Hardwood flooring has characteristics that make it a popular choice for both aesthetic and practical reasons.
From the aesthetic viewpoint, real wood flooring provides more choices when it comes to décor matching than any other type of material. The many available species of hardwood, combined with the ability to machine the wood into different configurations, plank or parquet for example, and to add to that various finish colors and different degrees of top finishes, provides practically infinite choices. Hardwood flooring can complement and enhance any decor or environment where it is used.
Hardwood flooring is practical, too. Carpet, with luck, might offer a life span of twenty years before it wears out, frays, or becomes so stained, discolored, or faded that it can no longer be tolerated. Concrete will outlast carpet, but requires extensive routine maintenance, and eventually costly complete replacement. Resilient and vinyl flooring, tile or sheet-style, do not even belong in this discussion. Even neglected or abused hardwood flooring could easily last a hundred years, and restoring a floor of this age is simply a matter of sanding and refinishing.
Realwood flooring is generally of two main types: Solid or Engineered. The difference between the two is that a solid wood is one species from the surface to the bottom, while an engineered hardwood flooring uses less expensive woods and wood by-products to form the substrate, or base layers, then finished with a layer (veneer) of the desired species on the top. Each has it strong points, and either will perform beautifully; the choice is mainly one of personal preferences, structural considerations, and economics.
There are about a dozen commonly used wood species that are abundantly available and are capable of being replenished through re-growth. Oak is by far the most popular choice. Its combination of durability, beauty, and adaptability to a wide range of applications account for this. Walnut, Ash, and Beech are also popular species. Next are species that while not necessarily rare, are slightly less versatile than the others. This would include Birch, Cherry, and Maple. Finally, there are exotic species such as Jarrah and Merbau that are somewhat costly due to a limited supply.
Both types, solid and engineered, and all species, can be obtained and used either unfinished, finished after installation, or can be purchased already finished. Stains can be used to achieve a desired color, and various top coats can be used depending on whether a shiny or matt-like final effect is desired.
Oil or water based lacquer and polyurethane are commonly used as top coats. These make routine maintenance a simple case of using a dust mop or vacuum to pick up loose debris, and an occasional damp mopping for spills, which is one of the primary reasons for real wood flooring's ongoing popularity.
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