September 16/23, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 7
By Reginald Tucker
Wood flooring manufacturers have been agonizingly watching LVT and WPC-type products gradually nip precious market share over the past few years, and they’ve had just about enough of it. In response to the ongoing threat, many are responding by rolling out innovative new products that speak directly
to WPC’s competitive advantage: resistance to water and moisture incursion.
Case in point is Hydropel, the latest offering from Bruce Hardwood Floors (the flag- ship brand under the AHF Products umbrella). Hydropel, a waterproof, 100% hardwood floor, is an engineered product infused with proprietary technology to resist water for up to 36 hours, allowing it to be installed anywhere in the home, according to the company. This includes bathrooms, basements, mud rooms and entryways.
“There are sensitivities around hardwood to moisture, and we have addressed those directly with Hydropel,” said Brian Parker, director of product management. “It is real hardwood from top to bottom, and that’s what consumers truly want in their homes.”
Hydropel is built with a unique core technology, which AHF Products has termed ultra- high-density fiberboard. According to Parker, this construction is denser and more water resistant than typical ply-wood or high-density fiberboard cores. The density of Hydropel enables an extremely fine milling tolerance that seals the edges after installation and protects against everyday spills, wet mop- ping or even pet accidents from absorbing into the wood or leaking between planks into the sub- floor. In addition, a premium performance coating protects the hardwood from scratches, scuffs, stains and even indentations for a lifetime of durability.
AHF Products executed several different tests to prove the performance of Hydropel, including large-scale water testing, sunlight buckle testing and scratch testing. The company repeated these countless times to verify its performance. “You can comfortably live on these floors without worrying about damage from moisture,” Parker stated.
Other major hardwood suppliers are going up against WPC-type products by taking a page out of a different playbook: “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Specifically, more and more companies are utilizing technology that marries real wood veneers over rigid coreboards. Prominent brands that fall into this category include Opti-Wood from Wellmade Performance Flooring; COREtec Wood from USFloors; and the newly launched Raintree brand from American OEM. While they all may differ slightly with respect to the specific manufacturing processes employed, the goal is the same—give those consumers who were sold on waterproof wood look-alikes a reason to come back to real hardwood flooring.
“There is no question that wood flooring—along with most flooring categories—has been significantly impacted by the rise of waterproof products in the marketplace,” said Don Finkell, CEO of American OEM. “For this reason, we are introducing our Raintree product line, which is a real wood veneer on a waterproof SPC core. Raintree is an engineered wood hybrid that passes a 24-hour soak test, allowing it to compete with widely popular waterproof flooring that has previously been available in printed visuals.”
How it works: The wood layer utilized in Raintree is reinforced by a rigid and 100% waterproof Ninja H2O Core and is sealed against moisture by the waterproof and scratch-resistant coating, Ninja Pet Guard. The result is a solution for those with busy households but don’t want to sacrifice style or the value of real hardwood. “When I first stood on a large installation of Raintree, it looked every bit a beautiful hardwood floor,” Finkell noted. “But knowing it was also waterproof, I felt the future of wood flooring shift under my feet.”
In that same vein, Shaw Floors earlier this year took the wraps off Floorté Hardwood, which combines the attributes of waterproof SPC flooring with the classic character and feel that only genuine hardwood can provide. “Shaw Floors leads the hardwood category in innovation and is proud to drive uncharted advancements, from waterproof and water-resistant hardwood to advanced finishes that provide ultimate protection,” said John Hammel, director of category management. “These recent introductions and innovations provide our customers with industry-leading performance and give consumers greater peace of mind that their investment will last for many years.”
Not everyone is new to the wood/SPC hybrid game, however. Back in 2017, Wellmade Performance Flooring unveiled Opti-Wood, which features a real wood veneer over a high-density plastic composite core (HDPC). “The initial rollout of this HDPC product had a vinyl wear layer, but over the last year we have put bamboo as a natural wear layer,” said Steve Wagner, the company’s director of sales and marketing.
While several manufacturers have developed products that feature real wood veneers over rigid, non-wood cores. Wellmade said Opti-Wood differs in several critical aspects, beginning with the product’s HDPC core. Because it’s 100% “closed cell” and does not contain any air pockets, the HDPC core will not absorb moisture, according to Wagner. “When coupled with Wellmade’s proprietary surface treatment and adhesive application process, Opti-Wood is among the industry’s most moisture-resistant natural wood product available.”
Selling wood’s story
While some hardwood proponents are looking to recoup lost market share via technology, others are taking a different tack—making a case for selecting genuine hardwood over competing products by telling wood’s unique story.
According to Michael Martin, president and CEO of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), the flood of wood look-alike products—led by WPC—has created a lot of confusion about what is and what is not a real wood floor. To that end, the association recently revised its standards and definitions to encompass a wider range of engineered wood flooring products, which includes real wood veneers over non-wood cores. The goal is to minimize opportunities for RSAs to talk consumers out of buying a real wood floor.
Of course, there are some enthusiasts who believe only a product containing real wood from top to bottom can be defined as real wood. “We think it’s awesome that companies have been innovating with wood products, and we hope that we never stop trying to find the next great opportunity in wood flooring,” said Wade Bondrowski, director of sales, USA, Mercier Wood Flooring. “But I would caution everyone in their thinking—isn’t wood supposed to be a sustainable, environmentally friendly floor that has the least adverse health effects with a true green footprint? We are finding the real buyer is considering better goods, and they understand the added value to their homes.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about keeping wood relevant in an age of rapidly advancing technologies. “It’s all part of the natural evolution of the category,” American OEM’s Finkell said. “It reminds of a time back in 1985 when there was a debate among the newly created NWFA about multi-ply engineered flooring, and if that constituted real wood. Just like then, we are finding it’s necessary to expand the definition of wood flooring based on the technology utilized today.”
That’s why ongoing education is so critical. “We encourage the entire wood flooring industry to utilize the preference they have with homeowners and to work together so when consumers ask for wood floors, the supply chain is selling real wood instead of a substitute product,” NWFA’s Martin said.
In defense of wood, Martin pointed to the product’s pros: “It’s still the most aspirational flooring product and despite intense competition, wood is still very much alive and well.”