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Birch Wood Flooring

A Good Hardwood With Unique Character

Looking for an alternative to oak or maple floors? Try birch wood flooring. It has the benefits of the other hardwoods while offering a unique and attractive appearance.

What's Special About Birch?

Several attributes make birch a worthwhile option for hardwood floors:
  • Hardness and durability that comes with a hardwood floor
  • Color variation from lights to darks to suit varied decorating tastes
  • Natural 'highlights' that provide interesting visual appeal
  • Pricing comparable with other common hardwoods

The Common Types Of Birch

There are numerous species within the birch family but several varieties make up the bulk of what's used for birch wood flooring. Each has their own characteristics that make them different from one another.

When looking for birch wood floors these are the names (types of wood) that you'll most often see:

  • Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)
    Paper birch is the softest of the birch wood floor types. It's hardness is about 910 on the Janka scale, a little bit softer than Black Cherry and Red Maple.
  • Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)
    Yellow birch is harder than paper birch, roughly equivalent to some oaks and green ash.
  • Sweet Birch (Betula lenta)
    Sweet birch is the hardest of the typical birch woods that are used for flooring. It's a bit harder than sugar maple, red and white oak.

Birch generally has a lighter sapwood and a darker contrasting heartwood. Boards that have both often display an attractive combination of light creamy shades mixed with darker red and brown tones. If you like this type of action and color variation, you'll find it with certain varieties of birch wood floors. It's this characteristic that sets birch apart from other North American hardwoods.

Publisher's Comments

This aspect of birch wood flooring happens to be one of my favorites and what makes birch stand out a bit. The combination of the contrasting color tones makes for a very interesting looking floor. To be fair however there are some varieties of maple that exhibit similar coloration. More about birch vs. maple flooring below.

And I should also note that not all birch flooring has these distinguishing features, particularly the flooring products that have darker stains.

You might see another 'type' of birch flooring called "red" birch. It's actually just the heartwood of the yellow birch. The lack of the lighter sapwood gives this birch floor a richer, more red-toned color.

Finally, any discussion on birch wood floors would be remiss without mention of "flamed birch". This is a name given to a type of birch that produces a visual shimmer or waviness which looks like tongues or waves of flames in the wood, usually perpendicular to the grain. This characteristic is also known as "curly birch" and is found in other woods like maple (such as curly maple).

Birch products with this feature will usually be advertised as "flame birch" or "curly birch". It's not that common and is characteristic of a particular tree, not necessarily the species.

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Cost Comparison With Other Hardwoods

The cost of birch wood flooring generally falls within the lower to average price range of other common hardwood floor types. Prices for flooring by volume producers like Bruce®, Armstrong® and Muskoka® are typically less than the more specialized producers that sell wide plank floors and flamed birch.

Here's a sample of prices comparing the cost of birch flooring to maple and oak from several online retailers. The prices are quoted per square foot and reflect material only.

Keep in mind that these costs cut across a range of products from unfinished solid stock to prefinished engineered flooring, and are rounded to the nearest dollar. They're simply meant to give you an idea how birch flooring costs relative to some other common hardwood floors.

Species         Price Range
Birch         $2.00 - $11.00
Maple         $3.00 - $6.00
Oak         $2.00 - $8.00

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Maple Vs. Birch Hardwood Floors

A common flooring question that comes up involves the topic of maple vs. birch flooring and just how the two compare. There are similarities both in color and physical characteristics but you have to drill down to the finer details to understand their differences.

Maple Vs Birch Flooring In Appearance

The visual similarities between birch and maple center around their color and grain texture. Both woods share a light sapwood (the area toward the outside of the tree) with darker reddish/brown tones in the heartwood (the wood that's closer to the center of the tree).

If anything can be said for the differences in this category it's probably that this color distinction may be more pronounced in birch. But arguably that's very variable depending on the characteristics of a particular tree.

However there are grades of birch that are predominantly made up of heartwood and have the characteristic darker red and brown color notes. These grades or "lots" of wood are referred to and sold as red birch and this sets them apart from maple.

Birch Vs. Maple Floors Relative To Hardness

When speaking in very generic terms relative to species like "maple" and "birch", the physical characteristics of the two can be said to be similar. Both have varieties that are softer and harder. But the devil is in the details. You have to separate out the specific varieties to see the differences.

birch wood flooring

For example, per the USDA Wood Handbook (A US Dept. Of Agriculture reference on the physical and structural characteristics of wood) maple is divided into both hard and soft varieties.

The hardest maple is Sugar Maple, with a hardness value of 1450. Other maples like Silver Maple are qualified as soft maples, with a hardness value of 700 (higher values mean greater hardness).

Comparatively, birch has its own hard-and-soft varieties. Yellow birch has a hardness of 1260 and Sweet Birch is even harder at 1470, just slightly harder than Sugar Maple. Paper Birch comes in on the low end with a hardness of 910.

Sorting Out The Differences

When you're choosing a type of wood flooring you want a wood that's going to be durable. But one of the biggest factors is how it's going to look in your home, along with how much it's going to cost. The similarities between between maple and birch flooring are such that your decision really comes down to finding the right combination of looks and price point.

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So Is Birch Good For A Wood Floor Choice?

Birch hardwood flooring is certainly a good option, for the reasons mentioned at the top of the page. It has beauty, durability and it's cost is in line with other widely-used types of hardwood flooring.

Publisher's Comments

Let's talk about hardness for a moment. Any wood, particularly a wood floor, is not indestructible and is going to show the effects of wear and tear over time. I've seen customer feedback for various types of wood flooring, birch included, that complained of it being too soft and showing dents.

The wood flooring we installed during our home remodel exhibited some blemishes after a couple of years. It has dents from things we've dropped to a couple of "track marks" from when the refrigerator had to be rolled out. Needless to say, I'm sure there will be more.

The point here is that your expectation shouldn't be that your wood floor, even a birch floor which has a high hardness value, won't ever dent or scratch. Granted, it shouldn't be like you're walking on eggshells. But wood varies among species and even within a particular species. Some will stand up better than others. Some people hear the term "hard" and think that that the floor will withstand anything. I personally don't think that's sensible.

Buy a wood floor with reasonable, not unrealistic expectations. If you like the look of birch and find a product that meets your budget and aesthetic desires, go for it. Just remember that at some point you're going to see some dings, regardless of what type of wood you choose.

I'll step off my birch soapbox now.

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Finding A Local Source

Birch flooring is not as prevalent as maple or oak but it's not "rare" either so it's not that difficult to find. In fact it's available from a variety of sources, from the established flooring manufacturers to the smaller, specialized producers of hardwood floors.

Birch is offered in solid and engineered form. Engineered varieties are prefinished whereas solid birch flooring is available prefinished or unfinished. Just remember that there's more work involved with unfinished hardwood floors.

If you're interested in birch (or any other type of wood for that matter) and need a hardwood flooring specialist, fill out the form below to have qualified specialists contact you. This service provides a means to have local flooring contractors contact you and provide a free, no-obligation quote for your particular flooring project.

At a minimum, it's a way to get the ball rolling on determining who in your area can provide what you're looking for as well as learning what the cost might be.

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Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Choosing Wood Flooring - Choosing the right wood flooring might seem like an overwhelming task. This article makes it easy to learn what you should know about wood floors and how to go about making the right choice.

Wide Plank Wood Flooring - Wide plank flooring offers a distinctive style that's different from standard narrower width wood floors. Find out what's available in this article on wide plank wood floors.

Exotic Hardwood Flooring - If oak, birch or maple doesn't suit you, check out this article on choosing an exotic hardwood floor.

Reclaimed Wood Flooring - Some of the most unique wood floors are made using reclaimed wood. Find out how to go about choosing a wood floor that has a history behind it.

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