Choosing a Reclaimed Wood Floor

So you are trying to choose what kind of flooring to pick out? Maybe we can help you with a little primer on some personality differences of reclaimed wood flooring from the perspective of a manufacturer like ourselves who specializes in making wood flooring from reclaimed lumber.

Did you see a picture that you like and now you have the bug that you want that special floor? The good news is that it could probably be made for you, but before you go a long ways down the path of choosing which floor you want and requesting a display room full of samples, ask about some price ranges. There is a common misconception that since reclaimed wood is supposedly salvaged it should be cheaper than virgin wood floors. If you are buying a quality kiln dried and precision milled product, generally that is not the case. The only cost savings would be if you found some scraps or did some salvage work yourself, you might save some costs. For example you might find a gym floor or planks out of a barn hay loft that you want to nail down on your floor. The material might have been next to free, but how much time are you going to have in making it usable and pulling nails? Are the results what you want?

In this article we will be discussing several different categories of wood flooring. Solid wood flooring is one board with no glued up laminations; it is basically wood board that has been sized and profiled to a certain dimension. Engineered flooring has a on the top whatever species and texture you want, and this is glued to a plywood backer on the bottom. Engineered is still all wood but is made with multiple layers that are laminated for better stability and dimensional accuracy. Floors that we will not cover here are laminates or any composite products which are often not wood entirely through the plank or may be made with a photo printed surface. We also will not cover vinyl, carpet, stone, or tile.

Hardwood flooring is often a generic term that could apply to any type of wood flooring. Hardwood trees (oak, maple, cherry, walnut, elm, chestnut) are generally trees that had leaves which fall off in the winter. Softwood trees (pine, fir) have needles that may stay on all year and usually they produce cones. Hardwoods are usually more dense and more durable than softwoods. Of course, there are exceptions to these generalities. In our product line the hardwoods cost more than the softwoods.

As a reoccurring theme in this article you will find that you often get what you pay for. Admittedly, the higher end price point products ($11+/sf) from more rare woods are not necessarily better quality but we find that up to that point quality improves with price. Our solid wood floors range in price from $4-9 per square foot and our engineered ranges from $7-15 per square foot. We will discuss applications below, but our point is that you need to have a realistic budget when shopping. Sometimes a nice alternative if you have your heart set on an expensive floor is to use less of it and put it just in key areas. Don’t do the whole house. Maybe just do the main high traffic areas and use a cheaper alternative in bedrooms..

If your price-point is not even in the same zip code, maybe it is in a different state, start shopping other options. For example if you are in the $1-2/sf range look at the deep discounters or laminate options. The FSC certified 12mm exterior birch plywood that we use to manufacturer the engineered flooring costs us that much alone, not counting all the other labor and materials.

Also when pricing a floor be sure to factor in the whole installed cost and the lifetime cost. Here are examples of some variables that could alter the total costs:

With reclaimed material waste factor is a huge variable. How much effort does the manufacturer take to give you a 100% usable product? Poorly milled with very little defecting and culling done on a solid wood floor that costs $6/sf and has a 15% waste factor actually costs more than a similar product that is milled better costing $7/sf with a 2% waste factor. That extra wastes costs more in shipping and labor to defect. This is one of the hardest things to demonstrate to a customer that the face value costs doesn’t necessarily represent the actual raw material cost unless one is truly comparing identical quality and specified products.

For the second variable here is a controversial opinion: we do not end match our flooring which means there is no tongue and groove on the ends of the planks. Since we recommend our floor be glued down we say this is an unnecessary expense for the customer. End matching reduces the yield in production and raises labor costs. Most end match profiles are milled so loosely that they really don’t hold the floor in place anyway. The biggest benefit to the installer is that the plank can be cut in half in any place and reused anywhere without have to mate up to a complementary tongue or groove since the end is just square cut. This means all end trim pieces or any waste can be reused. Therefore on our engineered flooring product the waste factor is virtually nothing unless there are angles or radiuses to work around. We also help with waste factor by usually supplying a random width product so when one gets close to the end of a room they can plan the width combination patterns out to not have to rip much off the last row.

The third variable is installation costs. Our engineered product has labor savings over our solid wood product because it is pre-sanded and milled to tighter tolerances. It is also prefilled in the holes and has next to zero waste. On the other hand you may have a little more in cost of gluing it down in addition to nails, but this is just a step in direction of better quality and peace of mind during the install.

Fourth, factor in the cost of refinishing the floor later or doing touchups. This is a whole another article. Some finishes can be spot touched up like some of the oils while others require a full sand over the whole floor. Some finishes require a professional installer and may have extreme odor during the cure. If you live with the floor for very long, factor these decisions in for the type of finish to choose for lifetime durability and the cost & effort to refinish.

Fifth, compare overall thickness and the height from the top of the tongue or nail groove to the top of the face on the floor. On an engineered floor this is generally the thickness of a wear layer. Most solid wood floors are 3/4″ overall before sanding (but some are less) with 1/4″ above the nail groove. Our engineered floor is manufactured to equivalent measurements but most engineered floors have a thinner wear layer. This comes down to how many times the floor can be sanded. What kind of finish and texture you want on the floor factors into how deep you will re-sand the floor during refinishing. A number of our reclaimed wood floors are sold with an original texture that shows the old saw marks and character in the floor, so most likely you won’t want to sand this out. As a rule of thumb, the thicker the wear layer then the longer the floor will last.

Sixth, compare the cost of a character grade virgin floor to reclaimed. The reclaimed may cost more up front, but the additional variability, texture and character in it may hide or mask the abuse better. It could therefore last longer because of the forgiving nature in the inherent look of the reclaimed material. What is resale value to having a unique product installed? You may alienate some buyers by taking a risk or impress others with the customization.

Seventh, are you a do-it-yourselfer? Think through every step of the process to be sure that you can do it yourself. Usually the install can be done with relatively moderate skills and simple tools like a chop saw and rented flooring nailer. The finishing process is a whole different matter. The sanders and buffers take some special skills to operate. A normal price range for labor and materials to install a wood floor is $4-5 per square foot. It is possible to build your own sweat equity into a floor install. Maybe this is where you choose to use our engineered product for example because it is presanded to more accurate tolerances than a solid wood product. It can be touched up with a hand held orbital sander rather than industrial floor sanders. Then if you are doing the finish yourself, you will want to consider using a finish that may not require as much buffing between coats.

Here is a word on prefinished product if they factor into your decision. If you come up short on your order, the next lot that you buy may not match your previous batch. This is especially a problem on the lower end price floors and import floors. Good luck trying to blend it in with your previous floor. So if you go this route, be extra accurate on your measurements. Right now the rage is lifetime warranties on flooring. We stop to think is that really even possible? First will that importer or manufacturer really be around a lifetime? A lot of products are made oversees; the warranty is only good if there is somebody still around for the life of the warranty. Are you going to be able to enforce the warranty? Also, do you really think that a finish can last a lifetime? For example take a nail and try scraping it across the surface. Sure it is a durable, well applied finish, but it is impossible to make a product that won’t get abused at some point in its lifetime. Do you think that the only serious trial your floor will ever see is a stinky sock? Read the fine print on the warranty and regardless of what it says consider the true replacement cost on the floor. It probably only covers the cost of material of the specific damaged product under normal wear and tear. Your product may not be made exactly the same later (trends and product lines change) to replace the section that is warrantied, so you may have to replace the whole floor years later. You will have labor cost along with displacement of trim, cabinets, and appliances. Also most of these lifetime finishes cannot be repaired or sanded because of a micro bevel put on the edge of prefinished floor. Our advice is instead to buy a quality product that can be refinished and repaired because something will go wrong in the lifetime of the floor; don’t get a false sense of security.

We personally do not care for prefinished flooring due to installation problems associated with it, so our product requires site applied finish. This means that your floor finish if site applied will be easier to sand and refinish than a prefinished floor. Also you do not have to deal with that micro bevel groove between each board that tends to fill up with dust and crumbs. Most prefinished hardwood floors really can’t be refinished easily. To sand it off means that the wear layer has to be thicker than the height of the nails and have room to sand off the micro bevel between boards; that amounts to a lot of sanding. You also will not be able to spot sand or touch up parts of the floor.

In a reclaimed product the engineered flooring really shines. Since the nature of reclaimed material is rustic with splits, various height, warps and so forth by doing an engineered product we can eliminate those issues. We match the texture and color that you want in the floor but you don’t have to put up with the inherent problems that come with installing and living with a reclaimed wood floor. A number of solid wood reclaimed floors have warped and twisted boards, gaps between rows, height difference between rows, holes, and other “nostalgia and romance” that may become unwelcome after living with the floor for a while. Due to our precise sanding during the lamination process for the engineered product and after, pieces are more consistent in height, more uniform in texture, fit together tighter, no waste, holes and cracks already filled, and no sanding necessary after install unless you want to do a light screen or buff.

Engineered is also absolutely essential if installing over radiant heat, concrete, below grade,

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