HowStuffWorks Ultimate Guide to Hardwood Flooring

HowStuffWorks Ultimate Guide to Hardwood Flooring

Wood Varieties

Antique Kentucky Chestnut Oak/Oklahoma Heart Pecan

Another crucial decision to make when you decide to install a hardwood floor is what kind of wood to choose. There are issues of both substance and style that need to be taken into account. For instance, light wood may be more appropriate for a casual setting, while dark wood lends itself to more formal surroundings. There are no hard and fast rules, simply select what strikes your fancy and fits into your budget. Remember that different types of woods can vary greatly in price.

Obviously, there are too many species of wood to list in this article, but let’s take a look at some common flooring choices:

  • Red oak — Red oak is the most popular flooring option in the U.S. Reddish in color with a coarse grain, it’s a stiff and dense wood that resists wear, but not as well as white oak .
  • White oak — White oak is brown in color but can have a grayish cast. The grain is similar to red oak, with more burls and swirls. It is harder and more durable than red oak.
  • Birch — Birch can range in color from light yellow to dark brownish red. It’s softer than red oak, but is still a strong wood.
  • Beech — Beech has a reddish brown color and a very consistent grain. It is quite durable and has excellent shock resistance.
  • Pine — Pine is a yellowish brown color and contains a lot of swirls and knots. It has a natural resistance to insects and is about as hard as red oak.
  • Cherry — Cherry wood is a light brown color. Because it’s a soft wood, cherry isn’t often used for a whole floor. Instead, it makes an excellent decorative or accent wood.
  • Douglas fir — Douglas fir is a yellowish tan color. This wood is about half as soft as red oak and can dent easily. It is only appropriate in certain flooring situations.

When pricing the different flooring options, it is important to remember that flooring is priced by the square foot. It’s a good idea to get your measurements first. Once you know the square footage of the area to be covered, you’ll be able to estimate the cost. On the less expensive end, you can figure that oak will run you about $2 a square foot. Woods such as birch and beech can run much higher per square foot. Though exotic and specialty woods can cost a great deal, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a new floor. After all, parquet floors can be as inexpensive as 99 cents per square foot.

As you are deciding what variety of wood to use, you might want to consider the relative hardness of the wood. The table presented below shows a relative hardness rating for several different species of wood used in hardwood flooring. The relative hardness is based on the Janka Rating system, which measures the force required to drive a .444-inch steel ball into the wood, so that half the diameter of the steel ball is embedded. The higher the number, the harder the species of wood.

Another issue in regard to the wood you choose is the grading of the wood. Grading is a system created by The Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association (NOFMA) to describe the appearance of hardwood floors. The grades take into account things like color, grain and markings. The best grades of wood are clear and select. These woods have fewer markings and are more consistent in appearance than the common grades, which may have a variety of markings.

Once you’ve selected the type of flooring and the variety of wood you want to use, it’s time to consider the finish.

Types of Floors

Choosing the type of hardwood floor that best fits your space and DIY abilities is an important step in planning the installation of your new floor. Don’t confuse floor type with wood variety — we’ll cover selection of wood variety in the next section.

For now, let’s discuss the three main types of hardwood floors to consider.

Solid Wood Flooring

Solid wood flooring comes in three main types. Each type is available in both an unfinished and a pre-finished version. Unfinished flooring must be job-site sanded and finished after installation. Pre-finished flooring is sanded and finished at the factory — so it only needs installation. The three main types of solid wood flooring are:

  • Strip flooring — This type of flooring is denoted by the thickness and width of the wood planks. Strip flooring has a set width, but the thickness can vary. Strip flooring ranges in thickness from 5/16 of an inch to 3/4 of an inch wide. It is available only in widths of 1 1/2 inches, 2 inches and 2 1/4 inches.
  • Plank flooring — Plank flooring only comes in two thicknesses, but unlike strip flooring, the widths can vary. It is available only in thicknesses of 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch and a range of widths from 3 inches to 8 inches.
  • Parquet flooring — Parquet floors have a very different look from typical hardwoods. They are made up of geometrical patterns composed of individual wood slats held in place by mechanical fastening or an adhesive.

Engineered Wood Flooring

Engineered wood flooring should not be confused with laminate wood flooring. Engineered flooring is produced by adhering layers of plastic laminate veneer with real wood. The main difference between this type of wood and laminate flooring is that laminate flooring contains no actual wood. Look for more on laminate wood flooring later in this article.

Acrylic-impregnated Wood Flooring

Acrylic-impregnated wood flooring is infused with sealant and color throughout the thickness of the wood. So, what is normally a surface finish is actually consistent throughout the wood. This type of flooring is most commonly used in commercial, not residential, projects. This type of floor is very hard and it is highly resistant to moisture and scratches.

According to the World Floor Covering Association. once installed, it is extremely difficult to tell the difference between a solid wood floor and the other wood floors. Solid hardwood strip floors are the most common flooring option, although engineered flooring has become very popular due to its low cost.

So, which type of wood floor would be best for you? There are several things to keep in mind when choosing the appropriate type of wood flooring for your home. Solid hardwoods may require a little more upkeep than engineered wood flooring, but they can always be re-sanded and refinished. If maintained, solid wood floors will retain their value better than engineered woods. In addition, deciding between strip, plank or parquet is, for the most part, a question of taste. If you like thin, long planks of wood, you should choose strip flooring. If you prefer the aesthetic of very wide planks of wood, then plank flooring is the best choice. And, if you have a more decorative look in mind — perhaps a geometric design — parquet floors will be a perfect match for your taste. Remember that plank flooring may require some extra work during installation, and its cost can be higher than strip flooring.


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