By Reginald Tucker
In the battle to win back market share from waterproof products such as LVT, WPC and SPC, hardwood flooring manufacturers have come up with waterproof and water-resistant options of their own (FCNews, May 11/18). That strategy continues in full swing as manufacturers develop innovations that bolster wood flooring’s capabilities while maintaining some of the inherent attributes that make hardwood such an aspirational product.
Case in point is the recent rollout of AquaTek from HF Design. The product features a real, 1.2mm, sliced-faced white oak wear layer atop a solid polymer core. The decorative layer is protected by HF Design’s Nanotek Shield, which seals out moisture while its 2mm attached HydroShield IXPE underlayment provides both heft and comfort underfoot. Further protection is achieved through patented locking technology, which blocks liquids from seeping between the planks.
“The visuals in the AquaTek line are so strong, especially compared to vinyl,” said Jeff Garber, vice president of sales and marketing, HF Design. “There’s no comparison in terms of the realism. With vinyl, you typically have one in four, one if five or one in seven pattern repeats, but with AquaTek it’s one in a million pattern repeat. There’s an immediate upgrade when you see the product installed.”
Another hybrid hardwood/rigid core product that’s hitting the scene is Samling USA’s LifeCore brand. The company, which specializes in hard surface flooring across a variety of categories, looks to marry the attributes of rigid core flooring and genuine hardwood while leveraging technology to set itself apart from the pack.
“We can pretty much take 90% of what we do in our engineered hardwood floors and put it into this technology,” said Jim Fiore, vice president of sales and marketing, U.S. “This allows us to use reactive finishes, triple staining, etc.; basically, doing different things with the texture to make the visuals look different than your traditional butterscotch, gunstock looks out there in the market today.”
Another company making strides in this regard is SEM Group. In 2015, the group began testing on American Aquawood, a patent-pending waterproof hardwood flooring. Today, flooring dealers and distributors are actively selling Aquawood to consumers looking to put hardwood in areas often compromised by moisture.
“As all of the waterproof products started coming to market, we saw a need for waterproof/water-resistant hardwood,” said Andy Jordan, CEO, SEM Group. “We have a patent pending on this entire product category—on any substrate, thin or extremely thick, in the U.S. and in 14 countries total.”
SEM Group said it has conducted more than 200 independent tests on Aquawood to ensure its waterproof claim.
Suppliers stand behind waterproof wood claims
Along with the proliferation of waterproof and water-resistant hardwood flooring products comes overblown marketing claims as to how these products might perform under real-world conditions such as flooring or spills on the home. While conventional wisdom says wood and water don’t mix, suppliers say that’s no longer the case.
“The great thing about our product is it is real wood,” SEM’s Jordan explained. “Some of our retailers and their sales reps will take the product and stick it in a bucket of water. They’ll put it outside and freeze it in a bucket of water and the product continues to perform. It doesn’t delaminate; it doesn’t separate.”
Samling USA expressed similar confidence in its waterproof hardwood flooring. So much so that it’s putting it in writing in the product’s warranty. “We don’t have many disclaimers in our warranties,” Fiore said. “With a lot of products on the market right now the advertising says ‘waterproof,’ but the installation instructions say you can’t install the product in a full bathroom and you can’t wet mop it. Our warranty is a true ‘submergeable’ warranty, not a topical warranty. With a lot of these other products, you have to read the fine print.”
The same goes for Cali Brands, whose GeoWood rigid core hybrid product combines the water-repelling performance attributes of an SPC product with the visual characteristics of genuine hardwood. To help consumers better understand the features and benefits while comparison shopping, the company assigned an overall water resist- ance rating to the product. “GeoWood carries so many features and benefits; superior water resistance is just one selling point,” said Alex Brodkin, director of operations.
Given its construction—combined with the fact the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) now classifies hybrid products such as these as real wood rather than fake or faux wood flooring—Cali recommended retailers display the product accordingly. “We see GeoWood as beautiful, easy-to-install wood, and we recommend it be a core part of any partner’s hardwood collection,” Brodkin explained. “Resilient flooring has a strong place in the market, but a customer looking for real wood will find GeoWood very compelling, so we show it alongside our other hardwoods.”
For some manufacturers that offer wood/rigid core hybrids, there’s no better testimonial than the length of time a product has been in existence in the marketplace. That’s certainly the case for Wellmade Performance Flooring, which introduced its HDPC-based technology to the market long before it was fashionable. “Wellmade’s HDPC Waterproof Hardwood Flooring represents the industry’s first hardwood floor that is 100% waterproof,” said Steve Wagner, director of sales and marketing. “The product has a proven track record of success among retailers and distributors.”
Wellmade’s waterproof process begins with its patented, high-density plastic composite core whose closed cell construction is extremely dense; it eliminates air pockets and the potential for moisture absorption. Next, the hardwood wear layer is bonded directly to the HDPC core and completely sealed using Wellmade’s HardMax finish system. Topical moisture and stains are sealed out from above while the HDPC core blocks out moisture penetration from below. What’s more, the product is twice as hard as solid oak and tolerant to temperature fluctuations. And no acclimation is required.
The most recent entrant to the hardwood/rigid core scene is American OEM, which has been busy at work placing displays of its Raintree brand. The line features a 1.2mm genuine hardwood veneer bonded to a 5mm composite core the company claims is denser and more heat resistant than WPC. Furthermore, the product is backed with a 1mm IXPE attached pad for sound attenuation, insulation and comfort underfoot.
As Don Finkell, American OEM founder and CEO, explained, the wood veneer utilized in Raintree by itself is not waterproof; rather, the glue that bonds it to the core is waterproof. Plus, it’s finished using a protective waterproof coating that essentially isolates the wood from the rest of the environment. “These are very sophisticated coatings that are fairly new and didn’t exist a few years ago,” he said.
That’s not the only waterproof innovation coming out of the American OEM camp. Traditional wood floors in the company’s signature Hearthwood line now feature WetWorx technology—a water-resistant splatter and spill guard that prevents moisture absorption. According to Finkell, this is possible due to the application on all six sides of each Hearthwood plank.