If you’ve been shopping for hardwood flooring lately, you’ve probably found that there are a lot of choices out there. And while all hardwood flooring is certainly made to be beautiful, the fact is – not all hardwoods are suitable for every home, or for every use.
Purchasing hardwood flooring is a significant investment in your home – and a fairly permanent one. So you want to be sure the flooring you select is one you’ll be happy with for many years to come. To help you make the best hardwood flooring choice for your needs, we’ve put together this hardwood flooring review.
Solid vs. Engineered Hardwoods
In selecting hardwood flooring, one of the most important decisions you will make is whether to go with a solid hardwood or an engineered hardwood.
Solid hardwood is made from one piece of solid wood – from top to bottom the entire plank is 100% natural wood. Available in various widths and lengths, most planks are ¾” thick with a tongue and groove fit. Solid wood can be stained and finished at the factory during the manufacturing process, or it can be sanded and finished after installation. And, if a high-traffic area becomes worn, or if the floor becomes scratched, solid hardwood floors can be sanded and refinished multiple times to restore the flooring to its original beauty. For installation, solid hardwood flooring requires nailing or stapling planks to an approved wooden subfloor, and installations over concrete slabs are not recommended.
One drawback of solid wood is that it can be highly susceptible to the effects of moisture. When exposed to extreme temperature changes, humidity, or excessive dampness, solid hardwood floors will expand and contract, resulting in gaps between the planks called cupping. So if you live in a coastal area where there is a lot of moisture in the air, if the flooring will be installed in a room that is exposed to extreme temperature changes, or if your home is built on a concrete slab or the room being covered is below grade level – solid hardwoods are generally not the best choice for you.
Engineered hardwood is also 100% wood. The difference is that engineered planks are manufactured by permanently bonding together multiple thin layers of wood, called plies. Each ply is arranged in the opposing direction of the ply above it, so that grains run in opposite directions. This cross-ply construction prevents the planks from growing and shrinking with changes in moisture and humidity levels, effectively avoiding the issues found with solid wood flooring. This makes engineered wood flooring the better choice for homes where humidity and moisture are a top concern.
Engineered planks range from about 3/8” to 3/4” thick. Planks with at least a 1/8” thick top wood layer can generally be sanded down and refinished, if needed. Most engineered wood floors can be glued, stapled, or floated over a variety of sub-floors, and they can be installed over concrete slabs and even over radiant heating systems. In fact, engineered wood floors work well in just about any room of your home – whether on grade, above grade, or below grade level.
The species of wood will greatly affect your floor’s appearance as well as its durability. Species can include woods grown domestically, such as EcoTimber’sAmerican Woods Collection, which offers five of North America’s most popular hardwood flooring options: American Red Oak, American White Oak, Maple, Cherry, and Walnut. Or for those looking to add the “wow factor” to a room, exotic woods such as those found in EcoTimber’s World Woods Collection feature the rich beauty and distinct graining of unique woods harvested from remote FCC-certified forests of the world.
When comparing species, you may see references to “Janka” numbers. These numbers refer to the Janka Scale, which is used to rate the unique hardness of a wood species. Generally, the harder the species, the more naturally resistant it will be to dents and scratches – and the higher it will rank on the Janka Hardness Scale. For example, Oak is a very hard wood, ranking 1360, while yellow pine, a much softer wood, comes in at a low 690 on the scale. If you are looking for durability, the most popular “hard” woods continue to be Red Oak, White Oak, Hickory, Maple, Ash, Birch, and Walnut.
Graining patterns within a species will also greatly impact the floor’s aesthetic. For example, woods with color variations and pronounced graining patterns, such as the White Oak found in EcoTimber’s Vintage Gatehouse Collection, can add more visual interest and rustic character to a room. While woods with smoother grains, such as Cherry wood can provide a clean understated look.
Looking for flooring that is truly one-of-a-kind? Many of today’s eco-conscious consumers are realizing the beauty and unique charm found in flooring made from reclaimed woods. Reclaimed hardwood flooring may include solid wood sourced from old barns, farmhouses, beams, and wood barrels, as well as logs salvaged from rivers and lakes. For example, Eco-Timber’s Antique Heart Pine Collection is sourced from the deconstruction of industrial buildings built in the Eastern United States during the heart of this county’s Industrial Age. Variations in board lengths (typically longer and wider planks), knots, heavy graining, original nail markings, and color differences all add to the charm of this eco-friendly flooring.
The Orchard Collection literally transforms the unwanted into something extraordinary. When post-agricultural trees out-age their ability to produce fruit and nuts, these trees are traditionally removed from orchards and chipped, mulched, or burned. EcoTimber turns these discarded trees into FSC-certified, environmentally-friendly hardwood flooring with a look that matches no other.
Factory-Finished vs. Finished Onsite
High-quality urethane finishes help protect hardwoods from scratches and stains and can add many years of lasting beauty to your flooring. Hardwoods can be finished at the factory – known as factory-finished or pre-finished. Or unfinished woods can be finished onsite following installation.
One of the major advantages in choosing factory-finished products is that there is no wait time for the finish to dry, and there are no dangerous fumes that you’ll have to live with while they dissipate from your home. Additionally, pre-finished flooring can be far more durable than site-finished floors. Typically, the pre-finishing process includes very tiny aluminum particles (aluminum oxide) that are added to finish layers to better fill spaces within the wood’s grains. Finish layers are also dried under UV lights, producing extremely fast drying times that make the woods up to three times more durable than site-finished hardwood. If you are concerned about formaldehyde, look for products that include the no added urea-formaldehyde icon.
For those who prefer the customization of installing natural woods, and then staining them onsite to match a specific color, on-site finishing continues to be an available option. Eco-friendly natural finishes made with plant oils and waxes, can offer easy application and excellent durability.
The finish coating is a top layer that adds extra durability to flooring. The type of gloss level you choose will not affect the overall durability of your flooring. So here the choice is strictly a matter of preference. Gloss level choices include:
- Low gloss – This low-shine look produces more of a matte finish that helps hide signs of wear in high-traffic areas.
- Medium gloss – This slightly shiny flooring also helps hide sign of wear and smudges.
- High gloss – While this highly shiny flooring can create a sophisticated look, it will also highlight signs of wear and smudges.
Hardwood Flooring Ideas – Room by Room
Plank width can help set the tone for family room décor. For a more traditional look, consider thin strips. Or go with longer, extra wide planks for a sleek, modern feel or to visually open up a small space. To highlight your style, woods can be stained in a variety of shades and colors – from light neutrals to deep browns and ebony tones for a bolder statement. In high-traffic family rooms, softer woods, such as American Cherry or Pine, are generally not the best choice, as these woods tend to scratch and dent more easily. Instead, consider harder woods such as Oak, Hickory, or Maple. Woods with smooth grain patterns will show more scratches, so they may not be the best choice if you have pets or young children. In this case, consider woods that include distressing techniques such as hand scraping, as these will better hide possible scuffs and scratches from daily wear – and can add rustic charm to this room. Reclaimed woods are also a great option. Remember, the higher the gloss level, the more the floors will reflect light and show more scratches. So satin finishes, may be a better option in well-lit family rooms.
In formal dining rooms, the rich beauty of hardwood flooring can be a real show-stopper. To add depth and dimension to a dining room with light-colored walls and furnishings, consider a dark, rich hardwood with subtle variations in graining. Choosing a neutral gray-stained wood is also a great way to give your dining room a modern update. Or for something truly luxurious, you may want to go with a rich-toned exotic wood such as a World Woods Brazilian Cherry. Eco-Timber’s Pacific Northwest Collection offers two lesser-known species – Madrone and Pepperwood, which grow only in America’s Pacific Northwest and offer an unexpected look that is truly out of the ordinary.
Additionally, distressing techniques such as hand scraping can also add visual interest and help hide possible scuffs and scratches – a plus if your dining room gets daily wear. Adding an accent wood border is another great way to show off your design personality in this room.
Engineered wood floors may be a more practical choice for kitchens, as these floors are more dimensionally stable and better able to withstand moisture. However, all wood flooring is susceptible to water damage – so you’ll need to stay on top of spills and use absorbent mats in areas where moisture is common. Mats with rubber backings are not recommended, as rubber prevents the floor from breathing. Generally, hardwood floors with the most durable finishes will hold up well in this room.
Hardwood’s rich grains and color variations lend a unique character to bedrooms that is unmatched by most other flooring types. And since high-traffic is generally less of a concern in this room, your options are limitless. However, in master bedrooms with adjoining bathrooms, consider factory-finished engineered woods, as these are more dimensionally stable and will withstand bathroom moisture better than solid woods. Durability makes hardwood a great flooring choice for children’s rooms or guest rooms. To add more texture, warmth, or softness underfoot, consider area rugs, which can be more easily replaced as tastes change.
While solid wood is more susceptible to the effects of moisture and humidity, it can be successfully used in bathrooms, with a few precautions. Adding extra layers of water-resistant polyurethane, in addition to filling cracks between boards with wood putty, will help prevent water from seeping in between or under the boards. Spills or standing water should be wiped up immediately, and an efficient fan or vent system will help minimize bathroom humidity levels. However, the more practical choice for bathrooms is factory-finished engineered woods due to their dimensional stability and ability to stand up to moisture.
Selecting a Brand
There are literally 100s of hardwood flooring brands in the marketplace today – all ranging the spectrum of quality. As with any other consumer product you choose, it’s always best to do a little research on the company you are planning to purchase your flooring from and check out what others are saying about the brand. Generally, companies who have been in the business a long time and stand behind their products with strong warranties are the most reputable.
Want more information on hardwood flooring for your home? Ask for advice from the company’s hardwood flooring experts.