There are many choices for hardwood floors, but today consumers are more cost-conscious when selecting the right variety of wood. Depending on lifetime vs. initial cost, oak and South American woods are popular with demand for green, reclaimed and distressed floors decreasing significantly.
While flooring serves a utilitarian purpose, it also ultimately sets the tone and design of a room. By understanding the current trends in wood flooring, builders and remodelers can help their clients sift through the endless varieties to find the flooring that meets their tastes and needs.
In today’s economic climate, consumers are more interested in value when shopping for a hardwood floor, and this cost-consciousness has caused industry trends to shift. "People are buying based on money now only," says Rob McNealy, president of Natural Wood Floors and a certified wood flooring inspector. "We’re finding that people are buying cheaper floors. Instead of a maple or a hickory floor, they’re going with a lower priced oak and dressing it up with stains." He adds that people are moving away from the bold, bright-colored stains popular a few years ago and toward darker, chestnut finishes.
When considering the cost of wood flooring for residential projects, it's important to make the distinction between lifetime and initial cost to customers. In terms of lifetime cost, the South American woods-Brazilian cherry is a favorite of McNealy's clients-are less expensive and very popular. These woods are low maintenance and last longer than other wood options that are not as hard like oak or hickory. If a client is going to be in his or her house for a shorter period of time and is concerned with initial cost, McNealy recommends a lower grade number one or two oak.
The concern with cost has made the past, popular trends of just a few years ago much less desirable. For example, the demand for green floors has decreased significantly. "One out of ten customers doesn't care what it costs," says Dale Shadbegian, president of GoodFellas Construction. "The majority of the population has to weigh cost versus green." McNealy has calculated this point with his customers. "Typically people are willing to spend around 10 percent more for a green product," he says. "However, many green products are 25 to 30 percent more and even the people in the really green conscious kind of zone are not willing to pull the trigger on a lot of this stuff."
Shadbegian is also wary when it comes to how green some of these products actually are and he shares his concern with customers. "Is it better to put in a wide pine that's harvested in New England and shipped about 50 miles or to take bamboo made in Thailand and put it on a boat and truck it across the ocean? Bamboo is a renewable source, but it's made seven thousand miles away."
For clients with unlimited budgets, wide plank floors-eight, 10, 12 inches wide-are still popular, with customers going with pine, birch and walnut in Shadbegian's experience. Reclaimed wood and wood planks cut with a quarter saw to provide a finer grain that also appeal to upscale clientele can cost up to $20 per square foot and are usually designated for higher-end projects, but are still in demand.
No matter how much a customer wants to spend, there are pitfalls they need to avoid when considering hardwood. With floor plans becoming more open, integrating wood into the kitchen is a common trend due to open floor plans and maintaining a consistent flow in the home.
"I see a lot of money being spent every year replacing and fixing those kind of floors," McNealy says."You can put hardwood floors in kitchens but you have to be careful. I see a lot of damage from water leaks from the dishwashers and refrigerators." He adds that cork and some engineered floors are more moisture resistant and better suited for certain areas.
Distressed wood should also be considered with caution. "Because a distressed wood floor is typically dark stained and has little hills and valleys gouged out of it, what happens is, the crests of the gouges will wear off and then you get all these peaks that are white," McNealy says. Because of the high maintenance and upkeep, McNealy does not recommend distressed wood flooring.
Family dynamics also often influence customer preferences. "People are really concerned about VOCs (volatile organic compounds) right now and that does push them towards a more prefinished floor," Shadbegian says. With prefinished floors the wood is cut, milled and coated with polyurethane so when it gets to a home it's already dried and there's no chemical odor. "When you install natural wood you have to coat it on site, which takes three or four days. It disrupts the family," says Shadbegian. "Older people are going more towards the site-finished woods. These people generally don't have kids and can leave the house for a few days."
When suggesting wood flooring options to customers, builders and renovators need to understand that cost is the most influential current trend. This cost refers to the initial or lifetime cost of the wood, the maintenance required to keep it looking nice and family and environmental considerations.