Wood Flooring North Pole AK
North Pole, AK
When it comes to building materials, it can often seem like there are a million different product choices out there. But sometimes you know what you want for certain applications such as siding, flooring or trim — and that’s real wood. You may want it for the natural beauty and warmth it provides, or perhaps it happens to be the most environmentally friendly choice for certain applications, or maybe it’s just what best fits your budget.
Even then, your choices can seem endless. But there’s no need to get overwhelmed when facing the array of wood species available today. You don’t have to spend countless hours agonizing over which species of wood is going to provide you with the look you desire and the longevity you demand. All you have to do is start with the broad choice between hardwood and softwood, and go from there.
“The single largest factor to consider is what the wood is going to be used for and where it will be used,” says Paul Mackie, field manager for the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association, based in Vancouver, British Columbia. “Softwoods are better suited for structural applications such as framing and exterior applications such as decks and siding. Hardwoods, on the other hand, are best suited for interior finish applications such as flooring, trim and cabinetry.”
Strength in Softwoods
It may seem counterintuitive, but softwoods have more structural strength than hardwoods. That, coupled with the facts that softwoods don’t require pre-drilling for fasteners and they don’t dull cutting blades as rapidly as hardwoods, makes them pretty much the only choice for structural components such as studs, joists and rafters. That is why you see lumber for these applications sawn from softwoods such as fir, spruce, pine, hemlock and the like.
“Structural applications are for the most part limited to softwoods, with the exceptions of some oak timbers and hardwoods used in engineered wood products,” says Paul Fisette, director and professor of the Building Materials and Wood Technology program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “They are much easier to work with and they shrink and swell much less than hardwoods.”
Shrinkage and swelling are directly related to moisture absorption, either from direct contact with water or ambient humidity levels, so softwoods also make the best choices for exterior items such as decks, gazebos and siding.
Some softwoods, such as cedar, old-growth bald cypress and redwood, are naturally rot and insect resistant, although not all lumber milled from these trees will have those properties, Fisette notes. “Only the heartwood [that which is milled from the center of the tree] of certain species is naturally decay resistant. Untreated sapwood of virtually all species has very little decay resistance,” he says.
If you want to take advantage of natural decay resistance, you’ll have to specify “all heartwood” for certain projects with your contractor, and that comes with a fairly steep price premium. Even then, you’ll want to treat that wood with some type of water repellant to minimize shrink and swell.
Density in Hardwoods
“Hardwoods are more dense and less stable than softwoods, which means great care must be taken to acclimatize the material with whatever room in which it is going to be installed,” says Mackie. “It usually takes an average of about two weeks to balance the moisture content of the material with the relative humidity of the indoor environment.”
To properly do this, the material should be laid out or stacked in such a way so that air can circulate over all surfaces of the material. Also, keep in mind that the two-week time frame assumes the material has been seasoned in some way — usually kiln-dried. Even then, material can absorb or lose moisture while it is stored at a lumber yard, so you’ll want to ask your contractor to measure the moisture content of the material with a moisture meter and record it before installation.
Hardwoods such as oak, maple, hickory, ash, beech and birch are common and popular choices for interior applications such as trim and flooring, as well as stock for building cabinetry and furniture-type items such as window seats and built-in shelving. “These are all things you want to look at and appreciate for their natural beauty,” says Fisette. “So your choice among these species is almost always appearance-driven, rather than how it will perform. In general, performance in these areas will have more to do with the quality of craftsmanship throughout the home, as opposed to what species of hardwood is chosen.”
Exceptions to the Rule
With every rule, you will find exceptions, and the choice of hardwood vs. softwood is no different. You can choose certain types of hardwood (such as oak) for use as structural members if you’re building a timber-frame-type home. In the case of flooring, many homeowners desire wide plank and heartwood pine, often because they desire the rustic look of wide plank flooring, or because heartwood pine is a common type of reclaimed wood, which adds to a home’s green quotient.
“The thing to remember with pine flooring is that you will inevitably end up with dings, dents and gaps,” says Fisette. “If you’re going for that rustic look, that’s fine. But if you want to maintain that newly installed look with pine flooring, you’ll be disappointed fairly quickly.”
In the case of interior doors, your choice is limited only by your desire, not whether or not the wood is hard or soft, according to Mackie. “You’re almost totally dealing with appearance in this category,” he notes. “Some common choices for interior doors are Douglas fir, oak, ponderosa pine and alder. The most important thing is to make sure the wood is properly sealed and finished to minimize shrinking, swelling and warping — no matter what species.”
Grading and Sustainability
All milled lumber is graded to indicate quality, appearance and intended use. These grades are standardized, but there are many different grades, and hardwood is graded differently than softwood.
Mackie notes that, while it is important for homeowners to get the proper grade of lumber for an intended application, it is not vital for them to thoroughly understand every grade and how lumber is graded. “With most hardwoods, grades have more to do with appearance than anything else, so consumers should choose lumber based on the appearance they desire, no matter what the grade,” he explains.
Fisette echoes this sentiment with regard to softwood lumber grades. “Choosing grades of structural lumber is best left to the contractor, since it is more closely related to code issues than with hardwood lumber,” he says. “With structural grading, it is more important for homeowners to specify the outcome rather than appearance. For instance, tell your contractor that you want no floor bounce or how open you want a ceiling span, and then your contractor will be able to specify certain structural grades to accomplish that.”
Sustainability is another concern for many homeowners. To make sure you are using wood that has been harvested in an environmentally responsible manner, look for wood that carries certification from the Forest Stewardship Council or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
By keeping these few simple tips in mind, you can make sure you choose the right wood for your next home project.