Complete guide to choosing the best hardwood floor

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If there is anything that I know about it is -  how to choose a hardwood floor for your home. Throughout my years in the flooring store, I have literally lost count how many clients I have helped select wood for their homes. When it is time for you to select a hardwood for your home it can feel super overwhelming especially when you see how much selection there is to choose from. Here's what you need to know and consider before you buy a hardwood floor for your home.

The first thing to consider when you are ready to buy a new hardwood is who is going to be living on the floor.

Take into consideration all the users of the home and don't forget to include to ones with furry feet. Pets and kids that live in the home are known to be the biggest concern for wear and tear on the hardwood.  If children are to leave drink spills unattended or puppies have accidents your flooring may become discolored.

Dogs are also known to damage hardwood just by walking on them as they don't retract their nails. Don't think that you are safe from scratches just because your dog isn't 90lbs. as small dogs tend to slip and slide on the floor and can leave fine scratches. If you're concerned then this is where you might want to stop here and consider another type of flooring. Remember - owning a wood floor is like having a piece of furniture on your floor. This means hardwood is not suitable for every home - even if it is beautiful. 

Next, you want to consider what rooms your flooring is being installed in.

Now - I know you're thinking I must be asking this because of wear. But the true reason to ask yourself this is - because not all hardwood floors can be installed over all types of subfloors. Solid hardwood floors need to be installed over plywood only. Particle board is not structurally sound and allows for more movement on the floor and isn't recommended for solid wood for this reason. NOTE: Most all hardwood manufactures will not stand behind a warranty of a solid hardwood installed over a particle board subfloor.

Engineered hardwood floors can be installed over concrete, (OSB) oriented strand board and even particle board. If your home is an existing home a good indicator of what subfloor is installed in your home can be detected by what's already installed on the floor.

Most kitchens & baths typically have vinyl flooring installed and the proper subfloor would be a plywood for gluing down vinyl. This is a great indicator you have plywood in the area. Carpeted areas don't need plywood subfloors and the subfloors in these areas are usually found to be particle board subfloors.

If you're not sure what kind of subfloor you have an easy way to find out is by pulling up your heat vent and take a peek at the floor around the vent. If you own a home that's considered a mobile home, double wide or modular home then most often they have OSB subfloors. 

Know the differences in the way the hardwood floor is constructed. 

There are 3 different ways hardwood floors are available. Knowing the difference will make it easier for you to be able to recognize the differences in the store. This can save you lots of time by narrowing down your selection. 

 Solid Hardwood   

Solid Hardwood

 

A solid hardwood floor is just that - solid.

They are made from solid wood and is sliced off a tree log lengthways measuring 3/4" thick. This cut of wood will typically have a tighter grain pattern - especially seen on oak wood. The benefit of this wood is you have the ability to sand and refinish the wood up to 3 times. This benefit allows for scratches and indentations to be removed with age and use.

The widest width this floor is typically found in is 5 inches. This availability is due to the instability of the wood at wider widths. The wider width the floor is the more sensitive it becomes to temperature and humidity changes within the home. This is due to a solid floor is only able to expand and retract from side to side. Monitoring of the environment should be considered when choosing this type of flooring. Solid floors shouldn't be installed on concrete due to the risk of moisture and instability of a concrete slab. 

Engineered hardwood floor is man made of a ply construction.

 Engineered Hardwood

Engineered Hardwood

The top layer will typically be a more desirable wood species such as oak or hickory veneer and the bottom ply of wood may consist of anything from red oak or poplar (this will never be seen once installed). The construction of this floor in plys makes the floor more stable and less susceptible to temperature and humidity changes. These engineered floors can be found in wider widths above 5 inches due to their stability. Engineered wood is typically considered a rotary cut - as the wood is peeled off the log in the same way you would peel an apple. This type of cut will allow for more open or wider grain patterns.

These floors can be found in different thicknesses but are typically found in 3/8" and 1/2" thicknesses. With the different thicknesses comes more plys the more plys the floor has the more stable it becomes. Monitoring of the environment is still recommended but is a bit more forgiving with an engineered wood. This floor type can also be installed below grade and on concrete but must be glued down in these installs. Remember - not all wood glues are created equal and a floor to be glued down is only as good as the glue is itself. Don't opt for the cheapest glue available. I would expect a good wood glue to cost at least $.50sf.  

Some engineered hardwood floors are now being made with a core board. 

Core boards have been primarily available used in laminate flooring for years as its center structure. These core boards are created with a mixture of sawdust and resin glue. This mixture is then pressed and condensed causing the material to become very hard and durable. Hardwood flooring manufacturers have now adopted this same technology into some engineered wood flooring. The core board provides a more dense hardwood that is less likely to indent from items being dropped on them. This type of center is sandwiched between a wood veneer top and a thin ply backing. This product is only available to be glued down in installations or floated by gluing the floor on the tongue as the core board will not hold a staple.

Why you should choose a prefinished floor instead of a sand and finish hardwood floor

 Core Board Hardwood

Core Board Hardwood

Prefinished floors are floors come from the manufacturer already stained and ready to be installed. Prefinished floors are milled, stained and finished in a controlled environment. This controlled environment provides a finish that's without trash in the finish, is stained consistently, and has additives (called aluminum oxide) in the finish that adds to the durability of the finish. This more durable finish will prevent your finish from dulling in high traffic areas as quick as other wood finishes. This urethane finish is then baked and cured on to provide a stronger, cleaner, more durable finish than a job site floor that was sanded and finished. 

Sand and finish hardwood floors are raw wood and must be installed, sanded, stained, and then a finish added. Causing quite the mess in your home even with the dustless containment systems. The same technology finish isn't available to job site floors as you get on a prefinished floor as there is no way to bake the finish on to the floor in a home environment. This means over time you will see the finish on a sand and finish hardwood floor dull quicker in a high traffic area faster than you will a prefinished hardwood floor.

I like to describe it to my own clients like - the difference between going to the local car dealership and buying a new car with a factory finish compared to buying a used car and taking it to the local auto body shop for a new paint job. The factory paint job is always going to be more durable and be a prettier finish - the same is true of hardwood flooring. 

Before installation - do your homework. 

There are some things you can do to make sure your home is suitable for hardwood. If your home has a foundation crawl space check to make sure your home has plastic installed under the home. This plastic will act as a vapor barrier and will help eliminate any excess moisture from coming through your subfloor to your new hardwood.

Purchase a small digital thermometer for your home that contains a humidity monitor on it as well. These can usually be purchased at your local home improvement store or Walmart for around $10 - this small investment can save you hundreds of dollars. As I mentioned earlier it's important to make sure your home is temperature controlled as the hardwood can act as a sponge and will soak up any excess moisture in the home.

This excessive moisture can cause your floor to cup or have a washboard look due to swelling of the boards. Excessive moisture can lead to the destruction of your floor if not monitored and controlled properly. Your relative humidity in the home should be between 35-50% ideally for your wood. NOTE: Don't go off on vacation and cut your ac unit up high causing your home's humidity to rise or you could come home to a damaged floor. A few dollars saved while on vacation can cost big bucks when you return home - NO ONE wants this unexpected expense.  

Warranties and how to care for your hardwood floor.

All prefinished wood carries warranties from the manufacturer. Many of these warranties are against wear on the floor. But I can tell you with the prefinished flooring you will never walk the finish off the floors with normal wear. If your floor has a finish issue it will be and should be found by an installer during the installation process.

Hardwoods also carry structural warranties. These warranties are against the flooring coming apart. With solid hardwood that is impossible unless the floor is cracked coming out of the box. When engineered floors come apart we call it delamination. The only instance I have ever seen of this happening is when the floor has been wet with water - which isn't a manufacturing defect. 

It's extremely important to make sure the flooring is installed properly by either using a qualified flooring installer or by clearly reading all of the enclosed instructions in the box. If you are installing your wood yourself clearly read the instructions for the proper amount of staples to be used and the distance they should be apart - as not all floors are the same. If there is ever a problem with your floor an inspector will check the staple pattern with magnets to ensure it was installed correctly. 

How you care for your hardwood can affect your warranty. 

Lots of homeowners tend to ask their installer how to clean their floor. This is a mistake -  as most installers are familiar with how to install the floor but not how the manufacturer recommends caring for the floor. Always ask the person who sold you the floor or by calling the manufacture's technical department the proper way to clean your wood.

STEAM MOPS SHOULD NEVER BE USED ON A HARDWOOD FLOOR. 


That's right! I know its a shocker right - because how many times have you seen the infomercial telling you it was great for your hardwood. Well, the truth is they are not good for hardwoods for the same reasons we have been talking about with heat and humidity. The steam mop generates lots of heat that can actually scorch the urethane on your floors finish and the steam is putting excessive moisture on to your floor. You will likely not see immediate damage from the use of these steam mops, however, over a period time from mopping you will slowly begin to see your floor begin to cup (bowing on the outside edges).

You can sweep your floor with a regular broom or use a vacuum cleaner for flat surfaces only - no beater bar. Then you can use a mop with a removable terry cloth head - allowing it to be washed. You will simply spray a recommended hardwood floor cleaner on the floor and then mop it off with the mop. Years later if your floor becomes older and duller there are floor refreshers that can be applied to bring up the luster on the floor like a polish. I would discourage you from using a polish frequently as it is likely to cause a film on the floor and will attract dirt. Reserve the polish for years down the road. Stay away from cleaners such as wet Swiffer as they can apply to many chemicals on the floor and avoid sticky soaps such as Murphy's Oil Soap. 

As you can see there are lots to take into consideration when you are ready to choose a hardwood floor. If you are needing more technical information on installing hardwoods or specifics then you can go here to check out Armstrongs Floor Expert website. But I would always recommend checking with your floors manufacture as they can all be slightly different. 

These options can feel so overwhelming but if you use this guide to help you are sure to make a wiser investment in your homes new floor. If you are still unsure if the wood you are looking at is right for your home. Then I am here to help with a design consultation we can come up with a solution that is fit for you and your home. You can go here to schedule a consultation. 

Maybe this all seems like just too many variables for you and your home. There are other lots of other great flooring options available. You can go here to get my ebook on what you need to know before you buy your next new floor. In this ebook, I go over all the other types of flooring and what you should know before you buy your next new floor.