Through Thick and Thin: New Alternatives to 3/4-Inch Solid Hardwood
In the beginning, our industry was founded on the notion of developing a flooring product that possessed quality and, especially, durability on par with the construction standards of the time. Back then, the longevity and the dependability of a home rested, to a large degree, upon a solid foundation of wood flooring.
One-hundred or more years ago, home construction sites often had to be cleared before the building could begin. The abundance of natural resources, particularly at the construction site, was never taken for granted. One might even say that building materials at each construction site were “pre-delivered” by Mother Nature herself.
And given that these naturally present materials were so abundant, the yield of wood that was derived from existing trees was given little -- if any -- consideration. And when it came to hardwood flooring, the law of the land embraced the mentality that “thicker is better.”
To a certain extent, that same line of thinking still reigns today -- which probably explains why 3/4-inch solid hardwood flooring remains popular. But thanks to technological advances in construction techniques, and a rethinking of accepted structural integrity requirements, the hardwood flooring industry seized the opportunity to develop alternatives to the traditional 3/4-inch solid wood format.
For example, square-edged 5/16-inch paper-faced parquet has been available for 30 years. These products, which are installed with an appropriate adhesive, are not manufactured in the tongue-and-groove configuration associated with solid 3/4-inch strip floors.
But it’s worth noting that, compared to 3/4-inch products, 5/16-inch strip floors have a thicker surface available for refinishing. The strip products offer approximately 1/4 inch of surface that can be sanded and refinished before the tongue and fasteners become exposed and noticeable. I offer this information not to alarm you, but rather to illustrate an important aspect of wood floor thickness. And, in truth, both the 3/4-inch and 5/16-inch products are manufactured to be lifetime performers.
Competition from suppliers of alternative flooring products has made it clear to wood floor producers that they need to be somewhat price competitive while still measuring up to consumer expectations based on the reputation for superior performance that 3/4-inch products have built over the years.
Reducing the cost of manufacturing hardwood flooring products benefits all concerned parties. For instance, during the milling process for traditional 3/4-inch strip flooring, two distinct channels or “scallops” are removed from the bottom of the strip. Over the years, I’ve questioned wood flooring students as to what they thought was the reason and value of this wood removal. Responses ranged from providing ventilation to avoiding full contact on an irregular subfloor. In reality, the reason for removing these channels of wood was to reduce the product’s shipping weight.
So for years, our industry has removed wood deemed unnecessary from the bottom of strip flooring. Yet some would consider it practically blasphemous to even contemplate removing wood from the surface of the product.
Another key issue that impacts the trend toward thinner solid strip floors involves the yield from our raw material resources. I’m sure you’re familiar with the adage, “money doesn’t grow on trees.” From the industry’s perspective, that saying may as well be modified to “make more money with less trees.”
In no way is the industry promoting a message that traditional 3/4-inch solid wood flooring products are no longer necessary for us to maintain our share of the market. Three-quarter-inch solid strip has always been a mainstay -- some would say a key strength -- of the hardwood flooring industry.
Certainly, you would never want to bite the hand that continues to feed you. However, when an “appetizer” can satisfy the hungry consumer, why force them to “over eat?” The following items constitute some of the benefits associated with solid wood flooring products that have been dimensionally downsized.
1. Not only are freight costs reduced, the flooring square footage per package can be increased. This also decreases the waste factor borne by the dealer and/or consumer who must absorb the cost of any partially used cartons that must be opened to obtain a sufficient quantity of product for the installation.
2. Though it sounds counterintuitive, product stability is actually improved due to the decrease in strip thickness. At work is the same mechanism that makes strip flooring less susceptible than wide-width planks to the effects of moisture exposure. But by all means, don’t dare to compare these products to engineered flooring products currently available!
3. Although considered something of an alternative to engineered flooring, these thinner strip products should be installed only over subfloors situated on or above grade.
4. Unlike its 3/4-inch “big brother,” the thin strip products can be installed with mechanical fasteners or adhesives. Another key benefit when adhesive is used is that the flooring can be installed directly on top of a concrete substrate, eliminating the need to fasten a plywood subfloor to an on-grade slab. The thickness of needed transition strips has also been reduced. As with all hardwood flooring products, just be sure to follow the manufacturer’s specifications and guidelines for warranty assurance.
And as always, you can count on Wood or Wood Knot for “solid” support in your endeavors. Through “thick and thin,” we’ll always be here for you.