Hardwood floors have been installed in homes for centuries. No other floor has the enduring beauty and character of a fine hardwood floor. Today you have a variety of gorgeous hardwood floor options, including the latest fusion of classic woods with modern technology.
Pros and cons of hardwood floors
A beautiful wood floor brings warmth and coziness to a house. Hardwood floors are not perfect for every situation, however. Here are the strengths and weaknesses of wood floors.
On the positive side, hardwood floors are durable. The Janka Rating is a scientific measure of wood hardness. Hardwood floor options with a high Janka rating, such as oak, hickory or Brazilian species of walnut and cherry, are hard enough to withstand a lot of traffic and use. And when these woods finally appear worn, they can be sanded and refinished. Three-quarter-inch thick hardwoods can be refinished as many as seven times.
Hardwood floors are easy to maintain. Depending on how heavy the traffic is, sweep the floor once or twice per week and damp mop, preferably with a liquid cleaner made for hardwood floors.
Hardwood floors add value to a home. They never go out of style and are always in demand. You will see beautiful, original hardwood floors in century-old homes.
One drawback to hardwood floors is their price tag. This flooring can be expensive, particularly some of the tougher and more exotic hardwood floor options such as mahogany, Brazilian woods and bamboo (which is technically a grass). Hardwood floors can be noisy and lack the soft feel of carpet, though you can add area rugs where needed. And even the hardest woods can be scratched. Water can cause warping, so hardwood is not a good flooring choice in bathrooms, laundry rooms and basements.
Elements to consider in selection
The hardness of the wood species will determine how well the surface will hold up to wear and tear. Pine and Douglas fir, the softest woods, scratch and dent easily. Red oak and other oak species, which have a mid-grade Janka score, are the most commonly used hardwood floor options.
When it comes to staining hardwood, various colors offer advantages and disadvantages. Dark-stained floors offer a rich luster that contrasts beautifully with lighter cabinets and furniture, but they’ll show every footprint and speck of dust. Mid-level stains may lack the drama of darker colors but will rarely show dirt.
Hardwood floors come in different sheens, similar to paint choices. A high gloss finish shines beautifully, but every smudge or footprint will stand out. At the opposite end is the matte finish. Contrary to what you might expect, this finish can highlight footprints and skids rather than hide them. Semigloss and satin finishes offer the combination of an attractive look and a surface that doesn’t easily reveal dirt and smudges.
Experts recommend that solid hardwood floors be three-quarters-of-an-inch thick. Thinner hardwood floor options may be cheaper, but will be less durable, prone to damage, and will eventually require replacement. Thinness will also limit the number of times the floor can be sanded and refinished over its lifetime.
Make sure all the hardwood you purchase comes from the same lot number. Wood that has the same name and inventory number can still vary slightly in shade if not from the same lot.
Prefinished flooring typically has an aluminum-oxide protective coat over the stain. When raw wood floors are installed on-site and then finished, installers usually apply a protective coat of water-based polyurethane or oil.
Alternatives to hardwood floors
Today there are alternatives to traditional hardwood that still look like wood.
- Engineered wood floors differ in that only the top layer of the boards is hardwood. Beneath this veneer are layers of board similar to plywood. Engineered wood floors cost less than solid hardwood floors but have the same beauty. Be sure to buy engineered wood that is at least five-eighths-of-an-inch thick, with a surface veneer at least three-sixteenths-of-an-inch thick or more. One disadvantage: These floors can be sanded and refinished only once, since the hardwood surface is thinner than with traditional floors.
- Reclaimed wood from old barns, homes, factories and warehouses has become a popular choice in recent years. These floors are environmentally friendly because they use recycled material, not wood from recently cut trees. After this type of wood is gathered, nails are pulled from it and then it is sanded and dried in a kiln. For best results, go see the wood for yourself at the dealer. If you are ordering remotely, ask to see photos.
- Laminate floors, such as Pergo, look like real wood but are made from a synthetic material. These floors are less expensive than hardwood, and recent improvements have made them tough and durable. Laminate floors seem to amplify the sounds of footsteps and dropped items, however, so be sure to have padding installed beneath them to keep them quiet.