The history of hardwood floors goes back to medieval Europe where unfinished oak or elm planks were often used in multiple-story buildings. Wealthy Europeans later began installing finer grades. When settlers began migrating to Northern America, wood flooring became common because timber was so much more available than in Europe. In the 21st century, wood is considered one of the most durable, long-lasting and most sought-after flooring options.
Unfinished, Lower-grade Floors
Unfinished, lower-grade wood floors lack the evenness of appearance and texture of higher-grade wood products. Some also require heavy sanding to make them even and remove all the holes and splinters. Wood flooring products labeled as #1 or #2 are considered lower than those labeled as clear, best or select and might contain these irregularities. The #2 products, in particular, are considered seconds. Therefore, while higher-grade products -- particularly the prefinished varieties -- are ready to install and walk on barefoot, lower-grade products might need some work before you can take off your shoes.
Radiant Heating and Hardwood Floors
Hardwood floors can feel cool on bare feet in the winter. While slippers and area rugs usually solve this problem, radiant floor heating provides the option of comfortably walking around barefoot any time of day during any weather. Radiant systems work by heating the floor from underneath. They must be expertly installed, however, to avoid problems like cupping, warping and buckling in hardwood. The radiant panel association states American cherry, American walnut, mesquite, teak and oak are more stable and therefore are better suited to radiant heating systems than maple and Brazilian cherry.
Barefoot Is Better
According to the World Floor Covering Association, shoes are a common cause of hardwood floor damage. Shoes often track in mud, dirt, debris and small particles that can scratch hardwood, and children running around in shoes can cause all kinds of damage. High heels are one of the worst culprits because of their pointed bottoms that can dig into the wood. Walking around barefoot or in soft slippers can actually help preserve your wood floors.
Choose Your Texture
Whether or not you want to walk around with bare feet will depend not only on temperature but on the floor's texture, which is determined by the finish. For instance, urethane and polyurethane finishes give hardwood floors an evenly sleek, smooth appearance and feeling while wire brush finishes soften the top layer of wood but do not provide the slick, shiny coat urethane and polyurethane does.