Wide Plank Flooring Review: Pros and Cons

Is Wide Plank Flooring Right for You?

Wide Plank Flooring

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The term "wide plank flooring" refers to solid wood flooring sold in planks that are notably wider than the 2 1/2- to 4-inch wide boards that make up the vast majority of the wood flooring market. While the tendency for all hardwood flooring is now toward wider planks up to 4 inches wide, true wide-plank flooring is a relatively small subset of the hardwood flooring market, with boards that range from 6 to 20 inches in width.

Vintage wide plank flooring boards were made from solid wood boards that were hand-scraped, so they typically have a rough-hewn surface texture. Wide plank flooring boards can be purchased as reclaimed boards, but several manufacturers also offer new boards that aim to reproduce the vintage distressed, rough-hewn texture of the original milling process. Newly manufactured wide planks can also be finished with the same smooth texture found on other hardwood flooring.

The width of the boards is the reason why wide plank flooring is notably more expensive than other forms of wood flooring. Wide boards call for long planks, as well, in order to be visually proportional. Achieving boards this wide and long means that a limited number of trees are suitable, and there is considerable waste involved in milling such boards from the trees. Solid hardwood boards 10 to 20 inches wide are extremely expensive given the relative scarcity of trees suitable to their manufacture. Genuine wide planks are always cut from the trunk of the tree, since the branches aren't suitable.

The relative scarcity and expense of new wide planks is the reason that so much of this market is dedicated to boards made from reclaimed wood. Even for reclaimed wood, planks made from oak, hickory, and other hardwoods tend to be no more than 10 inches to 12 inches, due to the nature of the source trees.

Pros
  • Fewer seams

  • Creates a classic look in homes

  • Works well in rustic decor

  • Adds real estate value

Cons
  • Very expensive

  • Availability is limited

  • Usually must be special-ordered

  • Prone to warping in extreme climates

Wide-Plank Flooring Cost

Genuine wide plank floors are notably more expensive than other forms of wood flooring, both for the materials and for the labor. Installing reclaimed wood requires a good deal of skill to choose pieces, match the wood grains, and eliminate cupping and gapping between boards.

Costs of $12 to $50 per square foot for materials alone are common for wide plank hardwood flooring that is newly manufactured from solid hardwood. Reclaimed wide-plank flooring is a little cheaper, averaging about $10 per square foot, but prices vary radically depending on the species of wood. Compared to the $2 to $5 per-square-foot costs for solid narrow-board hardwood, this makes wide-plank flooring one of the most expensive of all flooring materials.

Plan on adding at least $2 per square foot for installation of wide-plank flooring. Installation may cost you more for reclaimed flooring than for new planks, and floors installed with random-width boards are especially labor-intensive to install.

Maintenance and Repair

Regular maintenance of a wide plank floor is similar to that for any wood floor. Spills should be wiped up immediately, and you should never clean the floor with water or a steam cleaner. Cleaning with a damp duster and hardwood floor cleaner is the best method. Like any wood floor, wide plank flooring should be sealed periodically with a polyurethane varnish.

If possible, keep some extra planks around in case replacement of damaged boards is necessary. Repairs are not easy with wide plank floors and will likely require a professional. Like any wood floor, wide plank floors can be sanded and refinished to renew them, but this is somewhat more complicated if the boards have been face-nailed during installation.

Design

Vintage wide plank flooring's look doesn't lend itself to every style of home. Its grand appearance, especially in darker tones and highly textured (or distressed) surfaces, is well-suited to traditionally styled homes or rustic decor. At the same time, smooth and undistressed wide plank flooring in lighter shades is slowly working its way into more modern and contemporary styled homes. Swedish-style, wood-centric homes look fabulous when floored in wide planks.

Besides style-matching, another advantage of wide plank flooring is that it means fewer seams between boards. "There's not as much interruption of lines," says Dan McMillan of Carlisle Wide Plank Floors, "and you can see the vertical grain better. It's simply a floor for anyone who has respect for wood."

Wide Plank Flooring Installation

Wide plank flooring installation is best done by a professional crew, especially if it involves reclaimed vintage flooring. Reclaimed flooring requires a good amount of skill to deal with cupping and cracking of boards and to install the boards without gaps. New wide plank flooring, while easier to install, is still not recommended for most DIYers. These floors are often installed with random-width boards, which require special skills to install.

Installation methods depend on how the boards are engineered. Newly manufactured wide plank flooring usually has tongue-and-groove edges, and the planks are installed just like smaller tongue-and-groove boards—with finish nails that are blind-nailed at an angle through the tongues in the edges of the boards. Reclaimed wide planks often do not have tongues and grooves; these are usually face nailed down through the tops of the boards and into floor joists.

Over the last several years, the balance has shifted from unfinished flooring that is finished on-site to pre-finished flooring that is finished in the factory before shipping. For the do-it-yourselfer who loves dry work (cutting and stapling down floorboards) but dislikes smelly chemical-based work, pre-finished flooring is a match made in heaven.  However, much of the factory-finished flooring has a hard shell that must first be chemically stripped if you ever want to sand and refinish it. By contrast, site-finished flooring has a more forgiving surface that lends itself well to refinishing.

Site-finished flooring has another advantage: seam-filling. After the floorboards are laid down, there are always thin seams between the boards that can allow for moisture infiltration. Water is one of the worst enemies of natural wood flooring. When wood flooring is site-finished, the varnish fills in between the seams, acting as a barrier between outside elements and the floor's delicate underside.

Top Brands of Wide-Plank Flooring

Flooring companies offering wide planks usually specialize either in reclaimed wood, or they are dedicated to newly manufactured planks.

  • Carlisle Wide Plank Floors: Carlisle sells new wide plank flooring in lengths as long as 14 feet. They offer wide planks as new solid wood, engineered wood, and reclaimed wood. Most flooring is sold prefinished.
  • The K.D. woods company: This Pennsylvania company sells reclaimed wood flooring.
  • Sylvan Brandt: This long-established company sells reclaimed wood flooring.
  • Vermont Plank Flooring: This company is known for some of the widest, longest new planks in the industry. Widths up to 16 inches are available, in lengths as much as 16 feet. Their products are sold prefinished.

Comfort and Convenience

It's commonly believed that wide plank flooring is only suited to environments with moderate humidity levels. There is some truth to this, and wide planks can be more susceptible to expansion and shrinkage in climates where the humidity level fluctuates widely over the seasons. Warping and cupping can be a problem in some areas of the Midwest, for example, where steamy summers are followed by cold, bone-dry winter air.

Such problems are reduced when companies make a point of using high-quality, kiln-dried wood that is more stable to begin with. There are many case studies that show that a top-quality wide plank floor performs quite well in nearly any climate.

That said, most wide plank flooring performs best in environments with stable humidity. A wide plank floor in Arizona, where it is uniformly dry year-round, or on the Georgia coast, where it is usually humid, will almost never have problems; while a wide plank floor in Chicago, where humidity levels fluctuate widely, may be temperamental. The best humidity range for wide plank flooring is between 28 and 48 percent.

In terms of general comfort, wide plank floors have exactly the same profile as standard wood flooring. This flooring is relatively warm under foot and hard enough to be durable but not so hard that dishes automatically shatter if dropped.

Wide Plank Flooring vs. Standard Hardwood Flooring

Because widths of standard hardwood flooring planks have gradually expanded to 3 to 4 inches, and because there are more and more realistic distressed, vintage textures now available in standard flooring, you may well ask yourself if the extreme cost of genuine wide plank flooring is worth it. The question is really a matter of the value you put on the authenticity of the flooring. Wide plank flooring is for homeowners who place a premium on natural luxury and want to demonstrate it. This flooring ranks up with expensive stone flooring as a material that shouts high-end construction.