How to choose the right hardwood floors

How to choose the right hardwood floors

Hardwood floors can make any room look awe-inspiring.  But which hardwood floors should you choose? With all of the options out there, picking the right hardwood floor for the right room can be somewhat overwhelming.  This guide should help clear up some confusion when it comes time to renovate.

Although there are several different types of flooring you can use in your home projects, from carpet to terrazzo, only one material is considered the go-to standard – hardwood flooring.  

However, there exists a range of differences between each hardwood flooring, beyond just the color of the material. These differences influence both the look and the performance of your flooring, so it is important that you know what you are buying before you start on your project.

Solid Hardwood vs Engineered Hardwood

  • Solid Hardwood – These are the more common and traditional types of hardwood.  Milled from solid wood logs and joined together using tongue and groove along the edges, solid hardwood is most often used when moisture is not going to be a problem.
  • Engineered Hardwood – These are generally made to be installed over concrete and are used to combat potential moisture problems.  With engineered hardwood, there are opposing forces within the board that helps prevent the wood from moving or shifting during expansion and contraction cycles.

Solid Hardwood and Engineered Hardwood are both beautiful and durable, but picking between the two depends on where in the house you are installing the hardwood.  Solid hardwood is best used in rooms that are ground floor or above due to its expanding nature in humid environments. With the more stable engineered hardwood, you can expect a tighter control on the wood’s expansion and contraction.  As such, it can be installed in any environment, including humid environments like basements and bathrooms.

Prefinished Vs Site Finish

Hardwood flooring is usually bought in two ways:  with a raw face that a professional will finish later once installed, or prefinished which comes with the stain and topcoat already on it.

With prefinished, you can plan ahead to match your home’s intended color palette due to the fact that you know exactly what you are buying.  With site finish, you are depending on your flooring contractor to get the colors right. Prefinished also requires less of a time commitment because you don’t have to apply color and sealant yourself.  

Despite these advantages, many people still choose site finish due to the greater levels of customization that home designers appreciate.  Experts in this field might prefer to do their own stain and sheen. They might also prefer a more continuous sanding job once everything is nailed down.

Types of Finish

There’s a lot to wrap your head around when it comes to all the different types of hardwood finishes.  To keep things simplified, you can assume that most finishes are either oil or polyurethane:

  • Oil Finishes – Oil penetrates the hardwood flooring making for a softer, more natural look and feel to them.  This type of finish scratches easier than polyurethane, but those scratches are harder to notice. In terms of maintenance, oil finishes are a lot easier to touch up and fix on the spot.
  • Polyurethane Finishes – Much sturdier than oil finishes, this type makes a harder and more protective topcoat on the wood making it resist wear and tear.  This type of finish is ideal for rooms with high traffic or activity, especially those involving kids or pets. Maintenance is a much more involved process when it comes to polyurethane finishes, often requiring total replacements of a board.  But on the plus side, maintenance isn’t required nearly as often as the less durable oil finishes.

Types of Wood Species

In general, the harder the wood, the more likely it is able to sustain extended periods of wear and tear.  Pick a wood species that both compliments the room’s design and that meets the hardness requirements for the expected traffic of the room.  While Red Oak and White Oak are the most popular wood species for domestic hardwood flooring in America, there are other types that might fit your needs better.  Hickory and Maple are harder than oak, while Walnut is softer.

Below are the most commonly used wood species for hardwood flooring in America:

  • Red Oak
  • White Oak
  • Hickory
  • Maple
  • Walnut
  • Ash
  • Cherry
  • Birch

Final Tips on Choosing a Hardwood Floor

  • Pets, kids, and high impact areas call for harder wood flooring.
  • Pick polyurethane finishes if you expect a lot of traffic in the room.
  • Engineered hardwood is the most durable and reliable type of hardwood.
  • Consider other species of hardwood to fit both the needs of the room as well as your budget.
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