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Hardwood Flooring Product Profile: What Is Birch?

birch wood floors bedroom

Birch is a varied species with distinct characteristics that make for great flooring. Learn more about varieties of birch right here, particularly silver birch.


When I was growing up, I always dreamed of birch bark canoes.

Living on the west coast, however, I hadn’t seen many (if any) birch trees. Canoes in my neck of the woods were carved by hand out of cedar, the heartwood set aflame to ease the process of digging out the log and crafting a fine vessel.

In my childhood textbooks, however, we learned about the ancient crafts of aboriginal communities across the nation, with the birch bark canoe seeming the most romantic of vessels. Light and easy to steer even for those new to the New World, these boats navigated the Great Lakes and rivers with ease, and carried people to the most remote wildernesses of the north without fail.

Of course, that meant that I wanted to build one. Imagining myself accompanying a native princess, I would be able to travel far and wide with a canoe and an oar, over all of our inland waterways.

These days, however, I tend to think of birch as more decorative and less as a means of transportation. Silver birch, the most readily available of the North American varieties of this tree, has similar features to maple wood but is much less expensive. Here’s more on why birch wood floors are a wonderful product to add to your home.

Silver birch stats

birch hardwood floor close up

Jasper Hardwood – Canadian Northern Birch Mistral Collection “Natural” from BuildDirect.

Latin name: Betula pendula
Janka Hardness rating: 1210
Common color spectrum: White to light reddish brown
Stability: Perishable

A birch is a birch is a birch. Or is it?

Like many species, birch aren’t all the same, but come in a variety of species. Nonetheless, birch is a little bit different from all the rest because these species differ in many significant ways, so it pays to be careful about what you’re buying.

For example, while silver birch, which is the most popular for flooring products, comes with a Janka hardness rating of 1210, sweet birch is the hardest variety, rated 1470, and paper birch is only 910. This means that there is a significant range in flooring hardness and capacity, and as a result many birch products are engineered for greater hardness. Silver birch, however, will hold up well in any home.

Mixing and matching

Color may be a confusing factor with birch, and something you ought to consider carefully before making your final choice. Although most tones are a similar shade of white or cream, like maple wood birch will turn a greyish tone when stained. This is an excellent choice for a modern interior, but it may not be a preferred style for a more traditional home. If you’re buying a raw, untreated wood floor thinking that you will stain it yourself, consider what the final outcome will be.

stained birch hardwood flooring

Jasper Hardwood – Canadian Northern Birch Mistral Collection “Espresso” from BuildDirect.

As well, it pays to look at each birch species and subspecies carefully. For example, red birch isn’t a species unto itself, but instead is the heartwood of the yellow birch tree. Yellow birch heartwood looks redder than other varieties, and has a respectable Janka hardness rating of 1260, so it’s a great all-round option for your home, but the color will be best served by a transparent top coat rather than a stain so that its natural grain will shine through.

birch flooring in the hallway

Keeping the fire alive

Flame birch, also known as curly birch, is a unique cut of the wood that looks like shimmering waves. Similar to quarter-sawn oak, this happens when the wood is cut in a manner perpendicular to the grain, and it’s only available with silver birch products.

Because it requires a steady hand and a careful production process, flame birch is often seen as too expensive for flooring, but it’s a popular choice for high-end furniture and will complement your birch floor perfectly.

A beautiful floor at an affordable price

While it would be wonderful to travel by birch bark canoe, birds chirping around us and fish leaping from the waves as we wander the world, we know that we can’t all live in a fairytale. (Although, wouldn’t that be wonderful?)

At the same time, we can bring the romance of birch into our homes, knowing that it’s a safe choice for families, and, as an alternative to maple, birch hardwood is an excellent option for budget conscious style. A North American grown product like this will add value and quality to your home, and offer the most modern interior design options on the market today.

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