Many people like the look of softwood flooring that provides a down-home country style to a room. The most common softwoods used in homes are pine, cedar, fir, and beech which can be stained in colors that look like more expensive options. Southern yellow pine and douglas fir are two types of evergreen trees that produce softwood lumber used in making flooring.
Soft woods dent and scuff easily so some homeowners who want the look of pine, cedar, fir or beech often install laminate or vinyl plank instead that are made to look like the classic boards but are more durable. Whole wood planks -- as opposed to laminate or vinyl -- should be protected with several coats of vinyl. Home improvement centers sell these products starting at $2.40 a square foot and climbing to over $10 a square foot depending on the quality.
Softwood flooring is usually manufactured with tongue and groove so that the floor can be installed with a smooth surface and no gaps. The wood may be purchased already finished (sanded and stained) or in a natural state with the finishing to be done by the installer.
Flooring usually comes in planks measuring from six to 16 feet long with a width of 3.5 to 8.5 inches. A second option is found in planks that have been smoothed on all four sides of the board -- as opposed to tongue and groove production. Softwood floors are usually nailed onto a sub-floor made of plywood or particle board.
Lumber generally doesn't come with warranties and so installers are expected to check every board prior to purchase. When flooring planks are bought in packages, there is a chance that some of the boards will be cracked or discolored and these -- should they prove to be aesthetically unacceptable -- should be discarded. Installers may provide warranties on their labor. so homeowners should check on these prior to signing a work contract.
Two rating systems are used to determine the quality and the hardness of the lumber used for softwood flooring. Quality is judged based on the look of the wood including discolorations, knots and holes, veins, and the width of the boards. The solidity of the wood is judged using the Janka hardness test which measures the force needed to drive a steel nail into the timber. This test is commonly used to determine whether a particular lumber is suitable for use as wood flooring.
The greatest advantage of softwood flooring is its lower cost relative to other lumbers. And while the softer wood might dent and scuff more easily, some people like the character that wear and tear adds to the floor in country homes, and they prefer the softer material for these qualities.
Old sub-floors made of softwood which have been uncovered are popular for their country look but the gaps left between planks to allow for expansion also permit dirt and dust to gather. In their original installation, the planks were covered with wood or linoleum so the gaps were not a problem. Also, where the gaps have been plugged, the filler material will often dry up, pop out, and need to be replaced.
The most common problems with softwood flooring are the relative ease by which they are dented or scuffed by furniture and shoes. Sanding softwood flooring to repair such damage is also more challenging as the sanding machine can leave low spots that cannot be corrected. Softwoods are also more likely to be damaged by rot and termites and will not survive a fire as well as harder woods might.
Much of the problems with softwood flooring can be avoided with preventative maintenance. Here are a few tips:
Most softwood flooring is laminate or engineered rather than whole wood. Some popular brands of these materials include: