For some clients, Eastburn recommends customizing hardwood floors via floor painting. Though it has historical roots, painting floors can give a room an updated, fresh feel.
"It's a wonderful way to add color," says Julia O'Reilly of Monkton Studios, a floor painter who works frequently with Eastburn. O'Reilly has painted everything from simple checkerboard patterns to intricate stenciled designs.
"Different colors and unexpected patterns make the technique seem new and fresh and trendy," says Eastburn. "But in reality, it's a classic application."
Not all trends in hardwood flooring are visible to the naked eye. Over the past several years, flooring and finish technology has advanced, with healthier and safer options coming to market.
"The new active stains and oil finishes hitting the market now are no-VOC," says Tim DiPaula, owner of Lady Baltimore Floors in Finksburg.
Volatile organic compounds — or VOCs — are chemicals that have high vapor pressure at normal temperatures, causing a large amount of evaporation and strong smells. Though not always harmful, they can be unpleasant.
"Oil finishes are becoming a big thing, like vegetable oil and natural products," says Chris Nielsen, manager of Wood Floor Warehouse in Timonium. Nielsen says that oil finishes require more maintenance than traditional polyurethane finishes, but that maintenance can be easily done by the homeowner, rather than by a flooring professional.
One wood floor manufacturer, Canada's Lauzon, has responded to the increased interest in "healthy" flooring by creating a wood floor that actively purifies the air. The product, called Pure Genius, is formulated using a titanium dioxide particle that decomposes toxins in the air, turning them into water and carbon dioxide molecules. According to the manufacturer, air in rooms with Pure Genius flooring is up to 85 percent cleaner than air in other spaces.
But Lumber Liquidator's Barr says the next step in flooring is LED-cured floor coatings — technology that employs LED lighting in the floor finishing process.
"In years past, it was a solvent-based finish applied — the contractor applied it and you couldn't be in your house for days," Barr says. "We've evolved to UV-cured finishes that are VOC-free. Now what's in the mix is an LED-cured finish. Your floor will be cured and finished quicker, with lower energy cost and no VOC."
Hardwood flooring guide
Deciding to go with hardwood in your home is just the first step. Here, experts share the things you should consider when as you narrow down the many hardwood choices available.
Type of wood: Oak is "standard," says Barry Stup, owner of The Woods Company in Chambersburg, Pa., but a number of other types of wood are also used for flooring, including pine, maple, cherry, walnut, sycamore, birch and beech. Different types of wood have different degrees of hardness, but they can even be mixed together for visual effect. Mixing "makes a wild-looking floor," says Stup.
The process: Wood-floor manufacturer processes vary, says Eric Rome of A Plus Carpet in Columbia. "How they dry the wood when it comes in is one of the most important parts of the process," he says, noting that companies that slow-dry their wood end up with a better final product.
Grading: Wood is graded based on the number of knots per square foot, says Tim DiPaula of Lady Baltimore Floors in Finksburg, either using computers or highly trained people to assign pieces "select" and "common" numbers.
Width options: In the past, homeowners tended to prefer 2¼-inch wide boards, says Eric Barr of Lumber Liquidators. But recently, wider planks, from three to eight inches, have become popular.
Finishes: Gone are the days when hardwood installation meant moving out of the house to avoid chemicals. With multiple options for finishes (including high- or low-gloss sheens and oil- or water-based finishes) and curing (such as ultraviolet curing), homeowners have more control over the look and chemical byproducts of their floors.
What's underneath: According to Barr, "underlayment is a big thing now." In the past, contractors used tar paper under floors, but today, moisture-wicking, mildew-resistant pads help reduce mold and allergens, especially in rooms like the kitchen, where moisture may be a problem.