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What to Ask before Choosing a Hardwood Floor

Updated: Aug 29, 2020

So you’ve decided to get hardwood floors. Easy enough, right? Pick a wood and be done with it.

Not so fast. There are a lot of factors that will determine what kind of hardwood floor your home can accommodate, and what will look best with your existing or planned furnishings and decor.

You have some basic options: solid wood and engineered wood. Solid wood is what you generally think of as a hardwood floor: thick, solid planks of wood. Engineered wood is made of a veneer layer that sits atop a core of plywood.

Here’s how to prepare yourself for choosing a hardwood floor for your home.

1. Where will the wood be going?

Installing hardwood floors on a second story is much different than doing so in a basement. A space beneath ground level is what’s known as below grade. A floor that’s even with the outside ground level is on grade, and any floors above this are above grade.

2. What is the subfloor made of? Find out what kind of subfloor you have. The three most common types are concrete slab, plywood and particleboard. This will help you determine whether you can install solid wood floors, or if an engineered wood would be best.

3. What are your living habits? Think about how much abuse your floors will take and learn about specific wood species and their durability. Do you have kids and pets? Have large parties often? Or are you a single person who travels a lot?

If you have a high-traffic house, you’ll want to go with a harder wood. The Janka scale measures how strong a wood is; basically a BB is fired into a plank and the size of the dent it leaves is measured. You can also play with grain patterns as well as with stains and finishes that will hide dents and scratches.

4. What style is your home? You might love the look of hickory but then think differently when you see it covering a floor in a kitchen with modern cabinets. That’s because some woods lend themselves better to certain styles.

When choosing a wood, consider cabinets, trim work and door casings to make sure the wood won’t clash with other design elements. And coordinate with the colors of the walls and the amount of natural light. This will affect color choice. If you have a lot of windows and skylights, then you probably have enough light to balance out really dark floors. If you have a dark house already, a lighter floor choice will help brighten things.

5. What’s important to you? Is budget the biggest factor? Or is the appearance all you care about? Determining what’s most important to you will help you determine the right wood for your floor.

Maintenance. If you want something that will hold up over time, you'll want to look at the harder woods.

The traditional method for staining wood uses a polyurethane finish, which produces a higher sheen. If the floor gets dinged or scratched, light bouncing off the semigloss finish can exacerbate the appearance of those flaws.

Oil finishes are increasingly becoming more popular these days. They soak into the wood and provide a more matte finish. This can help hide wear and tear; plus, they last longer. While the up-front cost is higher, you won’t need to re stain the floor as often, saving you money in the long run.

Appearance. Everyone’s preference is different. Some people are attracted to oak more than walnut, and vice versa.

Pay attention to knots and grain pattern. Patterns in hickory and maple are different than in oak. You might want to spend the extra money for a unique grain pattern, or you may want to save money and go with a less-expensive wood with a better stain. Consider plank width, too, which alters the appearance of your hardwood floors. Wide-plank oak are popular in traditional homes at the moment.

The best thing you can do is see and feel the wood in person. “Wood is a living species. You need to feel what you’re attracted to. You’re the one living in the house

Learn more about French Oak Floors download our helpful flooring brochure.

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