Copyright 2003 The Hartford Courant Company  
Hartford Courant (Connecticut) 
November 16, 2003 Sunday, STATEWIDE

In the 1980s, carpeting was the mark of a high-end home.
But no more: Hardwood floors are making a big comeback.

  "From all of our anecdotal evidence, we know that [the popularity of]
hardwood flooring is growing," said Gopal Ahluwalia, vice president for
research with the National Association of Home Builders in Washington. "It
used to be that everyone wanted carpet in their homes. Now all they want is
  From the pages of consumer home magazines to the aisles of home improvement
centers, hardwood is being promoted as the material of the moment.
   "Hardwood is really expected in newer homes, especially those selling for
$375,000 and up," said Linda Sturm, a real estate agent in the Niantic section
of East Lyme.
  According to appraisers, flooring experts and real estate agents, hardwood
floors -- provided they are in good condition -- add value to almost any home.
A recent survey of real estate agents by the Pittsburgh-based Hardwood
Information Center estimates that hardwood flooring can add as much as $10,000
to a home's resale value.
  Before putting their Baltimore house on the market earlier this year, Kerry
Mitchell and her husband replaced the linoleum and worn-out carpeting on their
first floor with hardwood. They invested about $4,000 in the project.
  The new oak floors made such an impression that the couple increased their
initial listing price by almost $50,000. Their house sold in a week for about
$390,000. The Mitchells estimate the hardwood upgrades added about $15,000 to
the final selling price.
  In 2002, U.S. manufacturers sold 627.5 million square feet of hardwood
flooring, a 90 percent increase from 1995, when they sold 330.2 million square
feet, according to annual data from the Wood Flooring Manufacturers
  Why has hardwood become so hip?
  Some attribute its popularity to the age-old adage: What once was old is
new again. Others note the mind-boggling variation of hardwood species in
today's market, from exotic Brazilian cherry to bamboo.
  Sturm points to another reason for hardwood's popularity: the ease with
which it is kept clean.
  "People are busy now, and they don't have time to constantly vacuum and
clean carpeting. They have two jobs, they have children, and things get
spilled constantly. With hardwood, you just wipe it up," she said.
  Scott Brownell, co-owner of Phoenix Hardwood Flooring in Norwalk, thinks
that today's health-conscious culture also plays a part. Unlike carpet,
hardwood offers few footholds for dust, dirt, and other allergens, he said.
His company has been installing, sanding, and refinishing floors for the past
12 years, and has seen business boom in Connecticut's competitive housing
  The average hardwood floor uses 2.25 inch wide oak boards, according to
Brownell, at a starting cost of about $9 a square foot for materials, labor
and installation.
  Those with more unique tastes may choose American maple or cherry, or
imported species such as mahogany or cyprus, he said. Bamboo is also becoming
popular, in part because its quick rate of growth makes it a renewable
resource, Brownell said.
  Other popular exotic woods include padauk from Africa, a reddish-orange
wood with a coarse texture, and Brazilian cherry, a salmon-red wood with dark
  But those who fall in love with the look of 'antique' or 'reclaimed' wood
face an unpleasant surprise. Often pulled from old factories, barns, or from
the bottom of streams used years ago to transport logs, reclaimed wood carries
a hefty price tag -- around $25 a square foot.
  What species of wood isn't the only choice consumers must make -- they also
need to decide on finished or unfinished wood. Finished floors already are
sanded, stained and varnished, which means they can be installed in a day with
minimal mess and no waiting for the finish to dry.
   They're ideal for small spaces, such as condos, where it is difficult to
move furniture to a separate room, according to Brownell. Instead, the
furniture can be shifted to one side while half the wood is put down, then
placed on top of the new floor so the other side can be completed.
  With a finished floor, however, a homeowner can't choose one of the
countless sheens on the market, from blond-colored naturals to darker, richer
shades of mahogany and ebony. Finished wood comes in limited stains and
species, but the number offered is rapidly increasing -- Brownell estimates
that about 50 percent of his installations uses finished floors, up from about
10 percent a few years ago.
  Homeowners can also choose a more ornate style than simple straight planks.
For around $25 a square foot, wood floors can be inlaid with patterns made
from laser cutters.
  Despite the price tags of such stylish species, hardwood -- in all its
forms -- earns high consumer confidence.
  Last month, the National Wood Flooring Association polled 1,000 non-wood
and wood floor owners. Among them, 39 percent said hardwood is the easiest
material to clean, 57 percent said it is the most beautiful and 81 percent
said that it increases the value of their home.
  Brownell recommends dry mopping wood floors regularly, and using products
recommended by the wood's manufacturer for heavier cleaning. He frowns upon
the traditional homemade concoction of water and vinegar to remove stains.
  "When it comes to hardwood floors, save the vinegar for your salad," he

  The Baltimore Sun is a Tribune Co. newspaper. Freelance writer Liz
Michalski contributed to this story.