What is the Janka Scale?
The Janka Scale was developed as a way to standardize the hardness of different wood species. This allows consumers to have an idea of how well a floor might hold up to denting, scratching, and other wear. A Janka rating is calculated by measuring the amount of force it takes to embed a 0.444 inch steel ball halfway into a solid piece of hardwood.
How Important Are Janka Ratings When Choosing a Floor?
While Janka ratings can be helpful for determining the durability of a solid hardwood floor, don’t choose your floor based solely off these ratings. A higher Janka rating does not equal a higher quality floor. Additionally, no wood is completely indestructible—even the hardest species can scratch or dent.
When choosing a floor, consider aesthetics and price as well as species. A hardwood floor is a big investment for your home, so you want to choose a floor you will love, not just the hardest species! The finish of a floor can also improve its durability despite its Janka rating. For example, Armstrong’s Performance Plus line is infused with acrylic, making species like Walnut and Cherry harder than they would be normally.
If you have kids or pets in your home, then you may want to give a durable species more consideration. However, keep in mind that how well you care for your floor after it’s installed will also have an impact on how well it looks over time. A softer floor such as Black Walnut (Janka rating of 1010) could potentially last longer than a harder floor such as White Ash (1320) if the former is cared for carefully while the latter is cared for poorly.
What is a “Good” or “Bad” Janka Rating?
Red Oak is a popular hardwood choice and is considered the industry median for hardness on the Janka scale, with a rating of 1260. Species with a lower rating are “softer” woods (ex. Black Walnut, 1010), while species with a higher rating are “harder” woods (ex. White Ash, 1320).
However, a “softer” or “harder” species isn’t necessarily “worse” or “better.” The purpose of the Janka scale is simply to help consumers see which species resists scratches and dents more than others. A Black Walnut floor might be the perfect choice for one household, while a White Ash floor might be the more appropriate choice for another.
However, the species of wood is only one factor in the overall durability of a floor and how well it will look over time. Other factors to consider include:
- The type of finish
- The floor’s construction (engineered vs. solid)
- The traffic level in the home (kids, pets, etc.)
- How well the floor is cared for and maintained
You won’t typically find hardwood with a “bad” ranking because industry standards require that wood species used for flooring must be durable enough for this purpose. Extremely soft and flimsy woods like Balsa (ranking of 100), for example, are reserved for crafts or furniture. What makes a species a “good” or “bad” choice for your home really depends on your personal needs and preferences.
Where Do Engineered Floors Rank on the Janka Scale?
Engineered floors are an exception to the Janka scale. Unlike a solid hardwood, engineered hardwood is constructed by layering softer wood under a veneer of the chosen wood species. Because of these different layers of wood materials, which vary across flooring brands, it’s difficult to determine an industry standard of hardness for engineered hardwoods using the Janka scale.
If you are shopping for an engineered floor, don’t focus on Janka ratings. While the Janka ratings may give you some idea of how well the top veneer of an engineered hardwood may hold up against denting and scratching, you need to remember the test was performed on a solid piece of wood. Therefore, this rating will not be completely accurate when applied to an engineered hardwood of the same species.
Even if the Janka scale can’t be used to accurately measure the hardness of an engineered hardwood, this does not make engineered hardwood a “bad” or “less durable” choice. Engineered hardwood actually has wonderful advantages over solid floors:
- Because of their layered construction, engineered hardwood expands and contracts less when exposed to humidity and temperature fluctuations, making for easier maintenance.
- Engineered hardwood is more resistant to moisture, and can be installed in bathrooms, kitchens, and over concrete where solid floors are not recommended.
- Engineered floors are less expensive than solid hardwood because only the top veneer is the chosen wood species.
How Do I Choose a Durable Hardwood Floor?
If you are looking at a solid hardwood, you may want to take the Janka rating into a little more consideration if you intend to install the floor in a high traffic area or if your home has kids or pets. (Remember, Janka ratings don’t apply to engineered hardwoods because they are constructed differently).
Red Oak is considered the industry median for flooring hardness with a Janka rating of 1260. If you are looking for extra durability, consider Red Oak or a species that ranks higher on the Janka scale. Readily available and popular species include White Oak (1360), Hard Maple (1450), and Hickory (1820).
If you want a species that’s even harder, look into exotics such as Santos Mahogany (2200), Brazilian Cherry (2350), and Brazilian Walnut (3680). Hardwood is priced based on the availability of the species, not it’s Janka rating, so exotic species will run at a higher price tag.
No matter what type of wood species you choose, however, your floor’s finish will also play an important role in its durability. The finish is your floor’s first line of defense against dents and scratches and will bear most of the wear and tear from daily use. Whether you’re considering a solid or an engineered hardwood, finish will be a huge factor in overall durability.
Durable finishes to look out for include: aluminum oxide, urethane/polyurethane, and acid-cured finishes. Certain flooring brands might also have specially developed finishes for their products, such as Armstrong’s Performance Plus and Diamond 10 lines. When in doubt, ask your flooring retailer which hardwood products have durable finishes to suit your needs.
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