How to Grade the Durability of Hardwood Flooring
What’s under your feet (or how you get around) is as important as anything when it comes to the house. That’s why this fall, we collaborated with The Home Depot on an A-to-Z guide that will give you the confidence to make the flooring choices you’ll love. Read the manual from A to Z here.
When it comes to hardwood floors, different styles have different levels of durability and sturdiness. Hardwoods (and so-called “softwood”, which are sometimes used in homes or for exterior porches) have a wide range of hardnesses that can have a profound impact on their functionality and longevity in your living space. So how do you know which woods are the hardest? Janka’s scale, of course.
Pronounced “yanka”, the Janka scale was created by an Austrian-born wooden researcher named Gabriel Janka. It assesses a wood’s resistance to wear and deformation by measuring the force required to incorporate a BB size steel ball halfway through a sample. The “score” each type of wood receives is then recorded in “pound force” (lbf) on the Janka scale.
Rule of thumb: 1000 or more
The rule of thumb when buying hardwood flooring is that a Janka Scale score of 1000 or more is the level of sustainability desired in their home, and viewing the Janka Scale chart makes it easy to see which woods rank in the hierarchy. (If you plan to DIY your flooring, this is also a great resource for understanding how difficult it will be to nail into wood when laying your planks.)
Knowing the rating of your hardwood on the Janka scale is useful when buying for a busy room where softer wood underfoot could be damaged by rowdy puppy paws or the crush of hitting sports equipment. the floor after training.
Hickory and oak get a high score
Hickory and oak, along with their variants, are two common hardwoods that score high on the Janka scale and can easily withstand the pressures of an active hearth while providing a timeless look. Hard maple is also a sturdy option, but, as general contractor Joe Truini points out, it’s the type of wood used for basketball courts. That is to say: Unless you’re trying to create a real March craziness vibe inside your home, it might be worth skipping.
Softer hardwoods like ash, cherry, and birch tend to have more subtle variations in their color and gradation, which can create a more sophisticated look, with a higher price tag. These hardwoods are ideal for adult-only flooring, low traffic areas, or homes where everyone follows the “no shoes in the house” rule. (This writer likes to think of laying cherry wood as a “retirement floor”.)
Janka’s scale can even reveal subtle differences in hardness between the woods that look quite similar. “The most popular hardwood floor is red oak, and it has a rating of around 1290,” says Truini. But he also notes that white oak, which people don’t often consider, looks like red oak and has a rating of around 1350-100 points higher than its cousin.
But hardness is not everything
Hardness, however, isn’t everything in a floor, and Truini recommends considering the Holy Trinity of hardwood – aesthetic appeal, price, and durability – when making a decision. “If you fall in love with American black walnut planks, which have a rating of 1,010, you should get them even though they don’t have a very high [Janka] score, ”he advises. Additionally, Truini lives in New England and sees pine floors in many homes. “They don’t have a rating over 1000. It might be a bit more dented and wear a bit more weary, but if you like the look of pine or walnut, you should.”
When it comes to durability, however, even Janka’s scale has its limits. The rating system does not affect the ability of hardwood floors to resist spilled pinot noir stains and marker accidents. It all comes down to the end. “Whether you choose ash, oak, maple or even walnut, these are all hardwoods,” says Truini. “They are all relatively difficult when it comes to the daily crossing. Even if the floor is bamboo [which has a hardness of 1,300 or more] and the finish is worn on the top, it will stain.
Having all the possible information at hand before making a major flooring decision is empowering and will ensure the best decision for your family’s unique lifestyle. So let’s applaud Gabriel Janka, the patron saint who helps even the less mathematically inclined to understand the intricacies of hardwood hardness.