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Maintaining Wood Flooring: Is it Wood?

September 14, 2009
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My daddy used to say, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it is probably a duck. The wood flooring category of hard-surface flooring constitutes a growing segment of our industry, but is it all actually wood?

The popularity of wood flooring is such that other categories of floor coverings are entering the picture. These wood floor imitators resemble wood in various ways.

Even though the floor may look like wood, it is often not wood at all. This mistake can lead to some rather precarious situations and costly mistakes when it comes to maintenance.

Wood flooring has been around for a long time. It is a natural product produced from trees. Timber or lumber, depending on where you are from, is the term for trees that have been cut down and sawn into boards of various sizes and dimensions for all manner of products. One of the products is, of course, true wood flooring.

There are basically two types of wood flooring available: solid wood and engineered wood.

Solid wood flooring is cut from hardwood or softwood timber to exacting dimensions, then designated as strip, plank or parquet. It is called “solid” wood because it is cut from timber and is solid through and through.

The species, cut, grade and coating will determine how the floor will look and act. Solid wood flooring is traditionally secured to the subfloor by nailing, but today staples and sometimes adhesive are used as well. Laminated or engineered flooring is manufactured in three to five layers that are cross thatched and pressed together. This construction gives the flooring more flexibility and dimensional stability.

The top layer is usually a thin veneer of hardwood or exotic wood that gives the appearance of solid wood flooring. The layers under the surface are usually made of more cost-effective soft wood. Engineered wood flooring is becoming more and more popular and is widely used.

These two types of flooring are predominate in the industry and are true wood flooring. Solid wood floors may be sanded and finished on site or, like most engineered wood, factory-finished with a urethane-type finish or heat impregnated with acrylic finishes.

Then there are the pretenders that look like wood flooring, but may not actually be wood flooring at all. Laminate flooring is often placed into the wood flooring category because it is manufactured primarily of wood byproducts. The difference between laminated (engineered wood) and laminate is in the raw materials and construction.

While laminated wood flooring is a combination of softwood cross-layered underlayment with a hardwood surface, laminate flooring is a backing with a high-density fiberboard core, a picture and a heavy-duty wear layer.

Another distinction between the two is in the manner in which the flooring is attached to the subfloor/substrate. Engineered wood flooring can be nailed, stapled or glued to the subfloor, whereas laminates are considered a floating floor.

A floating floor is one that is not attached to the subfloor; it is adhered to the other pieces to complete the whole floor. Although these floors may look the same, they are completely different.

Another floor often thrown into the wood category is bamboo. It is often called a wood floor, but the truth of the matter is that bamboo really a grass. This flooring material is manufactured in vertical, horizontal or strand segments, and can be natural or carbonized.

Bamboo is cut into strips and dried. The strips are then assembled either vertically or horizontally and glued together with heat and pressure. Strand bamboo is cut into very thin strips and laminated together, much in the same manner as oriented strand board. These floors are extremely durable, but they do have their issues.

The resilient flooring category contributes to the wood floor look by way of solid-vinyl printed film flooring. Using similar methods as laminate flooring, resilient floors consist of a backing with a polyvinyl chloride core, a picture of wood and a heavy-duty wear layer.

We are seeing these floors in areas like grocery stores and retail shops. They have even addressed the texture of the product to resemble aged or rustic looking planks. Although they come from the vinyl classifications, they do have the ability to fool some people.

This may seem like a simple topic, but you would not believe how many people are fooled by wood flooring look-alikes. Because they come from different categories and classifications, they will require different maintenance methods.

These other floors, no matter their appearance or texture, are not wood and should not be treated as such. I cannot begin to tell you what would happen if you inadvertently put a drum or belt sander on one of these floors (I’ll leave that to your imagination). Even the use of sanding screens has the potential of totally destroying them.

Remember, identification is one of the primary responsibilities of floor maintenance technicians, so before you treat it like wood, be sure it is wood.

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