Hardwood floors offer a beautiful aesthetic as well as a lifetime of sustainable benefits. A properly maintained hardwood floor can be refinished multiple times to accommodate wear and tear as well as refresh the look – from color to sheen to texture. And, according to recent research from IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, refinishing hardwood flooring surfaces reduces the carbon footprint by more than 75% compared to floor replacement.
In the process of specifying hardwood floors for a renovation or new building project consider these sustainable selections for beautiful floors.
Pre-finished vs. Site finished
Solid hardwood can be purchased as a prefinished or site-finished product. Always specify Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood, which means the wood came from responsibly managed and environmentally conscious forests.
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Prefinished hardwood has a thicker wear layer that allows for multiple refinishing opportunities and is an excellent choice for commercial applications. Engineered prefinished hardwood is often more budget friendly while still offering a long lifecycle, particularly if it has a suitable wear layer. Because it arrives to the job site already finished, the installation process is quicker than site-finished hardwood. When specifying prefinished hardwood, verify that environmentally friendly materials and practices were used in the finishing process (more on this below).
Site-finished hardwood is sanded and finished after being installed and therefore, offers a flatter floor and more flexibility in color and stain choices. It can also accommodate last-minute changes better than prefinished hardwood. Site-finished hardwood results in a unique, custom floor and is available in wider widths and longer lengths to create a unique design aesthetic. This option leads to a lower lifetime cost of the floor when maintained appropriately. Require a verified dust containment system when refinishing hardwood on-site to minimize dust.
Consider a Complete System
Specifying products from the same manufacturer can make a big difference during the finishing process and in the long-term life of the floor. Manufacturers develop floor finishing systems to work in tandem – from the adhesive to the stain to the sealer and finish. When used together, these systems work in harmony to achieve optimal results with less risk of issues like peeling, bubbling, uneven sheen, or color.
Just as important is to ensure that the hardwood flooring craftsman is skilled in working with these systems. For example, Bona Certified Craftsman are trained, professional craftsmen with a wide range of knowledge on working with a system of products.
Use an Adhesive
Proper use of adhesives is key to adding years to the life of a floor. Adhesives are used most often to install and secure wood floors when nailing is not an option – such as with concrete slab environments – and when sound transmission is an issue (i.e. multi-family and high-rise applications). Adhesives are also advisable when radiant heating is involved, when installing prefinished wood (nailing can damage the surface of the wood), and when installing plank flooring with a glue assist (wider widths result in fewer nails per square foot). Be sure the adhesives manufacturer follows environmentally sustainable practices for producing adhesives and provides third-party verified certification. Recently, Bona’s full line of silane-based adhesives received the stringent GREENGUARD Gold certification.
To ensure adhesives support the maintenance and life cycle of the wood, specify an adhesive that contains moisture controlling properties and also specify a roll-on moisture barrier (continuous film layer) for optimum moisture protection. Bona offers a CEU for the architect and design community “Commercial Flooring Installation, Fastening for the Future” that provides a deep dive on installation best practice.
Choose waterborne solutions
The three most common hardwood floor finish choices are — acid cured (also called Swedish finish), oil-based polyurethane, or waterborne. Acid cured is extremely high in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and is designated a Serious Hazard for Flammability on HMIS labels due to its extremely low flash point. These finishes will also off-gas noxious substances into the air for up to 90 days after the refinishing process until full cure is achieved. In small building environments like a home, the homeowners, pets, food, houseplants and even fish tanks must be removed from the home during the refinishing process to keep them safe.
Oil-based polyurethane floor finish also emits a high level of VOCs creating an intense smell. Additionally, it can have an extended drying time (making your flooring project take longer) and over time, the color can turn yellow compromising the original color of the floor stain or finish.
By contrast, waterborne finishes are highly durable, eco-friendly flooring solutions that offer low VOCs, no harmful fumes or need to vacate the jobsite, and are safe for people with chemical sensitivities. Waterborne solutions also dry faster than oil-based finishes. The dry time of a waterborne solution is 2-3 hours per coat with 100% curing within 72 hours, versus oil-based solutions, which dry in 8-12 hours per coat with 100% curing in two weeks.
Be sure to verify the manufacturer’s certifications when specifying finishing solutions. Interior products should meet stringent chemical emissions limits designed to maintain healthy interior surroundings. Bona was the first in the industry to innovate waterborne finishes and is a trusted leader offering a full system of hardwood flooring solutions from adhesives to stains to finishes. Bona’s waterborne hardwood floor finishes have been GREENGUARD certified since 2005.
Floor care is often referred to as “the most unspecified aspect of hardwood floors.” Assuming the right materials and finishes have been properly installed and applied, maintenance is the key to the wellbeing and sustainability of commercial and residential flooring.
Maintenance includes cleaning with the right tools and cleaning solutions, recoating (be sure to specify frequency, padding vs screening); and repairing, sanding (follow manufacturer guidelines based on the products installed and solutions applied).
By Dave Darche, national market manager of adhesives/A&D, Bona
Dave Darche is the national market manager of adhesives/A&D for Bona US and has been in the wood flooring industry for more than 35 years. Dave offers his deep bench of expertise to the industry via “Hardwood Floor & Design,” a CEU designed for Architects and Design Professionals to provide an understanding of the lifecycle of hardwood. He is a National Wood Flooring Association Certified Wood Floor Inspector and serves on the National Wood Flooring Association Architect & Design Committee.