from product to product. Linoleum can also be relatively expensive. 

Ceramic Tile

Photo: Shaw Ceramic Tile In Cappuccino

This classic material tends to resist wear, moisture, scratches, dents, and stains. But tiles can crack and grout can stain, and dropped cups and dishes break more easily on its hard surface. It’s also relatively expensive and hard to install. While some can now be floated without the usual cement and grout, that makes replacing cracked tiles a challenge. 

Flooring Features

Different flooring materials require different installation techniques. Homeowners install about half of all flooring. Floated floors that go down without glue or fasteners are easiest. In the case of vinyl, planks or tiles; they are easier to install than sheets. 

  • Nail- or Staple-Down Installation: These are the methods of choice with solid wood and engineered wood over a wood subfloor. Standard, ¾-inch-thick solid-wood strip and plank flooring is traditionally nailed to the subfloor; thinner solid or engineered material is almost always stapled. The fasteners are usually driven diagonally through the tongue side of the material and into the subfloor (blind-nailed) so they are invisible once the floor is finished. Solid flooring can also be nailed straight through the surface (face-nailed) with decorative cut nails or fastened with screws, which are typically countersunk and concealed with wood plugs. Installers often sandwich a layer of 15-pound felt or rosin paper between the subfloor and floor to prevent moisture between the two and to deaden sound.

  • Floating Installation: This works with engineered wood, plastic laminate, linoleum and some ceramic tile over a wood or concrete subfloor or existing flooring. Tongue-and-groove planks or tiles lock together mechanically. Some products must also be glued together at the joints. The material generally goes over a thin foam or cork pad, which fills minor flaws in the subfloor and absorbs sound. Installations over concrete require a thin plastic vapor barrier.

  • Glue-Down Installation: Engineered wood, vinyl, linoleum, and tiles are typically glued. You trowel adhesive onto a clean, flat, wood or concrete subfloor or existing flooring and lay down the sheets, planks, or tiles. No vapor barrier is required. Some glue-down flooring is simply peel-and-stick, the easiest to install. You’ll also find vinyl flooring in sheets and easier-to-install tiles.

Flooring Brands

The national flooring brands listed below are sold by home centers and specialty flooring retailers. Use these profiles to compare flooring by brand. 

Armstrong manufactures flooring under the well-recognized brand names Armstrong and Bruce, and the speciality brand Robbins. Armstrong is also the brand leader in vinyl sheet and vinyl-tile flooring, dominating the category with more than 40 percent of sales. The Armstrong brand also includes wood and laminate, a line of linoleum flooring, and has recently added ceramic tile. 

Mannington is a one-stop floor manufacture with products in every flooring category. They are among the top three leading vinyl flooring brands and have a foothold in wood, laminate, and porcelain tile. A recent innovation is the Adura Luxury line of premium vinyl tile and planks that mimic the look of hardwood and ceramic tile. Mannington is available only through speciality flooring stores. 

This leading carpet manufacturer crossed over to hard-surface flooring through acquisitions and partnerships and now offers wood, laminate, and vinyl flooring.

Mohawk sells stone flooring under the American Olean brand and laminate under the Quick-Step brand. Their Dal-Tile brand accounts for half of the ceramic tile category sales.

In vinyl, Mohawk distributes the Congoleum brand through its vast dealer network. Mohawk flooring is sold through mass home centers and specialty floor stores and is one of the few flooring manufacturers that takes part directly at retail by licensing its trade names – Mohawk Floorz and Mohawk FloorScapes – to locally owned flooring specialty dealers. 

This leading carpet manufacturer now offers wood, laminate, and ceramic-tile flooring; it recently expanded its presence in wood through the acquisition of Anderson Flooring. Shaw is available through home-center chains and specialty flooring stores and has its own retail programs – Shaw Design Center and Shaw Flooring Alliance that offer local dealers expanded product lines, display assistance, and training.

Tarkett

Originally a European manufacturer of linoleum, Tarkett is now among the largest flooring manufacturers worldwide. Tarkett offers wood, laminate, and vinyl flooring under its own brand, and luxury vinyl tile from Nafco. Tarket also makes FiberFloor, a water-resistant flooring that combines the qualities of carpet and vinyl. Tarkett is available through mass home centers and specialty flooring retailers. 

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Showroom

Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

Get the Luxury Look for Less

Best and Worst Kitchen Appliances, Countertops, Flooring and More


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(Photo: Thinkstock)

Got a bottomless budget for your dream kitchen? You could pay for the sleekest pro-style appliances the most luxurious stone countertop, and the trendiest hardwood flooring and still end up paying again to fix things that break down, crack, or dent. Or you could use our advice to make every dollar count by sidestepping high-priced pitfalls in the first place. 

And if your budget is more in the $15,000-to-$30,000 range that most homeowners spend on renovations, relax: You can have a beautiful kitchen that’s functional and efficient, and only looks expensive, like the example here. It combines semi-custom cabinets, quartz countertops, and vinyl flooring to achieve an urban sophistication befitting its city setting.

Appliances


Kitchen Aid.jpg

KitchenAid KDRU763V $6,000 (Photo: Consumer Reports)High End: A pro-style, 36-inch range with high-Btu burners; a built-in refrigerator with panels that match the surrounding cabinetry; and whisper-quiet dishwashers are expected in today’s luxury homes. “If buyers walk into a high-end home and see apartment-grade or even midrange appliances, they’re going to wonder what else is missing from their wish list,” says Jim Hamilton, regional Vice President of the National Association of Realtors.

Separate steam ovens, which can cost several thousand dollars and are pitched as a healthful way to prepare vegetables, fish, and even desserts, are a popular trend in high-end appliances. “Restaurants have been steaming food for years. Now the technology is finally coming to the residential market,” says Laurie Haefele, a designer-architect in Santa Monica, CA. Some models combine steam and convection cooking to lock in moisture while browning foods that require it.

But not all high-end appliances deliver. Though we recommend KitchenAid dual-fuel ranges, its electric and gas models have been repair-prone, as have Jenn-Air’s electric ranges, wall ovens, and cooktops. And some of Viking’s Professional-series built-in refrigerators are at the bottom of our ratings.


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Samsung FTQ307NWGX $1,700 (Photo: Consumer Reports)

For Less: Many mainstream brands have upped their styling with “faux pro” features, including beefy controls and a stainless-steel finish. And they equal or surpass their pricey counterparts when it comes to cooking and reliability. GE’s $1,500 Profile PGB910SEM has sleek styling, and it’s our top-performing gas range. Or consider an induction range or cooktop,which uses electromagnetism to deliver pinpoint heating and control. Among refrigerators, cabinet-depth models offer the streamlined look of built-ins for thousands less. 

Flooring

High End: Wood has warmth and elegance and can be used in adjacent rooms, creating a seamless flow between spaces. “Plus if you drop a teacup on a wood floor, the cup has a fighting chance,” says Kelly Stewart, a National Kitchen & Bath Association-certified kitchen designer in Stamford, CT.


Mullican Flooring.jpg

Mullican St. Andrews Solid Oak Strip 10930, $6.30 per sqft (Photo: Consumer Reports)Antique wood floors, milled from timbers reclaimed from centuries-old buildings, have character, but they’ve been particularly prone to wear and tear in our tests. Performance-wise, you’re better off with solid wood flooring with a factory finish, which costs more up front than unfinished flooring but lasts longer and eliminates the mess of on-site finishing. 

Even the most durable wood floors are no match for heavy traffic, especially if it includes sandy shoes and dog’s claws. Durable stones such as granite and quartzite offer more protection and a sense of permanence. “People subconsciously associate stone with stability underfoot, so its a natural choice for flooring,” says New York City architect Leonard Kady. 


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Quick-Step Perspectives Ansel Oak UF1259, $4 per sq ft (Photo: Consumer Reports)For Less: Engineered wood flooring, which has a veneer or real wood over substrate, can be floated over the subfloor, saving on installation costs. The downside is that most can be refinished only once, whereas solid flooring can be refinished multiple times.

Tile is an all-natural option that realistically mimics costly materials. “Antique limestone floors from a mansion in France are marvelous, but you can use ceramic tile to achieve a similar look for a fraction of the cost, and they’re a lot easier to maintain,” Kady says. Vinyl flooring is another less expensive option with some very convincing faux patterns, including wood and natural stone. 

Countertops


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White Carrera Marble, $150 per sq ft (Photo: Consumer Reports)High End: Authenticity is the catchphrase in countertops. That means natural stone for top-tier designers, though many are moving away from speckled granites such as Uba Tuba in favor of wavy marble, especially in popular white kitchens. But given its susceptibility to staining and scratching, marble is not for everyone, cautions Jonas Carnemark, a design-builder in Washington, D.C. who is certified by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

“Designers talk about patina, but you have to remember that’s just a fancy term for scratches and stains,” he says. If, like many homeowners, you want things to stay looking new, consider quartz, a highly durable engineered stone that can resemble natural stone. All white-quartz countertops are also popular thanks to improvements in technology that give them the purest tone. 


Formica IdealEdge.jpg

Formica IdealEdge Laminate, $16 per sq ft (Photo: Consumer Reports)For Less: For example, shop around for affordable stone slabs. If you can fall in love with a Danby marble from Vermont instead of one of the more expensive Italian imports, you’re going to save at least 20%. There are even bigger savings out there with granite, especially if you choose from remnants at the stone yard. Some granite has wavy marble-like veining.

Laminate, the most affordable countertop option by far, has come a long way. The latest printing technologies result in faux patterns that look like real stone, or you can choose a solid white that’s suited to contemporary kitchens. Formica has even eliminated the unsightly black line along the edge of the countertop that used to be laminate’s telltale sign. 

Cabinets


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Fieldstone Custom Cabinet, $475 (Photo: Consumer Reports)High End: In the most expensive kitchens, cabinets are custom-built to the precise dimensions of the room. The result is a fully integrated look that’s in keeping with the current taste for clean, minimalist design. 

The good news is that this style is inherently less expensive – and easier to clean – than the once-fashionable country kitchen, which called for cabinetry with elaborate moldings and applied detail. The bad news is that custom cabinets of any description cost tens of thousands of dollars. “It’s half the cost of the kitchen,” says designer-architect Laurie Haefele, recalling projects for which the cabinet bill alone ran to six figures. 

For Less: If the layout of the existing cabinets works and the units are plumb, square, and sturdy, you could refinish them with a fresh coat of paint or reface them by replacing the cabinet doors and drawers and applying veneers to the face frames and ends. Retrofitting the cabinets with pull-out drawers, lazy Susans, and retractable trash cans can improve their function.


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If your cabinets are too far gone, you can save 30% or more by choosing semi-custom units. Stock units save even more, without necessarily sacrificing style. Ikea Stock Cabinet, $330 (Photo: Consumer Reports)

“There are a plethora of showrooms where you can get the full kitchen from Italy or Germany, but we’ve been able to integrate Ikea cabinets for budget-minded clients that offer a similar look,”says Chicago architect Pam Lamaster-Millet. “The trick is finding a skilled installer who knows the tricks for making the units look built-in.” That might include applying a toe kick to base cabinets or a valance to upper cabinets to conceal the undercabinet lighting.

Whether semi-custom or stock, the features that held up best in our cabinet tests include solid-wood or plywood doors; boxes made of ½- to ¾ -inch plywood;solid-wood drawer sides with dovetail joints, full-extension glides, and a plywood bottom; and adjustable, ¾-inch plywood or medium-density fiberboard shelving.

Spending Traps to Avoid

  • Poor Planning – changing the design after the project is under way is guaranteed to break the budget. Proper planning, including showroom visits and meeting with professionals, will take a couple of months.

  • Skimping on Labor – sooner or later the cracks will show with poor construction. Invest in quality, especially for cabinet installation and tile setting, where small mistakes can lead to big disappointment.

  • Paying More for Pointless Features – smart appliances are supposed to save money by powering down when electricity rates are highest. But you’ll only reap the rewards if your home has a “smart” meter and your utility company offers time-of-use rates. Otherwise, you’ll be paying more for a technology that may be years away.

  • Expecting a Fridge to Prevent Spoilage – Food preservation features are the latest thing for marketing. But the claims are hard to measure. What you can do is find a refrigerator that delivers top temperature performance in our tests.

  • Falling for High-Priced Fixtures – stainless steel sinks top our ratings, even in less expensive thickness. Popular pullout sprays are available on entry-level faucets. As for lighting, the illumination that matters most comes from inexpensive – and hidden – undercabinet fixtures.

(Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Designer: Clay Bernard)

Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

20 Years Then & Now: Flooring Innovations & Evolutions

Innovative technologies have revolutionized the business world over the last 20 years. Smartphones, social media, search engines, information storage and digital photography have created an entirely different business and communications environment since 1992. Personal assistants – the real, human kind who used to answer phones and schedule meetings – have been replaced by scheduling software and the instant accessibility of mobile phones, email, social media, instant messaging and texting. Almost anyone can be reached anywhere at any time. 

While the floor covering industry has taken advantage of those technologies, just like every other industry there’s also been rapid innovation in manufacturing over the last 20 years, often the result of changing tastes, economic realities, or simply the need to create a better product. For example, hardwood with knots and nail holes was considered a defective product in 1992. Today, character wood is one of the most significant style trends in hardwood flooring. Click systems weren’t yet invented in 1992, but in 2012 they account for significant portions of the laminate, hardwood and LVT markets. And Saxony carpet, with its footprints and vacuum tracks, has been replaced with textured carpet, which offers greater durability.

Here’s our list of the most significant innovations in the flooring industry, as well as a number of developments pre-1992 that became widely accepted the last two decades.

1992 TO PRESENT: INNOVATIONS, PRODUCT DEVELOPMENTS, EVOLUTIONS  & ADAPTATIONS

Soft Surface Flooring

Saxony to Texture

When: Early to mid 90’s

Texture innovations advanced soft surfaces beyond Saxony (cut pile). Saxony was soft but it showed every footprint and vacuum track. Newer textures that incorporate fiber with added twist and crimp were introduced into carpet styles called “trackless”, which ultimately evolved into what we now call friezes. The technology used a Stuffer Box developed by Superba. The transition also resulted in greater variety for the consumer.

Staple to Filament

When: Early to mid 2000s

Continuous filament fiber has taken significant marketshare from staple due to its lower cost and improved uniformity. The labor costs to produce staple fiber are twice as high as bulked continuous filament. While BCF technology has been evolving since the mids 80x, it was the ever increasing costs of polymer along with the continued advancements in extrusion technology that drove the carpet producers to make the investment to convert their fiber processes over to BCF. The fact that it doesn’t shed like staple fiber offers a significant benefit for the consumer.

BCF Polyester

When: 2007 to present

Multiple factors have led to the rapid growth of BCF polyester. Pricing for nylon chip has continued to rise as nylon car parts have increased in popularity as a lightweight alternative to heavier metal parts. While nylon is still heralded by many as the best performing synthetic carpet fiber, carpets made with nylon can no longer meet the price points where much of the volume is generated at retail. Polyester, on the other hand is a much cheaper polymer and the global capacity to produce polyester chip is abundant due to its wide use in apparel markets. In addition, extrusion technology has advanced (with the development of the Neumag S5 extruders) along with the heatsetting equipment that gives the fiber bulk and twist. So the polyester BCF fiber used in carpet today is much more advanced than the fiber of the 80s and 90s.

Composite Secondary (SoftBac)

When: 1997

The first evolution in carpet backing came when the industry shifted from jute to synthetic fibers in the 70s. But in the last 15 years, producers have discovered that more substantial materials could be attached to carpet in the coating process to enhance the carpet’s performance and bring added value to the end user. The most widely used example is SoftBac, which Shaw Industries developed with Synthetic Industries (which Shaw later acquired). SoftBac offers a host of performance advantages. It’s more dimensionally stable than standard carpet backing so it reduces the need for installed carpet to be restretched, and it reduces potential damage to walls and baseboards during installation.

EcoWorx

When: 1999

When carpet tile was first developed for the commercial market, vinyl was most commonly used on the back for dimensional stability. But as Shaw sought to find a PVC-free alternative that could be recycled into carpet backing more than once (cradle to cradle), the company developed EcoWorx – an olefin based material that it now uses on the majority of its tile products. 

Triexta


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When: 2005

DuPont created a new class of fiber with its triexta, a PTT polymer that has superior resilience and stain resistance to polyester. About 37% of the fiber’s composition comes from corn. The fiber is marketed by DuPont under the Sorona name and is sold exclusively to Mohawk for residential carpet, called SmartStrand by Mohawk. The fiber is also available in the commercial sector from several different carpet producers but has not yet achieved wide acceptance.

Soft Fibers

When: 1998 to present

Anso’s Caress and Stainmaster’s Tactesse were the first soft fiber products with approximately ten deniers per filament in 1998. Today, Invista’s TruSoft is four to five deniers per filament, the thinnest nylon carpet fiber on the market. Earlier this year, Mohawk introduced SmartStrand Silk, which is a fine denier fiber made out of triexta. 

Computerized Servo Tufting

When: Mid 90s

Servos originally were incorporated into the tufting process to enhance product and setup reliability, and they also made setups easier and quicker. However, servos soon began to be used to create patterned carpet by allowing for better control of yarn in the tufting process. Today, servo control allows for better carpet styling and constructions, and makes operating a tufting machine more efficient.

Precision Cut/Uncut

When: Early 90s

Precision cut/uncut creates sophisticated styles similar to the look of carpet produced on a Wilton Velvet loom. It can combine rows of cut pile and uncut loops within a tuft row in varying amounts, which makes it possible to produce a wide range of textures, geometrics, solids, or multi-colored patterns in any combination. It can also create tip-sheared effects without the shearing process. Cut pile and loop pile can be combined in the same tuft row and at essentially the same pile height without burying yarns. 

The Growth of Carpet Tile


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When: First major U.S. installation – 1972

U.S. consumption of carpet tile has doubled in the last ten years, reaching over 80 million square yards of annual consumption. Today, carpet tile has a 36% marketshare in dollars compared to broadloom in the U.S. commercial market. The key benefits of carpet tile include compatibility with open office systems, design flexibility, reduced installation time, ease of shipping, reduced waste, low carbon footprint, and improved lifecycle performance.

Continued Backward Integration

When: From 1978 to 2006

Backward integration into backing started with Carl Bouckaert when Beaulieu ventured into this area in the 80s. But it wasn’t until the mid 2000’s that the two larger carpet mills made a move with major investments. Within a year, starting in 2005, Shaw bought Synthetic Industry’s plant in Chickamauga, GA and Mohawk bought Wayn-Tex in Waynesboro, VA and a Propex plant in Roanoke, AL.

Beaulieu also led the way in making its own carpet yarn, dating back to the late 70s. Shaw and Mohawk picked up some extrusion capability along the way with several of the acquisitions they made in the late 80s and through the 90s. Mohawk’s fiber integration got a big boost with the acquistion of Image in 1999 and it’s been incrementally adding its own extrusion equipment ever since. But it wasn’t until 2005 that Shaw picked up much of its nylon 6 capacity with the acquisition of Honeywell’s nylon plants. Today, independent yarn suppliers like DuPont and Invista keep themselves viable through innovation (creating new fibers like triexta and TruSoft). Universal Fibers and Aquafil also remain nimble suppliers of specialty performance fibers.

Environmental Achievements

Evergreen Recycling

When: 1999to present


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The Evergreen nylon recycling plant in Augusta, GA was built in 1999 as a joint venture between AlliedSignal and DSM. The plant was shut down in September 2001 because at that time virgin caprolactam, a key ingredient in nylon 6 polymer, was cheaper than caprolactam produced from recycled carpet. Shaw purchased 50% of the plant as part of its Honeywell acquisition in 2005 and bought the rest a year later. In February 2007, Shaw re-started the plant and it now has the annual capacity to convert 100 million pounds of post-consumer carpet into 30 million pounds of caprolactam. Evergreen’s ability to convert used nylon 6 back into the key components of carpet is exactly what architect Bill McDonough was referring to when he coined the term cradle to cradle. 

Last year, Aquafil opened a similar plant in Slovenia for the same purpose, offering 100% recycled content fiber.

Plastic Bottle Recycling into PET Fiber

When: 1999to present

Mohawk released its Everstrand, a 100% post-consumer recycled content PET staple fiber, to the market in 1999. And in 2010 Shaw opened its Clear Path Recycling plant in partnership with DAK Americas to convert recycled plastic bottles into carpet fiber for Shaw’s ClearTouch carpet products. Today, PET BCF fiber has grown to account for about 25% of the market. 

Hard Surface Flooring

The Rise of Engineered Hardwood

When: last 20 years


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Although first produced over 50 years ago, engineered hardwood has been taking share from solid hardwood at a more rapid pace in the last 20 years. Last year for the first time engineered hardwood surpassed solid, taking a 51% share in dollar value. Engineered hardwood is composed of multiple real wood veneers bonded in a crossply construction. The resulting product has more dimensional stability than solid wood and is less susceptible to shrinking and bowing. In addition, manufacturing engineered wood produces less waste than the production of solid hardwood, creating greater yield from harvested wood. 

Character Wood

When: 2001

Character woods – handscraped, weathered, distressed, chattered, rustic and other looks – enhance the inherent grade and color variation found in real wood. Previously these “defects” were either cut out or relegated to the inner piles of wood floors, where they would not be seen. However, many of today’s consumers appreciate the fact that wear and tear is more easily disguised in character wood floors than in traditional glossy hardwood, which makes them friendly for commercial environments or for residences with kids and pets.

The Growth of Pre-finished Wood

When: 1997 to present

An estimated 85% of all hardwood flooring is now finished in the factory rather than on site. The wear surface of a prefinished wood floor is usually harder due to the aluminum oxide coating that can only be applied at the factory. This technology was first introduced on hardwood floors by Anderson in 1997. Another more recent driver of the growth of pre-finished flooring is that home construction is way below normal levels, and most site finished flooring is installed in new homes. The growing preference for engineered hardwood has also accelerated this trend, since most engineered wood is pre-finished. Seventy percent of solid hardwood is now pre-finished as well.

UV Cured Urethane Finish

When: 1986

Today’s polyurethane finishes are rapidly cured in the factory under ultra violet light, replacing the need for slow drying solvent based finishes. This speeds up the production process significantly – one coat takes minutes rather than hours – and enables manufacturers to apply more layers of finish in less time, resulting in a more durable finished product. Mannington was the first company to convert to this innovative finishing system. 

Strand Woven Bamboo

When: 2003

Strand-woven bamboo was developed to overcome the softness of traditional bamboo flooring. It’s made by shredding the bamboo fibers into strips, which are coated with phenolic resin and pressed into a mold with high pressure. The resulting wood has twice the hardness of domestic oak. 


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Mechanical Locking Systems (Click Systems)

When: 1994

The first mechanical locking system that didn’t require spring clips was developed by Välinge in 1994. Alloc, in 1996, was the first company to incorporate the system into a product. Today, glueless installation systems account for 90% of all the laminate flooring sold. Besides eliminating the need for adhesives, these systems also speed  up installation. Today, mechanical locking systems are also seen on engineered hardwood, LVT and some ceramic tile systems.

Embossed-In-Register Surface Texture

When: 2003

Faus was the first company in the U.S. to earn a patent for embossed-in-register laminate flooring. This method of matching the texture of the surface with the grain lines or veining of the visual, makes the product look more like real wood or stone. 

Aluminum Oxide Finish

When: 1994

Aluminum oxide is added to the melamine finish of laminate flooring to increase the product’s durability. Products with aluminum oxide finish get improved Taber cycle (rate of wear) ratings. This process can only be done on product that is finished in a factory.

High Glass Laminate

When: 2010

High gloss or piano finish laminate flooring with an AC5 rating, the top durability rating, was introduced to the marker just last year.

Resilient

Bio-Based Tile

When: 2009

Armstrong‘s bio-based composition tile is created using Bio-Stride polymer, which is made from corn. The finished product contains approximately 3% bio-based content. Over one billion square feet of bio-based tile is installed annually.

Fiberglass-Backed/Floating Sheet

When: 2002

First manufactured in North America by Tarkett, fiberglass backing adds stability to resilient flooring, making it flexible and more capable of overcoming irregularities in the subfloor. In addition, fiberglass-backed resilient flooring is more durable than felt-backed vinyl.

Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT)

When: 1988 to present

Now one of the fastest growing categories in the flooring industry, LVT was first developed by Congoleum in 1988. LVT products on the market today provide some of the most realistic looking visuals achievable using synthetic materials. LVT is composed of a detailed print design bonded to a solid vinyl carrier. It has durable wearlayers and greater wear resistance than standard vinyl tile. LVT is used in both residential and commercial applications, and comes in both tile and plank formats. 

Groutable LVT Tile

When: 2009

First introduced to the market as Congoleum DuraCeramic, groutable LVT tile offers a look akin to ceramic tile without the weight or expense of installing real ceramic. For colder climates, it offers the look of ceramic, without being cool to the touch.


duraceramic_scene.jpg

The Continuing Growth of Porcelain in the U.S.

When: 1986

Crossville built the first porcelain tile plant in the U.S. in 1986. Before then, all tile produced in the U.S. was ceramic. Ceramic tiles, made from clay that’s fired in a kiln are more porous than porcelain and don’t provide as much strength. Porcelain tile, made by pressing and heating finely ground ingredients, is more suitable for commercial applications due to its increased durability.

Digital Glazing

When: Early 2000s

Digital printing revolutionized the ceramic tile industry, enabling realistic stone, leather, fabric, marble, and wood visuals, as well as new hybrid and design-oriented looks. The digital printer sprays the glaze, much like a digital paper printer, rather than applying it via a system of rollers. Digital printing is often used in combination with surface texture methods.

What: Roller Hearth Kiln

When: 2001

A roller hearth kiln uses a conveyor belt to transport the tile through the kiln. This type of kiln has superior efficiency as well as a condensed firing cycle. The roller kilns in the early 80’s could only produce 6 to 7 million square feet of product per year. Today’s kilns can make 30 million square feet with fewer workers.

1992-2012, 20 Years Then & Now: Flooring Innovations & Evolutions

Innovative technologies have revolutionized the business world over the last 20 years. Smartphones, social media, search engines, information storage and digital photography have created an entirely different business and communications environment since 1992. Personal assistants – the real, human kind who used to answer phones and schedule meetings – have been replaced by scheduling software and the instant accessibility of mobile phones, email, social media, instant messaging and texting. Almost anyone can be reached anywhere at any time. 

While the floor covering industry has taken advantage of those technologies, just like every other industry there’s also been rapid innovation in manufacturing over the last 20 years, often the result of changing tastes, economic realities, or simply the need to create a better product. For example, hardwood with knots and nail holes was considered a defective product in 1992. Today, character wood is one of the most significant style trends in hardwood flooring. Click systems weren’t yet invented in 1992, but in 2012 they account for significant portions of the laminate, hardwood and LVT markets. And Saxony carpet, with its footprints and vacuum tracks, has been replaced with textured carpet, which offers greater durability.

Here’s our list of the most significant innovations in the flooring industry, as well as a number of developments pre-1992 that became widely accepted the last two decades.

1992 TO PRESENT: INNOVATIONS, PRODUCT DEVELOPMENTS, EVOLUTIONS  & ADAPTATIONS

Soft Surface Flooring

Saxony to Texture
When: Early to mid 90’s

Texture innovations advanced soft surfaces beyond Saxony (cut pile). Saxony was soft but it showed every footprint and vacuum track. Newer textures that incorporate fiber with added twist and crimp were introduced into carpet styles called “trackless”, which ultimately evolved into what we now call friezes. The technology used a Stuffer Box developed by Superba. The transition also resulted in greater variety for the consumer.

Staple to Filament
When: Early to mid 2000s

Continuous filament fiber has taken significant marketshare from staple due to its lower cost and improved uniformity. The labor costs to produce staple fiber are twice as high as bulked continuous filament. While BCF technology has been evolving since the mids 80x, it was the ever increasing costs of polymer along with the continued advancements in extrusion technology that drove the carpet producers to make the investment to convert their fiber processes over to BCF. The fact that it doesn’t shed like staple fiber offers a significant benefit for the consumer.

BCF Polyester
When: 2007 to present

Multiple factors have led to the rapid growth of BCF polyester. Pricing for nylon chip has continued to rise as nylon car parts have increased in popularity as a lightweight alternative to heavier metal parts. While nylon is still heralded by many as the best performing synthetic carpet fiber, carpets made with nylon can no longer meet the price points where much of the volume is generated at retail. Polyester, on the other hand is a much cheaper polymer and the global capacity to produce polyester chip is abundant due to its wide use in apparel markets. In addition, extrusion technology has advanced (with the development of the Neumag S5 extruders) along with the heatsetting equipment that gives the fiber bulk and twist. So the polyester BCF fiber used in carpet today is much more advanced than the fiber of the 80s and 90s.

Composite Secondary (SoftBac)
When: 1997

The first evolution in carpet backing came when the industry shifted from jute to synthetic fibers in the 70s. But in the last 15 years, producers have discovered that more substantial materials could be attached to carpet in the coating process to enhance the carpet’s performance and bring added value to the end user. The most widely used example is SoftBac, which Shaw Industries developed with Synthetic Industries (which Shaw later acquired). SoftBac offers a host of performance advantages. It’s more dimensionally stable than standard carpet backing so it reduces the need for installed carpet to be restretched, and it reduces potential damage to walls and baseboards during installation.

EcoWorx
When: 1999 

When carpet tile was first developed for the commercial market, vinyl was most commonly used on the back for dimensional stability. But as Shaw sought to find a PVC-free alternative that could be recycled into carpet backing more than once (cradle to cradle), the company developed EcoWorx – an olefin based material that it now uses on the majority of its tile products. 

Triexta
When: 2005 

DuPont created a new class of fiber with its triexta, a PTT polymer that has superior resilience and stain resistance to polyester. About 37% of the fiber’s composition comes from corn. The fiber is marketed by DuPont under the Sorona name and is sold exclusively to Mohawk for residential carpet, called SmartStrand by Mohawk. The fiber is also available in the commercial sector from several different carpet producers but has not yet achieved wide acceptance.

Soft Fibers
When: 1998 to present 

Anso’s Caress and Stainmaster’s Tactesse were the first soft fiber products with approximately ten deniers per filament in 1998. Today, Invista’s TruSoft is four to five deniers per filament, the thinnest nylon carpet fiber on the market. Earlier this year, Mohawk introduced SmartStrand Silk, which is a fine denier fiber made out of triexta. 

Computerized Servo Tufting
When: Mid 90s 

Servos originally were incorporated into the tufting process to enhance product and setup reliability, and they also made setups easier and quicker. However, servos soon began to be used to create patterned carpet by allowing for better control of yarn in the tufting process. Today, servo control allows for better carpet styling and constructions, and makes operating a tufting machine more efficient.

Precision Cut/Uncut
When: Early 90s

Precision cut/uncut creates sophisticated styles similar to the look of carpet produced on a Wilton Velvet loom. It can combine rows of cut pile and uncut loops within a tuft row in varying amounts, which makes it possible to produce a wide range of textures, geometrics, solids, or multi-colored patterns in any combination. It can also create tip-sheared effects without the shearing process. Cut pile and loop pile can be combined in the same tuft row and at essentially the same pile height without burying yarns. 

The Growth of Carpet Tile
When: First major U.S. installation – 1972

U.S. consumption of carpet tile has doubled in the last ten years, reaching over 80 million square yards of annual consumption. Today, carpet tile has a 36% marketshare in dollars compared to broadloom in the U.S. commercial market. The key benefits of carpet tile include compatibility with open office systems, design flexibility, reduced installation time, ease of shipping, reduced waste, low carbon footprint, and improved lifecycle performance.

Continued Backward Integration
When: From 1978 to 2006

Backward integration into backing started with Carl Bouckaert when Beaulieu ventured into this area in the 80s. But it wasn’t until the mid 2000’s that the two larger carpet mills made a move with major investments. Within a year, starting in 2005, Shaw bought Synthetic Industry’s plant in Chickamauga, GA and Mohawk bought Wayn-Tex in Waynesboro, VA and a Propex plant in Roanoke, AL.

Beaulieu also led the way in making its own carpet yarn, dating back to the late 70s. Shaw and Mohawk picked up some extrusion capability along the way with several of the acquisitions they made in the late 80s and through the 90s. Mohawk’s fiber integration got a big boost with the acquistion of Image in 1999 and it’s been incrementally adding its own extrusion equipment ever since. But it wasn’t until 2005 that Shaw picked up much of its nylon 6 capacity with the acquisition of Honeywell’s nylon plants. Today, independent yarn suppliers like DuPont and Invista keep themselves viable through innovation (creating new fibers like triexta and TruSoft). Universal Fibers and Aquafil also remain nimble suppliers of specialty performance fibers.

Environmental Achievements

Evergreen Recycling
When: 1999 to present

The Evergreen nylon recycling plant in Augusta, GA was built in 1999 as a joint venture between AlliedSignal and DSM. The plant was shut down in September 2001 because at that time virgin caprolactam, a key ingredient in nylon 6 polymer, was cheaper than caprolactam produced from recycled carpet. Shaw purchased 50% of the plant as part of its Honeywell acquisition in 2005 and bought the rest a year later. In February 2007, Shaw re-started the plant and it now has the annual capacity to convert 100 million pounds of post-consumer carpet into 30 million pounds of caprolactam. Evergreen’s ability to convert used nylon 6 back into the key components of carpet is exactly what architect Bill McDonough was referring to when he coined the term cradle to cradle. 

Last year, Aquafil opened a similar plant in Slovenia for the same purpose, offering 100% recycled content fiber.

Plastic Bottle Recycling into PET Fiber
When: 1999 to present

Mohawk released its Everstrand, a 100% post-consumer recycled content PET staple fiber, to the market in 1999. And in 2010 Shaw opened its Clear Path Recycling plant in partnership with DAK Americas to convert recycled plastic bottles into carpet fiber for Shaw’s ClearTouch carpet products. Today, PET BCF fiber has grown to account for about 25% of the market. 

Hard Surface Flooring

The Rise of Engineered Hardwood
When: last 20 years

Although first produced over 50 years ago, engineered hardwood has been taking share from solid hardwood at a more rapid pace in the last 20 years. Last year for the first time engineered hardwood surpassed solid, taking a 51% share in dollar value. Engineered hardwood is composed of multiple real wood veneers bonded in a crossply construction. The resulting product has more dimensional stability than solid wood and is less susceptible to shrinking and bowing. In addition, manufacturing engineered wood produces less waste than the production of solid hardwood, creating greater yield from harvested wood. 

 

Character Wood
When: 2001

Character woods – handscraped, weathered, distressed, chattered, rustic and other looks – enhance the inherent grade and color variation found in real wood. Previously these “defects” were either cut out or relegated to the inner piles of wood floors, where they would not be seen. However, many of today’s consumers appreciate the fact that wear and tear is more easily disguised in character wood floors than in traditional glossy hardwood, which makes them friendly for commercial environments or for residences with kids and pets.

The Growth of Pre-finished Wood
When: 1997 to present

An estimated 85% of all hardwood flooring is now finished in the factory rather than on site. The wear surface of a prefinished wood floor is usually harder due to the aluminum oxide coating that can only be applied at the factory. This technology was first introduced on hardwood floors by Anderson in 1997. Another more recent driver of the growth of pre-finished flooring is that home construction is way below normal levels, and most site finished flooring is installed in new homes. The growing preference for engineered hardwood has also accelerated this trend, since most engineered wood is pre-finished. Seventy percent of solid hardwood is now pre-finished as well.

UV Cured Urethane Finish
When: 1986

Today’s polyurethane finishes are rapidly cured in the factory under ultra violet light, replacing the need for slow drying solvent based finishes. This speeds up the production process significantly – one coat takes minutes rather than hours – and enables manufacturers to apply more layers of finish in less time, resulting in a more durable finished product. Mannington was the first company to convert to this innovative finishing system. 

Strand Woven Bamboo
When: 2003

Strand-woven bamboo was developed to overcome the softness of traditional bamboo flooring. It’s made by shredding the bamboo fibers into strips, which are coated with phenolic resin and pressed into a mold with high pressure. The resulting wood has twice the hardness of domestic oak. 

Mechanical Locking Systems (Click Systems)
When: 1994

The first mechanical locking system that didn’t require spring clips was developed by Välinge in 1994. Alloc, in 1996, was the first company to incorporate the system into a product. Today, glueless installation systems account for 90% of all the laminate flooring sold. Besides eliminating the need for adhesives, these systems also speed  up installation. Today, mechanical locking systems are also seen on engineered hardwood, LVT and some ceramic tile systems.

Embossed-In-Register Surface Texture
When: 2003

Faus was the first company in the U.S. to earn a patent for embossed-in-register laminate flooring. This method of matching the texture of the surface with the grain lines or veining of the visual, makes the product look more like real wood or stone. 

Aluminum Oxide Finish
When: 1994

Aluminum oxide is added to the melamine finish of laminate flooring to increase the product’s durability. Products with aluminum oxide finish get improved Taber cycle (rate of wear) ratings. This process can only be done on product that is finished in a factory.

High Glass Laminate
When: 2010

High gloss or piano finish laminate flooring with an AC5 rating, the top durability rating, was introduced to the marker just last year.

Resilient

Bio-Based Tile
When: 2009

Armstrong‘s bio-based composition tile is created using Bio-Stride polymer, which is made from corn. The finished product contains approximately 3% bio-based content. Over one billion square feet of bio-based tile is installed annually.

Fiberglass-Backed/Floating Sheet
When: 2002

First manufactured in North America by Tarkett, fiberglass backing adds stability to resilient flooring, making it flexible and more capable of overcoming irregularities in the subfloor. In addition, fiberglass-backed resilient flooring is more durable than felt-backed vinyl.

Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT)
When: 1988 to present

Now one of the fastest growing categories in the flooring industry, LVT was first developed by Congoleum in 1988. LVT products on the market today provide some of the most realistic looking visuals achievable using synthetic materials. LVT is composed of a detailed print design bonded to a solid vinyl carrier. It has durable wearlayers and greater wear resistance than standard vinyl tile. LVT is used in both residential and commercial applications, and comes in both tile and plank formats. 

Groutable LVT Tile
When: 2009

First introduced to the market as Congoleum DuraCeramic, groutable LVT tile offers a look akin to ceramic tile without the weight or expense of installing real ceramic. For colder climates, it offers the look of ceramic, without being cool to the touch.

The Continuing Growth of Porcelain in the U.S.
When: 1986

Crossville built the first porcelain tile plant in the U.S. in 1986. Before then, all tile produced in the U.S. was ceramic. Ceramic tiles, made from clay that’s fired in a kiln are more porous than porcelain and don’t provide as much strength. Porcelain tile, made by pressing and heating finely ground ingredients, is more suitable for commercial applications due to its increased durability.

Digital Glazing
When: Early 2000s

Digital printing revolutionized the ceramic tile industry, enabling realistic stone, leather, fabric, marble, and wood visuals, as well as new hybrid and design-oriented looks. The digital printer sprays the glaze, much like a digital paper printer, rather than applying it via a system of rollers. Digital printing is often used in combination with surface texture methods.

What: Roller Hearth Kiln
When: 2001

A roller hearth kiln uses a conveyor belt to transport the tile through the kiln. This type of kiln has superior efficiency as well as a condensed firing cycle. The roller kilns in the early 80’s could only produce 6 to 7 million square feet of product per year. Today’s kilns can make 30 million square feet with fewer workers.

 

 

An Angie’s List Guide: Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood Flooring

There are few home improvement choices that add as much character and warmth – not to mention resale value – as hardwood flooring. But before you install or repair hardwood flooring it’s important to know both its advantages and disadvantages. 

Defining ‘hardwood’

With the advent of modern manufacturing techniques, it may be hard to determine what constitutes an actual hardwood floor. Flooring manufacturing techniques such as engineered hardwood flooring differ from actual hardwood floors, but can often replicate the look and feel of a hardwood floor at a reduced cost. Take a look at how the two wood flooring systems work:

  • Hardwood Floors

Real hardwood floors are almost wholly comprised of wood planks shaved down to uniform or near-uniform planks that are then installed directly over floor joists. Flooring planks or strips can be harvested from a huge variety of tree species, such as maple, cherry, oak and walnut, offering consumers a great range of wood color, grain and texture. Added to that variety is an almost equally large selection of stain and finish choices, making color and texture options nearly infinite. 

Hardwood flooring is the most long-lasting of wood flooring types due to its ability to be refinished multiple times over its lifetime. If scratches from furniture, wear patterns from foot traffic or general wear-and-tear detract from the appearance of a hardwood floor or its finish, the floor can be stripped of its finish by sanding it down to the wood grain. A new stain or floor finish can then be applied to give the floor an almost brand-new appearance. 

Real hardwood flooring is the most expensive option in wood flooring choices, due to both the higher cost of materials and installation. Hardwood floor planks are typically screwed or nailed directly to the supporting floor joists, which means repairs to or replacement of a hardwood floor can also be more expensive. 

  • Engineered Wood Floors

Engineered wood floors can offer the look and feel of traditionally manufactured wooden floors, but at a much reduced cost. Engineered wood flooring generally consists of a thin strip of actual wood mounted to multiple layers of thinner, less expensive plywood. This top-most piece of hardwood is referred to as the “wear layer” because it offers some of the same durability of real hardwood floors.

Like real hardwood flooring, the wear layer of an engineered floor can be stripped of its finish, sanded down and have a new layer of finish or stain applied to it. However, because the wear layer is much thinner than the all-hardwood plank of a real hardwood floor, the sanding and refinish process can only be performed a relatively few number of times compared to a bonde fide hardwood floor. 

Engineered wood flooring is significally less expensive than hardwood flooring. Additionally, since the engineered wood planks are much thinner than hardwood planks, engineered wood flooring can be installed more easily over surfaces such as concrete or an existing wood floor. Another benefit of engineered wood floors is ease of repair or replacement. Since the planks are held together with a tongue-in-groove feature along the length of the planks, repairs can be completed by simply removing a plank and replacing it by locking a new one into place.

Common Problems

There are many great reasons to install hardwood flooring:

  • It matches well with almost any décor

  • It can reduce dust and other allergens

  • Cleaning is relatively quick and simple

But even with these benefits, hardwood flooring is not maintenance-free. Installation errors, wood’s natural tendency to swell with changes in humidity and long-term wear and tear can all cause unsightly conditions that detract from a hardwood floor’s appeal.

If you own a home with hardwood floors, look out for these common issues:

  • Buckling and Crowning – this is caused when the original installer did not provide enough space between the wood planks for expansion with humidity. Eventually, the planks may swell into each other and become raised. These raised areas not only look uneven compared to the rest of the floor, they also attract more wear and tear.

  • Scratches, Dents, and Dings – these are some of the most common hardwood flooring issues and they generally occur over time as the floor is used and its protective finish wears off. This can be avoided by not wearing shows in the house and by installing protective pads on furniture.

  • Fading – a floor’s exposure to UV rays from sunlight can cause noticeable difference in the floor’s color over time. Blocking sunlight by lowering the shades or closing shutters can help prevent this fading.

  • Warping – when exposed to or saturated in water, wood can swell and warp. Prevent water from coming in contact with wood floors by using area rugs below sinks and near entry doors, and by placing houseplant pots or containers on top of water-collecting dishes.

Professional Maintenance

If your floors have begun to show wear patterns from foot traffic or appear dull, it’s probably a good indicator it’s time to hire a professional to improve their appearance. Most hardwood floors should be periodically maintained by adding an extra finish layer, known as recoating, every three to seven years. Recoating involves lightly scuffing the existing finish layer to promote adhesion, then adding a new layer of finish. If the floor’s finish is still intact, a maintenance coat will help it last another five years and may save you up to 60% versus the cost of sanding and refinishing the floor.

When floors become worn to the point that the top layer of finish no longer covers the wood grain or when deep scratches are present, hiring a professional to complete a more comprehensive – and expensive – sanding and recoating may be your best option.

During a sanding and recoat, a flooring contractor will use a heavy-duty sanding machine to remove all the finish on a hardwood floor, exposing the wood grain. Once the grain has been exposed, deep scratches and other blemishes can be sanded down to give the bare wood a more uniform appearance. Before a new top coat of finish is applied, you also have the option of adding a different stain to the wood grain to change the overall appearance. Once the sanding or staining is complete, a flooring contractor can add a new layer of protective finish, which can add lasting beauty and durability to the hardwood floor for years to come. 

A flooring contractor will also be able to provide advise or repairs for other hardwood flooring issues such as fading from UV exposure, stains from water, pets or other contaminates, and broken, chipped or damaged hardwood strips. Flooring specialists can often repair badly damaged wood floors even if some of the original boards are too far gone to be saved.

(Also see our Flooring Care & Cleaning Guide)

Hiring Tips

When hiring a professional contractor to install, maintain or repair your hardwood floors, choosing the right contractor can be the difference between a perfect finish and a floor that was more damaged than to begin with. Although a homeowner may choose a contractor based on a low price, this type of decision-making may lead to less-than-desirable results. 

Consider the following when making a hiring decision for a hardwood floor contractor:

  • Licensing, Bonding and Insurance – although it’s likely that many jurisdictions don’t mandate flooring contractors hold licenses, some municipalities may require it. A valid license also means it’s more likely that your contractor is in good standing both legally and financially. Insurance and/or bonding are likely more important characteristics in a qualified flooring contractor. Because flooring can represent a significant investment and the fact that maintenance requires heavy machinery that can easily damage a floor, it’s important to make sure your contractor holds the proper insurance policies.

  • Industry Accreditation – accreditations from trade organizations such as the National Wood Flooring Association can indicate that a flooring contractor is serious about his work and willing to take continuing education courses to improve their skill sets. Trade organizations can often also indicate that a flooring professional is well versed in industry standards for workmanship and work site conditions, as well as trained in proper installation techniques.

  • Experience – always ask a contractor about their background and experience in the field. The answer may surprise you.

  • References – a well qualified contractor should be able to provide references for recent customers or a portfolio of recently completed work. And remember, don’t just ask for references, take the extra step to call recent customers to see if they were satisfied with the work and the contractor’s performance.