Hardwood Floor In a Kitchen: Recommended or a Bad Idea?

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Unlike resilient flooring or ceramic or porcelain tile, which can be installed practically anywhere, solid hardwood flooring has certain likes and dislikes about where it wants to be installed.

Highly moist environments, such as full bathrooms (sink + toilet + bathtub + shower) or even 3/4 bathrooms (the same as before, minus the tub), are the worst places to install solid hardwood flooring.

But where does that leave that semi-moist environment, the kitchen?

But What Moisture Exactly?

Working down the scale of places that are subject to water damage--from water-prone basements and full bathrooms to wood-friendly living rooms and bedroom--kitchens tend to rate relatively well.

Occasionally a kitchen may experience a dropped pot of spaghetti, broken water glass, or kitchen faucet overspray. Yet even spills such as this, if mopped up quickly, will have little effect on the hardwood.

Think more along the lines of disastrous water-related events, like a dishwasher line springing a leak while you are away at work, unchecked water under the sink, or a slowly leaking refrigerator.

As long as your floor sealant presents an impermeable barrier, it will stand up to the moisture. Even laminate flooring will stand up to water, as long as the planks are so tightly installed that they offer the water no chance to work its way between the seams.  

Two Ways To Make Hardwood Work

1.  Site Finished vs. Pre-Finished

One trick is to site-finish your kitchen hardwood rather than installing pre-finished hardwood.

"Site-finished" is another way of referring to unfinished hardwood flooring. Its surface is raw wood, not a drop of stain or sealer on it.  

Installers nail it down (really, they staple it down) through the grooves. When installation is complete, stain (if desired) and sealer are applied.

Pre-finished hardwood gets its stain and sealer applied in the factory, long before it arrives at your home. Yes, both are connected by the tongue-and-groove method, but the big difference is that, with pre-finished, there is no top layer of sealant to bridge the seams between the boards.  

Site finished hardwood has a very thin but cohesive layer of sealant that extends across the entire floor area, filling in those seams.  

2.  Engineered Hardwood Flooring

A second idea is to relax on the idea of having a solid hardwood floor and purchase an engineered wood floor, which is a veneer of actual hardwood atop dimensionally stable plywood.  

If water does get below the surface, this ply core resists water better than if it were solid hardwood.

Three Aspects of Hardwood Durability

  • Traffic: Kitchens are high-traffic zones. After a number of years, you will find trails almost resembling "cow paths" across the kitchen floor. No big deal, though. For minor issues such as this, solid hardwood can be lightly sanded or screened down.
  • Scratches/Dings: Drop that industrial-size can of tomatoes on your solid hardwood? A dent will occur. But again, does this happen often? Runners and throw rugs can help reduce dents and scratches. Or, as the saying goes, it "adds to the natural beauty" of the wood. That's another way to look at it.
  • Sun Bleached?: One unfortunate result of using throw rugs on hardwood is sun bleaching outside off the protected areas. If your kitchen receives strong sun and is stained dark, sun-bleaching outside of those protected areas will occur, leaving your floor with a "raccoon eyes" effect.

Other Expert Opinions

Tom Silva of This Old House admits that hardwood in a kitchen is an "unusual choice" but that there are several options that make this workable--one being to use a polyurethane finish.

Coswick, a hardwood floor manufacturer, notes that if you choose to use hard exotic hardwoods such as jatoba or Santos mahogany you should use an oil finish. Exotics are more susceptible to moisture fluctuations, and oil allows the wood to "breathe."

From a style angle, Maria Killam, a Vancouver color consultant, highly recommends hardwood. Like blue jeans, she says, kitchens go with any color.

Recommendation

Yes, you can install solid hardwood flooring in kitchens. However, if practicality is your priority, look toward plank vinyl or ceramic tile.

Hardwood gives this space an instant classic, traditional look and straddles the different styles and colors your kitchen may experience over the years.

Site-finished flooring protects the underlying wood better than pre-finished.  

If you want to install pre-finished, this possible. Take precautions about spills and understand that water pooling on the surface will eventually work its way into the seams.