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A Beginner’s Guide to Wood Flooring

Whether you are remodeling your current home or building a new one, there are lots of things to keep in mind when considering wood flooring for your home. By no means am I an expert but having gone through this myself I have retained quite a bit of knowledge from doing my own research.

One of the biggest things I discovered is that when it comes to wood floors, one size does not fit all. What I mean by this is your home environment or subfloor may limit the type of floor you can even install. By understanding all of the pros and cons of each wood floor type, you can best choose which wood option is right for your home and lifestyle.

Popular Wood Flooring Options

  1. Solid Hardwood
  2. Engineered Hardwood
  3. Laminate

When purchasing wood floors, you typically have three most popular wood (or modified wood) flooring options to choose from. Let’s discuss these types of flooring and what to consider with each option.

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image credit: Brilliance Flooring

Solid Hardwood

With the use of solid hardwood being used for centuries, people desire the look and beauty of real hardwood floors. Although hardwood is usually the most organic and desired option, it may not be the best option for your home. See below for the pros and cons of hardwood.

Pros

  • Value: Investing in hardwood flooring is known to increase the value of your home. It’s beauty, character, and structural integrity is known to last for decades. Therefore, hardwood flooring is almost always an investment that will pay off in the long run.
  • Selection: Real hardwood flooring will always have the most options and selection available for the picking unlike the other wood flooring options where options are limited.
  • Able to Refinish: Most hardwood options allow you to sand it down and refinish it several times in its lifetime. So if you choose a stain you like today and want to change it in the future or your floor has suffered lots of scratches and scrapes, you can always sand down the color and scratches and refinish it to the color of your liking. (Note: just check the dimension
  • Stability: Due to the thickness of hardwood planks, it can withstand uneven sub-flooring better than many other wood flooring variations such as laminate and some thinner engineered hardwood options. Overall, this means hardwood will feel more solid underfoot.

Cons:

  • Price: It’s no secret that real hardwood is more expensive than the other wood options. Although the investment can pay off in keeping its value in the long run, its high price may not even make it an option for you financially in the short term.
  • Wearability: Hardwood floors are susceptible to everyday wear and tear. It may not be ideal for high traffic areas or homes with children or pets because it can/will scratch.
  • Moisture: Hardwood is obviously made of solid wood; therefore, it is porous and will absorb moisture – causing it to expand and contract due to changes in temperature or moisture exposure. This means hardwood is susceptible to warping and buckling if exposed to too much moisture. Hardwood is most affected by moisture compared to other wood flooring types, where laminate and engineered hardwood are made to withstand more moisture.
  • Installation limitations: Because  of its moisture issue, hardwood is picky about where it can be installed. Hardwood should not be installed below grade (aka. below ground level which usually means basements, etc) or over radiant heat. It also should not be installed over a concrete subfloor (as opposed to a wood-subfloor) because of the moisture that concrete is known to hold, which is a huge limitation for many modern day built homes.

Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwood is usually the best of both worlds – it gives you the look of real hardwood but has more of the durability benefits that laminate provides. Engineered hardwood gets its name by how its made. It consists of a real hardwood layer on top that’s glued to a compressed board of either plywood or high density fiberboard underneath.

Pros

  • Moisture: Because of how its constructed, engineered hardwood is able to withstand more moisture than solid hardwood. Meaning, it will not contract and expand as much due to the changes in temperature and moisture.
  • Appearance: Since engineered hardwood has the hardwood veneer top, it means you do not have to sacrifice the natural look and feel of real hardwood for something that is more durable to moisture.
  • Price: Engineered hardwood is often much less in price compared to the solid hardwood options. So you can get the look you want without the high price tag. However, laminate will still likely be your cheapest option.
  • Installation Flexibility: Because of the benefits of its construction, engineered hardwood can sometimes be installed on low grade surfaces (aka below ground level), it can be installed over radiant heat, and it can also be installed over a concrete subfloor. It can also be floated which makes is easier for DIYers.

Cons

  • Wear and Tear: Although engineer hardwood is more durable when it comes to moisture compared to solid hardwood, it doesn’t have much a difference when it comes to everyday wear and tear. Just like solid hardwood, this type can also get scratched. Therefore, it may not be best for high traffic areas or for homes with children or inside pets. (Tip: always order a sample and give it the wear and tear test – ex. take a key to it, pulverize it with high heels, do whatever you can to determine if it makes sense for you.)
  • Selection: Although most retailers have tremendous amount of engineered hardwood options, its selection is still lacking in variation when compared to what is available in solid hardwood (in my opinion).
  • Not Always Able to Refinish: Depending on the depth of the hardwood top veneer, only some engineered hardwoods are able to be sanded down and refinished for a limited amount of times. Most products will include this information if it is able to be refinished but always do your research if this option is important to you.
  • Stability: Depending on the thickness of the plank,  not all engineered hardwood planks will react to uneven sub-flooring  in the same way. Rule of thumb – the thicker your plank the better it will withstand the unevenness often found in concrete subfloors but a thicker plank will also likely be more expensive. Overall, a thinner plank is still fine and does the job but it will not feel as solid underfoot and may bow in dips in the subfloor when walked on. You can see photo examples of thickness in my other post.)

Laminate

Laminate flooring is likely the most versatile in where it can be installed compared to all wood flooring types because of its replicated, strong wear top and compressed core. Instead of being made of solid hardwood throughout like hardwood flooring or having a hardwood veneer like engineered hardwood, laminate is manufactured from paper and fiberboard that is digitally printed to give it that appearance of real wood and finished with a durable wear layer that is moisture and scratch resistant.

Pros

  • Wear and Tear: Because of its moisture and scratch resistant top, its durability is an attractive feature for homeowners with inside pets and children. Laminate also works for high-traffic areas in the home such as living spaces that may not be as ideal for hardwood.
  • Install Anywhere: Laminate can be installed in almost any room in your house. Whether its above or below ground level or over wood or concrete sub-flooring.
  • Price: Because of its cheaper construction materials, laminate is typically the cheapest option of wood flooring by far.
  • Easy Install: Unlike many solid hardwood options that may require nail down installation, laminate flooring can be floated over most existing floors. And with its easy tongue and groove structure, it can easily be installed by most beginner DIYers.

Cons

  • Appearance: With modern day technology, many laminates are made to look nearly exactly like hardwood. However, in my opinion, laminates are not able to replicate the natural texture of the grain that real hardwood has. (Tip: When online shopping, always order a sample to ensure you like the laminate look in person as much as you do on screen. It often looks extremely different so this step is important.)
  • Cannot Refinish: Unlike solid hardwoods and some engineered hardwoods, laminate is not refinish-able because it technically is not made of real wood.
  • Noise: Because of its structure, laminate floors are often loud to walk on. However, the right underlayment can help reduce the echo that can be caused underneath a floated floor.
  • Stability: Similar story to some engineered hardwoods, laminate planks are not as thick or as strong as solid hardwood and therefore can dip when pressure is applied in low places of the sub-floor – making the floor not feel as solid.

Additional Tips:

  • Whether you are shopping online or in store, always get a sample to look at in your home. It’s important to ensure that the warm or cool colors in your floor sample, compliments either the warm or cool colors of your walls, cabinets, furniture, etc. The lighting in a store will be different than in your home and a computer screen can make colors look different than in person – therefore, seeing a sample in its actual environment is a must.
  • Once you’ve made your selection and your floors have arrived, let the planks acclimate to your home environment for at least 48 hours before installation. If you don’t, your floors can buckle after installation.
  • Examine all of your flooring for color, finish, or quality issues before installing. Many retailers will replace damaged items during a specific time frame before installing.
  • When measuring your space to determine the amount of floor you need, always add in an additional 10% waste.

 

That’s all of the tips I have for you for now. I wish you all good luck in selecting the right wood flooring for your home. Please contact feel free to contact me with any questions you may have along the way. 🙂

To see the wood floor I went with for our home, check out my hardwood floor reveal post.

References:
https://www.builddirect.com/learning-center/
http://woodfloors.org/types.aspx
http://www.brillianceflooring.com/resources/2015/11/16/what-type-of-floor-do-i-have

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