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The Great White Oak Demand Surge of the 2020's

Here at Steller Floors, we know that our clients love White Oak - and it's no surprise.

The natural coloration of White oak flooring is uniquely blonde and beachy among North American Hardwoods - and its hardness makes it a fantastic choice for active homes and light commercial spaces.

Steller Floors in White Oak QuarterSawnIn addition, quartersawn white oak is an architectural favorite. Quartersawn varieties are sawn so that the grain pattern is long and linear - and glimmering ribbons of ray-fleck are revealed. In this format, white oak is one of the most stable types of flooring available.  

However, fans of white oak have probably also noticed that prices of the material have increased substantially in the last 2 to 5 years, and it has been more so than other flooring prices. 

What are the main drivers of white oak flooring prices?

It is well-known that inflation has driven increases in prices of building materials across the board - but white oak has been uniquely affected- so what are the additional reasons behind white oak price increases?

In addition to inflation, there are three main drivers of white oak prices today - quality & world events, popularity and competing uses. 

White Oak Flooring Quality & Global Events

When you are shopping for white oak flooring, the main consideration you should focus on is quality - specifically because flooring is necessarily a long-term purchase. 

In the world of flooring, the war in Ukraine shifted world trade patterns dramatically - specifically with regard to the highest-quality, Russian-produced Baltic Birch.

Baltic birch trees grow near the Arctic circle and have a short summer growing season - which makes the rings very small - and the corresponding distance between bark layers very short - and the wood very dense. When these trees are found in old-growth stands, they can produce high volumes of extremely stable, dense wood. From the 1990's to the 2020's large flooring companies discovered that these materials in combination with nearby low-cost labor created  the ideal, highly profitable combination.

Thus, extremely wide plank flooring - specifically with white oak wear layers and Baltic Birch backers - became the subject of massive marketing programs aimed at architects and designers - which was extremely effective.

In fact, the ethics of using old growth wood from the Arctic and questionable, low wage labor were always a head scratcher for ecologists, and extremely wide plank materials are clearly not solid wood - because hardwood trees don't grow large enough for 8-10" wide planks anymore.

While it can be nice to see the wood grain in a wide plank format, engineered flooring is not so different from plywood itself - which carries a significantly lower-class reputation due to evidently lower quality. It was dubious that architects and designers took the bait - but here we are.

And then when the war in Ukraine began, Baltic Birch materials actually became embargoed, and even today in 2024 continue to face high tariffs and ethical concerns. 

Subsequently, seismic reactions in domestic American markets occurred in desperate search of alternatives - which increased prices dramatically. For many materials, like composite maple backers - long-term tests had not been done, and new engineering and production needed to be undertaken quickly.

Unfortunately for customers seeking ultra-wide white oak options, new replacements still are not completely online or even tested. This leaves clients with very few white oak options especially among high quality materials. Today, the old materials are still so desirable that folks smuggle them into the US via third countries - and this is obviously illegal and fraught with even more ethical issues.

At Steller Floors, of course, we recommend our own exceptionally high quality, real solid wood materials in sustainably sourced white oak that present a uniquely wonderful alternative to engineered flooring - absolutely free from all of the above listed ethical complaints and duplicity. And, in many cases our pricing is vastly superior to permanently installed alternatives.

The Popularity White Oak Flooring 

In the recent past two decades, white oak prices have also been driven by popularity. After the red oak heyday in the midcentury craftsman styles of the 1960's to the 1980's popularity dramatically shifted towards California-Chic White Oak, which increased prices slowly but surely - a trend that shows no sign of changing.

Ironically, white oak and red oak are fairly difficult for even professionals to tell apart, and styling can make a big difference in how your interiors look once your design is completed. Nevertheless - the color of the bark and the naming convention of these two trees has made a lasting impact on the pricing of these two wood varieties!

Competition from Alternative Uses

Interestingly, one of the most important causes of today's increases in white oak prices is competition- from craft bourbon whiskey. White Oak trees are the most important species used in barrel-making for the bourbon industry and demand for barrel staves is skyrocketing. 

In fact, the demand for white oak in the bourbon industry is so high that even lawmakers in Washington DC are supporting initiatives to preserve the species in an effort to support the beverage industry.

We are really excited to see this new interest in supporting the biodiversity and ecosystem health of our forests. With our team's extensive backgrounds in ecology and forest management we recognize how important it is that our company give more to nature than we take away.

Prices are Showing No Sign of Slowing Down for White Oak

Here at Steller Floors we definitely understand the concern our clients feel as prices rise, and so we also make the greatest effort we can to maximize the quality that our clients receive from each flooring plank.

That's why with Steller Floors you get industry-leading easy installation and fast repairs with:

  • 5" wide planks standard; solid ⅝” or ¾” thickness
  • Prefinished using UV-cured polyurethane, sealed on all sides
  • High quality (FAS/F1F) kiln-dried materials
  • 6 Appalachian species, sourced & manufactured 100% in the USA
  • 100% Wind Power during Manufacturing
  • Milled using craftsmanship tolerances averaging 0.003"

Ready to Get Started with Steller Floors? Get a Quote!