How Good Is Wood: Is Wood The Right Material For Your Home? | Blog Post #12
Before we begin, for a more detailed understanding of how we judge the materials based on the different scales, head over to “The Best Interior Surfacing Materials For Your Home: A Prelude | Blog Post #9“.
How well does hardwood hold up against other classic and modern interior surfacing materials? The natural material has been used for millennia in human construction, from the ships of the Trojan War to the Torii gates of feudal Japan.
While it has many natural weaknesses, when used in tandem with special chemicals and treatments, its shortcomings can become strengths. Just like marble in our previous post, hardwood is a catchall term for a large collective of similar materials with varying properties. Hardwood consists of wood from trees favoured for their colour and texture, or resistance to elemental damage. Some of the most common hardwood trees include oak (both red and white), mahogany, and maple.
Oak is the most common wood used for flooring in North America, due to its abundance and affordability. Mahogany is a more premium option, considered by many to be the Ferrari of hardwood interiors. Maple is a balance between the former two, cost-wise, and is considered one of the toughest hardwoods for interior surfaces, often being used in places like bowling alleys.
Today, we continue our four-part series on interior materials with hardwood and its variations. We will be exploring the ways hardwood is treated for maximum function as an interior surface and to preserve its beauty, and how well it holds up to the rigours of everyday life.
This section describes how well wood stands up to abuse in a house over the course of its entire lifespan, from the mundane, like falling objects and age-related discolourations, to more insidious evils like mould and bacteria growth. The evaluation in each category applies to hardwood as a material in general, and can be extrapolated to different variations of hardwood flooring, such as parquet flooring.
Scratch Hardness: 5.5/10
Scratch hardness describes how easily a material gets scratched. While many common materials such as glass and steel can be measured on the Mohs scale, wood is an organic material with different grains and texture instead of a uniform surface throughout. Thus, the Mohs scale isn’t as meaningful here, when referencing wood itself.
However, wood is almost never used in its raw form for interior surfacing. It is usually coated with shellac or other varnishes, and often a polyurethane topcoat similar to that used in epoxy coatings. For a fair comparison, we will go with the toughest coating commonly used – polyurethane – which can have a hardness of around 5.5 on the Mohs scale. This is in contrast to epoxy coatings, where the polyurethane topcoat has additional gritty material added for a hardness of up to 7.5. Hardwood, on the other hand, demands a clearer coating that shows off its texture and patterns at the cost of scratch hardness.
Indentation Hardness: 6.5/10
Indentation hardness describes how easily a material gets dented by an impact or prolonged force, such as falling bowling ball or stationary stone shelf. Wood has a special scale of its own – the Janka scale. The Janka scale measures the force (in Newtons) required to embed a .444-inch diameter (11.28 millimetres) steel ball halfway into a sample of the wood specimen.
As an example, the most common hardwood, oak, can take around 5000 Newtons of force. This translates to just over 500kg of mass. Taking this as an example, it takes 500kg of bookshelf pressing down on the surface area of a .444-inch diameter steel ball to press into the wood. Objectively, that is quite a bit of hardness!
However, in the real world, furniture often stands in the same spot for months or years, pressing into the wood with much less weight but over a far longer period than demonstrated in the Janka test. So a 100kg bookshelf would eventually achieve, over a few years, what a 500kg bookshelf could in hours or days on an oak floor. As such, we caution readers to take the Janka scale with a pinch of salt – using the Janka scale as a relative comparison between hardwoods is more meaningful than comparisons with other materials like stones or synthetics.
Mahogany, the premium wood, rates a whopping 17 000 Newtons, while maple is a respectable 6400 Newtons.
All that being said, we conclude that hardwood, at its hardest, has a relatively robust indentation hardness, depending on your price points.
Wood is a natural product and changes over time as it is exposed to light. While some homeowners appreciate the (ironically) ‘live’ nature of wood, where it matures with the occupants of a household, it can sometimes be an incredibly vexing issue.
For instance, a sofa arranged in the middle of your living room for many years, when removed, will reveal a sofa-shaped patch of hardwood flooring many shades lighter than its surrounding. Since the sofa shaded the floor beneath it, the surrounding hardwood darkened much more, leaving this bizarre and unsightly crime scene chalk outline of your sofa. Thus, great foresight and planning is required when you plan your interior layout over a hardwood floor.
Furthermore, the coatings on most hardwood floors are not especially thick. Even polyurethane coatings will require a re-coat every year or two as scratches add up, adding to maintenance costs and down time.
While waxing hardwood floors regularly helps increase the time between re-coats, the cost is an inevitability. Cheaping out on a such essential maintenance will spell drastic consequences for your hardwood, especially if the coating wears clean through in certain spots and the hardwood is exposed to moisture.
Porosity: 9/10 (Coated), 1/10 (Uncoated)
Hardwood is a relatively high-maintenance material. With a polyurethane coating, it is entirely non-porous and shares the wonderful properties of an epoxy coating. No dirt or organic waste is trapped in pores, and no bacteria or mould can take hold. We’re giving it a 9 here, because a perfect 10 should probably involving an ultra-hydrophobic, self-cleaning wonder material of some sort.
However, falter even slightly in your re-coating duties, and hardwood will see that you pay the price in blood. Being natural and all, wood is a wildly porous material that is happy to embrace mould and bacteria in a “James-Cameron-Avatar-esque” harmony, much to your chagrin.
Corrosion Resistance: 9/10 (Coated), 1/10 (Uncoated)
Again, a polyurethane coating is a miracle for interior surfaces. Much like epoxy coatings, coated hardwood will stand up to a large variety of household chemicals and good old moisture with no sweat.
But fail just once… You get the idea. Wood, being a natural material, does not play well with moisture and corrosive cleaning chemicals, just like your skin against bleach.
This section is all about the looks, feels, and sound of hardwood. Since these properties are perceived so subjectively, this section will omit any scoring. It’s entirely up to you, as a homeowner, to decide if the following details persuade or dissuade.
Hardwood is an incredibly varied and lovely material, often cherished for unique grain and texture across different species of wood. Staining a wood prior to using it further changes its colours to better suit your ideal theme. Overall, wood comes in too many variations, subtle and dramatic, to call it any one thing. Except incredible, that is.
Temperature-wise, hardwood is a wonderful medium. It is neither too cold nor too warm, though thicker coatings can present a startlingly chilly surface in the mornings.
One common complaint across hardwood flooring is its general noise level. While the floor doesn’t emit ghostly moans mourning the loss of forestry, falling objects and heavy-footed people can produce clicking and slapping noises that reverberate throughout the house. Not ideal if you’ve a sleeping toddler or a grumpy spouse.
The Big Question
So, is wood right for you? The characteristic look and feel of wood is truly unique to the material. Half-hearted attempts to replicate it with vinyl prints often fall tragically short. However, the vigilance required in keeping up with maintenance is often off-putting to many homeowners. Any missed coating appointments will shortly be replaced by floor repair appointments.
If you realistically see yourself comfortably keeping up with the demanding maintenance schedule and cost of hardwood, we believe that it is a premium material with a wonderful look that will make any home feel classy and comfortable.
Yet, beauty exists in many other forms as well. The natural beauty of rainforests, which are often cut down and replaced by teak plantations, are diminishing every year. The calls of tropical birds and their mates ring throughout the fresh air of the shady undergrowth of their homes, kept safe from blustery winds and the blazing sun by the generous canopies of the native tree species.
If you wish to preserve this beauty, help us save such ecosystems by only choosing wood from certified and sustainable sources that give back to these communities. Alternatively, you may wish to explore metallic epoxy coatings.
Metallic epoxy coatings have absolutely none of the shortfalls of hardwood maintenance, and further allow you to choose from an incredible array of entirely customisable designs that give your home a unique look. With safe manufacturing processes and no direct destruction of the environment, metallic epoxy is an eco-friendly option to hardwood. If you’d like to find out more about the material, visit our blog post here.
This marks the end of our second post on interior surfacing materials. If you enjoyed today’s post, stay tuned for more as we evaluate laminates next Sunday.
If you’re unsure of wood, take a look at “Is Marble The Right Material For Your Home? | Blog Post #10” for our take on marble.
Learn more about the benefits of metallic epoxy in “Is It Worth It: The Benefits of a Metallic Epoxy Coating (Part One) | Blog Post #11“