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How to Choose Hardwood Flooring for Your Home

Hardwood flooring provides many benefits from its warmth and softness to its durability. Consider your needs to determine which style of wood floor would best suit your home.

Courtesy LL Flooring

How do you go about redesigning a space in your home? Selecting the style and material of flooring is an important decision. The colors, texture, and overall design can make a big impact on the feel of your space. Depending on your family’s needs, some materials are more ideal than others.

Hardwood flooring is a popular choice among homeowners for its warmth and its natural design aesthetic. It also offers customers tons of options for customizing their products—it takes more than just choosing the shade of wood stain.

When you’re planning to install new floors, take a look at our guide for how to choose hardwood flooring. We’ll walk you through the process of selecting your wood floors, from materials to the design and finish.

Why Install Hardwood in Your Home?

There’s a reason why homeowners have been choosing hardwood as their top flooring choice for decades. It’s an attractive flooring option that allows you a great amount of flexibility with design. While hardwood may not be ideal for rooms with high amounts of moisture (like the bathroom or laundry room), it makes for great flooring in pretty much every other room. Many families have been enjoying their hardwood flooring all-around their homes, from the kitchen to bedrooms.

Check out some more benefits of installing real wood flooring in your home:

  • Its soft materials make it comfortable and warm under bare feet.
  • Authentic wood products are durable and long-lasting with proper maintenance.
  • Hardwood can add character and a natural design element to your space.
  • There are tons of customization options for colors, grain, and stain to add your personality to your flooring.

Qualities to Consider When Picking Out Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is known to be long-lasting and versatile around the home, with many options for design and style. When you’re shopping for new hardwood floors, first think of the functionality of the room you’re renovating. Do you need moisture resistance? How comfortable or warm do you prefer your floors to be? What are your design preferences? Also, how often are you comfortable with cleaning, maintaining, and potentially refinishing your floors?

Consider these questions as you explore our hardwood flooring buyer’s guide:

Type of Flooring

First, decide on whether you want solid or engineered wood flooring. Solid hardwood was once the most popular flooring choice. Made of thick, solid planks of wood, these floors are joined with a tongue and groove along each side. Many people like the full authenticity and feel of solid hardwood floors; they’re also a better option for long-term flooring. You can sand down and refinish these hardwood floors multiple times since the boards are usually thicker than engineered wood planks.

Engineered hardwood floors are becoming more popular. They are made with a thin veneer layer of hardwood on top of multiple layers of composite material and plywood. These many layers were designed to help prevent the flooring from shifting over time. Unfortunately, some engineered floors have a particularly thin top layer, which can make it more difficult to sand down and refinish in the future. You may only be able to refinish these floors once or twice.

Wood Species

Wood species, or the type of wood, is another big decision to make for your upcoming project. You have a wide range of options for the wood species, which can make a difference in the design of your room. However, you shouldn’t just stop at the color or design of the wood species. Different woods will offer different benefits for functionality.

Some species of wood are harder than others, which will make them more durable. If you are renovating an area of your home with heavy amounts of foot traffic, consider installing a harder wood.

Oak is a popular choice among Americans. It is durable, works well with various stains, and has an attractive, natural grain. Also, it’s pretty easy to find oak wood flooring from most manufacturers. Red oak and white oak are great to use in many areas around the home.

Walnut is softer than oak and offers a rich, warm tone. Hickory and maple tend to be harder than oak. You can also select from some of the more exotic options like Brazilian Cherry, Ash, Bamboo, and Mahogany.

Homeowners can purchase reclaimed hardwood at salvage lumber yards. This is a much more budget-friendly option, but you may have to dig through some pieces with wear and tear. However, once you find some great pieces, reclaimed wood flooring can add a unique bit of character to your home.

Grain Pattern and Appearance

When it comes to deciding on the design of your wood flooring, grain pattern is one of the most crucial factors. Depending on the way a piece of wood was cut, it will create a different pattern on the planks of wood.

  • Plain sawn wood is the most common and most popular. It has traditional wood grain with patterns called cathedrals.
  • Rift-sawn wood has a long and consistent grain but no cathedrals. It’s the most expensive of the grain patterns.
  • Quarter-sawn wood is similar to rift, but it also has irregular specs that create a unique, sometimes 3D pattern.

You may be able to purchase flooring from some manufacturers that include multiple grain patterns together for a special pattern on your floor.

Next, you should consider the board width. Hardwood flooring planks come in a variety of sizes to create a nice design with installation. Narrow planks are about 2-3 inches wide, but some wood planks can be sold much wider, at around six or seven inches.

You can create a luxury feel in your home with wider planks, as there will be fewer seams. However, it’s important to note that the wider the plank, the more expensive. Also, seams of wider planks can become noticeable over time, as the wood can expand.

Finishing Options

The finish of your flooring will dictate how you care for and clean your hardwood floors. When you purchase new wood floors, you can order them prefinished or unfinished.

When you order pre-finished hardwood floors, your materials will arrive at your home with a stain and top coat already applied. With this method, you can see exactly what your floors will look like from the beginning. You may also be able to view samples in your home to see how it will pair with your existing decor. Pre-finished wood floors mean that installation will take less time.

Unfinished floors (or site finish) will come to your home raw and unfinished. Your contractor will apply the finishing layer after installation is complete. This method allows for more customization and controls the sheen and stain of your wood floors. It can be a good option if you want to match new planks to existing flooring in your home.

Site finish floors can often have a smoother appearance. Most of the time, the floors will be sanded after being nailed down, then coated with the stain. This means one layer will go over the whole floor and seal it all together. With site finishes, however, you must hire a contractor you can trust. Do your research to find a professional with the experience and equipment to create the desired result.

You have many different choices for the types of finishes for wood flooring. Most will be considered either a polyurethane or oil finish.

  • Oil finishes penetrate the wood and can appear soft and natural. However, this finish can make your flooring susceptible to stains and scratches. Its maintenance is easier, and it’s easier to cover up scratches, but it may require care more often.
  • Polyurethane creates a hard top coat over the surface of the wood, making it more durable against wear and tear. But, if scratches do occur or a plank is damaged, repairing your floors can be difficult. You may have to replace a board or recoat a section of the floor.

Finishes can come in a clear gloss, or you can select one with a more unique or worn effect. Consider distressed, hand-scraped, or wire brush finished wood. Stains come in many colors, from light honey blonde to darker charcoal.

Cost

The cost of your hardwood floors will depend on the type of flooring you buy. You must also consider the type of finish you select, as well as the cost of professional installation. Solid prefinished wood flooring can range from about $2.40 to up to $13 per square foot. Engineered prefinished hardwood can be a little less expensive, ranging from about $1.69 to $9 per square foot.

Installation

Choosing the best method for installing your hardwood flooring will also depend on the type of wood product, as well as your planks’ width and thickness. If you’re going the DIY route, your flooring materials may come with specific instructions for installation. It’s also a good idea to gather necessary equipment like a pneumatic flooring nailer, drill, pry bar, and saw.

Installing hardwood flooring in the home can be pretty challenging for the average homeowner. Real wood floors are a big investment, so it’s important to install them correctly the first time. Also, many contractors will be able to properly dispose of your old floors. That’s why many people choose to hire a professional flooring company to help them out—they come with the skills and equipment to get the job done.

Often, installing hardwood floors may require placing underlayment. Then it’s a good rule of thumb to start placing planks against the longest wall first. Engineered floors can often be installed directly over concrete, a soundproofing mat, or radiant heat.

Our Recommended Flooring Experts

When you’re planning a flooring renovation in your home, shop around for a provider you can trust. Our top recommendation for flooring replacement is LL Flooring. Founded in 1993, LL Flooring has become one of the largest retailers of hardwood flooring in the country, with products in many varieties like oak, maple, hickory, and walnut.

LL Flooring partners with other flooring manufacturers, which means the company can offer its customers the best prices. With hundreds of locations around the U.S., LL Flooring can connect you with local contractors to install the new flooring for you. To request a quote for your next flooring project, schedule an appointment online.

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