ICS Magazine

Preserving Wooden Floors Can Be As Easy As 1, 2, 3

October 1, 2012
kitchen table on run on hardwood floor

There is a common misconception regarding hard flooring in general, but it’s particularly applicable to the wood flooring category and classifications. The misinterpretation is that the use of the term “hard” often equates into the product viewed as being more durable than it is, almost indestructible. This is particularly ambiguous when used to describe hardwood flooring. It is misleading in the sense that the term “hard” is relative to the product you are talking about (for instance, a hard ball is harder than a soft ball, but is still not as hard as a rock, and by extension, some rocks are harder than others). Although hardwood is harder than softwood, it is not as durable as stone, concrete, clay and other resilient and specialty flooring materials. This creates special challenges in the maintenance of wood flooring that includes protecting the floor from exposure to soils that have the potential of damaging it.

The method for testing the hardness of wood is by using the Janka hardness test. It involves measuring how many pounds of force is required to embed a small steel ball half its diameter into a wood sample. The results of this test provide valuable information that indicates how the product will cut, nail, dent and wear. Softwoods such as Douglas fir have a measurement of Janka 660 which indents relatively easily, while red oak (1290), white oak (1360) and hard maple (1450) are much harder and will require more force, but will still indent. The causes of indentation are numerous, from high heeled shoes to heavy objects rolled on steel wheels.

Understanding that wood flooring will undoubtedly indent over time is critical to providing a long-term floor maintenance program for them. Extremely durable wear layer coatings have been available for wood flooring forever, but no matter how durable the wear layer is, if the floor under it succumbs to indentation, it will telegraph to the surface. There are many cases of highly indented wood flooring that still possess a perfectly good coating. So, if you know the floor is going to indent, what can you do to protect it?

The first line of defense is to keep soil off the floor, particularly large particulate that can be lodged under the shoe and pushed into the surface. Keeping soil out of the environment is the job of the walk-off mat. The primary purpose of walk-off mats is to capture soil and moisture at the door before it can get inside and cause problems. The three step process of the matting system begins outside the entrances. The use of a scrapper type mat outside the entrance incorporates natural or synthetic matting to scrape away the dirt and grit that is attached to the shoe. This is followed by a natural or grass mat inside a vestibule to absorb moisture and remove more of the soil entering into the facility. The final utilizes a fiber mat to trap the remaining soil and moisture that enters the facility before it has the opportunity to come in contact with the floor. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) conducted a survey that indicates that five feet of matting will capture 33% of external soil entering a facility, 10 feet will capture 52%, 20 feet will capture 86% and 25 feet will capture nearly all of the soil entering into a facility.

Once inside the facility, preventive maintenance is also required to reduce the amount of damage that can occur to a wood floor. The most popular method for protecting wood flooring is the use of area rugs and runners. There are many different types and styles available from functional carpet remnants to elaborate and artistic exotic rugs from all over the world. Area runners help to absorb the impact of foot traffic on a wood floor and are often used in hallways or in the path of foot traffic. In furnished rooms, area rugs may be incorporated to reduce contact of the furniture to the floor. Another type of protection for furniture is the use of furniture cups. These come in many shapes and sizes and are used on each leg of the furniture being placed on them. Furniture cups work quite well however, sometimes dirt and grit can get under them and cause scratching when moved around.

In the commercial environments, walk-off mats, area rugs and runners as well as furniture cups may be all that is needed to protect the wood flooring. In the residential environments however, we also have to look at the family pets and children and the damage associated with them. The three most common problems with pets are claws, urine and feces. Dogs are the biggest problem when it comes to claws and the bigger the dog, the higher the potential of damage. They may claw the floor to get out or just run through the house doing what dogs do. An 80-pound dog running through a house can easily scratch the wood floor. This is a pretty easy fix by just keeping the claws trimmed to a point where they don’t contact the floor. Urine and feces, on the other hand, are issues that can only be fixed by the owners and a good training regimen. Children can also be damaging to wood floors, but mostly when they are playing. I would never put them in the same category as pets.

Wood flooring is different than any of the other categories of flooring materials because it is not as hard and flexible as other floors. Indentation is permanent and cannot be removed without screening or sanding the floor. So the best line of defense is to keep soil off the floor and create impact barriers against foot traffic and furniture so it doesn’t happen to begin with. If these simple things are done, you can significantly increase the longevity of a beautiful wood flooring investment.