Hardwood floors are highly sought after.
Home buyers jump at the idea of purchasing a home with wood flooring -- often even when it’s covered with carpeting. There’s a classic beauty to the natural grains that will never go out of style, and many perks.
But, what can you do to care for your floors to keep from refinishing them every few years?
Unfortunately, when it comes to hardwood floors, the sun is one of your floor’s greatest nemeses.
The radiation can bleach wood, taking away from its original luster and beauty. And, nobody wants to live in the dark, curtains closed all year round. So, here, you will find out what you can do to prevent sun bleaching.
Wood Discovery 101: Hardwood Flooring in a Nutshell
To make an informed decision about protecting your floors, you need first to understand your floors.
Here are 5 most relevant facts about hardwood flooring that you need to consider:
- 1All wood, beautiful or not, has a cellular structure, each variety differing from others by physical properties.
- 2“Softwoods” wear away rather quickly. They include cedar, fir, hemlock, pine, redwood, spruce, etc. (Hint: the trees have needles, not leaves).
- 3Hardwoods have a dense structure that resists scratches and dents. That’s why we prefer ash, cherry, hickory, maple, oak, pecan, etc. in floors and furniture.
- 4“Soft” and “hard” terms are relative. For example, poplar is technically a hardwood, but it is quite soft.
- 5Tropical woods vary in density and are confusing to those of us in North America. The density relates to your floor's weight and cellular structure that makes up the wood. Denser woods are desirable for furniture or flooring (e.g., mahogany, rosewood, teak, etc.)
How to correctly spot the various soft and hardwoods? You can use the Janka rating system that differentiates wood by its relative hardness.
The Janka system will help you make an informed flooring decision, but it will only give you an estimate of your floor density (if you know what type of floor you are dealing with in the first place). Other comparative wood assessments are available from many sources, including hardwood flooring experts.
“Thumbnail” Approach to Identifying Your Floor Wood
In order to detect the wood more precisely, you can try a “thumbnail”, or fingernail, test.
First of all, find a small, hidden spot on your floor. Then, use your fingernail to scratch the floor. If you can make a mark, it is likely a softwood floor of pine or fir.
Here’s a quick guide to correctly detect the wood based on its grain pattern:
- Oak will have a flame pattern in the grain
- Maple, a fine light-brown pattern
- Hickory a jagged, peaked pattern with a dark thin, grain
- Cherry and walnut, a nondirectional subtle grain
- Mahogany's grain will be straight lines
These woods are the most common but still, your hardwood floor may be made of a different kind of wood.
Do Not Rely On Color When Identifying Wood
When you try to identify the wood, you should not rely on its color.
The reason is that many floors are stained.
In fact, artisans have been fooling people about wood species for a long time. They may alter colors, sand surfaces, and even implement grain “tricks” to make flooring appear to be something it’s not.
If your floor is in an older house, you will encounter normal aging of wood related to UV exposure in addition to whatever tricks the previous owner may have had up their sleeve.
If the thumbnail assessment does not seem to be giving precise results, snap a picture of your floor on your cell phone and share it with an expert at your local flooring store. Watch a quick tutorial to learn more.
Age Changes the Color of Your Floor
As you may know, sunlight mostly consists of visible light. It also contains shorter, invisible waves called “ultraviolet” (UV) and longer, also invisible waves called “infrared light” (IR).
Apart from the visible light, these are two more parts in the total sunlight spectrum.
We recognize UV damage when we get a sunburn. The reason we understand that heat sensation from sunlight is because of IR radiation. Both UV and IR cause physical harm to our skin.
Likewise, sunlight damage appears in wood.
Wood fades, bleaches, or darkens when exposed to the damaging rays.
Floor coverings tend to augment the problem by causing spotting or blotching in the floor. UV exposure induces color change within the cellular structure of the wood and some woods get darker while others may get lighter.
Wood stainings and finishes may also interact with sunlight and it can make the color change even worse.
For example, IR light can turn some hardwood flooring finishes dark. Finishes like polyurethane turn yellow or orange. This happens because as plasticized finishes break down, the liquids making the finished flexible degrade and permit deterioration of the wood beneath.
Slowing Sunlight Deterioration: 5 Floor Protection Tips
While you may not be able to keep your floors from aging indefinitely (face it, you don’t live in a cave), there are precautions you can take to keep them in good condition for many years.
Here are some tips for maintaining the quality of your wood floors.
Tip #1: Strive to get even sunlight exposure on all areas of the floor
Rotate area rug and furniture placement to allow even exposure to the sun’s rays.
This should minimize the damage to the floor over time, but this fails to reduce the sun’s aging effects.
If you live in the northern part of the US, you might time your floor covering placements with the sunlight and shadow entering the room where you have UV and IR aging.
Tip #2: Head the sun off at the pass
Stop the damaging raya at your windows.
There are a variety of window coverings and plastic coatings that can be applied to windows to reduce the components of the sun’s dangerous radiation.
If the rays don’t get in, you don’t get the aging effects we associate with sunlight exposure.
Tip #3: Keep the sun out of the room
You may have to let sunlight into the room, but you can choose where to let it go.
Using curtains, blinds, or screens inside or awnings or shutters outside during summer will reduce those adverse effects of “Old Sol.”
Tip #4: Apply a coating or finish with UV and IR protection.
There are a variety of coatings available, some of them with pigment. Pigment presence will keep your floor stain constant for a more extended time.
Tip #5: Alter the entry point for the sunlight
Swap your existing windows for low emissivity (or low-e glass) glass windows. The coatings we discussed above can be integrated into new windows.
Is It Possible to “Unfade” Your Floor?
If you floor has been damaged by sun, it’s unfortunate that you can’t “unfade” it to return it its former color.
However, you can remove the finish by sanding the floors and applying a coat of polish containing IR and UV protection.
You may want to consider bleaching your wood if blotches remain after sanding. During this process, the new finish spreads evenly across the surface.
If it’s the finish that is damaged by sun, consider a light sand job and a fresh light coat of polyurethane.
If nothing helps, you can always replace your old floors.
Bruce MacDonald leads the team at MacDonald Hardwoods, a hardwood flooring store in Denver, Colorado. For over three decades they have serviced Colorado with installations, cleaning, and even conducted educational classes to help customers take care of their floors.
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