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MANY OPTIONS IN HARDWOOD FLOORS

Q - I plan to install efficient in-floor radiant heating. I will be replacing my wall-to-wall carpeting with decorative hardwood floors for better heat transfer (and allergy relief). What type of hardwood is best? -- J. R.

A -- Warm floor radiant heating is very efficient and comfortable. Hardwood flooring, often a floating floor, is effective with this type of heat. Special clips make laying a floating hardwood floor a simple do-it-yourself project.

Manufacturers of the most attractive flooring (like Kentucky Hardwoods) use combinations of oak, ash, ebony, pecan, andiroba, rosewood, etc., to create intricate patterns. Only the natural colors of the various woods are used.

First, determine the basic appearance that you want. Hardwood flooring strips are available in widths up to 2.25 inches. Pieces wider than this, three inches or more, are called planks instead of strips.

Wider planks are attractive, but there tends to be more noticeable gaps between the planks in dry weather. In areas with widely varying seasonal humidity, strip flooring with a beveled edge treatment is a good choice.

Red or white oak strip flooring is most popular and reasonably priced. Red oak is a little harder than white oak, but white oak is more stable in varying humidity. Maple is harder than either, but it is less stable.

When selecting the flooring, be very specific about the type of wood. Don't just accept cherry wood for example. American cherry is very soft, but Brazilian cherry is the hardest of woods, almost three times harder.

Engineered hardwood flooring is another option for radiant floor heating. It is more stable to humidity changes than solid hardwood floors. With thick, decorative hardwood veneers, it looks identical to solid hardwood.

It typically is made from three to five plies of wood that are bonded together with heat and pressure. The veneer is thick enough to be refinished several times just like solid hardwood. Some manufacturers (like Harris-Tackett) use hardwood on all layers to minimize dents in the veneer.

Almost all engineered floors come prefinished with acrylic (cured with ultraviolet light, so there are no polluting solvents). Engineered hardwood is usually made from rotary cut lumber, which uses almost 100 percent of the log. Attractive laminated bamboo flooring (Bamtex) is very strong and environmentally clean.

Many types of finishes can be used on unfinished solid hardwood flooring -- oil or water based urethane, Swedish, oils, waxes, etc., each with its own advantages. Prefinished solid flooring is also available.

Write for Update Bulletin No. 492, a list of solid and engineered hardwood flooring manufacturers, types of woods, sizes, patterns, prices, hardness/stability/finishes selector guides and floating floor installation details. Please include $2 and a business-size, addressed, stamped envelope, and send your request to James Dulley, The Buffalo News, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244. Or instant download at www.dulley.com.

Cheap, efficient landscaping

Q -- My landscaping budget is very limited. I want to landscape my home for appearance but also to make it more energy efficient. What is the best way to spend my $100 budget? -- R. T.

A -- With proper planning, landscaping can pay back its cost in energy savings. Plant several dwarf evergreen shrubs around the northwest (prevailing winter winds are from the northwest) corner of your house.

Since air leaks into many houses at the foundation, select shrubs that have foliage all the way to the ground. The shrubs also cause turbulence in the winds near your house and reduce the direct wind impact far down the walls.

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