How to Choose & Install Hardwood Floors: A Complete Guide
The choice of flooring is one of the most basic yet important decisions a homeowner has to make when undertaking a renovation, as it underpins everything else. While there are plenty of different options, from carpet to terrazzo, one material is the acknowledged standard: hardwood.
But not all hardwood flooring is created equal, and selecting a product isn’t simply a matter of choosing a preferred color. A range of other factors can have an impact on both aesthetics and performance
Select Solid or Engineered Flooring
Traditionally, hardwood flooring came in thick planks of solid timber. Today, solid hardwood is still widely available, but many companies also offer engineered flooring—planks made with a thinner top layer of hardwood, bonded to other layers designed to prevent the floor from shifting during expansion and contraction cycles. “All wood moves in three directions: There’s tangential, radial, and longitudinal movement,” says Jones. “With engineered products, you’re creating opposing forces within the board to try to restrict the natural movement of the wood.”
Choose Prefinished or Site Finish
Hardwood planks can be purchased with a raw face that gets finished by a professional after installation, or prefinished, which arrives with the stain and topcoat already applied. The advantage of prefinished wood is that “you know exactly what you’re getting,” says Caroll, noting that once you select a product, you’ll have an exact sample to use in coordinating your home’s color palette and choosing other design elements, such as textiles, wall coverings, and cabinetry. Prefinished flooring also takes less time to install, because there’s no need to apply color or sealant. “When you choose to do a site finish,” he adds, “you’re rolling the dice a little bit, and relying on the skills of the flooring contractor to get it right.”
Choose the Type of Finish
There’s a whole spectrum of finishing products, says Jones, from penetrating oil to oil-like hybrids to site-finish polyurethanes to prefinished UV-cured urethane finishes. But to simplify, most finishes fall into one of two categories: oil or polyurethane
Choosing Hardwood Flooring
hardwood—just the word evokes images of charm, richness, and classic looks. Wood floors last a lifetime and gain “character” with age.
Board Widths. Select from narrow strips (less than three inches), wider planks (more than three inches), parquet squares, and—a new option—squares and rectangles. The traditional choice, strips give the illusion of more space, while planks impart a rustic look. Parquet floors, with the distinctive geometric design, suit formal spaces.
Wood Species. Hardwood species vary in durability, grain patterns, and color. Oak, maple, and cherry are among the most common species due to their hardness. Exotic woods like mahogany, and Brazilian cherry aren’t as durable, but are prized for their striking appearance
Colors. Hardwoods run the gamut from blond to black, depending on species and finish.
Textures. You can get hardwood floors that look shiny and new, or you can buy brand new wood that looks like an antique and adds timeworn character to your room Many manufacturers offer distressed and hand-scraped hardwoods that will disguise heavy use over the years and give the floor an appealing timeworn appearance from the moment it’s installed.
tips on buying hardwood floors
Hardwood flooring can add beauty and warmth to your Westchester home. It can also be a large and a long term investment. This choice can impact the style (as well as value) of your home, and you’ll be living with it for years to come. It’s ideal to thoroughly research the type of wood and the hardwood flooring contractor you’ll use. Sometimes, making the choice can feel overwhelming, especially when one ventures into a hardwood flooring store. This hardwood flooring guide can help you think through the choices.
Do you have a plywood sub-floor or concrete? You should know your options and limitations before you start as this can have a big impact on the form of wood you choose/type of construction (e.g. solid hardwood flooring vs engineered) and your budget.
Height constraints – You should investigate if you will have any height restrictions. Solid hardwood is generally thicker than engineered wood. Solid is 3/4″ thick and engineered generally ranges from 3/8″ to 1/2″ thick (and if you are adding plywood, that adds an additional 3/4″ on top of that. Check out your door heights (especially if they are exterior doors which a much more challenging to cut, especially if they are metal; interior wood doors can generally be cut, but they will add to your cost). Will you have any tripping hazards by adding the wood? This could happen if you are adding it some areas and not others, but the more commonly the issue comes up if you add height near steps so that it may change the height of 1st or last step. Also, if the hardwood is going in the kitchen (and you are not remodeling the whole kitchen), check to see how the height will be next to the cabinets and even more importantly next to the appliances. Is there enough clearance height? Will any of the appliances get locked in (check the dishwasher…it might be fine now, but what if it needs to be repaired or replaced 5 years down the line?)
What area(s) do you want to add hardwood flooring to? Is it the whole house? 1st floor? 2nd floor? Living room/dining room? Bedrooms? Will the kitchen be part of this work? What about the steps? If your current budget won’t allow you to do your dream list, what are your priorities? (Remember, you can do some now and more later).
If you have hardwood in other places, it’s generally better to match, especially on species and color. If you have solid hardwood, recognize that you generally can sand and refinish the wood to be a different stain color, if that’s what you would prefer. You don’t have to be locked in to the current color. (And recognize that it is much less expensive to refinish existing hardwood than to replace it).
Things to Consider When Choosing a Wood Floor
Homeowners evaluating new flooring owe it to themselves to consider the benefits and beauty of wood. Wood floors are comfortable, durable and surprisingly affordable, and nothing quite compares to the character and warmth they bring to every room in the house. While there is a myriad of choices available, not every type of wood flooring is suitable for every application. If you are shopping for a wood floor, here are five things to keep in mind.
Type of Wood Flooring
There are primarily two types of wood flooring products—solid hardwood and engineered hardwood. Solid wood flooring is milled from solid wood logs and is joined with a traditional tongue and groove along both the long and short edges. Solid wood is available prefinished or unfinished, in strips and planks ranging in thickness from 5/16 to ¾ inches. Strips are 1½-inch- to 2¼-inches-wide and planks are 3 to 8 inches wide.
Choice of Wood Species
There are many different types of woods used in flooring, but some are harder and therefore more durable than others. “Day to day wear and tear is what concerns most people when shopping for a wood floor,” says Schlegel, “and the benchmark for hardness in the U.S. is Red Oak.” While Red and White Oak are the most common domestic wood floors, Hickory and Maple (harder than oak) and Walnut (softer) are also popular choices. Top-selling exotic woods such as Brazilian Cherry, Brazilian Koa, and Cumaru are among the hardest species available. “Naturally, the harder the wood, the better it will be for wear and installation in high-traffic areas of the home,” Schlegel notes.
Grain, Color, and Appearance
Because wood flooring comes in so many different species, styles, and finishes, it is fairly easy to select a floor to match any room décor. If you have a country-style interior, wide plank floors with highly defined wood grains and a distressed appearance will be a good fit. For Colonial homes, consider wide, random plank width flooring in Oak and Maple. For traditional interiors, hardwood flooring in widths of 2¼ to 3¼ inches in Oak, Maple, or Walnut, or parquet flooring, will be smart choices. Virtually any type of wood can be used in a contemporary setting, depending on what stain or finish is used—for example, pewter, dark charcoal, or whitewash finishes can transform any wood species into a modern masterpiece
Type of Finish
The finish is the real determining factor in the overall appearance of a wood floor. The same wood species will look completely different finished in a clear gloss, versus a distressed, hand-scraped or wire-brush finish. “There are different gloss levels and finishing techniques that change the overall look of the wood floor,” Schlegel notes. “Our Bellawood solid and engineered wood flooring in a mid to high gloss looks completely different in a low gloss matte finish,” explains Schlegel; the latter imitating the look of an oil-rubbed European finish, but without the constant care and maintenance. Distressed, hand-scraped or wire-brush finishes will also be something to consider when shopping for a wood floor.
Tips to Consider When Buying Hardwood Flooring
Buying a hardwood floor is an important decision and a long-term investment. Selecting the right hardwood floor involves more than choosing a preferred colour or finish.
Lifestyle and Traffic
Today’s flooring industry offers a wide variety of hardwood flooring products designed to suit the lifestyle of every household or business. When selecting a hardwood floor, it’s important to think about the daily wear and tear it will endure and learn about the density and or hardness of different wood species. If you have kids, pets or have a high traffic household you may want to consider a handscraped and distressed or wire-brushed hardwood which conceals small scratches and dents more than your standard smooth finished hardwood floor. However, if you desire a smooth finished hardwood floor, you should go with a dense and harder wood such as Brazilian Cherry or a Domestic White Oak coupled with a matte finish which will hold up better under heavy use.
Solid versus Engineered
Standard solid hardwood flooring is typically ¾” thick and is available in various widths. Solid hardwood flooring is exactly what it sounds like, solid wood throughout. Engineered hardwood flooring is offered anywhere from ⅜” up to ¾” in thickness and also comes in a wide range of widths. However, engineered flooring is made up of a layer of solid wood on top of numerous layers of soft lumber plywood. The single most important benefit of this type of wood is its stability. Today’s trend of wide plank hardwood flooring is easily attainable with engineered products as opposed to solid products. Engineered hardwood is more stable in an environment where there is moisture. It is this stability that enables a homeowner to also have wood flooring in a basement. Opting for an engineered product as opposed to a solid product allows for a larger tolerance in humidity, therefore requiring less effort by the homeowner to maintain their hardwood floors.
Prefinished versus Site Finished
What’s old is new again. Site on finish hardwood flooring is raw hardwood installed on site, sanded to a smooth finish then stained and finished to a custom look. Today’s technology allows floor sanding technicians to match the level of quality and durability of prefinished products through this technique. Prefinished flooring is coated with aluminum oxide coatings resulting in a strong and durable finish. Leading manufacturers in the industry have developed finishing products that are comparable and much more durable than they were in the past. Site on finish floors are ‘table top’ smooth meaning no beveled edges between the planks. Custom stain matching is also available with site on finish floors which may not be available from a prefinished selection of hardwoods. The single most important variable when deciding between the two types of wood is how long the installation will take and the overall cost. Prefinished floors upon installation are ready to use as opposed to site on finish flooring. The steps involved in sanding, staining and finishing on site will increase the duration of the process to at least twice as long. If budget and time permits, the overall look is far superior of site on finish floors
Style of your Home
When choosing a wood floor, your personal style and tastes as well as the interior décor of your home should play a role in your selection. In particular, you should look closely at your cabinetry, trim work, furniture and wall colours to make sure the wood you choose compliments the other design elements in your home. Also, be cautious about letting the current trends or fads dictate your floor selection – what’s cool today is often out-of-date tomorrow. Although wide planks and grey palettes are in right now, take the time to pick a floor that will allow you to change and tweak your décor in the future without limiting your options. Neutral stains in floors along with solid or engineered products that have a good size wear layer will allow the possibility to match future décor and design choices.