All About Hardwood Flooring

If you’re looking for good-looking, high-quality flooring for your home, hardwood floors are a classic choice.
While you’re probably familiar with the general look and feel of real wood flooring, you have a lot more options than you may realize. We’ll take you through the basics. Some of the topics we’ll cover include:

• variations in plank thickness
• the defining differences between solid and engineered hardwood floors
• a sample of some of the dozens of wood species available
• hardwood grading
• hardwood vs. softwood

Hardwood basics

Some of the first things to consider when you begin your search for the right hardwood floor are basic elements of construction and size. The following is a list of things to think about.

Plank Thickness

One of the best features of hardwood floors is their longevity. One contributing factor is your ability to continually refinish hardwood throughout its lifespan, avoiding the need to replace it if damaged. Generally, you can refinish solid ¾-inch hardwood boards up to 10 times, sanding them each time to remove scuffs and stains. Thinner planks can’t be sanded as much, but most floors on the market today are topped with durable coating and likely won’t need to be refinished often.

Solid vs. engineered hardwood

Before you choose a hardwood, ask yourself one simple question: where do you plan to use it? Your answer will determine if solid or engineered hardwood is the right choice. Solid hardwood floors are the sturdiest option, able to handle heavy foot traffic in high-use areas of the home. Kitchens, living rooms and entryways are the ideal places for this type of wood flooring. Engineered hardwood, meanwhile, is the only hardwood option you should consider for below-grade installation. This stable, multi-layered option is ideal for basements, where high humidity levels can cause unnecessary trouble down the road. If you’re looking for flooring for your bathroom, we don’t recommend any type of wood. The constant danger of water splashing out of tubs, sinks and showers makes the risk of warping too great.

Hardwood types, species & styles

There are a few common types of hardwood, each available in a distinct variety of species and styles. This vast range of looks and feels is another reason to love these durable, classic floors – there is a hardwood look for practically every style and taste!

Here are just a few of your options:

Domestic hardwood

These are your classic looks, available in a variety of colors and patterns of grain. Something to remember – not all wood species are equally hard!

•Oak is America’s most commonly used wood strip flooring, appearing in many homes. This is your traditional, time-tested hardwood look, with a very natural look and feel.
Ash is a lighter wood, considered blond. It features a prominent grain pattern that is visually compelling, and can be easily stained for a variety of light and dark color options.
Cherry has a dark, natural cinnamon hue that only darkens with age. You can highlight this deep look with a clear finish.
Pine is a traditionally Southern look. In use since colonial times, this wood is characterized by its rust-colored hue and its knotty grain pattern.

Exotic hardwood

Moving on to the tropical wood varieties, most prized for their rich colors and a durability that comes from extreme hardness.

•Brazilian redwood is a wood that can blend well into the background of your design, featuring a deep russet tone and very subtle wood grain patterns.
•Australian cypress has a distinct grain pattern, characterized by an abundance of knots. This species offers a very distinctly rustic look.
•Black acacia is actually a rich, golden hue that really speaks for itself when highlighted by a clear wood finish.
•Brazilian koa features a strikingly unique striped look made up of alternating dark chocolate and blond tones – truly the embodiment of what it means to be an exotic hardwood!

Distressed hardwood

In this case, distressed means intentionally altered in order to create a naturally worn appearance. These looks are often desired to create the illusion of rustic antique floors. Hand-scraped hardwood in particular is really gaining popularity in modern design.

Cork Flooring

Cork is another popular option, constructed from cork oak trees that grow in Spain and Portugal. These floors generally click or glue together for easy installation and are softer than most other hardwoods available.

Hardwood Grading

During manufacturing, each individual piece of hardwood flooring gets sorted into one of several different grades.
Grades are determined by the number of defects, in the wood. Wood with fewer defects can be sold at a higher cost. Something to keep in mind: different wood species are categorized differently. What counts as a defect on one species of wood may be seen as a defining feature of another.
Some examples of grades include select, which often features more color variation, knots and other natural character marks, and rustic, characterized by very dark planks and defined character marks.

Hardwood vs. Softwood

If you’re looking for a hardwood floor that offers a little more give and comfort underfoot, you may consider a “softwood” hardwood floor.

Some key differences of softwood include:

• fewer opportunities for refinishing: these floors can generally be sanded fewer times because they wear away much more quickly
• more susceptible to wear & tear: softwood floors can be dented more easily, and because of their softer composition will also absorb liquid spills & stains quickly

While these aspects don’t detract from softwood’s overall quality, buyers should still be aware.

Softwood species:
• white pine
• black cherry
• black walnut
• heart pine

Hardwood species:
• yellow birch
• red oak
• beech
• white ash
• white oak
• maple
• hickory
• Brazilian koa
• Acacia
• Australian cypress
• Brazilian redwood
• Brazilian chestnut