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All About Hardwood Flooring: Birch

all about the hardwood flooring birchWith more than 50 different species of wood available for hardwood flooring, a popular choice to consider is birch over maple or oak. Known for its durability, the birch family of hardwoods includes several members, each with their own unique qualities.

Check out all of the various types of hardwood flooring available HERE!

In the U.S., birch wood is considered a domestic species. One of the most unique qualities of birch is that, from one variety, two different-looking types of wood can be obtained depending on which part of the tree is used.

Understanding Tree Structure

In order to fully understand the differences in the varieties of birch available for flooring, you must understand the nature of trees and their structure. When speaking about which parts are used in producing different variations of birch hardwood flooring, we are referring to the sapwood and heartwood sections of trees.

All wood from trees initially starts out as sapwood and remains that way until the tree begins to age and grow larger. As this transformation occurs, the outermost part of the tree continues to live and transport water and nutrients through its cells. The cells in the innermost part of the tree will cease to transport water and nutrients, and thus die and turn into heartwood. This part is important to the structural support of the growing tree.

Along with this process are other changes of a chemical nature that produce substances such as resin, which help to make the heartwood stronger and harder. Heartwood is more resistant to rot and insect infestation than sapwood is due to the hardening of the wood from this chemical process.

all about some hardwood floors birchPerhaps the main difference between the two is that sapwood is most often lighter in color than heartwood, but not always. The coloration of the two can also be affected by disease or injury. Heartwood is found more often in older, slower-growing trees, whereas sapwood bands are more prevalent in younger, more quickly growing trees.

Another difference is that the moisture content of the wood is different between sapwood and heartwood, with the heartwood being much dryer. This leads sapwood to be more susceptible to damage from rot and disease, and to shrink when dried.

The Birch Family

There are several members of the birch family, but the most commonly used for hardwood flooring are yellow birch, sweet birch, and paper birch. Out of these three, yellow birch is the variety that is used most often for flooring purposes.

Yellow birch is harder than the sweet birch and paper birch varieties and has a Janka rating of 1260.

The Janka rating is a standard of measurement that tells you how hard or dense a species of wood is. This is obtained by measuring the pounds per square inch of force that is required to drive a 0.44″ diameter steel ball halfway or 0.22″ into the chosen type of wood. This rating should only be used as a comparison between different varieties of wood because it does not necessarily mean that a wood with a higher Janka rating will be impervious to scratches and dents.

all about some hardwood flooring birchYellow Birch

Yellow birch provides two different color variations. The sapwood produces a pale white to creamy yellow hardwood, while the heartwood variant is a red-tinged brown color.

One type of birch flooring that is available is sometimes referred to as red birch. It is actually the heartwood of the yellow birch.

Sweet Birch

Sweet birch also provides two different color variants. The sapwood is a light-colored brown while the heartwood is a red-tinged dark brown color.

It is harder than yellow birch and other species of wood such as red and white oak, and has a Janka rating of 1470. It is also known as black or cherry birch.

Paper Birch

Paper birch is also a type of hardwood flooring. It is not used often, however, because it is a softer wood with a Janka rating of 910. It is much softer than the more popular yellow and sweet varieties. It is also known as while, canoe, or silver birch.

Flamed or Curly Birch

all about my hardwood floors birchBecause of the differences in color between its sapwood and heartwoods, and its unique appearance, a variety of flooring is known as flamed or curly birch. It has a Janka rating of 1260, just like yellow birch. This variety is due to an uncommon characteristic that occurs sometimes with birch and soft maple, and sometimes with other types of wood. The appearance of waves that are almost flame-like occurs in woods that have a curly characteristic to their grain.

Curliness in wood grain is a phenomenon that is not entirely understood. It is not a genetic condition and despite attempts of growers, cannot be replicated. It has been suggested that this happens with trees that have been subjected to severe growing conditions such as drought or extreme cold.

Advantages of Birch Hardwood Flooring

Birch hardwood has a straight, tight grain. Even though some varieties of birch lack character when compared to other domestic or more exotic hardwoods, birch is still sought after for furniture and flooring because of the ease of working with it. Because of its grain, it is often chosen for flooring in an unfinished state.

Birch is easily stained since it absorbs stain very well.

It is important to note that some birch hardwood flooring exhibits the beauty of the contrasting colors of both the sapwood and heartwood of the birch tree. This combination makes for an interesting and striking look to the flooring and makes it very desirable.

all about my hardwood flooring birchBirch hardwood flooring also is very easy to sand. Its tight grain is amenable to being nailed because it grips nails very nicely. This is an important consideration if you plan to install your hardwood flooring with the preferred method of nailing.

How to Choose Your Flooring Type

Birch hardwood flooring is available in two types: solid hardwood and engineered hardwood.

Solid hardwood is birch wood throughout and comes in both planks and strips. The advantage of solid hardwood is that the flooring will be able to be sanded down and refinished repeatedly for years to come.

This type of flooring is often long-lasting and adds value to your home. Homes with hardwood flooring will often sell much quicker than similar homes that have carpeting.

Hardwood flooring should only be installed on an above-grade or grade base, preferably to a plywood sub-floor.

This means it should not be installed in basements or areas when the base is four inches below the ground. This is because the moisture that is prevalent with being below grade is detrimental to solid hardwood, which can easily be damaged by it. Moisture can cause solid hardwood to crack, warp, and buckle. In this type of environment, it would be best to install engineered hardwood.

all about hardwood floors birchEngineered hardwood birch is several layers of wood glued together. The topmost layer is birch, while the layers underneath may be made from other types of wood. These layers are placed with their grains facing in alternate directions. This is because of the nature of wood to expand and contract according to humidity conditions. This helps to counteract the effects of this movement and helps to prevent cracking and warping of the floorboards.

This type of flooring can be nailed, glued, or floated above the subfloor. In cases where there is not a subfloor but a concrete slab, engineered flooring can be floated above the moisture barrier.

As long as there is no evidence of moisture in a concrete floor, engineered hardwood birch  can be used.

The disadvantage of engineered hardwood over solid hardwood flooring is that it can only be sanded down and refinished a few times. This means that the flooring will not have as long a life as normal, solid hardwood. It is also does not add as much value to your home as solid hardwood.

When Not to Use Hardwood Flooring

It is not advised to install hardwood flooring in areas where there is moisture present. In these types of areas, you may want to consider installing a vinyl or linoleum floor. With the wide variety of patterns available, you should be able to find one comparable to actual birch hardwood.

all about hardwood flooring birchIf you choose to go with a hardwood patterned vinyl or linoleum floor, you will find that this type of flooring is quite durable and will withstand moisture in below-grade areas. This type of flooring would also be preferable in rooms such as bathrooms where moisture levels are usually high, or in kitchens where spills can often happen.

The installation of vinyl or linoleum is fairly easy. You may choose to use adhesive or staples when a wood subfloor is available.

No matter the type of flooring you choose, the look of birch hardwood–whether from solid hardwood, engineered hardwood, vinyl, or linoleum flooring–will be an attractive addition to your home. The color of birch wood can be very complementary to your home furnishings, whether you choose the lighter, sapwood variety or the darker, heartwood variety.

See all your options for hardwood flooring when you browse the wide selection we have available on our website NOW!

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