Hardwood Flooring 101: A Homeowner’s Guide

If you’re in the market for new floors, hardwood is a timeless, versatile choice that brings natural warmth and elegance to the kitchen and bath. But there’s a lot to consider between solid hardwood, engineered wood, and more when installing hardwood flooring. This hardwood flooring 101 guide breaks down the key facts so you can make an informed decision for your home.

Table of Contents

The Appeal of Wood Floors

Hardwood has remained the most popular flooring material for good reason. Natural wood grains and textures’ rich beauty and character create an inviting, lived-in style. Hardwood also suits any architectural style from traditional to contemporary. Unlike carpet or vinyl, hardwoods like oak, walnut, and exotic species bring vintage charm that doesn’t fade.

Types of Wood Flooring

Based on market evaluations from Floor Focus magazine, demand for hardwood flooring materials has continued gaining around 3-6% a year driven by home and business renovations and appreciation for wood floor beauty and value.

With so many flooring options on the market, it helps to understand the differences:

Solid Hardwood

As the name implies, solid hardwood floor planks are milled from a single piece of timber. This type generally lasts the longest – sanded and refinished repeatedly over decades. Durable North American hardwood species like oak, maple, cherry, and hickory are common.

Benefits

  • Offers the most natural wood look, highlighting the depth and character of real wood grains

  • Can be repeatedly sanded down and refinished over decades for a long life

  • Adds value for home resale

  • Variety of plank lengths/widths possible for the desired look

Considerations

  • Most expensive hardwood flooring option

  • More prone to contractions/expansions with humidity changes

  • Not suitable for some basements/crawlspaces

Engineered Hardwood

Engineered wood flooring fuses a real wood veneer top layer with multiple underlying wood ply layers. This layered “sandwich” construction makes engineered wood more stable and less prone to shrinking/expanding with humidity changes than solid wood. The veneer thickness varies.

Benefits

  • The real wood top layer shows attractive grain patterns

  • Sub-layers resist shrinking/swelling in humidity

  • Allows wider/longer plank formats like “slab” woods

  • Can install over radiant floor heating systems

  • An affordable option still using real wood

Considerations

  • A thinner veneer layer limits sanding/refinishing capacity

  • Look best with low-sheen matte finishes to mimic solid wood

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring has the look of hardwood created through a printed photographic applique layer. The material is a synthetic composite of resins and wood byproducts fused to a core backing. More affordable but less durable than natural wood.

Benefits

  • The most affordable simulated wood flooring option

  • Easy snap-fit floating floor installation works over existing floors

  • High durability wear layer resists scratches, dents, stains

  • Mimics stone, tile, and exotic wood visions

Considerations

  • Cannot refinish laminate flooring

  • Lacks depth and feel of natural solid woods

  • Not suitable for wet areas without membranes

Things to Consider When Choosing Hardwood Floors For Home Remodeling

From the type of construction to grain patterns, finish options, and board widths, several factors affect the project’s final look, performance, and cost.

Construction

  • Solid wood’s natural beauty comes at a price – it typically costs more than engineered wood or laminates. But solid woods can be refinished many times over generations. This is the reason why solid wood is most commonly used when it comes to home remodeling.

  • Engineered wood is still real wood on the surface but less expensive thanks to the core layers. Most engineered planks can’t be refinished more than once or twice though.

  • Laminates carry the lowest upfront cost and simulate wood visions well initially, but lack refinishing capacity and dent more easily.

Wood Species

  • Oak remains the most popular species thanks to its attractive grain, medium hardness, and warm hues. Variances in red oak vs white oak are mostly color-related.

  • Exotic woods like Brazilian cherry or African mahogany provide visually striking grains and richer color tones but usually cost more. They are also harder to source sustainably.

  • Domestic maple wood brings lighter coloring and small tight wood grains for an understated look. Soft woods like pine are affordable but show wear rapidly.

Plank Widths

  • Traditional 3”-5” plank widths lend historic character.

  • Wide-width planks of 7”-9” have a dramatic, stylish effect.

  • Variable-width planks create free-flowing natural patterns.

  • Long ‘slab wood’ planks minimize seams for a contemporary linear look.

Grain Patterns

  • Straight uniform grains keep the look understated

  • Grain variation with streaks or arches adds free-flowing visual interest

  • Distressed wood displays intentional cracks, worm holes, knots, or gloss-level differences

  • Specialty patterns like parquetry or herringbone patterns interlock small planks

Finish Options

  • Matte finishes minimize glare and hide wear effectively. Higher gloss finishes bring out the wood’s depth.

  • Stains introduce color tones from ebony to cherry without obscuring the grain.

  • Unfinished wood awaits your custom stain or gloss treatment. Site-finished is messier.

  • Unique hand scraping, smoking, or wire-brushing methods customize planks.

Moisture and Acclimation

It’s worth noting that freshly milled lumber continues releasing moisture gradually. Proper space acclimation before installation allows the wood to adjust to indoor humidity and temperature conditions and settle into stability. Storing planks on-site for 72+ hours is advised.

Site Considerations

  • Subfloor prep and site conditions must meet manufacturer specifications to avoid expansion issues. Any moisture issues below must be remediated before hardwood installation.

  • National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) certified installers understand best practices for that region’s humidity range.

  • Expect to remove the existing base trim and transitional moldings to allow the new flooring to slip underneath.

Who Are the Major Hardwood Flooring Brands?

With so many players it helps to know the major brands across categories:

Solid Hardwood

  • Bruce

  • Shaw

  • Mohawk

  • Somerset

  • Hallmark Floors

  • Anderson Hardwood Floors

Engineered Hardwood

  • Shaw

  • Bruce

  • Armstrong Flooring

  • Anderson Hardwood Floors

  • Mirage Hardwood Floors

  • Kährs International

Laminate Brands

  • Pergo

  • Shaw Floors

  • Mohawk

  • Kronotex USA

  • Armstrong Flooring

  • QuickStep

  • Mannington

Reputable brands source ecologically and use sustainable manufacturing processes. Many offer warranties covering defects for 5 years to the life of the floor. Established furniture brands also tend to have better product availability for future repairs.

Costs To Install Hardwood Flooring

There’s significant variance in price across common types of hardwood flooring materials and styles. Generally, prices per square foot fall in these ranges:

  • Solid Hardwood Floors – $3-15 psf

  • Engineered Wood Floors – $3-13 psf

  • Laminate Floors – $1-5 psf

Of course, the wood species makes a major cost difference too. for example, Domestic oak, maple, or pine cost less than exotic woods. Factory-finished flooring is generally cheaper than site-finished custom work too. Herringbone patterns and inlay designs require specialized added labor as well.

Beyond materials, hardwood floor installation costs an average $3-5 per square foot to hire NWFA professionals. Rip-out of old floors, subfloor prep, base trim adjustments, etc further affect the final price. Be sure to incorporate those factors into creating your flooring budget!

Bottomline

Hardwood flooring immediately creates a warm, welcoming feel with timeless appeal. Thanks to great strides in product engineering, there are durable, stable flooring options that are suitable for any room nowadays. Doing your homework on the considerations above ensures your investment choice reflects your style. Consult reputable local flooring showrooms to view samples so you can see the woods, grains, and gloss options up close. Then enjoy personalized floors for a lifetime!

Share This Post
More To Explore