If you have a hardwood floor or are shopping for one, you’ve likely noticed a few things about them. One of the things that is rarely questioned is the size of hardwood planks. Standard planks are about four inches wide. Wide planks are about six inches wide. They’re all typically a foot or two in length. That means you’ll spend all day installing a hardwood floor. Wouldn’t it be much easier and simpler to just use wide boards that are longer? If each board was twelve inches wide and ten feet long, you could floor a typical room with ten boards. So, why is that not the case?
Wood, as a porous material, absorbs moisture. It absorbs moisture when you spill a drink on the floor but also from the ambient air. When it absorbs moisture, it expands. When it dries again, it contracts. If the wood planks expand, they bump against one another and are squeezed upwards. They’ll start to bend upwards in the middle. If they dry, they’ll contract and open gaps between boards. If they dry unevenly or swell unevenly, they’ll often warp side to side. All of those things are more likely to occur the wider and longer the planks are. Wider and longer planks are more likely to absorb moisture or to dry out; also, they’re more likely to do it unevenly.
With a plank of wood, the weakest point is the point directly at the middle. The longer the planks of wood, the weaker that point. So, your flooring planks will likely be installed on a subfloor, but they’ll still need strength of their own. The floor and subfloor are installed on joists, which are not solid. That means they’ll have weak points. If you have boards that are ten feet long, they’ll be very weak in the middle.
Installing longer and wider planks is definitely easier than using multiple smaller planks; however, there’s one situation in which that’s not the case. If a floor is irregularly shaped or if the room has several pieces of permanent furniture, it will be easier to use multiple small planks. For example, if you need to install the floor around an island or a permanent bookcase, multiple small planks might not even need to be cut. You’d have to cut long planks. Several times to try to make them fit around the obstruction. You’d also have to do a lot of work to remove and replace any damaged boards.
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