Inspector’s Report: Specification Responsibilities

There are many factors to consider when specifying wood flooring (e.g., look or trends), including long-term performance, environmental impact, and budget. Finding a balance between these factors presents the biggest challenge for specifiers.

Consumers have many options from which to choose. They need to consider species, color/texture, finish treatments, width/length, and pattern. The look of the floor is the initial attraction to a consumer, but it should not be the only consideration. The long-term performance is equally as important. It should not be assumed that the appearance of a sample hanging on a wall in a showroom will look the same as when that material is installed in their home. That sample on the wall may not have been a good choice for the area it was placed in. It may be of a color, texture, or sheen level that shows scratches in high-traffic areas, or pet hair and dander may be more visible. These factors may surprise consumers when they base their decisions on a sample on a wall. Basing decisions solely on the latest trends may also be a mistake if the floor chosen cannot be re-sanded and refinished to change the color when the trend is no longer fashionable.

Long-term performance can also be affected by environmental control or management. The truth is, one can specify any material if the space can provide a suitable and stable environment. A suitable and stable environment is a product of managing temperature and relative humidity (RH). If temperature and RH do not fluctuate significantly throughout the seasons, the wood flooring will not experience significant dimensional change. If the environment is unstable and RH levels are allowed to fluctuate, the flooring will experience changes in dimension. The amount of dimensional change is dependent on the degree of fluctuation, species, as well as cut and board width.

Each species of wood flooring is unique. They not only vary in look, but they also vary in density, hardness, and dimensional stability. The density or hardness of the material may reduce the degree that a floor will dent.

If temperature and relative humidity (RH) do not fluctuate significantly throughout the seasons, the wood flooring will not experience significant dimensional change.

The dimensional stability of a species is an important factor if control of the environment is limited. Most manufacturers recommend that the environment should remain at 30 percent to 50 percent RH and 60°F (15°C) to 80°F (26°C). Even when the environment is kept at this range, wood flooring still will experience some dimensional change, and some species will be greater affected than others. Some consumers may be particular about seeing gaps in a floor or slight cupping. In these instances, it may be important to specify a species that is more dimensionally stable.

Wood expands and contracts differently in each direction. Plainsawn or livesawn wood flooring will expand and contract across its width more than rift or quartersawn. This means that rift and quartered material will experience less gapping or cupping than plain or livesawn material. There is a significant difference in appearance between rift and quartered, and plainsawn material. Plainsawn material displays the cathedral grain. Rift and quartered display a linear look and the figuring of the grain is less pronounced. There also is a cost difference in choosing between these materials. Rift and quartered is more costly as there is less yield from each log with this cut compared to plain sawing a log. It’s important to understand which factor is more important to a consumer prior to specifying material. Are they more concerned with seeing the swirly cathedral grain, or are they more concerned with gapping and cupping? If they are more concerned with gapping and cupping, is it perhaps more important to pay more for the material in order to reduce the amount the floor will gap or cup?

There is a continuing trend toward wide plank material. Wide plank wood flooring behaves more-drastically than strip flooring. Although the amount of expansion and contraction is the same whether it be strip or plank, gapping and cupping is more noticeable in wide plank flooring since there is more material contracting or expanding.

Wood flooring has long been thought of as a floor that will last a lifetime. This is true if the floor is properly maintained and maintenance coats are applied when needed. Consumers also have an opportunity to change the color and texture of the floor to keep up with the latest trends, provided that there is enough of a wear layer to accommodate re-sanding.

Wood flooring has long been thought of as a floor that will last a lifetime. This is true if the floor is properly maintained and maintenance coats are applied when needed.

It’s important that the specifier educate the consumers so they understand that selecting material that cannot be re-sanded will end up in the landfill if a change of color is desired. Many consumers are environmentally conscious and may not want to choose a material that may end up in the landfill prematurely.

Consumers are faced with many options when it comes to selecting wood flooring. The factors listed in this article are important to every consumer. Specifiers have to be aware of these factors in order to select a material that best checks these boxes, bearing in mind what the consumer is willing to spend. There may be compromises here and there, and if there are, the consumer must understand what the consequences are for the compromises they make.

2 thoughts

  1. A timely well written article that’s relevant. I literally just got off the phone with a consumer that has bamboo in an environment where he will not be able to sustain the humidity as required by the manufacture. Manufactures and specifiers need to take a more active role to help control the narrative when educating the customer on products. Thank you and happy new year!

  2. Kjell,

    Very nicely done and informative. Many times clients expectations do not meet the environmental conditions for their geographical location or residence.

    As you highlighted gapping and cupping may or should be expected if not controlled within the manufacture specifications. This is an important role of the specifier to ensure the client is aware these conditions may exist without proper climate control.

    Again, great job on your article!

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