Thinking of installing hardwood flooring in your space? Well, you’re not alone. In fact, hardwood remains the worldwide gold standard for floor covering. And with good reason.
- Finding High-quality Hardwood Floors
- Facts about Engineered Hardwood
- The Lowdown on Reclaimed Wood
- Unfinished vs. Prefinished Hardwood
- Hardwood Pricing Guide
- Brands & Reviews
- The Wrap-Up
No other flooring material has stood the test of time while offering the versatility and style of hardwood. Of course, there are drawbacks to choosing hardwood, but is it worth the risks?
Only you can decide, but we’ve compiled this guide to help make the process easier. So, if you’re ready to delve into the world of hardwood flooring, let’s get started.
First up, the pros and cons.
- Ability to Refinish
- Property Value
- Natural Look
Ever wonder why hardwoods so popular? Maybe it’s because hardwood floors transcend time and style changes. That’s why many homeowners opt to pay more for the look.
Unlike laminate, carpeting and even some types of tile, hardwood will never go out of style. Sure, you may have to refresh it. But it’s a lot less work to refinish a floor than it is to remove and replace it.
2. Able to be Refinished
Yes, we’ve all heard the argument that hardwood floors are susceptible to damage. And yes, there’s a lot of truth to that. But, how many other types of flooring can you restore to look brand new after 100 years?
Think about it. If you install your hardwood when your children are young, you can expect wear and tear. But once your children age, you can restore that flooring to look as good as it did the day you installed it.
The best part? No Swiss bank account or massive demolition required.
Despite its fussy reputation, hardwood flooring is notably durable. Depending on the species you buy, you may be surprised how much of a beating these floors can handle.
Strictly looking at Hardwood vs Tile, there are hardwood species that can simply hold up to foot traffic better. Still skeptical? Grab a sample of hardwood from your nearest home improvement store and test it out.
You’ll be impressed how much effort it takes to blemish it. For that reason, dense wood like Oak and Cherry make great choices for high traffic areas.
If you battle seasonal allergies, you’ll be happy to know hardwood repels most allergens including pollen and pet dander.
Even the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends hardwood flooring for those who have asthma. If you have little ones who spend time on the floor, you’ll appreciate how easy it is to sanitize hardwood and keep it germ-free.
No one likes to spend hours cleaning their floors. Nor should they have to. That’s why hardwood flooring is an excellent choice for busy homes.
Yes, you’ll have to sweep up or use a hardwood floor vacuum a few times a week. And yes, you should damp mop your floors regularly to keep them sanitized. But in general, hardwood floors are one of the simplest floors to maintain.
The trick is to protect your floors from day one. Make sure you use mats under pet dishes and coasters under your furniture. And if you’re worried about stains, don’t be. Most hardwood won’t discolor as long as spills are wiped up quickly.
6. Adds Value
Hardwood flooring provides an excellent return on investment (ROI). Not only is it cost-effective but it actually adds value to your home, even if its scarred.
If you follow the home improvement world, I’m sure you’ve heard that most homebuyers list hardwood as a must-have feature. If you plan on selling, a beautiful wood floor could help you command higher listing fees and even incite a bidding war in your favor.
Plus, hardwood flooring can also add a percentage to the appraised value of your home.
Thinking of refinancing? Then you’ll need an appraisal. During the process, the inspector will check the quality of materials used in the construction and design of your home. Having quality finishes like hardwood makes a favorable impression and leads to a higher property value.
7. Natural Look
Hardwood flooring is visually pleasing. The natural tones, textures, and grainings work together to enhance the atmosphere of your home. Plus, it complements any style.
For an open floor plan, consider wide planks and a rich, chocolate color. Not only will this combination make your space appear larger, but it also allows for better flow and a more cohesive look.
8. Environmentally Friendly
Since wood is a renewable resource, it’s popular with eco-conscious builders and remodelers. In fact, most trees are replaced immediately upon harvesting, so there is little to no chance of deforestation.
But there is a catch.
Not all wood is responsibly sourced. This means unless your supplier can show you a certificate ensuring your wood complies with international forestry guidelines, the product you are purchasing may not be as green as you think.
The agency tasked with enforcing wood flooring regulations is The Forest Stewardship Council. The council is an international non-profit agency that oversees responsible forest management. Council members work closely with farmers, manufacturers, transporters, and suppliers to guard against illegal production and trade.
When buying wood flooring, always insist on seeing the product’s FSC certification, especially if you’re buying an exotic species such as mahogany or teak.
Depending on which species, size and finish you choose, hardwood flooring can be a significant investment. It’s not unheard of for boards to run $15 per square foot.
If you’re flooring a small area, that may be reasonable. But if you plan on running hardwood throughout, you’ll need to shop within your budget.
You can find less expensive, quality hardwood if you shop around. A great way to cut costs is to buy unfinished wood.
Looking for another option? Check with a few local building companies. Often, they’ll buy large lots and sell the leftovers direct at a significant discount.
With the exception of carpeting, most flooring will make some noise. Hardwood can increase the acoustics in your room, and it does amplify sounds, but so does tile. Unless you’re holding a dance class in the living room, noise isn’t a huge drawback to hardwood flooring.
Nevertheless, many homeowners note their hardwood flooring is louder than expected. If acoustics are a sticking point, look into cork or vinyl plank. Both options will give you the look of hardwood minus the sound effects.
Hardwood is warmer than tile or stone, but it can feel cold in the winter. The temperature may be especially uncomfortable for aging adults or anyone suffering from joint pain.
If you’re concerned about cold floors, consider installing underfloor radiant heating. There are several inexpensive radiant systems on the market. In fact, most systems pay for themselves within a few years by reducing your overall heating bill.
Just remember, not all wood is compatible with underfloor heat. Check with your installer or floor representative before purchasing the materials.
4. Water Damage
Plus, water-damaged boards can harbor mold and mildew.
If you choose to install wood in a damp area, be sure to lay a vapor barrier beneath the boards and monitor the room’s humidity level daily.
Wood floors aren’t comfortable underfoot. They don’t absorb pressure or flex like cork or carpeting.
If you have small children learning to walk, wood floors won’t provide padding and may result in some bumps and bruises. Pets may also have difficulty adjusting to hardwood floors.
The good news? You can solve the problem with a few strategically-placed area rugs. This tactic also works well if you have hardwood floors in your kitchen.
A cushioned floor mat can do wonders to relieve aches and pains brought on by hours of food prep and cleanup.
For anyone who owns hardwood flooring, scratches are a part of life. Life happens, and when it does, your floors will probably tell the tale. But unlike many other floor coverings, wood can be repaired.
Sometimes it’s as simple as steel wool or a wax wood filler. Most scratches rarely go deeper than the finish level. And in that case, it’s a simple fix.
Rest assured even years of abuse can be sanded away. Countless historical homes still have their original hardwood floors intact. Plus, scratches can add a bit of character to your space.
Installing solid hardwood isn’t a DIY job. And good flooring contractors are far from cheap. But unless you’ve had first-hand experience, professional installation is a must.
Because wood is a natural product, you’ll need to account for expansion and contraction, and variation and transitions carefully. Because if you don’t, you’ll wind up with a giant and an expensive jigsaw puzzle.
We know you may be able to operate a nail gun, but there’s a lot more to it than that. So, unless you’ve got nerves of steel, expect to fork over some cash to a pro who does this for a living.
Still in the market for hardwood? Good. Let’s show you what to look for.
Selecting High-quality Hardwood Flooring
Most wood flooring falls into one of three categories or grades: Select, #1 Common and #2 Common. Each grade is measured by characteristics such as color variations, knots, imperfections and board length.
The grade does not affect the durability or strength of the wood. It’s a design tool used for measuring appearance quality.
Select grade flooring appears more uniform in color and graining. This means there are slight tone variations and minimal imperfections. These boards are the most expensive because the extensive selection process limits the usable material extracted from the tree.
The next grade down is #1 Common. These boards have noticeable variations in length and color. #1 Common boards also feature small knots and holes. If Select grade flooring is out of budget, #1 Common is your best option.
#2 Common boards have a rustic appearance that fits well with cabin or country interiors. The boards feature large visible knots and sharp variations in tone. #2 Common boards are relatively inexpensive and can add a ton of charm and character to your home.
There is one last grade, but it’s not recommended for flooring: Tavern grade. Tavern grade boards are a cheap flooring option—for a reason. They’re full of knots, machine burns, and broken edges.
Tavern grade boards are best for small projects in inconspicuous areas.
2. Surface Finish
Whether you’re purchasing prefinished or natural hardwood, you’ll need to protect it with a layer of sealer. Prefinished flooring comes with several coats of protectant applied, while unfinished flooring must be treated after applying the stain.
There are multiple sealing options available including water-based polyurethane, wax, oil and Aluminum Oxide.
Water-based polyurethane appears clear. This product is used in both factory finishes and onsite jobs. Water-based polyurethane has multiple levels of sheen and provides a strong, clear surface layer for your floor.
Oil and wax finishes are commonly used for on-site finishes. These products soak into the wood and form a protective shield that guards against scratches and staining. Both chemicals are easy to apply, but you’ll have to repeat the process every 3-5 years.
Aluminum Oxide finishes are exclusive to pre-stained flooring. These finishes offer the highest level of protection and last up to 25 years.
The downside? Hardwoods with Aluminum Oxide surfaces are more expensive than other materials.
As with any chemical treatment, remember to check for the presence of VOCs. If you’re buying a chemical off the shelf, the information should be listed on the packaging. However, if you are purchasing prefinished flooring; ask to see the product’s air quality certification.
The level of sheen on your hardwood will dictate how often you clean. It also determines how noticeable imperfections and wear will show over time. Selecting the right finish for your home and family’s needs will save you time and aggravation.
High-gloss finishes have 70% luster. If you choose a high-gloss floor, understand there will be maintenance involved. These finishes tend to show every smudge and footprint. As a result, within minutes of cleaning the hardwood, it may be covered in prints and smudge marks from your hardwood mop, your children, or pets.
At 55% luster, semi-gloss flooring is more forgiving. It will still reveal your less-than-stellar mopping skills, but every little mark won’t jump out at you as you’re admiring your hard work. Semi-gloss may be more appealing to those who consider high-gloss hardwood to resemble gymnasium flooring.
The next step down is satin. Satin finishes are the most popular among homeowners and designers. Satin finishes are 40% luster. They are easy to keep clean and offer enough shine to showcase your floor’s beauty.
Matte Flooring is a bit deceptive. In theory, it should hide smudge marks the best, but that’s not always the case. Think of it like this: matte paint highlights fingerprints, the same for flooring.
Matte hardwood appeals to both modern and traditional style, but it requires the same maintenance as high-gloss. If you have pets or like to keep your windows open, matte hardwood will show every speck of dust and hair.
If you’re looking for a mixture of aesthetically pleasing and easy to maintain, choose satin or semi-gloss. These finishes require the least amount of upkeep. Plus, they mask dents and scratches better than matte or high-gloss.
With that in mind, you should pick the finish that suits your lifestyle and your decorating tastes. If you love the look of matte or high-gloss, by all means, indulge yourself. Just invest in a few good cleaning tools.
Did you know the species of wood you choose can affect durability? In fact, some wood is denser and resists damage better than others. That’s why scientists developed a tool to rate the hardness of each species called the Janka Hardness Test (see video below).
This scale can help you choose hardwood flooring that compliments your home and lifestyle. Brazilian hardwoods & Ipe rank the highest, while popular choices like Acacia, Oak, Maple, and Hickory fall somewhere in the middle. Pine is a favorite choice for country homes, but it’s also the least durable.
When deciding which species of wood to purchase, it may be helpful to note Red Oak is the industry benchmark for hardness. It has a Janka rating of 1290 and is used widely in residential construction.
5. Board Thickness
The overall thickness of your hardwood also factors into flooring quality.
Solid hardwood boards should be at least ¾ inch thick. This measurement ensures your flooring is stable and can withstand regular foot traffic. There are thicker boards on the market, but they are expensive and usually unnecessary.
You can sand and refinish 3/4” boards up to 7 times.
As a rule, don’t buy hardwood flooring less than 3/4”. Thin, flimsy boards may cost less, but you’ll make up the difference in repairs and replacement.
Remember to check the edge finishes of your boards. And while you’re looking at edges, inspect the tongue and grooves for signs of damage or poor milling practices.
6. Color, Length, and Width:
If you’re wondering whether the size or tone of your flooring contributes to the quality rating; rest assured it doesn’t. These factors are merely a matter of preference.
Dark hardwood floors appear sophisticated and modern but show every speck of dust. Mid-toned to lighter colors are lower-maintenance and look amazing with any style décor.
When it comes to size, most designers say thin, long, boards look best in a traditional setting, while wide planks work well in modern and transitional homes.
Larger boards will have fewer seams and create a flowing effect in your space. But, again, it’s a matter of choice. It’s your home, and you should always surround yourself with what you love.
Looking for low-maintenance hardwood? How about engineered?
Facts About Engineered Hardwood
Engineered wood flooring combines the best of both worlds. This floor covering looks identical to solid hardwood but offers more flexibility in installation. It’s also less expensive than solid wood.
Engineered wood is available in three different varieties, including: traditional nail-down, glue-down or click-lock planks. If you’re looking for a wood floor for the basement level of your home, engineered hardwood is an excellent choice.
Quality varies, so you’ll want to make sure your boards meet specific criteria. The overall thickness should be no less than 5/8”. This calculation also assumes a veneer thickness of 3/16” and a 9-11 ply core. These dimensions ensure the flooring will hold up to wear and tear and provide a stable surface for your space.
For aesthetics, engineered wood should be made with quality saw-cut veneer, and have some variation in graining and tone. Don’t forget to ask about surface finish. The best engineered wood products feature an Aluminum Oxide surface layer.
Finally, It’s also important to check with the manufacturer that the boards you purchase come from the same lot. Otherwise, the finished floor will appear blotchy.
Want hardwood flooring with a past? Why not choose reclaimed wood?
The Lowdown on Reclaimed Wood
Not only is this material environmentally friendly, but it can also save you a ton of money.
This trend became popular during the green building movement. It’s a way of preserving history and gives homeowners the opportunity to purchase flooring made from depleted species such as chestnut and heart pine.
Reclaimed or vintage wood, as it’s often called, is made from salvaged planks found in century-old factories and barns. The reclaiming process includes dismantling the structure, culling the boards, paint and nail removal and finally, sanding and kiln drying. Once the boards are restored, they can be stained or shipped out as unfinished pieces.
When opting for reclaimed wood, choose a reputable supplier. Ask about the processing methods used in restoration. You’ll also want to check the moisture content and size of the boards for consistency.
There is no grading system for reclaimed wood, so do your homework before you place your order. Remember to request samples and photos of the actual product. Better yet, if you live nearby, drive over to the supplier and take an up-close look at the material.
Are you all about convenience? Or do you prefer customization?
Unfinished Vs. Prefinished Hardwood
Should you buy unfinished or prefinished hardwood? The answer is—it depends. Both products have their advantages and drawbacks, so the choice is more personal than practical.
Prefinished wood sports factory grade finishes that come complete with warranties. The color possibilities are endless, and they’re available in multiple styles and sizes. Plus, they’re easier to install, and you can walk on them immediately.
The best part? No fumes or chemicals from staining and sealing. What’s more, you won’t have to worry about dust or hair sticking to the sealer and ruining your finish.
Unfortunately, all this convenience comes at a price. Prefinished flooring typically costs $2 per square foot more than unfinished boards.
In contrast, unfinished boards are highly customizable. You can mix and stains until your heart’s content. Additionally, unfinished boards are easy to clean, and present a flush look in comparison to prefinished wood’s micro-beveled edges.
If you’re looking for a mirror finish, and don’t mind waiting a few days to walk on your floors, unfinished may be the way to go.
One last note. If you’re basing your decision solely on price, make sure you’re factoring the costs of having a contractor finish onsite. The savings may be less than you think.
So, how much will it really cost?
Hardwood Pricing Guide
Several factors weigh into the cost of a hardwood floor project. When preparing your budget don’t forget to factor in the price of installation, support materials, finishing, and waste. As a rule, always add 10% more to your budget to cover additional expenses.
Hardwood floor ranges anywhere from $3 per square foot to $10. That’s just for the product. The price is based on species, location, and grade. Exotic hardwoods will set you back around $8-10 per square foot, while Maple and Oak typically cost between $4-7.
Don’t forget to order between 5-10% more material than you need for waste production.
Installation costs depend on the size of the job and how much preparation needs to be done. Most contractors charge extra for demo, so you might want to tackle that job yourself. The average price of installation runs anywhere from $3-7 per square foot and typically doesn’t include extras such as vapor barriers or transitions.
If you have your floor finished on-site, add $2-5 per square foot for stain and sealer application.
Do yourself a favor and don’t let the price scare you. These numbers are the average, but there are exceptions. If you shop around, it’s possible to find hardwood you love for a budget you can stomach.
Ready to take on the stores? Here’s a list of popular merchants and a summation of customer experiences to get you started.
Brands & Reviews
Lumber Liquidators has gotten a bad reputation over the years. While some of their offerings are less than stellar, they do carry several lines of quality engineered and solid hardwood flooring products.
Both the Bellawood and Casa De Color series come in a variety of colors and sizes. These boards are durable and affordable. In fact, most reviewers note that their flooring has held up better than expected.
Lumber Liquidators stocks multiple species of wood and backs both the material and finishes with respectable warranties. Customer service is hit-or-miss, but ever since the companies widely publicized controversies, Lumber Liquidators has made strides in both quality and consumer satisfaction.
If you choose to do business with Lumber Liquidators, insist on seeing the materials certificate of origin and the FSC approval seal. Everyone deserves a second chance, but your family’s health is more important than forgiveness.
Other notable Lumber Liquidators brands: Builder’s Pride
Home Depot is an excellent option for those who want reasonably priced hardwood from a name brand manufacturer. This store carries lines from all the big names, including Mullican hardwood, Shaw and Mohawk.
Most products are prefinished, but Home Depot does sell unfinished hardwood at competitive prices. Quality varies, so you’ll have to inspect the material. However, Home Depot is conscious of government regulations and provides all consumers with clear documentation supporting compliance.
Consumer reviews of this chain are mostly favorable, and most complaints reference problems with sub-contracted installers, not the products.
If you’re looking for varied width flooring, take a look at American Originals by Bruce. Prices range between $3-5 per square foot, for 3/4” solid Oak. The boards are available in 14 colors and carry a lifetime finish warranty.
Lowe’s is another go-to source for hardwood flooring. The company has an excellent reputation for customer service and one of the best loyalty programs for active military and veterans. Like Home Depot, they offer price match, so it may pay to stop here last.
Lowe’s sells both engineered and solid hardwood. Prices are reasonable, and the selection is impressive for a big box store. Their online site displays individual product reviews, both good and bad, which gives the impression that they are not trying to hide anything.
Overall, Lowe’s is a solid choice for anyone looking for a mixture of price and quality. The store offers one-stop shopping and will even set you up with one of their trusted installers.
If you crave choice, look no further than BuildDirect. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more extensive selection of solid and engineered hardwood. Besides options, the prices are fantastic and many products ship free.
The drawback to this company is that there is no physical location, so you’ll have to take your chances with online ordering.
Another roadblock? There are minimum order requirements, so if you are flooring a small area, BuildDirect isn’t the best choice.
However, if you are working on a large project, check out the website. They have dozens of free samples you can order and will even ship them overnight.
Reviews for BuildDirect are overwhelmingly positive regarding both customer service and product quality. Some reviewers do express concern about the company’s international location, and the laws governing the sale. But, on a comforting note, all flooring materials on the website display in-depth information on country of origin and health certifications.
Floor and Décor
Floor and Décor is a big box store specializing in floor coverings and decorative home elements. What’s nice about this retailer is that they also sell everything you’ll need to install your flooring as a DIY.
You can browse through a vast selection of solid and engineered wood flooring priced within the $3-6 per square foot range. Additionally, Floor and Décor stocks several species of wood including Brazilian Cherry and Hickory.
Unfortunately, most products do come from lesser-known manufacturers. So, there is a bit of concern over quality and origin.
The store receives mixed reviews on multiple sites. But what’s strange is the degree of satisfaction. Either people love the products, or they’re disappointed. There is no middle ground.
Still, Floor and Décor show an 85% favorable rating on Google, but again, reviews are subjective. Everyone has their own definition of quality. Your best bet is to do some digging on the exact product you’re looking at—before you contact the store.
Feel better buying your hardwood from a dedicated flooring supplier? Try Hurst Hardwoods. This company has been in business for 25 years and has amazing reviews on every possible review platform.
Their online store is expansive, the prices are reasonable, and the information displayed is transparent and helpful. Hurst even carries exotic wood species including Tigerwood and Caribbean Pine.
Hurst sells both unfinished and prefinished products in multiple grades. If you’re looking for a bargain check out their contractors corner. Most products are discounted well below list.
In the market for reclaimed wood? Take a look at Olde Wood. The company receives excellent ratings on several popular forums and belongs to the National Wood Flooring Association and the World Floor Coverings Association.
While prices are a bit steep at $8 per square foot, their antique selection is unique. Their online gallery shows hundreds of images that drive home the beauty of reclaimed wood flooring. The artistry is breathtaking and even if you don’t end up ordering it’s worth getting lost on their website.
Notable Mentions: Bellawood
So, we’ve reached the end of our guide. We hope you’ve found the information helpful. Let’s leave our tour on a positive note by recapping the advantages of hardwood.
Hardwood floors are a long-term investment in your home. If properly cared for, they will last an average of 80-120 years. They require some upkeep but add warmth to your space and make your home feel cozy and inviting.
If you’re still on the fence, there are plenty of alternatives. You can achieve comparable results with a material such as bamboo (see our bamboo vs hardwood guide), cork, tile, or even concrete. But if you’re willing to put in the hard work, and aren’t scared of the initial outlay, hardwood flooring is a design choice you’ll never regret.