Home Flooring Terms and FAQ’s

too-many-choicesHome flooring can be a very daunting topic to those not in the business. This section of our site is here to help educate you on the various terms, words, common phrases and their meanings, that are using in the home flooring product market.

If you don’t see a term listed, suggest it to us – we’re always happy to make this page better.

A

Above Grade Flooring – Any floor that is built higher than the outside ground level, with an air space under the structure.

Abrasion – Wearing away of the wear layer or surface of any type of flooring.

Abrasion Resistance – The resistance a flooring product has to being worn down depends on the toughness of the material or the thickness of the wear layer.

Acclimation – The process of allowing wood flooring to reach equilibrium with the humidity of the place it will be installed.

Adhesive – The substance used to make flooring stick to the surface beneath it. Adhesive may be called glue, paste or mastic.

ASTM – American Society of Testing Materials. The ASTM sets testing standards for flooring and other building materials.

B

Backing – The bottom layer of any floor covering. The backing often determines the right adhesive for flooring or whether it can be installed over concrete or other subfloor.

Baseboard – The exposed drywall or board near or at the place a wall meets a floor.

Baseboard Molding – The wood trim that is installed around the baseboard of a room. It must be removed to install most types of flooring and then reinstalled.

Below Grade Level – Any floor that is installed below the level of the ground outside. Some materials such as solid hardwood flooring should not be installed below grade while others such as engineered wood flooring can be.

Bid – An estimate for flooring or installation.

Board – A plank, usually made of wood, used as flooring.

Border – A customized design that goes around the perimeter of the room. Sometimes used with tile, concrete or stone flooring or carpeting.

Bowing – Curvature up and down or side to side in a wood board so that it will not lie flat or abut the piece next to it.

C

Cantilevered – Any part of a structure that extends beyond the foundation and has open air beneath it. Some flooring products should not be installed on cantilevered floors.

Chalk Line – A string covered in chalk that is used to make a straight line for cutting material or for starting a row of material. It is stretched between two points and snapped, leaving a line of chalk powder on the flooring material or substrate.

Conditioning – Similar to acclimation in which flooring such as laminate is brought inside so that it achieves the same relative humidity as its environment prior to installation.

Cross Direction – Laminate flooring in which the top layer is laid perpendicular to the layer beneath it. This technique increases the stability of the material.

Crowning – A convex ridge or crown on a piece of flooring such as a wood plank.

Cupping – The opposite of crowing. Cupping occurs when then edges of a plank rise, forming a concave shape.

Cushioning – Often foam, it is used beneath floating laminate floors to reduce the grinding of the material on a subfloor such as concrete.

Cut – As a verb, it means to sand a wood floor. As a noun, it is one pass down the length of the floor with the sanding tool.

D

Damp Mopping – Wringing most of the moisture out of a mop before using it on flooring. The technique is used for cleaning hard floors to remove fine grit that causes abrasion.

Defect – Any abnormality that makes the material unsuitable for installation. Defects may appear after installation too.

Delamination – The process by which layers in a laminated material come apart. It is a defect in the adhesive in most cases.

Dimensional Stability – The ability of material to maintain the same dimensions, not swelling or shrinking with rises or falls in humidity level. Engineered hardwood flooring has dimensional stability; solid hardwood flooring does not.

Distressed – An artificial texture given to wood to make it look older; a look given to laminate and vinyl.

Dry Fitting – A technique used to check the fit and orientation of flooring materials before adhesive is applied.

Durability – The ability of a flooring material to withstand normal wear and traffic.

E

End Joint – The place where two wood planks abut one another.

End-Matched – Some tongue and groove flooring (see below) has a tongue and groove on the end joints as well as on the sides.

Engineered – Wood flooring that is constructed from multiple layers of material with the grain typically running perpendicularly.

Epoxy – A strong adhesive made from combining and mixing two liquids immediately before use.

Estimate – The cost given by a dealer for flooring material or a contractor for installation. Rough estimates are not exact but give an idea of costs. Written estimates are considered binding.

Expansion Zone – The area around the perimeter of a hardwood floor that allows for expansion in humid weather. An expansion zone of 3/8” is recommended. It is covered by the baseboard trim which should be nailed to the wall instead of the floor.

F

Fillets – The small pieces of wood joined in a parquet floor. They may be used in wood or bamboo flooring. They are also called finger blocks.

Fire Resistance – The ability of a flooring material to resist the spread of fire. Flooring is usually graded by I, II or III or by A, B or C. Grades I and A are the most fire-resistant.

Floating Floor – Some wood and laminate floors are secured to the subfloor at the perimeter only. The rest of the floor is said to float on the substrate.

Floor Machine – A power tool that employs brushes or pads on a rotating disc to strip, clean or polish flooring.

Full Spread Installation – Flooring that requires adhesive on the entire subfloor or substrata; In contrast to flooring that is perimeter spread.

G

Gauge – In flooring, it refers to the thickness of the wear layer for a type of flooring material.

Grade – The level of the ground outside a home or building. See Above Grade and Below Grade.

Green Flooring – Materials like cork, corn or bamboo that is made from quickly-renewed plants; Flooring made from recycled materials; Flooring that does not contain harmful chemicals.

Grain – A term referring to the alignment of wood elements or features.

H

Hardness – Refers to the relative hardness of wood flooring species or the wear layer of flooring such as laminate or tile.

Hardwood – Deciduous woods used for flooring such as maple, oak, hickory, ash or birch.

Hygrometer – A tool for measuring relative humidity of air or materials.

I

Irregular – Some wood flooring has minor defects in appearance that do not affect installation. The flooring is often sold for significantly lower prices. Sometimes called “seconds.”

J

Jamb – The side of a door that the hinges attach to on one side and the strike plate on the other. The jamb must be trimmed around when installing flooring.

Joints – The junction of precut surfaces that will be butted together; Often used of subflooring.

K

Kiln-Dried – The process for drying some types of solid hardwood flooring and ceramic tile flooring.

Knot – The place where a branch grew out of the trunk of the tree leaving denser, darker wood. In flooring such as knotty pine, knots are considered a benefit. In hardwood flooring, knots are less appealing.

Knuckle –Similar in looks to a knot, knuckles are formed in bamboo where a growth spurt took place. They give the flooring character.

L

Laminate – Flooring composed of multiple layers bonded together. Laminate flooring has a photographic image affixed to the top layer that is covered by the wear layer made from melamine resin.

Linoleum – A type of flooring developed in the mid-1800s made from a mixture of linseed oil, rosin or equivalent binder, ground cork, wood flour, mineral fillers and colorant bonded to a backing.

M

Mastic – A general description of flooring adhesive, usually water-based types.

Moisture Vapor Barrier – Typically made from polyurethane film, a vapor barrier is designed to block the penetration of underlying moisture into flooring material such as solid wood, laminate or engineered wood.

N

Neutral Cleaner – A cleaner with a neutral pH or 6-8 designed to remove soil from waxed floors without dissolving the wax.

O

On Grade – A floor level that is roughly even with the ground outside, usually without a crawl space or basement beneath it.

P

Penetrating Stain – Stain for solid wood or engineered wood flooring designed to soak deep into the wood.

Pin Hole – Very small holes made in hardwood by ambrosia and similar insects.

Plainsawn Wood – Hardwood flooring that is sawed so that the growth rings form an angle of 0-degrees to 45-degrees with the surface.

Plywood – An engineered wood product composed of multiple layers. Plywood is often used as a subfloor.

Prefinished – A term that means finish has been applied to the flooring at the factory. Solid hardwood flooring, engineered flooring and bamboo flooring can be prefinished.

Q

Quartersawn Wood – Hardwood flooring that is sawed so that the growth rings form and angle of 45-degrees to 90-degrees with the surface.

R

Radiant Heat Subfloor – The installation of a radiant heat system beneath the flooring.

Rapidly Renewable – Refers to materials used in flooring such as cork, bamboo and corn that are fast-growing.

Refinish – To sand a wood floor to remove the finish and apply a new finish.

Regular – A description of wood flooring that does not have any defect.

Rolling – A technique using a heavy roller on floors such as linoleum to force air bubbles out from beneath the material and ensure better adhesion.

S

Scratch – A light abrasion on the surface of flooring.

Sealer – A finishing liquid designed to stop any other liquids from penetrating into flooring material.

Seam – The line along which two pieces of flooring are joined.

Separation – In flooring, the act of two adjoining pieces coming apart due to buckling, shrinking, cupping or crowning.

Side-Matched – Refers to flooring with a tongue and groove along the long side of each plank.

Stair Risers and Treads – The rise is the vertical piece of a step; the tread is the horizontal piece on which you walk.

Stripping – The process of using a dissolving agent and a tool for removing old floor polish prior to adding a new coat or polish.

Subfloor or Underlayment – A floor substrate beneath the flooring that gives it the right type of surface for installation.

Substrate – The surface beneath the finished flooring such as tile flooring, carpeting or wood flooring. A subfloor is typically installed for the purpose of laying the new floor. A substrate may be an existing floor such as concrete or tile, but can be one installed in order to form a base for the new floor. Subfloors are a type of substrates.

T

Tongue and Groove – In many types of plank and strip flooring, a tongue is milled into one side of the wood and a groove is milled into the other side. The pieces are fitted together by inserting the tongue of one piece into the groove of the adjoining piece.

Traffic Wear – Wear on a floor that is caused by the volume of foot traffic over it.

Trowel – A hand tool used for spreading floor adhesive.

U

Underlayment – A subfloor installed under flooring to form a smooth, stable base for it.

Unfinished – Refers to solid hardwood, engineered or bamboo flooring that has not been stained or sealed.

V

Vapor Barrier – A material that does not allow moisture to pass through it. Plastic, foil and urethane-coated paper are used as vapor barrier.

W

Walk-Off Mats – Absorbent mats placed inside entry doors to a home for the purpose of foot-wiping. The mat should be as wide as the doorway and long enough to allow a person to take several strides on the mat before walking off onto the flooring.

Wear Layer – The top layer of flooring that gets walked on. With solid wood flooring and engineered flooring, the wear layer is wood. With laminate flooring, the wear layer is melamine resin. Every type of flooring has a wear layer.