When choosing hardwood flooring, many homeowners pick walnut for its beauty and unique appearance. This makes walnut a popular choice for not just flooring, but also for fine furnishings throughout the world. Even though walnut’s initial surface appears dull, as it ages it develops a lustrous patina that makes it even more desirable.
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The walnut itself has had a place in history as a symbol of fertility from ancient Greek times to modern Europe, where they are thrown at weddings. In Romania, brides place them in their wedding dress bodice–one for each year they wish to wait before having a child.
For flooring purposes, there are two main types of walnut that are used: the domestic American Black Walnut and the exotic Brazilian Walnut.
American Black Walnut
The American Black Walnut tree grows primarily in the eastern and central parts of the United States. However, most of the wood that is harvested comes mainly from the central region. It may also be found under the names of American Walnut, Black Walnut, North American Walnut, or Gunwood.
It is one of the few species in this country that is both replenished through replanting and natural regeneration from fallen seeds. This particular tree is not friendly to other plants, in that it releases a chemical from its roots that is toxic to other plants that are growing in its proximity.
The color of this domestic hardwood will range from its creamy white sapwood to its light or dark chocolate-brown heartwood, which may feature purple highlights. Walnut wood is often steamed during manufacturing in order to darken the color of the sapwood. Sapwood refers to the outer living part of the tree, while heartwood refers to the inner section of the tree that is no longer alive but is essential to its structural well-being.
Walnut hardwood normally has a straight grain, but can often be found with a more decorative curly or wavy grain. These types of grain may occur in other species of wood on occasion, but walnut often produces a wider variety of grain variations than other species. If seeking such variations in grain, remember that it will generally add more to your cost of flooring.
This type of wood is often used not only for flooring, but also for cabinets, doors, and gunstocks. When used as hardwood flooring, its dark tones act as a striking contrast in rooms where lighter colored furnishings and accents dominate.
Another option for flooring is Brazilian Walnut hardwood. This is also known as Ipe, which is Brazilian for walnut or Lapacho. This exotic hardwood originates from Brazil and the Lesser Antilles. As with many hardwoods from this region, it is known for its extreme hardness with a Janka rating of 3684, which makes it one of the more dense hardwoods available on the market.
If you are unaware of the term “Janka rating,” it refers to the amount of force that is required to press a steel ball measuring 0.444 inches in diameter halfway into a piece of wood. This is helpful in that it gives you an idea of how much abuse a floor can take before getting a dent, but don’t be lured into a false sense of security by this rating.
No hardwood floors, despite their Janka rating, are impervious to damage if proper precautions are not taken.
The color of the wood from the Brazilian Walnut tree ranges from an olive brown to an almost-black heartwood that may, at times, be sharply contrasted with stripes of yellowish, white sapwood depending upon the grade of flooring you select.
Brazilian Walnut flooring is available in four grades:
- Clear grade, which is hand-sorted for color consistency, with the most popular being the Ipe variety that closely resembles American Black Walnut in appearance. Only the heartwood is used in the making of this flooring.
- Select and better grade, which offers more color variation as both the heartwood and sapwoods are used. The colors that may appear in this flooring can be anywhere from different shades of brown to some that have contrasts of green, red, or yellow present.
- Rustic grade Ipe offers even more dramatic color variations.
- Lapacho is a variety of Ipe that is sorted out for its green coloring.
It is important to note though that this variety of hardwood, as most exotic woods, is more susceptible to discoloration from the sun’s UV rays than domestic walnut. It is important to have window treatments in place to help protect your floors. An additional preventive measure is to frequently rotate rugs and furniture to allow the floor to evenly age over the years.
Advantages of Walnut Hardwood Flooring
American Walnut hardwood is very easy to work with because of its properties. It grips nails well and is easily glued, which will allow you to have options in how you install it. Its grain allows it to be easily sanded and stained to a beautiful finish.
The domestic version is often sought after as a less-expensive option to red oak hardwood flooring. Even though it is slightly softer than red oak, it is quite durable and offers good shock resistance even with a Janka rating of 1010. While a more expensive option, the Brazilian Walnut hardwood is extremely durable because of its hardness.
If you are concerned about the environment, American Walnut hardwood is considered a green choice because it comes from a renewable resource.
The lumber industry in the United States is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This means that steps are taken to ensure that the environment is not harmed through the harvesting of the trees used for the manufacturing of this flooring. This type of flooring is also recyclable and biodegradable.
If you or someone in your home has health issues with severe allergies or asthma, hardwood flooring is recommended over carpeting by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. This is because flooring, unlike carpeting, does not hide pollen, dust, and dust mites that can exacerbate allergy symptoms or asthma attacks.
Some Disadvantages of Walnut Hardwood Flooring
The disadvantage to American Black Walnut hardwood is that it is not advised if you have pets because it has a tendency to be more easily scratched. If you have pets and really desire this look, you may want to consider an alternative, such as laminate flooring with the look of American Walnut. If your budget allows then you may even want to consider going with the Brazilian Ipe, which resembles the American Walnut.
Because of the hardness of the Brazilian hardwood, if you plan to install with nails, you will need to pre-drill your nail holes to avoid the possibility of cracking. This is also because, with a harder wood, the grab on the nail is not as good as with a somewhat softer wood. This could lead to loose floorboards or creaking in the future. Another option is to install your flooring with glue instead of nails.
How to Choose Your Flooring Type
Walnut hardwood flooring is available in two types: solid hardwood and engineered hardwood. The type you should choose is dependent upon your personal preference and where you plan to install the flooring.
If you plan to install the flooring above grade or at grade, which in this instance is referring to the surface that will be below the floor, you could choose either type. However, if you plan to install below grade, such as in a finished basement, you will want to avoid solid hardwood and go for the engineered hardwood.
This is because of the probability of moisture in a below-ground room, which can wreak havoc with solid hardwood flooring and its natural response of contraction and expansion. Humidity can cause cracking and warping as a result.
The construction of engineered flooring can be very forgiving to changes in humidity that often occur with the change of seasons. While it is best to maintain a similar level of humidity throughout your home year-round for the health of your hardwood flooring, realistically this may not always be possible.
Engineered flooring has several layers of wood with the top layer being the actual walnut hardwood. The layers underneath are attached with the grains going in opposite directions throughout, which helps to minimize the effects of contraction and expansion.
However, the tradeoff with installing engineered flooring is that you will be only able to sand it down and refinish it a couple of times before you will need to replace it. Solid hardwood flooring can be sanded down and refinished multiple times over its lifetime, which can be many years if properly maintained.
Caring for Your Hardwood Flooring
As with all hardwood floors, you will want to protect your investment by caring for your walnut hardwood flooring properly. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s recommended instructions to avoid voiding your warranty, but there are some general rules of thumb to follow in its maintenance and general care:
- Regularly sweep your floor to keep dust, dirt, or sand from accumulating. These can act as abrasives on your floor’s finish.
- Vacuum your floor at least once a week to reach debris between floorboards. Use a vacuum that does not have a beater bar, which could mar your floors with heat marks.
- Never wet-mop your hardwood floors–instead, only damp mop. Quickly wipe up any spills to avoid staining or water damage.
- Place mats made specifically for hardwood floors in areas of entranceways and near sinks to catch any dirt that may be tracked in or any splashed water.
With the proper maintenance, your hardwood floors will give you many years of enjoyment and added value to your home. It has been shown that homes with hardwood flooring will often sell quicker in the housing market than homes with carpeting because of their long life.
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