Hardwood flooring for your home is one of the biggest renovations or finishing steps possible when it comes to home building and care. The cost, time consumed, ease of installation, and aesthetics vary widely based on a multitude of factors.
Anyone going into it for the first time might be overwhelmed by the choices and decisions that need to be made. Finalizing which wood species you want is only one of the many things you will have to decide. And even then it will not be final as you weigh in other factors such as availability, aesthetics based on your room, durability, and how much time you can afford for the renovation.
The Ultimate Guide to Hardwood Flooring
Here’s where our guide will come in. We’ve extensively covered what we believe are all the essential factors that you need to know of to make your purchase decision more prudent. We’ve covered the flooring type, the types of finishes, and everything else including the wood species and their characteristics.
Solid Hardwood Flooring
Solid hardwood flooring is the standard type of flooring used with wood. It is flooring made from lots of solid planks of the specific species that you have selected. The entire plank is constructed from the same wood.
Depending on the species you choose, this type of flooring can be quite expensive and often seen in the most luxurious homes. However, solid hardwood flooring gives your home an authentic and cozy feel regardless of the species. The wood is dense and uniform, which makes it durable under your feet.
Solid hardwood flooring does need specific types of maintenance. Wood tends to expand and contract according to the humidity and temperature levels of the environment.
Taking care of solid hardwood flooring isn’t difficult, but it’s something that needs to be done at a schedule to maintain the opulent feel. Without proper care, solid hardwood flooring can be susceptible to moisture damage.
Engineered Hardwood Flooring
Engineered hardwood flooring differs from solid hardwood flooring because it is manufactured from several layers of wood pressed together.
The wood species of your choice is layered on the top and bottom of the core layer of the plank. This is a multi-ply construction. The planks in this type of flooring are not solid blocks of the wood species of your choice.
The reason for this type of plank construction is primarily to avoid moisture damage. This type of flooring can expand and contract with changing humidity levels without damaging it in any way.
Moreover, the installation of an engineered hardwood flooring is easier on top of heating systems or concrete subfloor. Traditional wood is greatly influenced by such foundations, but engineered hardwood flooring is virtually unaffected.
The downside of engineered hardwood floors are that they can’t be sanded and refinished, and because the main species is only a thin layer on top of the core, it is not as long lasting and durable as solid hardwood flooring.
Type of Finish
Prefinished hardwood flooring comes with a type of finish already applied. It is dried and ready for installation as soon as it arrives at your home. This type of hardwood flooring is very easy to install and often comes with a much longer warranty.
Warranty periods of prefinished hardwood floors can be between 5 to 35 years, which is quite incredible. Pre-finished hardwood is more expensive to purchase, but the installation process can be cheaper.
Site finished hardwood differs from prefinished because it comes to your home in a completely raw condition. This means that the sanding and finishing will be done during the time of installation.
The main benefit of this is that the sanding and finishing process can be customized and made to look extremely unique. The options you have for how the design can turn out are vast and allow you to customize your home.
Site-finished hardwood however comes with rather skimpy warranty between 3 to 5 years. It is cheaper to purchase but can be expensive to install due to the sanding and finishing process.
Colors, Gloss, and Texture
The main thing dictating the overall look and feel of the hardwood flooring will be the species (which we talk about in detail later in this guide). However, there are a few things you can do to customize the looks yourself.
Different kinds of stains and finishes can alter the color of the wood. Additionally, long term exposure to the sun can also change how your hardwood flooring appears.
For additional pricing, you can add a gloss to your hardwood to make it look brighter. This not only makes it more aesthetically pleasing but also protects from scratches and damage over time. However, when scratches do happen on glossy hardwood, they will pop out much more than on ones that have lower gloss.
Common Wood Species
Note: All prices are listed in USD and area in square foot. Price ranges are for the purchase of the wood only and act as a general guide. They may or may not reflect actual prices on the market.
Price Range: $7-$18/sqf
Ash has a lighter color than most woods used in flooring. When you see a light colored hardwood floor, chances are that it is ash. Ash is quite hard and durable, which is why it’s such a popular choice. It also helps greatly illuminate your home. Furthermore, ash tends to be less expensive than comparable hardwood species.
The downside to ash is the maintenance it requires. The light color shows stains and dirt rather easily, requiring more frequent cleaning than other types of hardwoods.
Price Range: $2-$11/sqf
The cost of birch tends to fall into the lower average of the price range that you’ll find among hardwoods. This is primarily because birch is an abundant species of wood, widely available. It has a clear, simple grain and appears to have a cream, whitish color. It is also stains well.
The downside to birch is that it is rather soft. It also expands and contracts rather easily as temperature and humidity levels change. For this reason, birch is optimal in places where there is not much moisture.
Price Range: $3-$8/sqf
Cherry is quite popular for how dark it can get. This gives your house an almost antique, old-fashioned yet opulent feel. This wood often tends to get darker as it ages. It is quite easy to maintain due to its dark color and tends to produce a great finish. The wood is quite soft, but it succeeds in maintaining stability despite its softness.
The downside of cherry wood is that it scratches rather easily. It is also known to be difficult to work with. Cherry is also prone to getting damaged from direct sunlight exposure for multiple years.
Price Range: $3-$6/sqf
Hickory is one of the strongest hardwoods you can get for your home. For folks looking for a lot of durability and a rustic feel, hickory is the go to hardwood. It is also ideal for homes that expect a lot of foot traffic over the years. Hickory tends to have a dramatic and punchy grain pattern.
The biggest benefit of this species is also its downside. The hardness of hickory makes working with it very difficult. While the price of the wood itself isn’t the most expensive, the installation and labor costs associated with it are quite high.
Price Range: $8-$14/sqf
Mahogany is widely prized for its astounding beauty, toughness, and color. You’ll find mahogany in furniture, musical instruments, and boats. This widespread use is a testament to this wood specie’s reliability and toughness. It is highly durable, water-resistant, and requires little maintenance.
It is one of the more expensive types of woods for flooring though.
Price Range: $6-$14/sqf
One of the most well known types of woods for flooring, maple is highly popular for its consistent grain, smooth feel, and bright color. Maple is so hard that it is used in bowling allies and withstands the battering and rolling of bowling balls across years.
It is also highly resistant to temperature and humidity changes as well, making it the ideal wood for your home. It also stains incredibly well, allowing you to alter its color to mimic other woods.
The downside of course is how expensive it is to install. This wood is very hard and that makes cutting it harder. It is also not as affordable as some of the other hardwood options.
Price Range: $3-$14/sqf
Oak is another extremely popular hardwood that is seen commonly in lots of homes. It is loved for its traditional look and the warmth that it exhibits. There are two main types of oaks available: red oak and white oak. Red oak is lighter, while white oak has a pale brown color with a slight pinkish hue.
Oak has average hardness, and though it can withstand impacts well, it is prone to scratches. After years of use they can look worn and old. To avoid this, you will need to refinish them.
Price Range: $4-$6/sqf
Pine is technically not a hardwood but is a character wood. Pine gives the most conventional type of look to your home because it is what the average person imagines when they think of hardwoods.
The wood is well known for its holes and knots in addition to its distinct grain pattern. This type of wood naturally looks better as it ages, which is what makes it such a great option for many.
Pine is very soft though, which makes it prone to dents, dinks, and scratches. You will want to maintain it regularly and use soft cushioning legs on your furniture to take care of it.
Price Range: $4-$9/sqf
Walnut is another popular hardwood species used quite a lot in homes in North America. It is distinct due to its rich dark brown color. European walnut tends to be lighter and slightly finer than the regularly used American black walnuts.
Walnut is a durable wood that can withstand the test of time as well as changes in the environment. It is also quite light in weight, so you can use it in upper stories of your home without any kinds of problems. It is also highly resistant to light damage.
Walnut however is one of the most expensive types of hardwood flooring to buy and to work with.
Size and Dimensions
The hardwood flooring you buy will come in two different categories of sizes: strips and planks. Strips are thin and measure no more than 3 inches in width. Everything beyond 3 inches is a plank.
There are a wide variety of sizes to choose from, both in-terms of the depth of the strip/plank and its width. The width and length of the planks are arguably the more important factors that you need to consider.
The width will have a huge effect on the overall atmosphere and look of the room. Wide boards are ideal for large open rooms, while thinner boards look suitable in smaller ones.
The orientation is also something that will influence how your room looks. Generally, experts recommend installing the boards parallel to the longest wall of the room.
The grade of the hardwood you buy largely influences how it looks. There are basically four quality grades: clear, select, No. 1 Common, and No. 2 Common.
Clear grade wood has a uniform grain pattern and very small color variation. It is of the highest quality and is usually expensive.
Select is second in line. It shows some variations in tones and grain, but is overall pleasant to look at.
No. 1 Common has some more variation and inconsistencies in appearance than clear and select. No 2 Common has very large variations within the same plank, giving a rough and random look to the house flooring.
Insulation and Durability
Certain species of hardwood provide better insulation than others. Similarly, durability is also influenced greatly by the species you choose. Certain species will last much longer with minimum wear and tear.
Generally, the harder (and more durable) species are not only more expensive, they are also a lot harder to install. DIY just doesn’t work on such species.
Care and Maintenance
Care and maintenance of the hardwood flooring will largely depend on the wood species you purchase. Most species do not require more than sweeping and mopping, but many of the softer species will require extra care, including resanding, restaining, and polishing after a few years.
Cost and Budget
The pricing for hardwood flooring varies a lot. People are surprised by the cost of hardwood, as some cheap hardwoods can be really expensive to install and vice versa.
These two factors (type and difficulty) are the major decisions you will need to make before you finalize what kind of hardwood you wish to choose.
Additionally, the amount of floor and the layout of the room will also greatly influence the cost of the installation. Stairs, closets, fireplaces, and other embedded parts of your home will make flooring a lot more complicated, so you will need to pay additional for these if you are getting it done from a professional.
According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of installing wood flooring is $4,430. The price can go all the way up to $10,000 depending on the species, space, and room types.
Engineered hardwood floor is on average cheaper than solid hardwood flooring. The material and installation cost of engineered hardwood floors seem to be $2-8 cheaper than solid hardwood flooring.