Busting Myths About Wide-Plank Flooring

Wide-plank has traditionally been relegated to a subset of the wood flooring market.  But why?  It's lovely stuff.  Sturdy.  Awesome resale value.  Guests tend to "ooo and aww" when they see it.  To explore the gap between the perception of wide-plank and its reality, I spoke to Dan McMillan of Carlisle Wide Plank Floors.

(Read: More Wide-Plank Talk With Al Kellogg of Kellogg Hardwood Lumber)

  • 01 of 07

    Yes, Board Widths Do Go Beyond 10 Inches

    Carlisle Antique Oak Wide Plank Floor 1500 x 1000
    Carlisle Antique Oak Wide Plank Floor. © Carlisle; courtesy of Carlisle

    Most "wide" wood flooring stops at around 8" to 10", if that. Genuine wide-plank from a retailer such as Carlisle that specializes in such products can go all the way up to 20", in the case of Eastern White Pine.  Their site even points out that American Colonial-era flooring could reach 24" wide.

    Oak, hickory, and other hardwoods tend to be narrower, around 10" to 12", due to the nature of the source trees.  Available hardwood trees are smaller in diameter than...MORE the soft woods.  You may see a neighbor's 36" wide oak tree, but this is not indicative of the type of trees available for the commercial flooring market.

  • 02 of 07

    You Don't Have To Be In The Wide-Plank Market To Want It

    Carlisle Eastern White Pine Wide Plank 1500 x 1000
    Carlisle Eastern White Pine Wide Plank. © Carlisle; courtesy of Carlisle

    Because it is a specialty market, it must appeal only to customers who have a preconceived desire for wide planks.  Right?

    Not necessarily so.  Wide planks mean fewer seams between boards.  In the case of Carlisle, which does not sell short so-called commodity flooring, seams are reduced in both directions--width and length. 

    "There's not as much interruption of lines," says McMillan, "and you can see the vertical grain better...  It's simply a floor for anyone who has respect...MORE for wood."

  • 03 of 07

    It's Not Vastly More Expensive

    Carlisle HIckory Wide Plank Flooring 1500 x 1200
    Carlisle HIckory Wide Plank Flooring. © Carlisle; courtesy of Carlisle

    Yes, it is more expensive than strip wood flooring, but not always "vastly" so.

    If you keep your wide planks within the narrower range--4, 5, and 6 inches, as with their Sawyer's Reserve line--prices can be competitive with narrower flooring.  

  • 04 of 07

    Strict "Humidity Window"? Not So.

    "One myth," McMillan says, "is that wide-plank only has a very narrow window of moisture in which it can be installed."  

    It is true, he notes, that 28% to 48% is still the best range.  But as one example, he mentions a glue-down solid hardwood floor that was installed in New York.  That area experienced a drastic humidity level drop down to 9%.  The lower part of the floor did not contract because the glue held it firmly in check.  But the top of the floor began to...MORE "dry-cup."  

    McMillan says that high-quality wood flooring, by "utilizing center cut, old growth timber which is properly air- and kiln-dried, is always more stable. This allows for a greater success in a wider range."

    In the New York example, he goes on to say that

    [T]here was no need to sand and refinish, just wait until the humidity came back and the floor re-acclimated. Often it's best to give the floor a full cycle of seasons to allow for problems to resolve themselves. Sometimes being aware of the space’s relative humidity can help make installation decisions to...ensure success. Resanding would be a rare event. I would not expect that to be an excepted remedy in all but the very extreme cases.

    Hot, dry locales like Arizona work fine for wood flooring, because humidity levels are stable.  Colorado's fluctuating moisture levels make it one of the more challenging states for wide wood floor installation.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    The Whole World Is Not Going Pre-Finished

    Tuscan Wide Plank Flooring
    Wide Plank Flooring to Give Your Kitchen the Tuscan Style. © Carlisle Flooring

    As I have reported on this site over the last several years, the balance is slowly shifting from unfinished flooring (later finished on-site) to pre-finished floors (which are finished in a factory).

    But Carlisle's make-up remains around 50/50, with a slight advantage towards pre-finished.

  • 06 of 07

    Pre-Finished Is Not Always Better Than Site-Finished

    For the do-it-yourselfer who loves dry work (i.e., chopping and stapling down floorboards) but hates stinky wet work (i.e., finishing a floor), pre-finished flooring is a match made in heaven.  

    What can be better than finishing flooring in a factory?  Conditions are stable, workers are focused on one task, and there are no bothersome homeowners hanging around.  

    However, McMillan notes that much of the factory-finished product out there has a hard shell that must first be chemically stripped if...MORE you ever want to sand and refinish it.

    By contrast, site-finished flooring has a more forgiving surface that lends itself well to refinishing.  Carlisle makes a factory-finished floor whose surface has site-finished qualities, the best of both worlds.

  • 07 of 07

    Not Just Wider But Longer, Too

    "Cheap wood flooring," McMillan says, "is cut from every part of the tree, with lengths ranging from one foot to six feet."

    Wide plank flooring is cut from the thickest part of the tree--the trunk.  It makes sense.  After all, how can you cut a 12" plank from a 4" limb?

    As alluded to earlier, wide planks tend to run longer, too.  This is partially because the source material runs longer, but also because you need longer boards to visually compensate for those increased...MORE widths.