Wide Plank Wood Flooring
You might think of wide plank wood flooring as something befitting a rustic cabin or a 200-year-old historic home. It’s true that these types of homes often have this kind of floor, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be stylish in today’s homes too.
As you’ll find out below there is more to wide plank wood flooring than just pine boards fit for an old cabin. “Wide” doesn’t discriminate among types of wood which means you can find wide plank floors in just about any type of wood, from softwoods to hardwoods, exotics to antiques.
Wide plank wood floors aren’t for everyone nor are they fit for every application. But they offer a refreshing alternative to the often-used narrow strip flooring and are certainly worth a closer look when considering wood floors.
Just What Is Meant By “Wide Plank”?
When it comes to flooring, “wide plank” simply means boards that are wider than about 3″, give or take about 1/4″. Anything narrower than what falls into the “strip” category of wood flooring. Beyond that technical definition however, wide plank wood flooring usually carries with it a ‘wider’ implication (couldn’t resist the pun). ‘Wide plank’ usually means boards that are anywhere from 5 to 20 inches wide. It’s in these broader widths that wide plank wood flooring gains its drama and distinction over the narrow strip floors.
“Wide” Isn’t Biased – Lots of Choices to Choose From
The nice thing about wide plank floors is that you’re not limited to any particular type or form of wood. There are wide plank floors made from softwoods like pine and fir to virtually any kind of hardwood. It’s also available in reclaimed and antique wood as well as exotic woods. Reclaimed wood is a suitable candidate for wide plank floors because it’s often made from old growth trees. This kind of wood comes with the density that offers good stability (the measure of how much wood swells and shrinks) that’s a needed feature with wide plank wood floors. Exotic woods typically have a richness and beauty that just begs to be looked at and wide planks only enhance and show off more of those splendid features.
Are There Any Benefits to Wide Plank?
If you’re in the market for a wood floor an appropriate question is whether wide plank wood floors offer any benefit over strip flooring. When floors were laid 150 years ago it made sense to use wider planks. The resources (larger, old growth trees) were plentiful, it took less time to lay the floor (fewer pieces) and using wider planks eliminated the effort of sawing larger boards into smaller strips. In today’s world however, the real benefit is mostly the aesthetic appeal that comes with a wide plank floor. It reflects a style choice that’s still in the minority and from that standpoint, offers diversity.
There are also a few considerations you need to think about with wide plank floors because of their size. Understanding these points will help you make a more informed decision about whether they’re right for your application.
Controlling Wide Plank ‘Movement’
Once that’s under your belt there are a few things to be aware of regarding wide plank wood floors. An important one is that wider planks will shrink and swell more than narrow strip flooring for a given set of conditions. This “movement” refers to a wood’s dimensional stability, or the amount that it changes in size based on temperature and humidity. A wide plank wood floor will expand and contract more than its narrower counterpart. Too much swelling can cause cupping, described by the edges of the board lifting, or crowning, where the center of the board bows up. Excessive shrinkage can cause large gaps between individual boards. How do you control this? Let’s count the ways:
Control the humidity and temperature as best you can: The more you can minimize humidity and temperature fluctuations in your home, the less chance your wide plank floor will have problems. Doing that is easier in climates with more constancy but it’s harder in areas with greater temperature (and corresponding humidity) swings. Air conditioning in the summer and some form of humidification in drier winter months will help.
Pay attention to the wood’s grain orientation: Choosing a wood with a tighter, denser grain and/or a quarter-sawn or vertical grain orientation (based on the way it’s cut from the log) also helps to minimize swelling and shrinking. Bear in mind that these cuts look different than plain and flat sawn wood, so you’ll want to be sure you’re ok with that. Reclaimed old growth lumber from old buildings or sunken logs is one source of wood with a dense grain structure. New growth wood doesn’t have this tight grain that was product of centuries old virgin growth forests.
Wood with a predominant vertical grain structure is achieved by how the boards are cut from the log. Flooring made from quartersawn wood has a vertical grain that helps a floor be more stable. Wide boards milled from the center of the log also result in a plank with most of the grain in a vertical position.
Use an engineered wood: An engineered wood is inherently more stable than solid wood because it’s designed to be that way. Similar to plywood, the grain pattern in each of its multiple layers is oriented at different angles with respect to each other. This helps to “cancel out” some of the swelling and shrinking action on the board as a whole. Engineered wood will still react to changes in humidity but the layered construction minimizes that reaction, and there’s no shortage of engineered wide plank flooring.
Choose a more stable wood: Finally, choosing a wood that’s more dimensionally stable (less shrinking and swelling) is a plus. Understandably, that decision sometimes takes a back seat to choosing a wood based on its beauty and visual appeal. But if your heart isn’t set on any particular type of wood, it helps to choose a more stable one. As an example, the following table ranks the stability of some wood species based on their dimensional change coefficient. That’s just a fancy name for a number that quantifies how much the wood changes (in this case, in the tangential or ‘width’ direction) in the presence of a humidity change. For these woods listed here, Teak is more stable (will experience less change in size) than Beech for a given set of conditions.
One additional point to think about is the environmental impact. A lot of wide plank wood flooring is made from reclaimed lumber. That’s wood that has been saved from the waste stream and put to good use again. Some of the very wide planks originated from the large trees harvested from virgin growth forests nearly a century ago that were used as beams in factories and barns. Reusing this wood saves existing timber stands.
Newly harvested wood that’s taken from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified forests also has a light environmental footprint. The FSC is an international non-profit organization dedicated to responsible stewardship of the world’s forest resources. Products that carry the FSC certification have been harvested from sustainably managed forests, maintaining the viability of these resources.
How Much Does It Cost?
The cost of wide plank wood flooring will vary based on the species of wood and the category it falls into such as antique/reclaimed, exotic and whether it’s solid or engineered. From that baseline the cost of a given type of wood will generally increase as the width of the plank increases. In other words, the type of wood usually sets the price “neighborhood,” and the width of the plank affects it from there.
One common form of pricing for reclaimed and antique wood involves bracketing the cost within several width ranges for a given type of wood. For example, an antique rustic oak floor will be priced in tiers for planks between 3 to 7 inches, 9 to 10 inches, and 11 to 12 inches wide. The price per square foot increases as the width of the boards in each group increases. With this type of pricing structure, you can expect the cost difference between the narrowest and widest boards to be anywhere from 30% to 125%. This too will vary depending on the type of wood as well as the vendor who’s selling it.
Despite the general trend of ‘wider-costs-more’ for a given type of wood, it’s still possible to find some products here and there that don’t fall under this convention. In these cases, the price remains constant for a particular wood type regardless of plank width. It’s just a matter of shopping around to find these deals. The cost of wider planks in engineered wood flooring is generally less than the more premium solid wood wide plank flooring. However, the availability of the “wider” plank widths is somewhat limited in the engineered wood flooring products. Although there are some products in the 10″ width what you’ll usually find are planks in the 5-to-7-inch range. To give you a taste for what some wide plank wood floor products cost takes a look at the following table. It provides a random sample of prices for various wood types and plank widths. The prices reflect an average across several vendors.