Wood Flooring – Does hardness matter?

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Old tools on a wooden table

A common question we get asked about hardwood floors is what species of wood should I use for a hardwood floor. Nowadays, it’s possible to purchase many different kinds of wood flooring and it’s also possible to see the same kind of wood with a variety of different finishes. Does the species of wood matter? The answer is both yes and no.

To start, it’s best to talk about how wood hardness is measured. Often, when presented with hard wood flooring, a value is given for each species of wood. For example, Red Oak has a value of 1260. What does this value mean? The value actually represents the amount of pounds-force required to embed a 0.444 inch steel ball into wood to half the ball’s diameter, otherwise known as the Janka Hardness Test. In other words, how much force is required to shoot a ball bearing at a piece of wood to embed it halfway in. The higher the value, the harder it is to embed the ball bearing, and therefore the harder the species of wood. In theory, a harder hardwood should wear better than a softer one.

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As you can see, Honduran Mahogany is not a very hard hardwood and something like Ipe is really hard. Does this mean that Ipe would make a much better choice for hard wood flooring as it would stand up better over time? Is a harder hardwood better for flooring? The answer might be no, for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, it’s important to note that, depending on how a floor gets used and abused, it might not matter how hard it is. Sure, if I dropped something really heavy on it, a harder wood may take less punishment, but for common wear and tear, it’s really the finish on the floor that takes a beating. Most nicks and scratches affect mostly the finish, and not the wood. That why many hardwood floors are finished with aluminium oxide, which itself, is a very hard finish.

Secondly, certain species of wood are more unstable than others, and are thus affected by changes in heat and humidity to a greater degree. As well, wood can either be riftsawn or quartersawn, a differnece in how a tree is cut, which can affect stability. In most cases, flooring instability is not a huge issue nowadays, but if you live in a home that has great swings in heat or humidity levels, certain softer hardwoods may be better suited than harder ones.

And finally, cost is definitely a factor when choosing hardwoods. Oak flooring might seem like an expensive option compared to other non-wood floor coverings, but it would pale in comparison to doing your floor in zebrawood. In a lot of cases, choosing something a little softer is a better choice from a cost perspective.

In short, the hardness of the hardwood you choose for your floor shouldn’t be the number one priority. Other factors, such as lifestyle, temperature, humidity, and cost should play an equal role in deciding what kind of hardwood floors to choose.

If you’re in the Greater Edmonton area and are looking for a contractor for you renovation project, visit our website at www.nordalta.com/contact.php to find information on how to contact us. We’d be happy to speak to you about what we can do to get the ball rolling on your next home or office project. You can also leave comments with us at info@nordalta.com.

Michael Breault is a project coordinator for Nord Alta Construction. You can find the company website at www.nordalta.com. You can also find Michael and Nord Atla Construction on facebook at www.facebook.com/NordAltaConstruction, on twitter at www.twitter.com/Nordalta, and on LinkedIn.

Robert Breault is the president and owner of Nord Alta Construction. You can find the company website at www.nordalta.com. You can also find Robert and Nord Alta Construction on facebook at www.facebook.com/NordAltaContruction and on LinkedIn.