Creative Alternatives to Wood Flooring

From on September 01, 2010 in Flooring

Today’s post is from Rob Jones, chief blogger, social media guy and online marketer with BuildDirect, an online building materials and flooring supplier.

Hardwood flooring is a reliable, great-looking and very long-lasting floor option. Millions of homeowners and companies invest in hardwood floor installations every year with great satisfaction and long-term success for all of these reasons.


Just be aware that it doesn’t always make sense for your particular space. This can be due to environmental barriers like high-moisture content, for instance. When this is the case, it’s time to reassess.

A word of advice that reputable vendors give to customers regarding solid hardwood flooring is that sometimes, it’s best to choose an alternative that will stand up to things like higher moisture content. Moisture, or sometimes the lack of it, can make hardwood swell and contract. It’s a natural material, so that’s what it does in any circumstance. Actually, you should expect it to do that to some degree. But, when the balance isn’t right, this can lead to a very poor result. And when you bought hardwood flooring, that’s not what you signed on for.

So, you should avoid installing in these areas:

  • Bathrooms
  • Laundry areas
  • ‘Below-grade’ installations - basically, anywhere below the ground (e.g. basement)
  • Areas not environmentally controlled all-year around, like cottages and summer homes not occupied all year

Another thing to consider is that hardwood has to be nailed to a subfloor. If you’re on a slab, that’s just not feasible. But what are the alternatives when solid hardwood just isn’t the way to go? Well, let’s look at a few examples here.

#1 - Laminate flooring

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. Laminate flooring can be floated, so no ‘nail-down’ needed if you don’t have a wood subfloor. And the evolution of laminate has taken it to another level these days; it’s almost indistinguishable from solid hardwood. Review the warranty with your chosen vendor, though, when it comes to off-limits areas to install them. And it’s not a great idea to install these in bathrooms or laundry rooms either. Check the A/C rating, too, which is a grade on how much traffic the particular type of laminate has been tested for.

#2 - Engineered Hardwood

The beauty of engineered hardwood is that it incorporates real wood as a veneer layer, but is reinforced to manage expansion and contraction with a core of material made from high-density fiberboard. This means when it comes to the basement installation you need to float, you can go crazy. Many types of engineered floors can go over radiant heating systems as well, which is not a good idea with solid. Ask your vendor about that. But much like laminate, a lot of the ‘excessive moisture’ rules apply. Don’t put them in your bathroom, or laundry room.

#3 - ‘Direct Print’ Bamboo

Bamboo has an eco-friendly reputation, and for many good reasons. But not everyone likes its distinctive ‘knuckle-pattern’ look. There’s a solution, however: direct print bamboo, which takes strand-woven bamboo boards and overlays a hardwood pattern and color range directly on to it. The result is an unbelievable replica of a real hardwood species. With bamboo, you can generally glue it to a subfloor if you need to. But you should still be mindful of moisture. Bamboo expands and contracts with the best of them.

#4 - Vinyl Tile/Plank

When you’re looking to incorporate that wood grain aesthetic quickly within a tight budget—and without having to hire an installer—vinyl tile or vinyl planks that feature wood grain patterning, and even texture, are a great choice. The great part is that they can be laid over nearly any surface—within reason, of course. And moisture isn’t really a concern as it would be with a natural wood product like solid hardwood.

#5 - Porcelain ‘Wood Grain’ Tile

This may be one of the most amazing products listed here. As you may or may not know, porcelain tile is completely impervious to moisture, which is why it’s been used widely in problem areas we mentioned (i.e. bathrooms and laundry rooms). But, innovation has brought porcelain into other areas, too, and done so with style. The wood grain pattern is, again, indistinguishable from the real thing. And if you want to put it in your bathroom, laundry room or basement—or pretty much every room of the house—you go for it. So, there you have it. Just because solid hardwood isn’t a great fit for your space, there are plenty of options to consider beyond it for that classic wood grain look. As stated above, when you’re making a big purchase like a new floor, a good dialogue with your vendor is vital. Ask them about installation issues and how they affect your warranty, for instance. Make sure that your investment in a new floor is going to be a long-term investment. And whatever you decide on, enjoy your floors!


For more from Rob, read the BuildDirect blog. You can follow Rob and BuildDirect on Twitter, and ‘like’ the BuildDirect Facebook page, too.