What to consider when installing Exotic Hardwood Flooring
Exotic species are very beautiful; however they are very different than our domestic species in look, and require more care and patience when installing. Be sure to wear a dust mask and safety glasses when cutting pieces to avoid contact with dust, also wear gloves to prevent slivers as they are difficult to get out and will cause your hand to swell.
Exotics are very dense which makes them very difficult to mill; because of this, the milling tolerances are not as strict as our domestic species and slight width and thickness variations are normal. Not to mention that the wood is coming from a tropical climate in Brazil to our four season climate. Leaving a climate with a temperature of 38 C and 75% humidity and travelling 6000 km and arriving in Canada where the temperature could be -20 C with a humidity of 20% is quite a change to deal with.
The exotic species are up to 3 times harder than our domestic species. Quite often installers that have never worked with exotics call and tell us that the fastener is not going in properly or bending over. The same nailer and air pressure that works well on domestic woods will not suffice for exotic woods. When you get the fasteners going in the right depth be sure that there is not a dimple showing on the surface where the fastener went in. Due to the large amount of prefinished exotic floors being installed in North America, nailing equipment companies have developed new equipment; the latest product is an 18 gauge nailer using a 1.5” nail. When you have dark shiny floors with lots of light, it is very difficult to avoid the dimples from showing. Moisture conditions are very important. Exotics are very dense, making them stronger and stiffer, which puts more stress on the fastener when the wood swells.
Just as with light-sensitive domestic species such as cherry; exotic species will darken and nothing will prevent this from happening. Exposed to natural and artificial light; the change starts immediately. Avoid partially covering your floor with area rugs, as the floor around them will change. These colour changes make the floor more beautiful. If your customer has picked from a sample that has been aged, they must be forewarned that out of the box, the floor will not be aged like the sample. Moving furniture around will allow the floor to darken evenly; if you have a spot that has been covered, it will catch up with the rest of the floor given enough time. In exotics, huge colour variations are expected within the specie. If customers do not like variation, exotics should not be considered.
Exotic species can develop white spots months after the flooring has been installed. Lab testing has shown this is calcium carbonate, which naturally occurs in the wood. When finishing the wood we use sealers to prevent these spots from coming to the surface; and at time of production we cull the pieces with white spots; however, we can’t predict what pieces in the future will develop these spots.
We do not recommend engineered exotic flooring over radiant heat. Exposed to dry conditions, the surface layer will develop cracks. In general, exotics do not handle low humidity as well as our domestic species.
Although very beautiful, exotics are not suitable for all client. Professional installation is recommended. When getting quotes for installation, be sure to tell the installer you are choosing an exotic specie, and be sure that they have experience with that particular specie. If the installer has no experience with exotics, it would be a bad choice to use them.
Common Exotic Flooring Installation issues
Here are some of the most common reasons contractors get called back to the job site after installing exotics, and how to avoid them.
Cause: The exotic species are up to 3 times harder than our domestic species. Quite often installers that have never worked with exotics call and tell us that the fastener is not going in properly or bending over. The same nailer and air pressure that works well on domestic woods will not suffice. When you get the fasteners going in the right depth be sure that there is not a dimple showing on the surface where the fastener went in. Common species: Brazilian cherry/Jatoba, Tigerwood (shown), many others.
Cure: Because of the large amount of prefinished exotic floors being installed in North America the nailer companies have developed new equipment. The latest product is an 18 gauge nailer using a 1.5” nail. When you have dark shiny floors with lots of light, it is very difficult to avoid the dimples showing.
Cause: Just as with light-sensitive domestic species such as cherry, color change with exotics can be a problem in two ways. The most common stems from the floor changing color only in some areas due to part of the floor being covered, often with an area rug or piece of furniture. With some species that change color quickly, the color difference can even be a problem when the floor is covered temporarily on a job site. Complaints can also arise when the new floor out of the box is not the same colour as the aged sample they saw. Yet another problem with color change happens when most of the floor darkens except for an area of sapwood that stays a lighter color. Most woods darken with light exposure, but there are a few that lighten with exposure. Click this link to find out more about color change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9Uu9tqkxuI
Common species: Brazilian Cherry/Jatoba, Tigerwood (shown), many others.
Cure: There's no way to prevent color change. Educate the customer when they are considering a species known to drastically change color. Provide them with samples showing what the species looks like new and after aging. After the fact, the best answer is to simply let the previously covered area "catch up" to the rest of the floor. If the customer can't wait that long, re-sanding is the only option (although in some severe cases, even re-sanding won't fix it). If a floor needs to be covered on a job site to protect it from other trades, be sure every square inch of the floor is covered. If customers won't accept the appearance of a single board, board replacement may be the only option.
Cause: White spots that appear over time—often months after the floor has been installed. Cure: Lab testing has shown that these spots are calcium carbonate. Although they are sometimes visible on the unfinished wood, other times there is no way to tell ahead of time where the white spots are going to occur. Like other wood grain characteristics, they are simply considered part of the species. At the factory, we pull out the white spots during production, but are unable to recognize the pieces that may develop these spots later.
Some contractors educate customers ahead of time about the spots, others simply hope they don't occur and still others just avoid installing species prone to the white spots.
Cause: Cause: Once the floor is installed or racked out, the client objects to the wide color variation of the boards. Cure: Be sure you show customers an accurate representation of the species, not just a small sample. Exotics can have a wide range of colours within the species. The customer needs to see the variations, and may like most variation but not all; so this must be communicated before installation.
Cause: Just as with many standard domestic species, moisture problems are an issue with exotics. But several factors can make exotics particularly tricky. They are extremely dense woods, making them stronger and stiffer, which puts more stress on fasteners when the woods swell. (These factors can also make the woods difficult to nail. Installers may tend to use fewer fasteners than they normally would, and tongues may tend to split.) Adding to potential moisture problems is the fact that most exotics originate in much more humid climates. When they are installed at much lower relative humidity than they will have over time, permanent gaps in the floor may appear.
Cure: Control humidity in the home to maintain humidity levels between 30- 50%.
Cause: Cause: Cracks appear on the surface of the pieces in both solid and engineered flooring during the heating season and close during the humid season. Our engineered flooring is sawn-face, which handles humidity changes quite well; but will crack. For this reason, we do not recommend exotics over radiant heating systems.
Cure: Keep humidity levels between 30-50%.