The appeal of hardwood as a flooring material is not as ancient as natural stone. Unfinished planks were not used in Europe until about the 16th century, but it did not take long for woodworkers to develop tools for meticulous sawing, cutting, and finishing. At the same time, finishing techniques such as the use of paraffin and oils also came about very quickly. By the 17th century, luxurious hardwood and parquet flooring had been installed in the Versailles Palace, and this is probably when the use of exotic hardwood species began.
At its most basic definition, exotic hardwood refers to imported species that only grow in specific regions. Brazilian cherry (Jabato), for example, is the most popular exotic hardwood in North America, and the same can be said about Australian cypress. In Brazil, however, Jabato is native species and should not be considered exotic under this definition, but this does not mean it is a cheap hardwood flooring option. At the same time, American pine would be considered an exotic in Australia, but it would not necessarily make it far more affordable than native cypress.
The costs of importing exotic hardwood will invariably make it more expensive, but there is another definition of exotic hardwood that is more appropriate in terms of construction and interior design. Certain species do not grow as abundantly as others, and they feature striking looks as well as incredible hardness. African blackwood, for example, is one of the most expensive around the world, and this applies to the Mother Continent as well because it only grows in certain spots of Eritrea, Kenya, and South Africa; in other words, we can refer to exotic hardwood in terms of how rare it is and how difficult it is to source.
To answer the question at hand: Yes, exotic hardwood can be worth its cost because of various reasons that will be explained below.
The Hardwood Flooring Advantage
Setting aside the origin of the species, hardwood flooring presents the following benefits:
- Aesthetic value
- Hypo-allergenic properties
With a few exceptions, you really cannot go wrong with hardwood flooring. The exceptions would be very busy kitchens and bathrooms because there is an expectation of liquid and oily spills. Contrary to what some people think, extremely humid climates will not completely rule out hardwood flooring installations; they are perfectly fine as long as proper maintenance is given.
As for the sustainability of hardwood floors, it should be noted that this largely depends on tree replanting operations. In countries such as Costa Rica, for example, aggressive reforestation efforts have greatly paid off over the last four decades, and the country could actually support a robust lumber industry it if chose to do so. Canada is another example of a nation where replanting of trees is taken very seriously in order to avoid deforestation and loss of habitat. There is also the reclaimed and recycled hardwood industry to consider. You can get amazing deals on exotic hardwood when looking for sales of reclaimed planks, and doing this will also have a positive impact on nature conservation. At the same time, hardwood is fairly easy to recycle into engineered wood or for other purposes such as making furniture.
The Exotic Hardwood Appeal
Ask any real estate professional about the high appeal of hardwood flooring, and they will invariably tell you that homes with this kind of flooring material are always easier to sell. Hardwood appeal goes hand in hand with demand; it is usually prospective home buyers with deeper pockets the ones who ask about exotic species upfront. Even if the hardwood floors are stained, nicked, and scratched, smart buyers know that they can invest in resurfacing and refinishing. The term “hardwood” is often input on Multiple Listing Service systems by house hunters and the real estate agents who represent them.
A significant part of what makes some exotic species so irresistible goes beyond looks. When we look at popular exotic species, durability is clearly the common denominator, and here we can evaluate hardness factors for the following species:
- American white pine
- Brazilian teak
- Douglas fir
- Brazilian cherry
Only two of the species above are considered exotic in North America. It would not be reasonable to say that Brazilian teak is the best looking because this will largely depend on the eyes of the beholder. With the right finishing, some white pine planks can look downright creamy and gorgeous, but you should not expect them to last very long. American white pine scores 380 on the Janka hardness scale, which is based on the pounds of pressure needed to drive a steel ball into the surface of hardwood. Douglas fir is twice as hard as white pine, but Brazilian cherry is eight times harder. Brazilian teak is the hardest of the bunch with an impressive 3,540 rating on the Janka scale.
Can you imagine a dance floor decked in white pine? It would not last long at all. Exotic hardwood such as Brazilian teak is ideal for heavy foot traffic, and it will also require less maintenance since it is better at withstanding the elements. This explains why Brazilian teak is often installed on luxury yachts.
Exotic Hardwood as a Real Estate Investment
In the luxury housing segment, prospective buyers almost always expect hardwood flooring, at least in the bedrooms and other spaces such as dens and outdoor sundecks. These buyers do not specifically look for exotic hardwood, but more than half will understand that they will be paying more for this feature.
If you already have exotic hardwood flooring at home, it is in your best interest to give it proper maintenance; as previously mentioned, buyers will not mind paying extra, but they will surely be more receptive when they see planks that are nicely polished and free of scratches. Homeowners do not automatically go for cheap engineered white pine when installing hardwood floors; in fact, the market for exotic hardwood is larger than most people think. In recent years, the average cost for installing hardwood floors is around $8 per square foot, which indicates that many buyers are opting for exotics.
When you consider the average square footage of American single-family homes, it is easy to assume that exotic hardwood installations can cost around $10,000; this is a figure that you can tack onto the price of your home when you list it for sale. These days, you can purchase exotic species manufactured into engineered planks that happen to be more expensive, but they are also more durable. As previously mentioned, if you are able to get your hands on a reclaimed lot of exotic hardwood planks, you will be able to realize considerable savings.
One more thing to consider about the cost of exotic hardwood flooring is how real estate appraisers will evaluate it when doing full home inspections. Hardwood floors are always positive factors in appraisals, particularly when the planks are cut from exotic species. Appraisers will also take note of the overall condition of the wood, but not insofar as polishing. In the end, exotic hardwood will most of the time justify the cost, especially when properties are put on the market.