I recently got a good question from a reader asking for advice regarding some replacement flooring. Here was their scenario: “We just bought a house where most of the rooms and halls have a beautiful floor. Some rooms had a bad stained carpet so we got rid of it. We searched on the internet and we bought what was the perfect match. Today they came, and OMG they are way too dark reddish looking compared to what we have. It’s supposed to be the same floor by the picture but they don’t have the same color and black ends as ours.”
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence. Hardwood flooring, even of the same species and style, can vary dramatically from manufacturer to manufacturer.
A good metaphor for this phenomenon can be found in the printing world. Printers mix inks in order to achieve colors, much like painting. The industry standard is Pantone, using the Pantone color chart. This helps printers get as close to true color as possible. The Pantone system specifices exactly how much of each color ink should be mixed to achieve a certain color, which helps keep colors consistent from printer to printer.
So enough about printing, how does this apply to engineered hardwood flooring? Like so: Unfortunately, there is no Pantone-like system for staining or style in the hardwood flooring world. Each manufacturer will modify their wood flooring as per their specification. You may think you’re safe because your species is a natural, with no stain. Unfortunately, this is not so. Many manufacturers will stain photosensitive woods that change color due to sun exposure so that those woods’ color already looks like what they will darken to down the road.
So enough with the scares (it is almost Halloween after all, right?), what can you do to avoid this terrifying scenario?
Remember this: In the hardwood flooring world, color is king. Two engineered wood flooring products may be labeled the exact same thing, but until you have real live samples to compare to your existing flooring, you really have no idea. Also, please save yourself a lot of agony and do not base your color matching off of pictures on the Internet. (Sorry for all the bold passages, but this is important stuff, people!) This is in no way to disparage Internet hardwood retailers or to say that their photos are intentionally misrepresentative; the fact is that computer monitors are not all consistent in terms of color, so all web photos should be considered an approximation until you have a sample in hand.
In addition, if you are trying to match an existing floor, try as hard as you can to get the identical product from the same manufacturer. If this means contacting whoever built the house, or previous owners, whatever you can, because this is the only way to guarantee that you will get the most accurate match. If you can’t do this, then be sure to bring samples from the retail store or e-tailer shipped samples and compare them to your existing floor. (Also, make sure you specify to the retailer that you want samples that are representative of the color spectrum, so that you aren’t stuck with a patchwork of grain types and colors on one end and a mostly consistent grain type and color for the rest.)
It’s a lot to remember, fair homeowners, but your reward is a beautiful floor that’s consistent as well as the satisfaction of knowing you avoided the mortifying consequences of an unmatched floor. Now that’s scary.
Have a safe and happy Halloween!