The Ultimate Guide To Buying Wide Plank Flooring

Sooner or later, everyone wants to make their “dream home“ a reality. This might only be a small makeover or it could be a major new home design. Maybe you’ve flipped through magazines, skimmed some library books and watched some television shows. Maybe you already know what you want. Or, possibly you’re not sure yet. But you do know something; you want a change! Something different! Something new!

Whether it’s a small job or large, information is your best investment for getting your home design the way you want it. It’s all about what you want to see in your home… and ensuring that it’s done correctly. Whatever your ultimate goal is, it’s sometimes hard to get it moving and steer your way through all the decisions you need to make to reach your goals.

Your home’s style and design (and the way they make you feel!) come from the products and ideas that you put into it. If you were considering flooring, hardwood floors to be specific, then this article is for you! There’s nothing nicer than walking into a home with the richness and elegance of hardwood flooring. The warmth of wood underfoot is a singular pleasure. The classic feel and low maintenance needs make hardwood flooring a perfect option for many homes.

There is a whole realm of choices available with wood floors. Don’t be afraid to think a bit “unconventionally.” It might be easier to automatically choose standard strip wood flooring for its beauty and variability. But if standard doesn’t resonate with you… how about considering Wide Plank Flooring. Maybe you’re thinking that wide plank flooring is synonymous with wide rustic cabins or houses built centuries ago. That’s only partially true and, as you will see, wide plank can be trendy and stylish in today’s homes.

What Is Meant By Wide Plank Flooring

Wide plank wood flooring is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of the standard ¾ inch plank (which makes up most hardwood flooring) a wide plank can be a plank ranging anywhere from 5 inches to 20 inches wide. It is by these dimensions that wide plank wood flooring attains its distinction over narrow strip floors. The addition of wide plank flooring can add a completely different aesthetic to a room.

The popularity of wide wood plank flooring is a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, there was a time when wide plank wood floors were typically only found in homes dating back to the 19th century or before. In those days, wide boards made for less work for both the lumberman and the carpenters. Old growth forests were plentiful and large trees readily available. Once milled, the boards could be used “as is” without additional machinery to cut them into strips. The carpenters making the installations also had less work since the big boards covered more space quickly.

An evolving hardwood floor industry experienced a diminishing supply of large old growth trees brought about, in part, by over-harvesting. In reaction to scarcity, the industry developed a variety of sizes. Narrower strips were one solution to supply problems and, through savvy advertising, gained market share around the world. While strip hardwood flooring still dominates the market, wood manufacturers are now seeing a renewed interest in wide plank with its old time appeal and contemporary twist of being ‘different’.

What Are The Benefits Of Wide Plank Flooring

In today’s world, the real benefit of wide plank flooring lies in the aesthetic. With longer and wider boards, the distinctive natural patterns and textures of the wood are more visible. Additionally, with larger wood planks, less boards are required to fill a room. Therefore, there are less visible joints to distract your attention from the intrinsic characteristic of the wood. Also, the longer, wider boards create a sense of openness which can make a room appear larger and more spacious.

Does Wide Plank Flooring Offer Lots Of Choices?

An added plus about wide plank floors is that there are no limitations as to type of wood or form of wood. Floors can be made from softwoods (like fir and pine) or almost any type of hardwood. Wide plank can also be found in reclaimed and antique wood as well as exotic woods.

What Is Reclaimed Wood Flooring?

Wide plank wood rarely comes from newly harvested wood. There are very few trees left that are big enough to provide the number of wide planks needed by the industry. Many wide planks are made from wood that has been salvaged from non-use, destruction or decay… thus, the name reclaimed. It can be wood from old barns, railroad ties, factory beams and even sunken logs. Even existing old growth trees felled by storms or removed because of urban expansion can be utilized.

Thus, you are not only investing in a beautiful and unique floor but also in a green material, which is beneficial to the environment. Also, the fact that the majority of wide plank wood flooring comes from old recycled wood from old growth trees means that they can have a dramatic and distinct appearance. The trees have had so much time to develop that the wood can have much more character than new growth. It can be full of knots, grains, worm runs and, in many cases, old nail marking and contusions due to its recycled nature.

The companies that produce reclaimed wood source their wood from different places resulting in a variety of available wood species. Some obtain their wood from their local area or travel the globe to find different sources of wood.

What Is Exotic Wood Flooring?

There is no official definition of exotic wood nor is there a list which defines which woods are considered exotic. For our purposes, think of woods that are not indegenous to North America and are from distant (often tropical) places. A few examples are teak, mahogany and rosewood. Exotic woods, like reclaimed, offer a unique style, alluring colors, darker woods, rare patterns.

As countries in Asia modernize old buildings made from exotic woods, many planks (such as teak or others) are taken down and turned into reclaimed wood flooring.

What is hand-scrapped and distressed wood flooring?

Besides the appeal of wide plank wood flooring from old growth, reclaimed and exotic woods, you can also invest in hand-scraped or distressed wide wood planks. Hand scraped takes us back to an era when planks were milled and subject to imperfections and irregularities resulting from un-mechanized production. Distressed wood is created by manually beating wood to form artificial fissures, cracks, knots and streaks. If you are looking for an antiquated touch, this might be an option.

Finished Or Unfinished?

Wide plank wood flooring is available in both options and basically is a matter of personal preference. Would you rather have control over the finishing of your floors or would you prefer to avoid a mess and the possible hassles of finishing your floor yourself?

There are a few things that you should be aware of regarding wide plank flooring. All wood floors shrink and swell but wide plank are more susceptible to wood movement. Wood is hygroscopic which means it absorbs and releases moisture as temperature and humidity changes. As moisture is gained or released the wood will swell or contract. Too much swelling can cause cupping (edges of board lifting up) or crowning (center of board bows up) Substantial shrinking can result in large gaps between individual boards.

Can I Control Wood Movement?

The short answer is yes and the following is how:
A- Control the temperature and humidity
Minimizing humidity and temperature fluctuations in your home
can lesson the probability of movement problems with your wide planks. This is easier in climates of more stable constancy but harder in areas with greater temperature and humidity savings. Air conditioning in the summer and some type of humidification in cooler drier months will help
B- Consider the woods grain orientation
Choosing wood with a compact dense grain will help minimize shrinking and swelling. Do not skimp in this area. Properly milled and dried wood won’t move as dramatically. Reclaimed old growth wood is a reliable source of dense grain structure. New growth wood does not have a comparable tight grain that was the result of centuries of old growth forests. Most importantly choose a reputable company that guarantees the quality and longevity of their product.

Is The Sub Floor Important?

Simply put your need to make sure the moisture content of your subfloor is in an acceptable range for the installation of a wide plank wood floor. This is another area where it is important to check with a knowledgeable wood installer. They have devices that allow them to determine this condition. This can be a difficult decision. Choosing a wood that is stable (less swelling and shrinking) is a positive but maybe you have fallen in love with a wood based on beauty and eye catching appeal but is less stable. This again is something to discuss with a well versed wood installer. A short sample of stable woods are teak black walnut, eastern white pine and mahogany. Wood such as beech, white oak and sugar maple are examples of wood more susceptible to size changes.

Is Engineered Wood An Alternative?

Engineered wood is made up of a top layer of real wood attached to several layers of other wood beneath it, similar to plywood. It is designed to be more stable than natural wood. Engineered wood will still move with changes in humidity but the movement will be minimal. There is a large inventory of engineered wide plank flooring and personal preference will weigh heavily in this area.

What Is The Cost?

The cost of wide plank wood flooring will vary based on things such as species of wood and category (reclaimed, New growth,exotic, engineered) After those considerations prices generally increase as the width of the plank increases though it is possible to find some product that deviates from the norm. Engineered wide wood plank flooring is normally less than premium wood plank but mostly in the 5 to 7 inch range. Wider widths are somewhat limited in supply.

Some Final Thoughts

In today’s ever changing world impact on the environment has become important. Much of wide plank wood flooring is made from reclaimed wood. This wood has been saved and has become useful again. Reusing this wood conserves existing timber. New growth wood harvested from FSC certified forests also has a positive impact. FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is an international nonprofit purposed to responsible conservation of the world’s forest resources. When investing in new wood, wide plank wood flooring, look for the FSC seal which certifies that the wood has been harvested from sustainable managed forests.

Installing wide plank wood flooring can breathe new life into your home in a way that few things can. But as we have shown they might not be for everyone or fit every design program. Every choice comes with pluses and minuses. With them we make an informed decision. Without them, we leave more to choice.

In this article we tried to acquaint you with a sometimes overlooked floor covering. Something to consider. In the end there is no right or wrong answer. If wide plank wood flooring seems to “work” for you then go with your feelings. Consult a reputable supplier and installer of hardwood floors to make your dreams a reality