Hardwood may very well be the most aspirational flooring product (next to stone or ceramic tile). However, that doesn’t mean suppliers are relying solely on the category’s solid reputation to get retailers and consumers alike excited about wood flooring—especially in the face of intense competition from hard surface alternatives like LVT and laminate.
To that end, hardwood suppliers across the board are leveraging emerging innovations designed to enhance both the visual characteristics as well as the performance attributes of the product. These include: advancements in core materials, including waterproof cores/hybrids; promotion of low-sheen finishes that still provide durability and wear protection while allowing the natural characteristics of the wood to come through; application of innovative surface treatments such as reactive staining, fuming and texturing; and the utilization of locking systems for engineered products that keep water from penetrating through the planks.
Following is an overview of some of the products incorporating these innovations.
With the increasing popularity of genuine wood floors that feature naturally water-repellant, non-wood cores, along with innovations in engineered hardwood flooring products that feature enhancements and installation systems designed to prevent the incursion of moisture, consumers no longer have to make tough choices between the real thing and resilient look-alikes. They can literally have the best of both worlds.
Examples include hybrid floors such as GeoWood from Cali. The high-performance product boasts the durability and visual appeal of real hardwood, combining the waterproof qualities of SPC with wear layer options—oak, maple or bamboo—bonded to a 100% waterproof limestone composite core. This combination, according to Cali, makes the product exceptionally strong and dimensionally stable.
Another wood/SPC hybrid that’s making noise in the market is the patented HDPC/SPC waterproof hardwood and strand bamboo product lines from Wellmade—a company that pioneered the popular hybrid flooring category. Featuring the natural beauty and warmth of real hardwood coupled with the performance virtues of rigid core, HDPC/SPC represents the next generation of engineered flooring with extreme durability and waterproof performance.
While some waterproof wood floors feature hybrid technologies or alternative cores, others utilize special edge treatments and finishes to keep water on the surface of the planks. Case in point is the new BelleLuxe Waterproof Wood line from Mohawk. All products in the BelleLuxe line have been enhanced with waterproof attributes. The enhancements, according to Mohawk, are designed to protect the product from the top surface of the planks to the sub-floor below. These enhancements come courtesy of the company’s proprietary WetProtect technology, which works by ensuring water-tight joints keep ordinary household spills and accidents on the surface of the plank, where it cannot damage the tongue or groove area or seep down onto the subfloor. BelleLuxe hardwood products are further protected by a proprietary waterproof finish, offering consumers peace of mind via a lifetime surface and subfloor warranty.
Another notable hardwood line that was designed to repel water comes from Bjelin (formerly Välinge Innovation). The Hardened Wood Floor collection, developed using its patented Woodura surface technology, boasts the company’s signature 5G Dry fold-down system. The end result, according to the company, is a real wood floor that’s not only waterproof but also much stronger—up to 5x stronger—than the average hardwood floor based on internal testing.
Hardwood flooring coatings have come a long way from the mirror-finish, high-gloss wear layers that were popular 25 years ago. Nowadays, the lower the sheen the better. Also, technological advances allow for fewer coats, which often translates into greater finish clarity. But if you thought that fewer coating layers equate to a finish that’s not as durable, you would be sorely mistaken. In fact, much of today’s low-matte finishes are tougher than previous iterations.
Case in point is Triangulo Hardwood Floors, which employs nine layers of transparent, UV-cured polyurethane that sports a 10% gloss level to enhance the natural beauty of the Brazilian hardwood species, according Philip Key, vice president of sales and marketing. Plus, the coating is imbued with antimicrobial technology designed to provide long-lasting protection against bacteria and mold. To top it off, it’s all environmentally friendly. “Triangulo is also proud to have a zero-carbon footprint while providing unique and distinctive hardwood floors,” Key added, citing compliance with ISO 22196, ASTM G21 and ASTM E2180-07 standards.
Other major manufacturers are also leveraging their manufacturing prowess to develop finishes that are both extremely durable and clear. Mercier Wood Flooring, a pioneer in the field of prefinished hardwood, continues to impress with its Generations Intact 2500 coating, which is used in conjunction with a special process featured on its signature Naked Series. “With this new finishing technology, we are able to apply a coating to the wood, seal the wood and then apply the Generations coating on top of it without changing the make-up of the look,” said Wade Bondrowski, Mercier’s director of sales, U.S. “With most other wood flooring finishes, once you put a urethane finish it really does change the look of the graining of the natural wood species. What we have been able to do with the Naked Series is seal that visual with a finish without changing the natural sawn look of the wood.”
While the concept behind the Naked Series seems simple, the application process is quite complex. “It’s not an easy process to replicate,” Bondrowski said. “It’s very delicate and temperamental. If you don’t seal it correctly, then any part of the finish where you apply it is going to pop that graining.”
Some of the latest finishes have such a low gloss level, in fact, that at first glance one might suspect the floor has been finished using an oil rub—a method dating back centuries. Again, with today’s advanced technologies, suppliers can achieve this look (all done at the factory) and still provide a high level of wear.
Such is the case with the DuraMatt finish from Mirage. The innovative coating was designed to replicate the look of an oiled floor minus the hassle involved with routine oil re-application. The company is so confident in the performance and visual attributes of the finish—which carries a 35-year warranty against wear—that it employs the coating on all its prefinished products. “Today’s trends are still oriented toward return to nature, and matte floors that express the natural authenticity of wood,” said Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing, Mirage. “That is what our new products evoke. They will meet the requirements of the most daring in terms of design as well as the most traditional and while offering a timeless and sought-after look.”
Then there are those hardwood flooring suppliers that have taken coating/staining technologies to a whole new level—a deeper level, in fact. We’re talking about Hallmark Floors, which continues to dazzle and innovate with products like its True Hardwood Collection. Utilizing a revolutionary, “all-through” color process, the raw wood material is treated with salt and minerals to achieve a 100% natural color—no dyes or stains whatsoever. Rather, this innovative technique replicates the naturally occurring “bog-wood process,” a phenomenon that occurs when hardwood logs lie buried deep in lakes and rivers where they are deprived of oxygen and sunlight—in many cases for hundreds of years. The end result is an array of deep, saturated colors and weathered patinas that span the spectrum from pale grays and browns to dark, golden browns and grays and charcoal hues with a platinum sheen. The collection also features the company’s Nu Oil hardwood matte finish, which provides a protective layer despite its low sheen.
The company’s eye-catching innovations haven’t gone unnoticed. For seven years running, Hallmark has earned recognition as a winner, Best of Houzz in Design and/or Service. Most recently, the company took home honors in both design and service for 2023. In addition, the company earned a Good Design Award. All totaled, that’s 13 Houzz Awards since 2019.
Some hardwood floors, namely hybrids, have been modified to include non-wood cores to deliver increased dent resistance and overall durability. Others employ a complete, top-to-bottom wood construction to achieve this goal. AHF Product’s signature Dogwood Densified Engineered line is one such innovation. Following on the heels of the launch of Dogwood in early 2022, AHF unveils Dogwood Pro for independent retailers. Based on the same, sturdy densified technology as its predecessor, Dogwood Pro is as hard as ceramic tile but much warmer underfoot.
“Compared to standard engineered wood, laminate and SPC, it’s much harder,” said Milton Goodwin, AHF Products vice president. “And the best part is it’s all natural hardwood. It’s a product that’s going to stand the test of time.”