When most people think about wood flooring installations, they generally think about residential applications, but there is another lucrative market out there that cannot be ignored: the nonresidential, or commercial, sector.
Wood flooring sales in the commercial market have grown steadily during the past few years in the United States. In 1997, it represented $186.2 million dollars (in manufacturer dollars). That number increased to $241.3 million in 2002, $289.3 million in 2006, and $327.4 million in 2007. While commercial wood flooring sales figures have grown steadily, the market as a percentage of sales has fluctuated. In 1997, commercial wood flooring sales represented 15.1% of the total market. In 2002, the figure had dropped to 12.3%. In 2006, the figure had dropped again to 11.2%, but rose in 2007 to 13.3%. These figures are according to the Wood Flooring Report published by Catalina Research, in conjunction with the National Wood Flooring Association, in November 2007.
In general, the same criteria apply to commercial wood flooring applications as with the residential market, but because commercial wood flooring will receive significantly more foot traffic than residential wood flooring, there are some issues that must be considered.
Both solid wood flooring and engineered wood flooring will work well in a commercial setting. Solid wood flooring is exactly what the name implies: a solid piece of wood from top to bottom. The thickness of solid wood flooring can vary, but generally ranges from ¾” to 5/16”. The benefit of solid wood flooring is that it can be sanded and refinished many times during its service life, but solid wood floors can be used only above grade or on grade. Conversely, engineered wood floors can be installed above grade, on grade or below grade. Engineered wood floors are real wood floors that are manufactured using three to five layers of different wood veneers. The layers are referred to as face ply for the top layer, core ply for the middle layers, and back ply for the bottom layer. Each of the layers can be of the same species, or of different species, but the face ply or top layer of engineered wood flooring always consists of high-quality wood. The grain of each individual layer runs in different grain directions, called a cross-ply construction process. This process makes engineered wood flooring very dimensionally stable, which means that the wood will expand and contract less than solid wood flooring during normal seasonal fluctuations in humidity and temperature.
How these floors are installed will depend on the subfloor being used. The nail down and glue down methods are the most popular installation processes for commercial projects. The glue down method can be used for both solid (only if recommended by the manufacturer) and engineered products over either a concrete or wood subfloor, but a wood subfloor will be necessary to do a nail down installation. Floating floors, or click systems, which are used commonly in residential settings, are not used very often in commercial settings.
The profile of the wood selected will be a consideration as well. Beveled edge floors have a slight bevel, or divot, between floor boards. This can allow small bits of dust and debris to accumulate between the floor boards, which can contribute to premature wear. Selecting a square edge floor can minimize this impact. In general, bevel edge floors are used in manufacturer finished wood flooring products. The advantage of this type of wood flooring is that there is no sanding required, no fumes, and no down time for drying of the finish. Square edge floors are more common with a job site finished installation, which means that the floors are sanded and finished on the job site. Job site finished wood floors allow for the greatest degree of customization, but with that benefit comes increased noise, dust and disruption during the installation process. These problems can be minimized with the new dustless sanding systems being used by many wood flooring contractors, which reduces airborne dust and debris.
As with most residential wood floors, commercial wood floors most often are selected based on their color and appearance. The overwhelming trend is to select the wood flooring species to be used based on its natural color, instead of using stain to achieve a particular look. This works particularly well with commercial applications since this tends to hide wear and scratches better than wood floors using stain to achieve color.
If the installation includes a smooth finish, select grades, clear grades, and #1 rustic species tend to conceal wear as well. However, growing in popularity in the commercial sector is the non-smooth finish, which can hide wear patterns even better. These include hand distressed floors that have an “antiqued” feel to them. This look is achieved through hand scraping, wire brushing, and rough sawing, all of which will camouflage minor scratches, imperfections and wear patterns.
Perhaps the most critical consideration in commercial wood flooring applications is the finish used. More than species, this will have the most impact on the durability of the floor, and its ability to stand up to high traffic patterns. Surface finishes are very popular because they are durable, water-resistant, and require minimal maintenance. These include water-based finishes which are fast drying, oil-based finishes which are slow drying, conversion varnishes which are fast drying, and moisture-cured finishes which are slow or fast drying depending on humidity levels. Wax finishes generally are not used in commercial settings since they will show spots from water and other contaminates more easily. In many commercial applications, acrylic impregnated finishes are recommended. This type of finish is injected directly into the wood to create a super-hard, extremely durable floor that can stand up to heavy traffic.
Needless to say, the demand for wood flooring in the commercial sector is here to stay. Industry analysts believe that the greatest growth potential will occur in three major areas: health care facilities, retail shopping venues, and restaurant operations. Opportunities will abound for both new construction and remodeling, and wood flooring contractors will want to be prepared for meeting the demands of this high visibility, potentially high profit, market.
The National Wood Flooring Association has detailed technical guidelines available about wood flooring installations, repair and remodeling in both residential and commercial settings. The NWFA is an international not-for-profit trade association of more than 4,000 wood flooring professionals, dedicated to advancing and promoting the wood flooring industry. For more information, contact the NWFA in the USA at 800-422-4556, in Canada at 800-848-8824, and internationally at 636-519-9663. You also can visit the NWFA online at www.nwfa.org.