Wood lookalikes versus real wood: Wood Cuts - Mar 2014

By Michael Martin


Have you noticed the trend in flooring lately? It seems that no matter where I go, I encounter flooring products that look like wood but are not wood at all.

It happened to me again on a recent business trip in Charlotte. I was staying at a downtown hotel where I could not help but notice the floors throughout the entire facility. In the elevators, the floors were what appeared to be wood—a deep, dark walnut color—but upon closer inspection, the material was actually ceramic tile. Then, when I got off the elevators, I encountered it again. In the hallways, there was carpet, but it had a distinctive pattern that looked a lot like white birch. Again, it looked like wood but was not wood at all. My experience in Charlotte was not unique, and, to be fair, I have seen a lot of wood being used as well. But it is becoming increasingly common to see wood imitators in all kinds of environments.

This is a trend I have noticed at flooring and design shows as well. At Greenbuild in Philadelphia, at NeoCon in Chicago, at Domotex in both Hannover and Shanghai, and even at Surfaces in Las Vegas, it seems that all flooring products—carpet, tile, laminate, LVT, resilient—are introducing lines that look like wood. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so what does this tell us?

Obviously, it tells us that consumers have a strong desire for wood flooring. In fact, the U.S. FLOOReport by Market Insights LLC, reports that market research has shown that each year a body of consumers equal to one fourth of the current market wants wood, which begs the question: if they want wood, why not get the real thing as opposed to the imitations?

There are many advantages to choosing wood over other flooring products that look like wood. The most obvious is that wood is a product that comes from nature. It is produced in a factory called a forest using an environmentally friendly source of energy called the sun and requires nothing more than water and soil provided by Mother Nature to grow. In addition, when trees are harvested, they can be replanted, which makes them a renewable resource.

Research conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service supports this claim. It reports that average annual net hardwood growth for the entire eastern United States, where hardwood is primarily grown, is greater than average annual removals. It further reports that the average growth to removals ratio is 1.66. This means that for every hardwood tree harvested, another 1.66 is replanted in its place, which is increasing standing volume by more than 50%. The result is that the total standing hardwood volume has grown to more than 328 billion cubic feet in the United States.

Some would argue that it is great to be planting new trees, but that it takes 40 to 60 years for hardwood trees to mature, depending on their species, to replace the trees being harvested. That is true, but a report published by the National Association of Home Builders that rates how long things last in residential construction shows that hardwood floors can last in excess of 100 years when properly maintained. Given this information, the trees being planted today will not need to be harvested for 50 years or more, which means they will have plenty of time to grow and mature before they are needed. In fact, trees are a crop just like any other agricultural product. They simply have a longer growth cycle than, say, corn or wheat or soybeans.

Trees are also a carbon neutral product. During their growth cycle, they take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. At the end of a tree’s lifecycle, the reverse is actually true: the tree will stop producing oxygen and will instead produce carbon dioxide. At this point, the tree is no longer beneficial to the environment. It is therefore more advantageous to harvest a tree at maturity than to allow it to begin to decay or become unusable. When a tree is harvested and becomes a product like wood flooring or cabinets or furniture, its carbon is sequestered for its useful life and is not released back into the atmosphere. So as you look at the wood products around your home or office—at the coffee table or the desk or the kitchen cabinets or the fireplace mantle or even the picture frame hanging on the wall—each of those items is sequestering carbon dioxide and will continue to do so until you downcycle it into another form, like mulch or fuel.

Wood floors also have the added benefit of improving indoor air quality. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, wood floors do not harbor allergens, microorganisms or harmful pesticides that can be tracked in from outdoors. In addition, dust, mold and animal dander contamination is minimal in homes with wood floors. This is a significant advantage for the 50 million Americans who suffer from allergies because wood floors help reduce exposure to allergens.

Real wood floors also have tremendous long-term value. As stated previously, when properly maintained, wood floors can last for more than 100 years, while other flooring options generally have a life expectancy of about a decade. This means that the wood floors your customers install today can last for the lifetime of their home or business. Think about it: wood floors have been a part of our lives for centuries, and many of the wood floors that were installed hundreds of years ago are still beautiful and in service today. There are reports of castles in Europe with wood floors that are more than 300 years old, and here in our own country, many of the historic floors in our nation’s capital have been restored for multiple generations. In fact, one of NWFA’s member companies located in Washington, DC specializes in these historic restorations, and they have been in business for more than 60 years.

Being able to restore wood floors to their original luster and beauty is one of their major benefits. When other flooring options start looking tired and worn out, they need to be removed and replaced. But with real wood floors, making them look new again is easy and affordable.

With a process called pad and recoat, wood floors can be rejuvenated, without sanding, time and time again. This process involves cleaning the floors thoroughly, lightly abrading the existing finish, cleaning the floor thoroughly again to remove all residue, and applying a new finish to give the existing floors new life, added protection and renewed luster. The process is much like refinishing or repainting a piece of furniture. The floor itself is not actually sanded with this process, so the original flooring material stays intact. However, if the floors are scratched, dented, or otherwise damaged from misuse, they can be sanded, restained and refinished to repair them. A wood flooring professional typically can accomplish this by removing less than 1/32” of actual wood, so most typical solid wood floors can be sanded and refinished many times during their service life to renew their beauty. This is not possible with other flooring materials.

Another significant added value for real wood floors is that they can increase the resale value for your home or business. An independent survey conducted by the National Wood Flooring Association with real estate agents across the country illustrates this. In the survey, 99% of agents agree that homes with hardwood floors are easier to sell, while 82% agree that homes with hardwood floors sell faster, and 90% agree that homes with hardwood floors sell for more money. To put a figure to just how much more money they can sell for, 88% of the agents responding indicated 1% to 10% more, while 12% of agents responding indicated they will sell for more than 10% more. Those figures speak volumes about the value of hardwood floors. As an example, if a home valued at $200,000 were to invest $10,000 in hardwood flooring, at an increased home sales value of 10%, the home potentially could sell for $220,000, doubling the homeowner’s initial wood flooring investment.

Real estate agents reported that their clients prefer wood floors for a variety of other reasons as well, with more than half responding that wood floors increase a home’s resale value, wood floors promote a healthier indoor living environment, wood floors are beautiful, and wood floors are easy to clean and maintain.

Ease of maintenance is another big advantage for wood floors. Routine maintenance requires little more than sweeping with a soft-bristle broom or dust mop to remove surface dirt and debris. If the floor contains beveled edges, using a vacuum with the beater bar turned off and a soft bristle brush attachment to remove dirt and debris from between the floorboards is recommended. When the finish starts to look a little dull, using a commercial wood floor cleaning product endorsed by the flooring manufacturer is recommended, and that is all there is to it. Practicing routine maintenance procedures like these will keep your wood floors looking beautiful for many generations, with no replacement material costs necessary like you might have with other flooring materials.

The bottom line is that all flooring products that look like wood, but are not wood at all, will eventually need to be replaced over time. By choosing real wood over these look-alike products, your customers will be saving money while helping to protect the environment by preventing old, worn out flooring from taking over our landfills, and by helping to save natural resources and energy that are necessary to produce replacement materials. It is a win-win for your customers and for the environment.

With today’s advances in sustainable forest management, wood manufacturing and production, and finish technology, wood has never been a more desirable flooring material. It offers tremendous insulation properties, adds warmth to any room, has timeless beauty, and can adapt to numerous style and décor changes over the years.

Copyright 2014 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, NWFA Expo, Domotex