Most Popular Hardwood Flooring on the Market

A big favorite in upgrading a home is hardwood floors. Today, it continues to be a favorite for adding beauty, value, and warmth to living spaces. Many choose hardwood flooring for its long-lasting attractiveness but originally, hardwood flooring served structural purposes. It would be laid perpendicular to wooden support beams of a building, adding strength to the construction. In today’s modern construction, it is largely an aesthetic addition to a home.

Since hardwood flooring can be a sizable investment, it is important those considering this material fully understand the choices of woods and finishes available. They should understand the challenges of installing it themselves vs professional installation.

Hardwood flooring is an investment that needs to be properly cleaned and maintained.

This guide is intended to help those considering hardwood flooring make the best choice for their particular situation and lifestyle. It will answer common questions about what type of woods have which traits and what to do in the event of scratches, stains, and wear. It will address the things you should avoid with a hardwood floor and situations that absolutely must never happen.

Part of the value of a hardwood floor is the comfort and joy it brings. The proper hardwood flooring material installed the right way and routinely maintained is sure to provide decades of satisfaction. The more you know, the more value you can get from your new hardwood floors.

Buying Hardwoods

Most are surprised at a large number of choices available when selecting hardwood flooring. Between natural, solid wood flooring through a variety of engineered hardwood flooring and laminate products the options are seemingly endless. Of course, large factors in the decision-making process will be a personal style and available budget. Other critical components should include where the flooring will be installed and the type of wear to which it will be exposed.

Buying hardwood flooring is a long-term decision that will likely stay in place through multiple decorating changes. While paint, window treatments, and even furniture may change in a room, the hardwood flooring will likely remain.

Types of Woods

One of the most appealing aspects of hardwood flooring is the wide selection of types of woods available. Not only do the various grain patterns in hardwood flooring bring personality into a living space but each wood also has its particular strengths and weaknesses. Here are some of the most popular choices of hardwood flooring.

Solid Wood Flooring – Solid wood flooring is considered “traditional” wood flooring, made out of a single piece of wood. It is usually cut for tongue and groove installation and is usually nailed in place, making installation somewhat lengthy. It is also more expensive than engineered woods and laminates. Owners of solid wood flooring love that it can be renewed easier than others by sanding and refinishing. It is frequently used in hallways, living rooms, and bedrooms. Because it can swell, it is not suitable for damp areas such as bathrooms and kitchens.

  • Engineered Wood Flooring – Engineered wood flooring is made from several layers of wood glued together and topped with a real wood veneer. This wood veneer can be sanded and refinished if scratched. While some engineered wood flooring is made for tongue and groove installation, most are now manufactured with a click-and-lock system that is faster and easier than nailing or gluing. Cheaper than solid wood flooring, but with some of its benefits, engineered wood flooring is still more expensive than laminates. It also holds up better in damp and humid areas than solid woods.

  • Wood Laminates – Wood laminate flooring is made from compressed wood particles, finished with an image of a particular wood type and coated with a protective clear laminate. Modern wood laminates look extremely authentic, even including imperfections and wood knots. Click-and-lock installation is simple and wood laminate flooring is durable and less expensive than solid wood or engineered wood flooring. Damaged pieces of wood laminates are difficult and more involved to repair and if they are not properly installed can be very disappointing.

  • Bamboo Flooring – Technically a grass as opposed to a wood, bamboo flooring has grown in popularity due to its solid hardwood characteristics and the fact that it is much more sustainable than solid woods. It is more water-resistant than solid wood but not waterproof and should not be used in bathrooms. Bamboo flooring is not only durable but easy to clean. Homeowners should note that darker bamboo flooring may be slightly softer than lighter colors.

  • Cork Flooring – Cork flooring is made from a bark which is ground up, compressed and glued together into sheets and cut into tiles. Since the bark grows back, it is considered a very sustainable flooring product. Cork has a slightly softer surface making it an excellent choice for kids rooms and play areas. It is also comfortable in the bedrooms. Cork flooring serves as a natural insulator of sound. Due to its softer texture, cork flooring is not as durable as solid wood and can be more easily damaged by furniture.

  • Parquet Flooring – Parquet flooring is made using short blocks or strips, making it a popular choice when homeowners want a distinctive design or pattern in a room. Parquet flooring is durable and an excellent choice for high traffic areas but it can be extremely expensive. It also can be a challenge to install properly. It should not be used in damp areas like bathrooms.

  • Reclaimed Wood Flooring – Reclaimed wood flooring is recycled wood from a vintage property. In some cases, it may already be in a room, under layers of laminate or carpeting. It can frequently be restored by sanding and refinishing, depending on the desired effect. It is extremely environmentally-friendly and can add drama to any living space.

Types of Finishes

One of the more misunderstood options when choosing hardwood flooring is the available various finishes. A floor’s finish or “sheen” can dramatically impact its overall appearance and improve wear. Here are some common options when it comes to hardwood finishes.

  • Water-Based Polyurethane – This is one of the most popular finishes because it is available in high gloss, satin, and semi-gloss finishes, dries quickly and cleans up easily. It is simple to apply, wears well and resists yellowing. While high gloss finishes are most popular, they can be prone to showing more scratches than semi-gloss or satin.

  • Oil-Based Polyurethane – For those in search of a high gloss finish that will wear well, even in high traffic areas, oil-based polyurethane is a good choice. Because an oil-based product tends to last longer than a water-based polyurethane, there will be less frequent need for refinishing. The application can be a challenge, however, as it is slow to dry and more difficult to clean up.

  • Moisture-Cure Urethane – For those in search of the most durable surface moisture-cure urethane may be the best option. This is the type of finish used by bowling alleys and offers a clear, clean and hard surface that will resist scratches. It “cures” by drawing moisture from the air and can be very fickle in very dry and very humid conditions. Because moisture-cure urethane can be so challenging to apply it may be a job better left to a professional.

  • Wax – Before the introduction to polyurethanes, the wax was the primary finish for those with wood floors. Wax delivers a lower sheen finish and it is labor-intensive to apply. It is also prone to yellowing over time and is not very durable. It is available in a paste or liquid and offers a very attractive, natural finish.

  • Shellac – Shellac has been used as a finish for wood flooring for hundreds of years and remains a popular choice for those concerned about the release of VOCs because it is a natural product that dries quickly. It adheres well to oily woods. It must be thoroughly mixed before applying and because it dries so quickly it can be prone to lap lines. It is relatively easy to repair.

  • Penetrating Oil – This is a natural product that brings out the grain in the wood. It is one of the best options for revealing the personality of a wood floor but it is expensive and will generally need to be reapplied every few years. Penetrating oils dry slowly and can take 24 hrs. between coats. It does not hold up well to high traffic. It is often chosen as a finish for those restoring a historic home.

  • Acid Cure – Perhaps the highest level of floor finishes is the acid cure, sometimes referred to as a Swedish finish or conversion finish. This is frequently used for wood flooring with patterns like parquet floors and is even more durable than polyurethanes. It is extremely durable even against spilled chemicals. Be prepared for strong odors and high VOCs when applying an acid-cure finish.

  • Aluminum Oxide – This is an extremely durable finish that is available only on pre-finished planks. It is almost impervious to scratches but when scratched is difficult to repair. Refinishing an aluminum oxide finish floor will likely take professionals since it is so challenging to work with. It is available in a variety of high gloss to satin finishes.

Planks

Planks are the individual, strip-like pieces of wood flooring material that are placed together to form a floor. Like wood and finish options, there are more plank width and length choices than ever before. You’ll also have to decide between solid vs engineered planks and tongue and groove vs click and lock installation.

While traditional plank flooring ranges between two and three inches in width, homeowners are discovering the beauty, warmth and classic look of wider planks ranging to 10” and wider. In some cases, the wider the planks, the more rustic and natural the floor will appear. Wider planks almost result in fewer seams. Homeowners are also choosing flooring installations with wood planks of varying widths for an even more dramatic look. Hardwood planks in wider widths can be challenging in locating, however, and buyers may be limited to Eastern Pine as the best option for this style.

Plank flooring is available in a choice of tongue and groove and clicks and locks installation options. Click and lock is the preferred choice for do-it-yourselfers while tongue and groove take more time and may require the assistance of a professional.

Plank length is another way a wooden floor can be customized. By selecting planks of varying lengths, interest can be heightened. To make the most of any wooden flooring project, design the floor using all the available choices including plank width and length. The differences can be significant.

Other Buying Tips

Buying wood flooring starts with an honest appraisal of your current flooring and what you do and do not like about it. Beyond an improved appearance, what are you looking to achieve through your new flooring? Do you want to add warmth or soundproofing? Do you want the easiest to maintain floor or the most attractive? Are you interested in creating a contemporary or rustic atmosphere?

Once you have a basic idea of what you are looking to achieve it is time to touch or feel any potential materials and look at samples. Talk to a flooring expert to explain your goals and budget. Can the flooring be installed above a current laminate surface or will that need to be removed? What type of guarantee does the flooring have?

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You may also want to inquire about any potential sales that may be just days or weeks ahead. Ask if there are any discounts for paying cash or if the store offers an initial discount when applying for a store credit card. In some cases, stores will offer 10-20% off an initial purchase with a credit card application and that can be significant when buying wood flooring.

Remember to ask about related materials needed for installation including sub-flooring, padding, glue, nails and tools.

Hardwood Flooring Installation

Before deciding on whether wood flooring can be installed as a do-it-yourself project or if professional assistance is required, there are several factors to consider. These include:

  • Will the flooring be installed on top of the current flooring?

  • The condition of the subfloor

  • The thickness of the new flooring material

  • The difficulty of the installation process

  • The skills of the do-it-yourselfer

For example, flooring installed on top of linoleum flooring is far simpler than removing the old surface. If the subfloor needs to be replaced it is a more involved project. Thicker flooring material may get in the way of baseboards or require doors to be shortened. Nailing tongue and groove flooring in place will be far more challenging than clicking and lock material.

Of course, before making any decision you’ll want to be honest about your skills and ability to get the job completed properly. Keep in mind, a poor installation may do more damage than good.

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Reasons to Choose a Professional

If the flooring is thicker than the previous flooring, or the installation process more difficult, professional assistance may be the best choice. This is particularly true if the flooring is tongue and groove, in varying widths or a challenging material like parquet. If your choice of finishes is difficult to apply, like moisture cure urethane, you’ll also likely want the help of a pro.

Keep in mind, depending on your situation, adding new flooring can be labor-intensive and difficult. Sometimes it’s not as easy as grabbing the tools you have in the toolbox in the back of your truck. It is also a significant investment and you’ll want to be assured of a superior result. There will likely be less waste with professional help and the job will probably be completed in a more timely manner. Professional assistance is a no-brainer if you lack confidence or the tools to get the job done.

Is DIY Installation Possible?

If you’ve been successful at other projects around the home, installing your wood floor can be a rewarding experience. Modern installation processes like no glue, click and lock features make self-installation easier than ever. When materials and finishes are selected based on ease of installation and the right tools are available, a do-it-yourselfer can install wood flooring throughout a weekend. It is always best to be honest about your skills before undertaking any home improvement project.

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Cleaning Hardwood Floors

While wood flooring offers exceptional beauty and value, caring for wood flooring is unlike caring for any other flooring material. One of the most important factors in caring for wood flooring is keeping it clean. Sand, dirt, and grit can scuff and scratch the finish and perhaps even the flooring itself. Excess moisture and spills can leave marks or discolor the floor. Strong chemicals can create stains and spots. It takes the right cleaning products and materials and a higher level of attention than many other materials.

If a home has not previously had wood flooring or the homeowner is not used to caring for wooden floors it is worth taking the time to learn how to properly care for a wood floor on a daily, routine basis, and how to conduct an occasional deep cleaning. It will pay back dividends in years of lasting beauty and compliments.

Routine Cleaning

Homeowners with wood flooring quickly discover the higher the gloss or sheen, the more it will show any dust or dirt. Routine cleaning of wood flooring starts with a daily dusting with a microfiber, Swiffer-style product. This keeps the floor clear of small pieces of dirt and grit that can scratch and damage the floor if it is left to be ground in.

Along with this daily dusting, the floor should be vacuumed and wet mopped once weekly. When vacuuming, take care not to use a vacuum with the beater bar. This beater bar can lead to scuffing and scratching. Instead, vacuum with a brush attachment. After vacuuming, the floor should be wet mopped using only products recommended by the manufacturer. The use of water must be minimized as it can cause dulling and potentially damage the wood. Any liquids placed on the flooring should be wiped promptly.

To better protect hardwood flooring some owners will choose carpet runners in high traffic areas and hallways and even use area rugs in living spaces. While this certainly will help, nothing replaces keeping wood flooring clear of dust and dirt.

Deep Cleaning

Deep cleaning a wood floor generally involves one of two processes. One is polishing the floor and the other is refinishing a floor. When you polish a floor you use a product to even out and polish a floor’s sheen while removing light scratches. The original finish remains. When refinishing a floor, the original finish is removed and replaced with a whole new surface. Polishing a floor can be done several times a year. Refinishing a floor should only be required every five to ten years or more unless the floor has been severely damaged.

  • Polishing a Floor – Before polishing a floor, remove all of the furnishings in a room. Care should be taken when moving furnishings so that the wood flooring is not scratched or scuffed in the process. The floor should then be completely dusted and thoroughly wet-mopped. After making sure the floor is dry, the polish should be applied evenly over the surface of the floor according to instructions. In the case of liquid polishes, it frequently can take up to 24 hours to properly dry before moving furniture back into space.

  • Refinishing a Floor – Refinishing a floor completely replaces a floor’s initial finish and is an involved, intensive and frequently dusty process. Remove all the furnishings from a room and cover doorways with plastic sheeting to keep dust from reaching other rooms. Renting a floor sander is usually the best and easiest way to remove the initial finish, following instructions and using a face mask. Once the old finish is removed, the floor should be inspected to see if any small areas may need more hand sanding to remove stubborn deep stains. The floor must be free of the dust from sanding that could potentially negatively affect the new finish. Follow the instructions on your new finish to properly clean flooring before application. Apply the finish per instructions. In some cases, homeowners may wish to apply a second coat to improve durability. This second coat should only be applied after the first coat has thoroughly dried and been sanded very lightly. Depending on the type of finish applied, the floor should dry 24-48 hours before use.

Both polishing and refinishing adds new life to wood flooring and can be well worth the effort.

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