Kristy Kitzmiller had three requirements of the flooring for her new beachfront home in New Buffalo, Mich.
It must be beautiful, environmentally friendly and able to withstand sandy feet from her human and canine visitors. Her choice: wide-plank (6- to 20-inch widths) American pine with a dark-stain finish.
"Pine is a fast-growing tree, so I feel good about (my choice)," she said. "After two years of traffic, it's gorgeous, but rustic."
Although pine is softer than some woods, nicks add to its character, she said. Kitzmiller's choice reflects the latest trends in wood flooring.
Continuous flooring. Homeowners like Kitzmiller are showing that hardwood doesn't have to be limited to formal rooms. The popularity of open floor plans has made wood flooring a natural choice for achieving a seamless look. When remodeling, replacing wall-to-wall carpeting with wood has become an appealing option.
Radiant surfaces. No longer does radiant floor heating limit the homeowner to engineered wood, which expands and contracts less than solid-wood flooring. Kitzmiller has solid wood and radiant heating because her floor manufacturer uses a multistep drying process that makes it stable, explained her architect, Tai Kojro-Badziak, of roomTen Design in Chicago.
Array of choices. There are many wood options available beyond basic oak and pine, from exotic species to reclaimed wood.
Before you step foot in a showroom, learn the industry jargon.
Style. Strip style has 1 1/2- to 3-inch-wide boards. Plank flooring is wider. Parquet is a geometric design made of short boards.
Solid or engineered. Solid wood flooring is about 3/4 to 5/16 inches thick and can be sanded and refinished repeatedly. Engineered wood is a thinner solid board on top of a plywood or composite substrate. Some engineered woods have veneers that can't be refinished, but the new, thicker ones can be.
"You can refinish it many times," said Tom Shafer of the 3/4-inch-thick engineered-wood floors his company, Maine Heritage Timber, makes from sunken pine, fir and spruce trees he harvests from Quakish Lake in Maine.
Engineered-wood manufacturers say their floors are as scuff-resistant as solid wood.
"They can take high heels and dog toenails," said Emily Morrow, director of color, style and design for Shaw Floors.
Cut. The least expensive hardwood is plain sawn, with a grainy look. More expensive but less grainy is quarter sawn. Rift sawn is top-dollar, with a cleaner look.
Species. Hardwoods include oak and hickory, while softwoods include pine and black cherry.
Many buyers demand American-grown trees from forests that are guaranteed sustainable, said the suppliers. The "socially responsible consumer" especially appreciates reclaimed wood, said Shafer. "We're using trees that were already felled and saving 1,000 acres of trees a year from being cut."
Finish. A wood floor can be factory finished or finished on site. Factory finished is no longer inferior to site finished and no longer comes with wide bevels that trapped dirt between boards.
"By doing the finish here, we can make it stronger and longer lasting," explained Todd Waterman, design program manager of Carlisle Wide Plank Floors, which made Kitzmiller's floors.
Water-based finishes are in and oil-based is out. They last longer than their predecessors, installers said.
"We call them 200-year floors," said Butch Kirk, owner of San Jose Hardwood Floors in San Jose, Calif. "They'll outlive us."
Color. The trend is toward very light or dark, and away from the conventional red oak that ruled the market for decades.
"The coastal look with light grays is huge now because it's a great backdrop for colorful home furnishings," said Morrow. "Dark espresso is still popular too."
"Whitewash is hot, hot, hot," Kirk added. It works in industrial-look condos as well as casual-comfy cottages, he said.
Texture. Wood floors range from bowling-alley smooth to wire brushed to hand scraped (which can mean by hand or by machine). A popular compromise is the timeworn look, with subtle scrapes, like Shaw Floors' Cape Ann, said Morrow. "Like the floor in front of the sink at Grandma's house, where years of wear smoothed it," she said.
Buyers' preferred material
New homes had more solid- and engineered-wood floors in 2011 than in 2004, said Ed Hudson, market research director for Home Innovation Research Labs (formerly the National Association of Home Builders Research Center). And buyers chose wood flooring more often in every major room but the upstairs bathrooms.
Eighty-four percent of new-home buyers and 81 percent of buyers of existing homes consider wood flooring as very or somewhat important, according to a 2013 survey of buyers' preferences in home features by the National Association of Realtors.
"At resale, buyers expect wood flooring to be installed and carpeting gone," said Kirk Mickelsen, owner of Urbandale, Iowa-based KRM Development, which builds and remodels houses. "Wood looks better, fits today's open floor plans, makes rooms look bigger. And buyers don't want the off-gassing of new carpeting." Minimizing allergies is key, he said.
Allergies were the reason Anna Hughes and her mother redid the flooring at their home in Kings Mountain, N.C.
"Replacing the carpeting with wood, especially in the bedrooms, really helped and, this is great, we no longer have to pay for carpet cleaning," Hughes said. "The dust doesn't stay in the carpet under beds and furniture now because we clean it easily with a dust mop."
Whether buyers grab off-the-shelf wood flooring or hand-pick the reclaimed boards, they make more educated choices, said John Lessick, chairman of the National Wood Flooring Association.
"They're reading, watching home improvement shows and going to sites like ours," Lessick said. "There's a wood floor for every budget now. It's the new norm at every price point, in every room."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun