Hardwood Brand Wars – 2003

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Brand Wars! Hardwood Floors Compared!

By Steve Simonson – steve@ifloor.com

Let’s talk about hardwood floors! I have been asked hundreds, perhaps thousands of times for a wood comparison article like the very popular BRAND WARS, which compares laminate floors against each other. With this article, I want to cover the prefinished hardwood flooring category brand by brand. This article probably won’t help you if you are trying to figure out if hardwood is right for you. If you are stuck in the quagmire of trying to decide if you should choose an unfinished floor that is sanded and finished on-site or a prefinished floor, that is another discussion as well. If you are considering shopping for prefinished wood flooring you should first read Shopping for Prefinished Wood: Basic Training because it will serve as a basis for your decision to purchase prefinished flooring. Before going any further, make sure that you understand the floor shopping process. If you have not read Steve’s Stages of Floor Shopping it is time to do that.

Recommended Reading

This comparison article is most relevant to people who are trying to understand the differences between various brands of prefinished hardwood floors. The differences between floor brands can be subtle, so the purpose of this is to give you an overview of a specific brand.

If you are comparing prefinished floors and trying to get a general sense of how brands rank against each other you have found the only source for that in the world! We performed actual research and used our extensive industry experience as our guiding light for this article. We expose the strengths and weaknesses of brands for the benefit of the buyer. Since iFLOOR.com sells all of these products we can be quite objective about our opinions. We are not compelled to push you one direction or another – we simply tell the story the way we see it and let you make the final decision.This is a true full disclosure.

All of these brand ratings that I gave take into consideration all products, styles and overall brand performance. There may be individual styles or products that are above or below the overall brand rating. So, if you see that Bruce has a lower rating than you expected because you have seen or used a quality Bruce floor called Coastal Woodlands – you need to understand that although Coastal Woodlands may be a great product, the overall score of the line is lower.

I want to reiterate the above point so that I don’t mislead you: This article compares brands against each other not individual products or styles. That product-by-product analysis will come in a future article. Bruce is a good example of why this point is relevant. They make more than 50 different styles of products and all of them carry the brand name. Some of them are at the low end of price and performance and others are at the highest caliber quality and upper price points. Our brand rating will encompass the entire line and give you a general score.

I use 10 basic areas to see how the floors measure up. Then apply 1-5 stars in each area. Honestly, I don’t like giving a 5 star rating in a specific area unless someone has really blown me away. The wood flooring business as a whole is suffering from a lack of innovation. I think this trend will change and I can say that I am happy to see some of the new things that are coming out.

Below you will see a guideline for each criterion and how each rating is put together. Each rating category is very consistent and generally involves more than one set of variables.

The best overall score is calculated from the total of all categories. The more stars, the better the score. One (1) star is the lowest and five (5) stars is the highest. Total possible stars are fifty (50).

Color and Design

The color and design category is based on the overall selection of species, stains and finishes. Exotic species like purple heart, walnut and many more are available as options to oak and hardwood. Additionally, there are a number of different finishes that can be used to make your flooring look different. Having a variety of different gloss levels can push this score upward. Finally, the design aspect has to do with aesthetic presentation. There may be a line that has a really cool look and therefore has a lot of stars in this area – but that does not mean that it is very durable. Remember that sometimes high fashion options are not always compatible with long-term durability in a family setting. The higher the rating awarded means that a company has embraced the things that I have talked about above. The lower the score likely means fewer options and therefore less color and design!

Warranty

Warranties are always difficult to judge. On one hand I want to compare what each company offers in terms of years a floor is covered as well as what general conditions the warranty is valid. However, most flooring-related warranties are very hollow. Very few have any teeth whatsoever. However, if a company is willing to put themselves on paper for 25 years covering a floor that will get a higher rating than a company that only offers a 5-year warranty. Of course, the more credible and realistic a warranty is written, the more stars are added. An average brand warranty package is 3 stars. More stars mean longer and more meaningful warranty coverage. Fewer stars mean short and shallow warranty coverage.

Ease of Installation

This particular category ranks the overall installation convenience for a do-it-yourself homeowner or a contractor that is not accustomed to working with this type of product. Our basic assumption is that a reasonably talented person or contractor should be able install most of these pre-finished floors by following the instructions provided. Three stars is an average floor in terms of installation ease. Higher scores mean that it is an easier floor to install and lower stars mean that the flooring is more difficult to work with.

Construction Used

This section is dedicated to how a product is put together. Some companies go out of their way to apply extra coats of finish, or to put a certain length of board in their product offering. Some companies strive to offer special extras. Those extras are rewarded with extra stars. Additionally, companies that offer solid wood, engineered wood and longstrip options will also received a higher score. Options are important because customers have many different installation situations. Finally, we take into consideration the overall quality of how each brand builds their products. If the brand scores lower overall that can offset some of the little extras that I talked about above. The higher the score the better a brand meets all of these benchmarks. The lower the score the lower the brand options and quality.

Customer Feedback

Since I have sold most of the brands shown below and have seen installations of all of these brands, I’ve had the opportunity to get customer feedback about them. The more stars you find in this category the happier a customer is with their purchase and with the specific brand. I do receive feedback on many floors from many customers. I receive the feedback at the time of purchase, following installation and even after a client has lived with the floor for a period of time. This puts together all of those bits of feedback. Lots of stars mean lots of happy customers. Fewer stars mean less happy customers. Remember that customers may have been happy at the time of purchase — but not after installation. We try to weigh all of the opinions in here. If we have received very little feedback this can count against the brand, too. We generally find our happy customers to be very willing to share their comments about a brand they have purchased. We assume on some level that if a customer is less happy they are less likely to offer opinions later on.

Professional Feedback

I think that an important measure in any product or brand assessment is what the professionals say. In particular, I am putting installation feedback and feedback from retailers into this category. I speak with many installers and many retailers on a regular basis and we discuss the products that are really performing well. We also discuss products that are causing us problems and headaches. The higher the score the better the overall feeling is about that brand. Obviously, lower scores indicate less satisfaction from the professionals.

Steve’s Opinion

Well, no evaluation would be complete without me throwing my two cents in. I include this category as an overall gut feel toward a specific brand. This is my general feeling about a brand. Higher scores mean a better feeling – lower scores mean they have earned my scorn and discontent. (just kidding). You may choose to ignore this category since it is clearly my personal thoughts.

Price

We use this as a barometer for how the line is based price-wise. An average priced brand would have 3 stars. Lower prices have more stars because price would be more attractive to you. Higher prices have lower stars. This category should be a benchmark. Higher quality floors will have a higher price and that gives them a lower score in this particular area. But the old saying is “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

Uniqueness

When a manufacturer goes out of their way to find unique species, finish types or brings other really cool additions to the wood flooring choices, we think they should be rewarded. Frankly, too few manufacturers care about being unique. Most sell oak and maple in a couple qualities and that represents their bread and butter business. That may, in fact, be a way of life that will not change – but we feel that those that venture out and do something different should get a nice score in this section. This area can also tie in the way the product is presented to customers. A nice easy-to-use display or a standard pricing program are things that are really unique in this business. Lower scores mean they probably make standard products.

Brand Reliability

If you are considering making a large purchase it is fair to believe that you should expect some level of reliability from the company that made the product. If you have a problem, warranty issue, cleaning question or simply want to find out more about your purchase you need to be able to reach out to the company. If a company has a good claims record and really responds to customer concerns you will see a higher score in this area. Companies that try to hide behind shallow warranties and ignore customer needs will score low. The industry at large is guilty of having a poor track record for reliability. This is one area where a manufacturer could really set itself apart from the competition. Also, if a brand makes lower end products you will see a lower score in this area. New companies that do not have a long track record will also have a lower score – that may increase over time.

All of these ratings are subject to change as companies change. Sometimes a company is on top of the world and making great products and that same company can experience generalized trouble that can affect their rating. We try to review ratings on a regular basis. These ratings are compiled and published by iFLOOR.com and may or may not reflect individual experiences. On the whole, we believe that these ratings summarize the situation very well. There are no warranties expressed or implied within this text about the accuracy or reliability of this information.

Anderson
Color and Design 4
Warranty 3
Ease of Installation 3
Construction Used 3
Customer Feedback 2
Professional Feedback 2
Steve’s Opinion 3
Price 2
Uniqueness 4
Brand Reliability 2
Total 28
Anderson offers a nice selection of products including some species that are not commonly available, such as elm and pecan. Anderson has a border system that adds an extra design element to their flooring options. We only have limited feedback about this line from customers and this is reflected in the scoring. The higher quality of their floors corresponds to higher prices, which in turn brings the score down a bit. Overall, Anderson is a fine brand of flooring to select. They offer high-quality products at reasonable prices with some pretty unique options. The score on Anderson may climb with more feedback and exposure to their construction techniques.
Award
Color and Design 4
Warranty 4
Ease of Installation 3
Construction Used 3
Customer Feedback 3
Professional Feedback 3
Steve’s Opinion 2
Price 5
Uniqueness 4
Brand Reliability 2
Total 33
One of the recent innovators in the prefinished hardwood area is Award flooring. They make a reasonable selection of species available to you in a very distinctive finish. The WEARMAX finish is a ceramic-type of finish that is applied to the top of the wood floor. This creates a very durable surface and is specifically designed to combat abrasion wear and improve stain resistance.
An incredible service to the customer, all of Award’s floors are 100% uniformly-priced within a particular line. This means if you are interested in an Award longstrip floor you can freely select on style, design and color. Most companies have different prices for different species, different stains and different grades. Those differences make the selection process that much more frustrating. This particular feature earned Award 5 stars for uniqueness. One problem I have with Award is their core board, which appears to present problems with expansion and contraction in areas with low humidity and vast temperature changes. Award recommends that you maintain a humidity range in your home from 40% – 60% to make sure that the flooring remains stable. If you live in a low humidity area I do not recommend Award flooring without a humidifier.
Bamtex
Color and Design 2
Warranty 2
Ease of Installation 3
Construction Used 3
Customer Feedback 4
Professional Feedback 3
Steve’s Opinion 3
Price 3
Uniqueness 5
Brand Reliability 2
Total 30
Bamboo flooring is becoming more and more popular. Invariably the first question people ask is how will it wear? Bamboo is as hard as hard maple, which means that it is harder than red oak. This should put to bed any concerns about dents or overall durability issues. Bamtex puts a nice coat of finish over their products and this creates a complete flooring solution. Bamboo can be produced in 4-5 years vs. traditional hardwood products that have a 30-40 year life cycle. Bamboo is offered in limited colors at this time, but I think more creativity will lead to a lot more options in bamboo. You can decide between vertical and horizontal grain, which gives a unique aesthetic option that you typically don’t see with wood flooring. Ok – for any of you purists that don’t like me calling a grass product wood, I can only say tough beans! This is a product with a natural look that is very compatible with a wood-flooring category.
Bruce
Color and Design 2
Warranty 3
Ease of Installation 2
Construction Used 3
Customer Feedback 2
Professional Feedback 3
Steve’s Opinion 2
Price 3
Uniqueness 2
Brand Reliability 3
Total 25
The best-known name in hardwood flooring is Bruce hardwood! Bruce is owned by Triangle Pacific, which is owned by Armstrong. I point this out so that you know you are dealing with a huge company. However, they are also the largest producer of prefinished wood floors, which creates the first part of the problem. Bruce has literally hundreds and hundreds of products that create a hassle when trying to figure out which floor is right for you. Many times people will see a Bruce floor priced at $2.99 per square foot at a home center and then check out local stores where other Bruce products are marked at $7.99 per square foot. The problem is these are two completely different products designed for different purposes. Floors are engineered with certain design elements and durability needs in mind. These engineering decisions affect the price of the floor. Lower-end floors will have little to say except, “I am a piece of wood with a finish that is probably not too durable.” However, higher-end floors will shout out, “Hey pick me – I will look beautiful longer and I actually can take the wear and tear your family will dish out.” Wouldn’t that be nice? Unfortunately the floors do not speak and that leaves you in confusion. Bruce has too many low-end products for me to rate with a high rating. They do make some nice quality floors but they make it too hard to figure out which is the good stuff and which is the home center stuff.
Goodfellow
Color and Design 4
Warranty 3
Ease of Installation 3
Construction Used 3
Customer Feedback 3
Professional Feedback 3
Steve’s Opinion 3
Price 3
Uniqueness 4
Brand Reliability 2
Total 31
This brand is a private brand put together by a Canadian company that really knows wood products. My favorite thing about this brand is the fact that they offer all kinds of exotic species of wood, giving you a wide range of colors and grains that are completely foreign to most flooring shoppers. We have reached a point in America where people wonder what color stain to put on their oak. I personally prefer to see more innovation and more options in terms of color, design and graining. Goodfellow also offers a couple different engineering options as well as all of the specie choices. This brand is certainly one of my favorites. The only downside is that they are not a nationally distributed product therefore the name is not as well known. Because they are somewhat new to the US I had to give them a lower brand reliability score. However, we have found their service to be extra good and expect to raise their score in the future.
Harris Tarkett
Color and Design 3
Warranty 3
Ease of Installation 3
Construction Used 4
Customer Feedback 3
Professional Feedback 4
Steve’s Opinion 4
Price 3
Uniqueness 4
Brand Reliability 3
Total 34
If I could think of a specific brand that was a solid selection for most situations I would think that Harris Tarkett would be near the top of the list. They offer solid, engineered and longstrip floors. All of these construction methods give the flooring shopper a total package! This is a brand that has all the bases covered. They make all of their own floors, which is unique for a company with so many choices. They have a high rating when it comes to the finishes that they use and I feel that for the meat-and-potatoes wood shoppers, this may be a good brand to look at. My single warning is about their product offering in home centers. Just like the majority of product found in the big box stores you are more likely to find a lower-end product labeled Harris Tarkett than a medium- to upper-grade selection. Be careful in finding a box labeled Harris Tarkett at a home center and applying this same rating to the product.
Hartco
Color and Design 2
Warranty 3
Ease of Installation 2
Construction Used 3
Customer Feedback 3
Professional Feedback 2
Steve’s Opinion 3
Price 2
Uniqueness 3
Brand Reliability 1
Total 24
Hartco is one of the oldest brand names in hardwood flooring around. Another member of the Triangle Pacific family, Hartco is, overall, a well-respected company. They make a product called Pattern Plus that I have really enjoyed for years! It has been an excellent floor with the acrylic-impregnated finish, making it tough enough for some commercial applications. However, the overall innovation at Hartco is almost non-existent. They have not kept pace with offering new product choices and opportunities. Ever since Triangle Pacific purchased them, it appears that the company has been somewhat stagnant in terms of new energy. They are still a huge company which sells a lot of floors – but they are not in my top ratings. Recently, I have also noticed problems with the floors, even in Pattern Plus, and an unwillingness to stand squarely behind the product. The claim took forever to get handled and in the end I had to take care of it with the customer because Hartco refused. Their transition pieces are also very rarely matching and although I don’t expect a perfect match for a natural product I do expect the colors to be in the same ballpark. When I mentioned this problem to a Hartco representative at a recent trade show they acted like I did not have any idea about what goes into a hardwood floor manufacturing process. Since they decided to make condescending remarks to me, that gives me the feeling that regular flooring customers would not stand a chance when placed in the same circumstance. This is the lowest reliability rating I have given to such a well-known company. I hope to see them rebound soon.
Kahrs
Color and Design 3
Warranty 4
Ease of Installation 3
Construction Used 3
Customer Feedback 4
Professional Feedback 4
Steve’s Opinion 4
Price 3
Uniqueness 4
Brand Reliability 3
Total 35
This is a brand that has really stuck to their basic principles that got them started in business. They make longstrip floors in a couple different styles as well as a product line called Linnea. I like the finish that Kahrs uses on their best grade of floors. The acrylic-urethane mix is unique and as far as I know they are the only company that uses it. The finish is very durable and I like the overall gloss level it presents. In general, the lower the gloss level on a floor, the less you will see scratches and other surface imperfections. I think that Kahrs is a fine option for flooring buyers! I do need to make one note of clarification on Linnea. This is a hardwood veneer placed on top of a fiber core board. This is a similar concept to laminate floors – but Kahrs puts a true wood veneer so you get a deeper, more realistic wood look. The obvious downside to that is if you have a true wood on the surface instead of a laminate you should not expect the same dent resistance out of that veneer as you would a laminate floor.
Mannington
Color and Design 2
Warranty 3
Ease of Installation 4
Construction Used 5
Customer Feedback 4
Professional Feedback 4
Steve’s Opinion 4
Price 3
Uniqueness 2
Brand Reliability 3
Total 34
Mannington is a brand that can really make awesome engineered floors. In fact, the Mannington 5-ply floors, that are about 3″ wide, are my favorite choice for going over a radiant heat floor using floating installation. They are so dimensionally stable and so well-built that they really are a solid choice for radiant heated floors or for that matter any floor. However, that is about all I can say about Mannington. Their finish is okay, but not awesome and they make basically a whole bunch of oak floors and a couple maple floors in bland colors. This is a great line of floors – but they really don’t have much to talk about in terms of design, style, finish quality or overall pizzazz. I hope to see more cool things from this brand. They rank pretty well overall because they have performed well in the past and are still well-made. They could do even better by becoming more inventive.
Mercier
Color and Design 3
Warranty 3
Ease of Installation 3
Construction Used 4
Customer Feedback 3
Professional Feedback 2
Steve’s Opinion 3
Price 3
Uniqueness 3
Brand Reliability 2
Total 29
This Canadian brand is a very solid selection for a 3/4″ solid hardwood option. They have a number of different species and widths that you can choose from. Most of the options are based on natural flooring colors, which basically means that Mercier uses clear coats of finish instead of adding stain colors. (Since it’s Canadian I guess I should say colours?) This is a basic line that seems well-made.
Panorama
Color and Design 1
Warranty 2
Ease of Installation 2
Construction Used 2
Customer Feedback 3
Professional Feedback 3
Steve’s Opinion 2
Price 4
Uniqueness 2
Brand Reliability 2
Total 23
This is a budget brand for those looking to find basic hardwood styling. This is a great option for a basement family room or a rental home. It can be a wonderful selection – but it does not have the versatile selection or options that other product lines offer. Panorama offers longstrip products so it can be installed in most situations — just make sure that you understand this is an entry-level product at an entry level price.
Robbins
Color and Design 2
Warranty 3
Ease of Installation 3
Construction Used 3
Customer Feedback 2
Professional Feedback 2
Steve’s Opinion 2
Price 2
Uniqueness 2
Brand Reliability 3
Total 24
Robbins is one of the largest hardwood producers in the U.S. They are, overall, a nice quality producer of prefinished hardwood floors. Robbins is another Triangle Pacific subsidiary. Like other companies that are part of the group you will see many similar products and very little originality. Lots of oak and maple in lots of different sizes, widths, styles and stains are Robbins strong points.
Wood Perfect
Color and Design 1
Warranty 2
Ease of Installation 3
Construction Used 2
Customer Feedback 3
Professional Feedback 2
Steve’s Opinion 2
Price 3
Uniqueness 2
Brand Reliability 2
Total 22
This brand of hardwood flooring is a quick look at natural colors of oak, maple and birch. These offerings represent a nice product line within this limited range. This is a basic brand and can be used when you find that the species and colors are right for your decor. This product line is made in Austria and has a nice 5-coat finish on it.

I believe that taking the time to learn more about flooring will lead to more realistic customer expectations and subsequently, fewer problems with your specific flooring project. As always I am open to reviews of this study. Both criticism and praise can be directed to steve@ifloor.com. Flaming e-mails are read just as frequently as the good stuff. If you have an idea for an article, submit it to articles@ifloor.com.

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