Is Brazilian hardwood flooring worth it? Is there anything so special about hardwood flooring from Brazil that cannot be found in domestic hardwood flooring or from other exotic hardwoods, such as those from Australia, Canada, or Asia?
Exotic vs. Domestic
In the most broad sense, Brazilian hardwood flooring is better than domestic hardwoods, if only because this category tends to encompass more of the truly harder and more dense hardwoods.
The terms domestic and exotic are a bit dated and nativist. Domestic means hardwoods that hail from North America (U.S. and Canada). Exotic means hardwoods from everywhere else.
Domestics are familiar favorites like Birch, Cherry, Pine, Hickory, Red Oak, White Oak, and Maple--all hard, but nowhere as hard as exotics from South America.
These South American woods hit the top of the Janka hardness chart, with rock-hard woods like Brazilian Cherry and Walnut, followed by Santos Mahogany and Purpleheart.
Species of Brazilian Hardwood Flooring
- Jatoba: Jatoba, otherwise known as Brazilian Cherry, is a hardwood with a rich, deep reddish brown color and superior durability.
- Ipe: Also known as ironwood or Brazilian walnut, this extremely hard and expensive wood takes on a rich brown tone. Due to its density, it can be left untreated, if so desired. For this reason, ipe is often used for exterior decking.
- Cumaru: Also known as Brazilian teak, cumaru offers a golden-brown, almost honey-like, color. Like the other Brazilians, its dense interlocking grain makes this a durable favorite.
- Tigerwood: Looking for drama in your floor? Try Tigerwood, otherwise known as Brazilian Koa. With its bold, orangish stripes, it will attract attention.
Buying hardwoods from Brazil does not necessarily mean you are clear-cutting the Amazon rain forest.
While this is possible, farms and mills in Brazil now use sustainable forest practices.
Much Brazilian hardwood is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the gold standard for maintaining good forestry practices.
Look for the "FSC" tree logo on floor company websites. Cross-check the company's certification by searching by company name on the FSC website itself: FSC Public Search.
This product comes with a high price tag. Bargain cumaru can be purchased for around $5.00 per square foot, with rock-bottom jatoba selling for a dollar or two more.
Ethical business practices (such as paying fair wages, etc.) are still not wide-spread in the Brazilian lumber industry--but in-roads are being made.
A few of the more accountable operations, such as Brazilian Direct, ensure that mill and forest workers are paid fair wages.
In addition, because Brazilian hardwoods are hard, milling is more difficult and slower. Finally, this product must be shipped thousands of miles, adding to the cost.
Solid vs. Engineered Hardwood Brazilian?
Solid hardwood was once a better choice than engineered wood flooring, as early iterations of engineered wood tended to delaminate.
But engineered wood flooring has come into its own, and it has many strong points that make it a better choice for many homeowners.
For one thing, less hardwood is consumed in the manufacturing of engineered wood. Only the top, thin layer is hardwood, with the rest a plywood-like composite that makes good use of wood byproducts.