floor covering and design...with a fuzzy side

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bamboo flooring: What everybody ought to know about this green, sustainable product

Did you know bamboo is actually a grass?  There are over 1000 species of bamboo.  Most bamboo flooring is made from the Phyllostachys Edulis species commonly known as 'Moso' bamboo.  It can grow up to 75 feet high and over 7' in diameter.

Typically, bamboo is harvested by hand, loaded on trucks and taken to a nearby processing plant.

The bamboo poles are broken down into 2m sections called fingers or fillets or even strips.

 (We are going to go with strips because I keep craving steak when I write fillet and fingers sounds just plain weird.)

During the milling, (breaking down the bamboo poles into the smaller sections...strips) the waste material (called strands) is collected to produce a very different type of bamboo flooring called strand woven bamboo. More on that later.

The strips can be either steamed under high pressure to carbonize the water and sugar  to give it dark coffee coloring then dried in low heat kilns to remove excess water or dried without the steam for a natural color.

The strips are then boiled to make it less desirable to insects (like termites) as well as making it less susceptible to the expansion and contraction that hardwood flooring experiences in humid climates.

 They are then dried in a kiln.

At this point, the dried strips are usually shipped to a processing building.  Most strand woven bamboo is manufactured in the same building where the strands are collected from the bamboo milling.
Once they reach the manufacturing plant, the strips are stored and allowed to acclimate before the process continues.

The direction of the desired grain (vertical grain or horizontal grain flooring) determines how the fingers are now glued together.   One on top of another (usually 15 strips high) for horizontal grain or side-by-side for vertical grain. Once glued, they are pressed under very high pressure to achieve the durability bamboo floors are famous for.

Solid vs engineered bamboo flooring

Solid bamboo flooring is comprised of only bamboo strips glued and pressed together.  It can only be glued or nailed.
Engineered bamboo flooring consists of bamboo strips on the topmost layer while underneath is layered with other types of wood. Can be nailed, glued or floated.

Back to the strand woven bamboo.  The strands (gathered from the waste when cutting the bamboo poles down to strips) are collected.  At this point the strands are either carbonized or left natural.  To carbonize the raw bamboo fibers are steamed under high pressure to carbonize the water and sugar  to give it dark coffee coloring. Both natural and carbonized strands are then ground up, soaked in a water based eco-friendly glue, put in a mold and put under extreme heat and pressure to create a beam.

 The beams are removed from the mold and cured for up to six weeks.  These beams are three times denser than teak.  

The beams are then cross-cut into planks.

The planks are stored to acclimate for up to three weeks.

Then the planks are finished.  Numerous coats of filler, sealant, anti UV and finish are applied.  All reputable bamboo flooring manufacturers use eco friendly water-based solvent-free products that do not contain formaldehyde in this process.

Strand woven bamboo flooring typically comes in only three colors; natural, carbonized and tiger strand (a combination of natural and carbonized).



Tiger Strand

Strand woven is twice as hard as regular (horizontal or vertical grain) bamboo.

 I'll be the first to tell you how hard a solid bamboo floor really is.  I purchased my floor from Bob Wagner's via Derr flooring and when the installer was putting it in, the staples from his staple gun were bending and required extra precision to get them to sink in correctly.
My dining room floor.

Carbonized strand woven bamboo in my dining room.

Why is bamboo considered a green product?

Because bamboo is a grass, there is no need to re-plant after harvesting.  It is cut at the base (by hand) then allowed to re-grow.  Because the plant isn't killed during the harvesting process, erosion does not occur.  Some bamboo can grow over a meter (3.28 feet) in 24 hours!  The majority of manufacturing plants are located not far from where the bamboo is harvested making the field-to-factory carbon footprint very small.

Hard wood takes 30-50 years to mature, while bamboo reaches maturity in 3-5 years.
The same square footage of bamboo produces more oxygen than many tree varieties.
Bamboo can grow and prosper in several different climates across the world.
Due to the durability of bamboo plants, no pesticides or chemicals are needed to encourage the maturation process, and they require much less water than trees.

The bamboo waste is used to make strand bamboo making it a zero waste product.

Some awesome videos:

Time lapse of bamboo growth over 24 hours:

How bamboo flooring is made:

A second video about the manufacturing process:

An explanation of what strand woven bamboo flooring is:


Click on photos for a direct link to photo credits.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The secret to preventing your wood floors from failing

To prevent your wood floors from failing (coming apart, pushing together, cracking or worse), you must first understand them...and they're more complicated than you'd think (like some people I know).

Come winter, Fall, Summer, Spring, wood floors behave differently.  They also behave differently depending on where you live. Why?


Ever notice in the humid summer months your doors stick?  This is because wood swells when it is humid.  The same can be true for wood flooring. Both solid hardwoods and engineered hardwoods are susceptible.  

The inverse is also true. Low humidity causes wood to shrink.

Any floor, solid or engineered will expand or contract with changes in humidity.  The wider the flooring, the more expansion and contraction. This means any floor, solid or engineered may and often does experience seasonal gapping or cupping (see below for definitions of gapping and cupping). Seasonal gapping and minor seasonal cupping is normal.  When purchasing a solid or engineered wood floor, your salesperson should tell this to you so you aren't caught unaware and think your floor has a problem after it's installed.

The amount of seasonal gapping/cupping depends on many factors.  Species, thickness, wood grain orientation and width are the main factors.  

Can you avoid seasonal gapping/cupping?  No.  In theory, you could if you maintain a completely stable relative humidity throughout the areas with the wood floors.  In reality, this is impossible.  Regardless of how tightly sealed your windows are, how effective your dehumidifier is, the humidity levels in your home will change.

35% - 55% is the recommended relative humidity range for wood floors

Good news.  You can keep seasonal gapping/cupping to a minimum (and avoid ruining your floors) by keeping the relative humidity within the recommended range. 35% - 55% is the recommended range.  A good flooring company won't even install a wood floor without checking moisture levels in your home and confirming the humidity is within range.  (if they don't, insist they do) Once they're done with the install it is up to you to see that you provide your floor a nice, cozy environment.


Purchase a hygrometer.  A good flooring company (like Bob Wagner's) will provide one when you purchase your floor.  This allows you to monitor humidity levels and confirm that your home is ready for the install.

 What happens if my home's humidity levels move out of the recommended range?

 Cupping, crowning, gapping, oh, my! (and buckling)

Gapping: low humidity causes the wood planks to shrink and move away from each other causing a gap between planks.


Cupping: The edges of the floor planks are pulled up while the center remains lower.  This happens when the top of the floor looses moisture but the bottom doesn't follow.  It can also happen when the bottom of the planks absorb moisture from the subfloor and expand.  Minor cupping is a normal result of seasonal relative humidity levels.

Crowning: The center of the floor planks are higher than the edges.  This happens when the moisture on the top of the floor is higher than the bottom.

 Buckling: Extreme expansion of the floor planks.  Usually caused by a water leak or severe moisture conditions.


What if the humidity levels creep toward the edges of the recommended range?

If your home starts to close in on the 35% range, turn on your humidifier.  Don't have one?  Buy one.  No doubt you've spent quite a bit of money on your floor.  If you don't want it ruined, invest in a humidifier.

If your home starts to close in on the 55% range, turn on your (you can probably tell where I'm going with this) dehumidifier.

Where you live will determine whether you are likely to need one or the other or both.  If you live in Houston, for example, chances are you'll never need a humidifier.  Live in Phoenix and you'll probably never need a dehumidifier.

For those of us who live in more seasonally affected areas, having one of each (or a whole house unit) is wise.

Typical seasonal impact on wood floors looks something like this:

Spring: low to moderate humidity levels, not much seasonal gapping in the flooring

Summer: moderate to high humidity levels, floor joints will swell and press against each other

Fall: low to moderate humidity levels, not much seasonal gapping in the flooring

Winter: moderate to low humidity levels, most seasonal gappinng occurs in the winter

Is there a 'best' season to install my hardwood floor?

Spring and fall, when the humidity levels tend to be the most 'average' for the year.

Just remember,

humidity is EVERYTHING when it comes to wood floors.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Where does cork flooring come from and how is it made?

This magnificent tree is called the cork oak tree (Quercus suber).  It typically grows in Northern Africa and Western Europe (namely Portugal and Spain).  This is where cork flooring (and all other cork) comes from.

Every nine years, the outer bark of the trunk and major branches is carefully stripped by hand using a specialized cork axe to remove the outer bark from the tree. Removal of the bark is always done by hand due to the sensitive nature of the removal. Below is a photo of a stripped cork tree.


A cork oak must be 15-25 years old (depending on who you ask) before the first harvest and typically sees 12-13 harvestings in its lifetime.  The bark is harvested in the summer months because the heat and humidity make the cork more pliable.  

Here are two great videos of the harvesting process. (I couldn't choose between the two -they're both very good.)

Once the bark is harvested, it is laid out to dry for several months. 


The cork is then boiled to clean and soften the planks.  The rough outer layer is removed.The best material in the slabs are used for bottle stopper corks (wine corks).
What is left over (the 'scraps') are ground up, mixed with a non-toxic resin binder and molded into large blocks.  The size of the granules and the shape of the grain both play a role in the look and function of the cork.
cork scraps

The blocks are baked in ovens which increases cork's durability as well as changes the color of the cork depending on the length of the bake. The longer the bake, the darker the cork.  The blocks can then be cut to size depending on the end use.

Flooring can be left naturally colored or it can be stained just like a hardwood floor.

The great thing about the cork granules is each one takes up stain differently, just like hardwood floor graining, resulting in some beautiful color patterns.

One feature of cork flooring most people don't know is it can be screened and re-coated many times (just like a solid hardwood floor).  This means once you install your cork floor, you don't have to live with the color forever.  Simply contact a floor refinishing company and they will come screen (remove the top layer, including the stain), stain and re-seal your floor.

Other cool benefits of cork flooring:
  • Can be used over radiant heat systems
  • Can be installed on uneven surfaces
  • Can be installed over existing flooring systems such as wood or linoleum
  • Excellent material to be used on retrofitted buildings
  • Natural insulation material
  • Great performance under heavy furnishings
  • Can be used as underlayment layer for ceramic, wood or stone
  • Superior sound attenuation characteristics
  • Warm, soft underfoot yet durable

So, cork truly is a green product.
  • It is harvested from trees without killing them.  
  • It is sustainable -can harvest numerous times from a single tree.  
  • The flooring recycled from the wine cork scraps.  
  • It can be resurfaced several times.

Below is one last video that does a great job of explaining the flooring manufacturing process from post-harvest to end product.  Worth a look for sure!

 If you have any questions about cork flooring, which types of cork floors Bob Wagner's carries, feel free to contact us


Cork institute of America

Real Cork Floors
Wineanorak (a super-cool online wine magazine)
MDPI (peer-reviewed, open access journals)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

7 ways to make your carpet last longer

Everyone wants to get more for their money -this includes their flooring.  Flooring can be expensive to replace so taking steps to keep it looking its best for as long as possible can be a big money saver.  It will also add to the beauty of the room.    Shawn McCully, owner of Dedicated Cleaning Systems, LLC, has been in the carpet cleaning business since 2007 and knows his stuff when it comes to keeping them looking their best.  Here are 7 great tips for extending the life of your carpet from a true expert.

a vacuum cleaner
1. Vacuum...often 

  How often?  There are varying schools of thought on this.  Some say once a week, some say once a week but hit the high-traffic areas twice.  Some say once per week per adult and dog (2 adults, 2 dogs =4 times/week)
The answer: 
  • No kids, no pets: once a week.  
  • Kids, no pets: twice a week. 
  • Pets, no kids, 2-3 times per week. 
  • Kids and pets, 3-4 times per week.

2. Check your shoes at the door(s)

a circle of feet all wearing Chuck Taylor's of various colors and styles

Everyone drags in loads of dirt from the outside on their feet.  It is unavoidable.  The best way to stop it; take off your shoes.  There are tons of super cool ways to store you and your guest's shoes.  Check out this pallet shoe rack bench constructed from an old shipping pallet.  Have you visited Etsy.com?  You'll find loads of storage products all hand-made by artisans.  If you have more than one entry, you'll want more than one place to store those shoes.  You may even consider a witty 'take off your shoes at the door' sign. (lots of them on Etsy also)


3. Get a door mat(s)

It may seem like an obvious suggestion, however the type of door mat plays a very important role.  Don't go cheap when it comes to door mats.  The cheap ones will eventually add to the dirt in the house because they only wipe off what's on the surface of your shoes and leave it there for the next person to track in.  Amazon has a decent selection of these. 

A quality door mat is usually made of some type of rubber material, has several layers of looped fibers and can be cleaned using a garden hose.  They 'trap' dirt within the looped fibers rather than leaving it on the surface.
If you're particularly neurotic when it comes to keeping your flooring clean, have two mats per door.  Use the rubber, dirt trapping mat outside and a softer, absorbent mat inside.  The one thing the rubber mat will not remove from your shoes is water so, on a rainy or snowy day, you can wipe the dirt off your shoes outside then wipe the water off inside...the one-two punch.

4. Have your carpets professionally cleaned at least once per year

A professional carpet cleaning using a truck-mounted hot water extraction system every year (sometimes more depending on...kids, pets, etc.) will extend the life and luster of your carpet more than any single suggestion on the list (except for the vacuuming).
Why specifically truck-mounted hot water extraction? Heat and suction! Portable cleaning units don't come close to generating the amount of heat required to get a good cleaning and once that solution has done its work, you need lots of suction to extract the water otherwise your carpets will be wet for days.
Tips: Ask your cleaning professional to pre-spray any stains and apply Scotchguard (or other spray-on protector) after the cleaning.  The cleaning itself will remove the protector that was most likely applied to your carpet at the mill.  Last thing: Make sure they rake the protector into your carpet otherwise it will only cling to the top of the fibers.

Yes, they make such a thing as a carpet rake.

5. Make sure you are vacuuming properly

Vacuuming technique
Yes, there is a right way to vacuum and a wrong way to vacuum and it makes a BIG difference. (Great instructional video below.)
There is a technique to getting up as much dirt as possible when vacuuming.  For each up and back stroke, one should overlap that stroke by about 50% -essentially vacuuming that area twice.  As you move from left to right (or right to left) you would take your first stroke twice then shift away from the edge by about 50% each stroke.

Also, don't be afraid to use the handheld extension.  This is a very important part of vacuuming.  Make sure to get the edges and anywhere a vacuum cannot reach with the extension bar.

Stairs are a different animal altogether.  To properly vacuum your stairs you need to make two passes.  First with the vacuum (if if is light enough to manage) and second with the extension bar.  Just pass over the tread (the flat part of the steps) with the vacuum.  This is important because you want the beater-bars to work up the fibers.  The second pass, use the extension bar and a flat headed attachment if you have one. Vacuum the edges, the riser and the lip of the stairs, then run the attachment over the lip a few times working up these fibers.
Why all the fuss with the stairs?  Stairs are typically the first area of carpet to wear because of the high traffic. (see the nasty stairs photo above if you don't believe me)  The center of a set of stairs fall victim to the most abuse because that's where people walk so extra attention is required.  Running the attachment over the lip several times will lift the fibers and help prevent premature wear.

6. Clean up stains right away

This one is kind of a no-brainer but still needs to be said.  As soon as you see a stain, clean it.  If you don't know how you should clean whatever it is that has stained your carpet, check online or call your local professional.  There are tons of stain removing resources online.  Scotchguard has a handy stain removal guide right HERE. The faster you address a stain, the more likely it is to come out.

7. Booties

If you can't get them to take off their shoes, make them wear booties.  This solution is handy for contractors and other folks who come into your home and aren't used to removing their shoes.  The booties will contain the dirt and keep your carpets looking newer longer.


Other suggestions...

These suggestions didn't make the top seven (some for obvious reasons) but or worthy of a mention if only for a chuckle.

  • Put booties on your dog
  • Send your kids to boarding school
  • Send the pets with your kids to boarding school
  • Set up an elaborate system of zip-lines so you don't ever have to set foot on your carpet

 And for the future...

Don't buy light carpet.  Regardless of how neurotic you are about keeping it clean IT WILL get dirty faster than a darker color.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Help pets in need with just a picture


We all love our pets.  We all love talking about our pets and we all love sharing pictures of our pets.  Now you have the opportunity to share a picture of your pet(s) and help a great cause.


1. Snap a photo of your pet or pets. 
2. Email your photo to media@bobwagner.com  or Tweet your photo to @bobwagners
3. Don't forget to include your name, your pet's name and where you're from.

That's it.

Bob Wagner's will donate $1.00 for every photo submitted in the month of April to the Chester County Pet Food Pantry.

Every Tuesday Bob Wagner's will pick one Pet of the week and donate $5.00 in that pet's name.

Update: As of Wednesday, April 23rd, we have 113 entries!  You can see them all on our Pinterest page. Keep them coming!

 The photos will also be on our Pinterest page (don't forget to follow us)



Small Business, Big Differencetm