Flooring: MATERIALS ENCYcLOPEDIA
Applications for this system
Finished flooring. Can be applied on wooden sub-floors. May require strapping or sheathing if applied over slab floors.
Hardwood planks, milled with a tongue-and-groove profile to a variety of widths
Finishes can range from natural oils and waxes to petrochemical products
Ratings Chart for Hardwood flooring
The ratings chart shows comparative performance in each criteria category. Click on the tabs below for detailed analysis of each criteria.
- HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS
- ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS
- EMBODIED CARBON
- ENERGY EFFICIENCY
- MATERIAL COSTS
- LABOUR INPUT
- SKILL LEVEL REQUIRED
- SOURCING & AVAILABILITY
- CODE COMPLIANCE
- INDOOR AIR QUALITY
- FUTURE DEVELOPMENT
Strips of hardwood (with typical widths varying from 40–150mm (1½–6 inches) are laid in successive rows, interlocked by the tongue-and-groove fit and fastened with nails or staples driven through the tongue or groove to remain invisible on the finished floor surface.
Environmental Impact Rating
Harvesting — Low to High
Priority should be placed on sustainably harvested hardwood in order to minimize impacts. Locally produced wood allows the homeowner to speak directly to the forester to ascertain practices. Third-party certifications should be sought whenever buying from a supplier with whom personal connection cannot be made.
Finishing products may have impacts ranging from low for some natural oils and waxes to very high for petrochemical-based finishes.
Manufacturing — Low to Moderate
The process of milling wood into flooring has relatively low impacts. The narrow profile of hardwood flooring allows for good use of logs, and many third-party certification programs ensure that manufacturing processes meet high environmental standards.
The manufacturing of finishing products has impacts ranging from low for some natural oils and waxes to very high for petrochemical-based finishes.
Transportation — Negligible to High
Sample building uses 1,218.8 kg of hardwood flooring:
1.8 MJ per km by 15 ton truck
1.15 MJ per km by 35 ton truck
0.3 MJ per km by rail
Hardwood is a very heavy material with correspondingly high transportation impact dependent upon distance traveled. Most regions will have hardwoods suitable for flooring available locally.
Installation — Negligible to Low
There are no significant impacts resulting from the installation of hardwood flooring.
Compostable — Untreated wood offcuts. Quantity can be low to high, depending on the requirements of the installation.
Recyclable — Metal fasteners. Quantities will be negligible.
Landfill — Treated wood offcuts. Quantity can be low to high, depending on the requirements of the installation.
Chart of Embodied energy & carbon
Energy Efficiency: n/a
There will be no energy efficiency effect from hardwood flooring.
Material costs: moderate to high
Species of wood and transportation distance will affect costs, as will degree and type of finish. Prefinished costs eliminate additional labor and material costs after installation.
Labour Input: moderate to High
Hardwood floors have a similar amount of labor input as other finished flooring materials. Prefinished options will have much lower labor input than site-finished floors.
Skill level required for homeowners
Preparation of sub-floor — Easy
Installation of floor — Easy to Moderate
A homeowner with the carpentry skills to build a wooden sub-floor structure will be able to install hardwood flooring. The installation usually requires a pneumatic nailer, which can be rented.
Finishing of floor — Easy
Pre-finished floors require no effort. Finishing raw wood involves the straightforward brush or roller application of a liquid product according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Sourcing & availability: Easy
Hardwood flooring is widely available, though sustainably harvested wood with nontoxic finishes may be more difficult to source.
Hardwood flooring is very durable, with lifespan ranging from forty to a hundred and fifty years. Quality of finish will have an impact on durability, and finishes can require maintenance or re-application on a cycle of one to twenty years, depending on the finish.
Most codes are not prescriptive when it comes to finished flooring materials, as long as the sub-floor has been constructed to code and in a manner intended to support the dead load imposed by the flooring.
Indoor air quality: low to high
Hardwood flooring generally has little to no negative impact on IAQ. Certain species of hardwoods may contain natural oils that are allergens to some people.
Finishes will have a range of impacts from negligible to high, depending on the type of finish. It is common to find low-VOC finishes for hardwood flooring, but this does not guarantee that there are no toxins contaminating the air. Look for Greenguard or similar certifications for petrochemical finishes to ensure minimal impacts.
Resources for further research
Peterson, Charles. Wood Flooring: A Complete Guide to Layout, Installation and Finishing. Newtown, CT: Taunton, 2010. Print.
The Complete Guide to Flooring. Minneapolis, MN: Creative Publishing International, 2010. Print.
Bollinger, Don. Hardwood Floors: Laying, Sanding and Finishing. Newtown, CT: Taunton, 1990. Print.
The growth of third-party certification programs for forest products will likely increase the availability of sustainably harvested hardwood flooring. Similar programs for the chemical content of finishes seem to be spurring R&D into less toxic products.
Tips for a successful hardwood floor
1. Hardwood flooring should be stored in the home where it is to be installed for a minimum of one week prior to installation, to give the wood a chance to balance with the ambient humidity of the home. Hardwood will expand or contract noticeably as it gains or loses moisture, and must be allowed to arrive at the size that matches the humidity level of the home. If conditions are unusually dry or moist, the flooring may shrink or swell when conditions return to normal.
2. There are many resources available to explain the proper procedure for installing hardwood flooring, including manufacturer’s instructions.