By Matthew Spieler
For the vast majority of consumer products, especially when it comes to home fashion, most people understand a great deal of innovation had to go into making them. But when most end users look at a wood floor, they do not put much thought into its construction other than thinking it came from a tree.
While this has been the case for centuries as wood floors were produced in roughly the same fashion—by hand—the fact is the wood floors being purchased today are far different than the ones from just a generation ago. In fact, since the 1920s, when advances in stains and finishes first started happening, technology has allowed the industry to stay relevant against competing products.
In the 1980s, engineered wood floors started to come into play and today make up roughly half the market as this type of construction has opened up places in both the home and around the U.S. where solid wood floors were traditionally not favored.
Continuing advancements in finishing technology, staining and even how the floor is installed— glued, nail and, in recent years, click—have taken wood floors to new levels of acceptance.
Today, the industry continues to use innovation to evolve the category making it more attractive and durable than ever.
Chuck Wilson, Armstrong World Industries’ hardwood product manager, pointed to two recent areas where the industry’s largest wood manufacturer is utilizing technology. The first is the company’s Performance Plus Hardwood, which uses proprietary acrylic-infusion technology. “This [technology] gives it unbeatable strength while enhancing the wood’s natural beauty. It has the highest hardness of all residential wood floors, including solid and tropical exotics.”
Performance Plus is available in six varieties—maple, hickory, oak, cherry, birch and walnut—and Wilson noted how even cherry, which is one of the softest hardwood species, becomes harder than oak that has not been infused. “The floors offer increased indent resistance and resistance to scratches and stains.”
The line also utilizes another growing innovation used not only in flooring, but numerous industries—nano technology. In Armstrong’s case, it is the use of nano technology with aluminum oxide to create its proprietary Nano Alum-Oxide coating.
“Our nano top coat offers a wide array of benefits,” Wilson explained, “most notably is its resistance to staining and topical scratches.” The difference between aluminum oxide and nano top coat, Wilson added, is the former protects the hardwood itself from common wear through, while the nano top coat helps keep the floor looking newer, longer.
The finish has a strong chemical bond offering greater protection to wood, he said. “There is nothing ‘small’ about nano except its size.” The average size of a Nano Alum-Oxide particle is between 1mm and 100mm in diameter.
“The smaller the aluminum oxide crystals the more densely packed they are, increasing toughness without reducing finish clarity or light transmission,” Wilson said, “meaning Performance Plus offers higher protection than other competitive products. The nano particles also contribute to clarity of coatings as small aluminum oxide particles scatter light less. Less scattering offers more transparency.”
When it comes to protecting wood floors from everyday use, finishing technology continues to advance. Michael Martin, president and CEO of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), said in this area, the industry is evolving and noted site-applied UV-cured polyurethanes as an example. These use an ultra violet light to instantly cure the finish. Other finishes can take up to seven days to cure. “In the past, UV finish was cured only at the factory because of the necessary machinery involved. With this new technology, the machinery has become more compact, making it possible for the contractor to use it on-site.”
An example of this type of technology is being piloted by N-Hance Revolutionary Wood Renewal with its Light Speed line of equipment, noted Ben Davis, president.
Davis explained with a normal wood finish, it takes 24 hours before the floor can be walked on, and that is with socks only. “Three to four days later, you can wear shoes, but still no furniture is allowed on the wood floor. It can take up to two weeks before reaching full-cure because exposure to the air is needed to dry completely.”
Light Speed, on the other hand, utilizes a new UV light technology that helps finish drying wood and makes it usable right away. “Several of our franchisees are field testing it,” Davis said, with a planned launch to its network by the end of November. “N-Hance is the first nationwide franchise system” to be utilizing the UV light technology, which he added, offers “the most durable finish with the highest wear index and scratch resistance.”
As proof, Davis said N-Hance is the only wood finishing service with a physical presence in Home Depot stores across the nation. “There are 200 franchisees serving 1,400 of the existing 1,900 Home Depot locations nationwide.”
Because technology plays such a role in helping companies differentiate their products, as well as themselves, NWFA created the Accepted Product Seal and Accepted Eco Product Seal programs, noted Martin. The initial program was developed “to help manufacturers show their products meet or exceed industry standards. To qualify, a company must submit its product line to specific industry testing to ensure it conforms to established third-party standards. The product line will be retested and re-documented annually to ensure the standards are continually met.”
Currently, the seal is available in five categories—Abrasives; Factory Finished Engineered Wood Flooring; Factory Finished Solid Wood Flooring; Finishes, Stains and Sealers, and Moisture Inhibitors for Wood Subfloors. The Eco Seal is currently only available for finishes, stains and sealers and identifies specific products that meet or exceed certain eco-friendly standards.