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Teach Customers About Color Change in Wood Flooring

By Mike McReavy
December 2003/January 2004
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Q: Why is the wood flooring under an area rug a different color from the rest of the floor? 

A: This is a very common question asked in the hardwood flooring industry,largely due to the increased use and awareness of alternative species such as hard maple, jatoba (Brazilian cherry) or even American cherry, where such color differences are more prominent. For the same reasons we love the natural beauty of real-wood floors, we must embrace the individual species characteristics that create the problem we hear from our clients regarding color change.

There are two factors at work when a hardwood floor changes in color. First of all, every wood species—in fact all organic matter—will be affected by exposure to light rays; just think of your skin when exposed to the sun! Likewise, each wood species has unique characteristics and will react accordingly with exposure to light.

The change in color in hardwood flooring is often described in terms of color fastness; this is the expected change in color over time as the species ages, either from exposure to light or as it naturally oxidizes over time. Certain species such as oak and maple show very little color change over time,while American cherry and most exotic imported wood species have an extreme degree of color change.

Additionally, with natural products such as real wood flooring, individual pieces of the same species change color differently. The sapwood and heartwood of most wood species age at different rates. Also, within each wood species there is a range of color. As an example, hard maple has a wide range of color variability, from the creamy white sapwood to the dark black or brown tones in the heartwood.

The second factor at work is the change in color of the finish applied to the wood flooring (or furniture, moldings, cabinetry or other mill work). Some prefinished flooring products contain "UV blockers," but these do not eliminate color variability; they merely limit the degree of color change.

For the same reason that oil-modified finishes generally amber over time and water-based finishes generally remain clear, the finishes applied on factory-finished floors appear differently based on the chemicals and formulations used. The gloss of the finish also affects color variability. Flat or satin finishes appear darker than gloss or semigloss coatings. In addition, almost everyone sees color differently, and as we get older, color perceptions change. The color of a finished piece of flooring is affected by the gloss, the light in which it is viewed and the person's own perception.

Since some amount of color change is inevitable,it becomes imperative that everyone involved in the selling process understands the differences between what can be controlled and what will naturally occur, as well as how to teach their clients about these issues. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

• Selecting flooring products that contain non-yellowing coatings is the first step. Not all products that are factory-finished contain "UV blockers," so be sure to do your homework.

• Limit light exposure whenever possible. For the same reason that the world's finest art collections are displayed in rooms without windows, wood floors and interior furnishings should be protected with blinds, curtains or plastic window film designed to limit harmful light.

• Teach clients that with a natural product such as wood, the floor under the area rug will eventually"catch up" to the rest of the floor once that area of the wood flooring is exposed to light. For example, if your clients covered the wooden family dining table in the same fashion, they would create the same exposure "problem."

• Prefinished flooring that is stained, especially in darker tones, shows significantly less color change.

• There is no such thing as "color match." For the obvious reason that no two pieces of flooring are exactly the same, it is then impossible to match color! Allow your clients to see flooring samples in different lighting conditions. Natural light during daylight hours presents a different look compared with a sample inspected at night under warm fluorescent bulbs.

As usual, the bottom line is about education,communication and expectations. As our industry strives to educate customers about the incredible array of hardwood flooring choices available to them, it is equally important to communicate the features and benefits of these products in order to meet customers' expectations.

The color changes experienced by some clients' hardwood flooring is a good example of an issue that is best dealt with by educating yourself and the people in your organization.

            Color change        Brazilian cherry wood flooring    Exotic wood flooring        color change       


My question was not answered - does wood flooring darkin in color when exposed to sunlight? I only know of one substance that darkins when exposed to sunlight - HUMAN SKIN. Am I wrong?
gerard  homeowner  5/23/2011 7:39:13 PM

When the wood flooring you've ordered does not match the sample eg Brown sample - the delivered wood flooring is more black then brown. Does the supplier have to take back - they've given the response that as it's a wood that the colours will vary. But surely not from Brown to Black ! Hope you can help. Tim
Tim   Homeowner  1/28/2013 12:23:40 PM

I'd like to know if there is a topcoat product (oil/wax or urethane) that will not change the appearance of the wood when applied? I'm familiar with Rubio Monocoat for a natural feel, but it does deepen the color. On this project, we are trying to keep the wood from darkening when the topcoat is applied. The client wants the finished wood to look just like the unfinished natural wood color and matte surface; is this possible as the finished product?
Susan  Interior Designer  11/23/2013 11:04:46 AM

It has been well documented in the Wood Handbook published by the Forestry Products Laboratory a division of US Dept of Agriculture that different species of wood will darken OR lighten depending on the species. Also a wood scientist by the Name of Bruce Hoadley a PHD in wood sciences at the University of Mass has written a book Understanding Wood that also documents that wood and its finishes do darken or lighten as they age.
Jim Decker  NWFA Hardwood Inspector  11/25/2013 7:30:50 PM

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