There’s no denying the beauty of hardwood flooring. These classic, aspirational floors can elevate the look of any space, adding warmth, sophistication, timeless appeal, and an element of luxury. And with plenty of variety in terms of species, colors, graining, and plank sizes and styles, there’s a hardwood floor for every home and decorating style.
Before you decide on your wood floor, it’s important to understand the different options available. You also need to consider the features that will work best for your home, as well as your lifestyle. Here’s what you should know when searching for your perfect hardwood floors.
Solid hardwood is just that – a solid plank of wood all the way through, typically ¾ of an inch thick. Because it is solid all the way through, it can be sanded and refinished multiple times, making it a long-lasting flooring option. Never install solid hardwood in areas that have a lot of moisture, like bathrooms, or below grade – at basement level – because it is susceptible to moisture damage.
Engineered hardwood features a hardwood top layer, or veneer, glued to a core usually made of high density fiberboard or plywood lumber. This construction makes it less susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity, so it can be installed in places where solid hardwood can’t go, such as below-grade, or over radiant heating or concrete subfloors. Depending on the veneer layer’s thickness, engineered hardwood can also be refinished – just not as many times as solid hardwood. Engineered hardwood planks are about ⅜ to ½ inch thick.
Engineered hardwood offers more of a variety in terms of plank width, with some products featuring planks up to 9 inches in width. Solid hardwood planks, meanwhile, should generally not exceed 5 inches in width.
The look of your hardwood floor is partly going to be determined by its species, or what sort of tree it comes from. There are dozens of different species, ranging from domestic types like oak and hickory to exotics like mahogany or teak. Some species of wood are harder than others, and the most common industry standard for measuring a hardwood floor’s hardness is the Janka scale. Here are some popular species you’re likely to find at your local flooring retailer.
The most popular hardwood option, most of the domestic oak products sold today are either Red Oak or White Oak. Red Oak is warmer, with pinkish, red or rust undertones. It features fairly high variation and natural character. White Oak tends to have cooler gray-green undertones and a smoother, more uniform appearance, with less character and variation than Red Oak. Both are durable flooring options, with White Oak (1360) scoring slightly higher than Red Oak (1290) on the Janka hardness scale.
Maple follows oak in terms of popularity of species sold in the U.S. Ranging from pale, creamy white to light reddish brown, maple floors feature a fine, subdued grain. It can be difficult to stain, but takes neutral finishes well. It’s also one of the harder domestic species, with a Janka rating of 1450.
If you’re looking for a hardwood floor with a lot of character, hickory might be the right choice for you. With its complex graining and high variation, hickory’s visuals are best displayed in long, wide planks. Like oak and maple, hickory scores high on the Janka hardness scale with a rating of 1820.
Although it’s one of the softer hardwood flooring options, walnut is popular with homeowners thanks to its rich, chocolate-brown coloring and detailed graining.
Cultivated from tree bark, cork floors are among the most sustainable flooring options available. Soft and comfortable underfoot, with great insulation and acoustic properties, cork flooring is a good choice for people who care about having an eco-friendly floor. However, its softness makes it more susceptible to denting and scratches. It’s also susceptible to moisture and humidity, which can cause warping or curling.
Another eco-friendly option, bamboo floors are made from bamboo grass, which can grow to maturity in as little as three to five years. Depending on how the product is manufactured, it can be as hard and durable as oak. While it’s more moisture-resistant than some hardwoods, excess moisture and humidity can damage bamboo floors, causing shrinkage, expansion, and warping.
Other visual effects
Other things that will affect your wood floor’s visuals include its finish, cut and grade.
Much of the hardwood available at retail comes pre-finished. There are different types of finishes that give the product different looks. Water-based polyurethane is the most commonly used, and is available in a variety of gloss levels. Other finishes include oil-based finishes and aluminum oxide. You can also buy unfinished hardwood and have your installer sand and apply a finish once the product is installed.
The angle at which a hardwood plank is cut determines how the finished product’s graining looks. Different cuts include plain sawn, which results in a varied grain appearance; quarter sawn, which produces uniform graining and a flecked appearance; rift sawn, which looks similar to quarter sawn, but without the flecks; and live sawn, which emphasizes a species’ natural character.
Hardwood flooring’s grade is based on how clear its visuals are. Select grade hardwood features natural color variations, knots, mineral streaks and other natural characteristic. Number 1 grade hardwood has a varied appearance featuring light and dark colors, knots, mineral streaks, and wormholes. Number 2 grade features more variation, giving it a rustic appearance.
There are a few different ways to install hardwood flooring. Solid hardwood is installed using nails. Engineered hardwood can be stapled or glued to the subfloor, or can be installed as a floating floor. Floating floors are installed using a locking or click system, and are not attached to the subfloor. Installation type, square footage, room shape, subfloor issues, and pattern or design preferences all factor in to the installation cost.
No matter the method, hardwood installation is not an easy task, and hiring a professional to do the job is recommended. Many local retailers offer installation services for their customers.
Maintenance and lifestyle
Hardwood flooring is known for its longevity, but it will require some maintenance and special cleaning.
Even if your hardwood floor is prefinished, it isn’t waterproof, so you should never use a wet mop on your hardwood floor. Excess water can lead to warping, swelling, or even splintering. There are several cleaning solutions you can use on your hardwood floors when necessary. If you spill anything on your hardwood floors, be sure to wipe them up immediately with a dry or slightly damp cloth. Routine cleaning should include sweeping, using a dust mop, or vacuuming using the bare floor setting.
Kids or pets running around can scuff or scratch hardwood floors. If you live in an active household but still have your heart set on hardwood, look for woods with a higher Janka rating, or flooring with more variation and character. The inevitable scratch or scuff will look less noticeable on a floor with lots of heavy scraping and saw marks than, say, a refined maple with light graining.
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About The Author
Proud flooring aficionado and office dog mom, "Flauren" has been a professional writer and editor for more than a decade (though she still maintains her magnum opus was "The Day it Snowed Slurpees," written at the age of 6).
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