Pets, Kids, & Hardwood Floors: Top Five Things to Consider

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Kids and pets are cute, and we love them dearly, but they’re the bane of a wood floor’s existence, thanks to Spot’s long nails, dripping tongue, and occasional accidents and Junior’s penchant for racing Tonka trucks across the smooth, hard surface. If you’re in the market for a new floor and you’re planning on allowing dogs, cats, and kids to walk on it, here are the top five most important things to consider.

1. Stay away from soft woods.

Soft woods like pine and American walnut dent very easily, which is a surefire disaster when you’ve got Sally practicing her tap dancing moves and Jimmy building four-foot towers out of heavy wooden blocks all over the floor.

So how do you know which woods are softer and which are harder? Simply refer to the Janka Hardness Scale, the industry standard for analyzing the hardness of a given wood species. To determine the hardness, testers measure the force it takes to embed a .444-inch steel ball halfway into the wood. The higher the number, the harder the wood. 

But the Janka scale isn’t necessarily the final word on a wood’s suitability for homes with pets and kids. Plank construction, variations among species, and the finish used on the floor also have an impact on its overall durability. Oil-based finishes aren’t nearly as durable as those that are water-based, and moisture-cured and UV-cured finishes are far more durable than those that are air-cured.

But some hardwood species are better than others at hiding damage. While maple floors are harder than your standard oak—and Brazilian cherry is harder than all American wood species—oak floors may be a better option for kids and pets because the busy grain can mask scratches and dents. Maple and Brazilian cherry have very little grain, and damage will show up more readily.

2. Consider Distressed Floors

If you’re a fan of the rustic look, a purposely-distressed floor will not only look beautiful, but it will also help hide any inadvertent damage done to your floors by pets, kids, high heels, dropped bowling balls, and all of the other potential disasters that might befall a hardwood floor. Hand-scraped floors are heavily textured to look like they were reclaimed from a very old building, while brushed floors offer a flat look with a little texture. Various distressing techniques enable you to choose how much texture you want.

The most important thing to keep in mind if you choose a distressed floor is that a periodic recoat is absolutely essential for keeping your floor in top condition, because refinishing the floor will sand away the distressed top layer.

If you’re not a fan of distressed floors, perhaps you enjoy a knotty wood or one that has lots of character marks. These, too, can help hide any damage that might occur.

3. Choose a matte finish.

A high-gloss finish is like a white carpet: if you have kids or pets, you can expect it to end in tears sooner or later, no matter how carefully you monitor the activities that take place on it. High-gloss finishes show every little imperfection on the finish due to so much light reflecting off the wood. Matte and satin finishes are much better at hiding little accidents.

4. Consider lighter floors.

Much like a high-gloss finish, dark wood shows scratches and imperfections more readily than light floors do. Choose lighter wood species or lighter stains to help camouflage problem spots.

5. Decide carefully between solid hardwood and engineered floors.

Solid hardwood floors are the real deal—solid wood from front to back, through and through—but they don’t take kindly to moisture, and we all know that kids spill (it’s what they do best) and pets drool and occasionally pee exactly where they shouldn’t. On the other hand, a solid hardwood floor is easy to refinish if it was installed, sanded and finished on-site, and it’s pretty much a surefire candidate for a recoat, which is an inexpensive way to give your weary floor a major facelift.

Engineered hardwood floors can handle moisture better than solid hardwood, and in many cases, thanks to a tough-as-nails aluminum oxide urethane finish, they’re nearly impossible to scratch by accident. Unfortunately, they’re also sometimes impossible to recoat for the same reason.

Engineered floors are typically made of plywood, high-density fiberboard, or cheaper wood sandwiched between relatively thin layers of real hardwood. Remember that you can choose the hardest wood on earth for the top layer, but if the core material is soft, the top layer will dent more easily. Also keep in mind that if serious damage is done, a refinish will likely not be an option since the top layer is typically too thin to sand.

If this article is a little late in coming and your pets and/or kids have already done a number on your floors, contact The Floor Doctor today. We’re happy to evaluate your floors at no cost and advise the best and least invasive way to proceed to improve the appearance of your floors. Whether a simple recoat will do the job or you need something a little more involved and complicated, The Floor Doctor has the expertise and tools to restore your floors to pre-kid and pre-pet perfection. We can also advise you on the best way to care for your hardwood floors and minimize common types of damage.

Trevor Hayden is The Floor Doctor, a Bona-certified craftsman and hardwood flooring expert with extensive experience in restoring all types of hardwood floors in every conceivable condition. Founder of the Wood Flooring Program at Central Community College and former instructor on installation, sanding, and finishing for the National Wood Flooring Association, Trevor is passionate about floors and is Omaha’s premier, award-winning expert on all things hardwood.

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