Many clients who come to us often find themselves at the threshold of refurbishment, looking to renovate their house for the first time. Understandably at this point, they don’t much of an idea about what it is they want to do, let alone how they’re going to do it or with what. One question that we ask of those looking to fit new timber windows to their home is whether they are looking for hardwood or softwood.
“Hardwood.” Comes back the puzzled answer, “who wants windows made of softwood?”
This is a common misconception, for not all hardwoods, are hard, nor softwoods indeed soft (though this is generally true), and really the choice comes down to personal preference rather than durability. Balsa wood, for example, is an extremely light-weight wood, though it’s considered to be a hardwood. Their, albeit confusing, terminology instead comes from the trees that grow them.
Hardwoods come from the broad-leaved deciduous trees that typically lose their leaves seasonally, such as ash, birch, cherry, and mahogany. Whereas softwoods are derived from coniferous, needle-leaved, evergreen trees like fir, cedar, and pine.
As such, it is important to understand the different uses, and the pros and cons of these types of woods before you place your order.
One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is whether your budget permits for you to use hardwood. Typically more expensive than softwood, mahogany will set you back more than pine for a list of reasons. Hardwoods normally take longer to grow, and so incur larger costs before they are even felled. Once ready, the trees are themselves harder to convert into a saleable product due to the density and strength of the wood, thereby accruing larger labour costs. Furthermore, these trees are affected by the seasons, and their cost can be altered due to adverse weather conditions and a poor crop.
Softwoods, on the other hand, are far more sustainable, quick to grow and easy to deal with. This is why, for instance, you will find a lot of the lumber used to build your house is pine as opposed to cherry wood.
The next question should be, what is it for? Generally, hardwoods are more durable and less quick to decay than softwoods. Leave some oak outside alongside a plank of pine and you’ll find that the pine will begin rotting far sooner, which ought to mean that hardwoods should be used for outdoor furnishings. However, this is somewhat of a misnomer, as most modern-day wood treatments and paints will get around this issue, rendering some softwoods as good an option as hard for windows, garden furniture, etc..
This doesn’t mean that all woods, hard or soft, can be used for window frames. The light and weak balsa wood don’t suit windy areas and so isn’t used in the UK, whereas a softwood like Redwood can provide a cheaper and just as good alternative when dry and treated.
The final question is one of aesthetic. How do you want it to look? Darker in colour, woods like oak, larch and sapele have a deeper, richer and more lustrous appearance compared to their softer counterparts, with less visible annular ringing. Pine and spruce are instead much lighter, with more knots and growth rings, which can add a certain character to your home furnishings. In this regard, it comes down to what you want to create visually, with a rubbed down softwood offering a starkly different scene to a dark, varnished hardwood.