Hardwood Floors: A History
Wood flooring was first recognized as a design /décor element for a living space in the late 1600s in France. Only the wealthiest people could afford solid-plank floors because they were handcrafted and very expensive.
In the 1700s and 1800s solid planks for floors were massive – 7/8″ thick, at least 8’ long and 2-1/2″ or 3-1/4″ wide. Some planks were 16’ long. They had to be massive because subfloors were not used and plank ends had to be nailed to joists.
Modern, machine-made hardwood flooring came into being in the 1880s with the invention of the side matcher. This was the beginning of strip hardwood flooring.
The invention of the electric sander in the mid-1920s meant that hardwood floors could be levelled and sanded more efficiently and with better quality. Previously, floors were scraped manually by dragging scraper blades across the floor.
In the 1940s, hardwood was still very labour intensive. It required professional installation, sanding, and two coats of shellac and wax (used until the 1950s, when changed to lacquer and polyurethane). Hardwood floors also had to be waxed on a weekly basis.
In the 1960s hardwood flooring took a huge hit when the U.S. Federal Government approved carpeting as part of a 30-year mortgage. Both homeowners and homebuilders turned away from expensive, labour intensive hardwood in favour of cheaper, easier and faster-to-install carpet. This was a major factor in the decline of the hardwood flooring industry until the mid-1980s.
Did you know?
The Janka hardness test measures the force required to embed a .444 inch steel ball to half its diameter in wood. The hardness is expressed numerically as the pounds per square inch of pressure required to sink the ball. The higher the number the harder the wood is. The Janka hardness test is done on both the side and end of the wood because hardness varies with the grain of the hardwood.
The Red Oak, which has a Janka rating of 1290, is the industry benchmark for comparing the relative hardness of different wood species.
Hardwood flooring adds to the value of both new and resale homes. In one national Canadian survey, 90% of real estate agents said homes with wood floors sell faster and for more money.
Solid ¾-inch boards can be refinished up to 10 times. Thinner ones can’t be sanded as much, but when topped with durable factory-applied coatings, they shouldn’t require frequent refinishing.
Longer strips mean fewer distracting end joints. To make a small room appear bigger, use shorter strips.
The harder the wood, the less prone it is to dents and gouges.
Some pre-finished solid-wood boards come with a 50-year warranty. With regular care, though, any solid-wood floor can easily last twice that long.