Getting to Know About … Birch Hardwood Floors

When many people think of hardwood flooring, oak is the wood species that often comes to mind as the tree is known for producing lumber with beautiful grains and exceptional durability. However, there are numerous other wood options when choosing flooring for a room and while they might not be quite as well-known as oak, they each feature their own unique characteristics and grain patterns that might be the perfect choice for your room.

WHAT IS IT?

If you happen to like a little bit of history attached to your hardwood flooring choice, the Birch tree was valued in olden days for its bark which was used as the shells of canoes that explored the rivers and lakes of North America. You can still find small companies that specialize in building birch bark canoes. However, over time woodworkers and craftspeople discovered that the wood that was behind that bark was very desirable as well.

CHARACTERISTICS

Birch wood is very hard and features a close grain with a fine texture. The wood’s dense properties allow it to take stain and other finishes very well and it’s able to be polished to a high sheen due to its inherent hardness. The birch tree has a reddish heartwood and sapwood that normally displays a yellowish tint. Birch hardwood flooring is normally found in three grades: unselected, red, and curly.

The unselected grades will often have both the red heartwood and yellow hues of the sapwood displayed prominently and grain patterns can vary. Red birch hardwood, which is what most distributors carry, has primarily the red heartwood and a fairly even grain pattern. Curly birch is fairly rare as it features an unusual wavy grain pattern only found in certain trees. Curly birch is normally used for furniture making, but if you happen to come across curly birch flooring, expect to pay a premium price for this almost exotic hardwood.

Occasionally you might find some birch hardwood floors labeled as white birch that have a pinkish rather than red hue and may appear to be almost cream. This is also from the heartwood of the tree and features the same desirable qualities as its red cousin; however it’s more suitable to lighter colored stains.

TYPES/STYLES

As with most wood species used for flooring, there are several styles and application methods available if you want to use birch in your home. Standard strip widths are normally 2 ½ inches wide or less and plank widths are considered to be 3 inches wide or greater. You can also purchase your birch flooring unfinished and have it installed, sanded and finished in your home. This method allows the greatest flexibility in creating your own finish color, but it also provides the best opportunity for making a huge mess if installing flooring in a finished home.

Prefinished solid hardwood or engineered flooring might be the best choices when installing birch in a finished home as part of a remodeling project. Prefinished birch flooring is available from respected manufacturers such as Armstrong, Bruce, and Bellawood with all the great characteristics of unfinished birch, but the work involving sanding or fumes already done. If you want the look of birch and have a concrete sub-floor, birch engineered flooring can be an outstanding choice.

COST

Pricing for birch hardwood flooring can vary depending on the style, where you live and the retailer. Expect to pay $4.00 to $6.00 a square foot for unfinished solid birch hardwood from a mill and prefinished can cost about $5.00 a square foot at retailers such as Lowes and Home Depot. Engineered birch flooring can be found for $3.00 to $4.00 per square foot.
If you’re one of those people who likes to stray from choosing vanilla every once in a while, birch hardwood floors might be the flavor that’s right for your home.

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