Hardwood Flooring: make a better choice

October 6th, 2008 by Mary Schmelzer

Last Thursday we attended a program sponsored by the CMHC-Canada’s National Housing Agency and the Consulate General of Canada that promoted product applications and sustainable building technologies. Some of the topics were aimed at larger, more commercial buildings, but all of them were applicable to residential construction as well.

The first seminar discussed hardwood flooring and what architects, designers and contractors can do to make more sustainable choices. FSC rating is a good first step to take. (If you didn’t know, the Northfield Smartwood office works with this program.) “Chain of Custody,” the tracking of the end product backward through its distribution and harvest, indicates a more reliable trail of sustainable practices. Not all wood that is stamped comes with this chain of custody. It is more labor intensive to cull out this wood, and often more expensive. Our speaker, Serge Noel, mentioned that the suppliers who are able to use the FSC stamp are very careful to not abuse its use: the entire operation can be denied their certification if used improperly.

Mr. Noel discussed another method to using hardwood flooring more sustainably: specifying different widths of wood. If a particular width is the trend, the remainder of a wood plank may be under utilized. The equipment used to cut the plank to flooring widths typically cuts 2 1/4 and 3 1/4 inch widths. By including a 2 1/2 inch width, they are able to use more of each plank, increasing their output per tree.

Also, by using flooring grades that include random coloration and grading, more of each floor board can be used. (If a 10-foot floor board has consistent coloration except for the last two feet, the two feet will be cut off and placed as a lower grade, such as “cabin.” Streaks and imperfections are handled in the same way.) “Pacific” was the grade Mr. Noel used for the mixed-coloration wood. It is still graded and free from big knots and other imperfections; it just has more character.

So, when deciding what type of hardwood floors you’ll use, ask yourself these questions:
Is the wood I want FSC stamped and does it have the chain of custody paperwork?
Can I use mixed widths of flooring to better utilize each plank? (Think 2 1/4 inch upstairs, 3 1/4 inch downstairs, or call the distributor and see if there is an overstock of one particular width.)
Will the look of a mixed grade be acceptable?

We can help you answer these questions and more to make your project more sustainable and to save unnecessary cutting of trees.

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