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Hardwood Flooring 101 – Your Buying Guide
There are so many reasons to love wood. In addition to bringing warmth and beauty to a room, wood is comfortable to walk on, easy to clean, hypoallergenic and exceptionally durable. Hardwood floors will last a lifetime and can be refinished many times. A wood floor not only enhances your lifestyle but also increases the value of your home.
Hardwood Flooring Construction
Hardwood floors come in either solid and engineered board construction. Both are 100% real wood. If you’re thinking about installing hardwood floors, you’ll need to decide whether to use solid or engineered boards.
Solid vs. Engineered Wood
Solid hardwood floors ─ Solid boards are cut from a single piece of wood. Thickness and width can vary greatly, and surface treatments may change the finished look, but the board is still a solid piece of wood through and through. Solid hardwood floors react more significantly to changes in temperature and humidity. For this reason, professionals recommend installing solid wood flooring above or on grade (ground level) but not below grade.
Engineered hardwood floors ─ Engineered boards have a thick surface layer of premium hardwood showing all the natural characteristics and beauty of the selected species. Below the surface are multiple layers of composite materials fused together to create a board with greater strength and stability. Superior stability makes engineered hardwood floors more resistant to changes in temperatures and humidity. You can install engineered floors in rooms where solid hardwood isn’t recommended, such as basement and bathrooms. Engineered floors can also be refinished just like solid wood floors, although not as many times.
When it comes to comparing solid vs. engineered hardwood floors, just keep in mind that the key difference is installation method and location.
Both solid and engineered hardwood floors come in a wide variety of wood species, colors and textures. The specific type and style of flooring you’ll ultimately choose will depend on several factors, including board size, species, surface features, installation method, subfloor and the room itself.
Species ─ Today’s hardwood floors come in more than 50 domestic and exotic species. Domestic favorites like oak, maple and cherry are readily available and affordably priced. The growing popularity of exotic species such as acacia and rosewood have led many flooring manufacturers to include them among their engineered products, thus lowering their cost.
Homeowners generally choose a species for its distinctive look. For example, red oak has robust grain and color variation whereas maple offers subtle variation for a more uniform look. Exotic species boast more vibrant colors and diverse grain patterns overall.
Style ─ Aesthetics play an important role in flooring selection. Color and style choices range from lightest, buttery maple to crimson cherry; the heavy grain of oak to the chic, sleek surface of mahogany; hand-scraped textures with a rustic vibe to multi-width planks in a modern palette of gray, white and muted neutrals. Board widths can also set the design tone. Traditional strip flooring ranges from 1-1/2” – 3” wide and creates a linear look that can make a room appear larger. Plank flooring typically ranges from 3” – 7” wide. Showing fewer seams, wider board showcase more of the wood’s natural features for a look that’s more relaxed and casual.
When it comes to performance, you want a hardwood floor that can stand up to scuffs, scratches, dents and every day wear and tear . . . and still look beautiful. Choosing a durable hardwood floor is made easier with the hardwood hardness scale, also known as the Janka scale. Use the Janka scale as a tool to get an indication of how likely a wood is to dent or show other wear. At the top of the scale is Brazilian walnut with a hardness rating of 3680, almost three times the hardness of red oak. At the lower end are softer species like yellow pine (690) and Douglas fir (660). Strong, resilient red oak is the median standard with a rating of 1290. Hardwoods softer than red oak may dent or wear more easily. Of course, there are hardwoods so dense that they’re challenging to work with, meaning installation may require more time and special tools.