Trying to finalize your flooring selection? The guide below will help you on how to select the best wood flooring.
This guide covers the five important factors helping you select the best flooring.
- Where do you want to install the wood floor: Living room, Dining, Office?
- Solid wood or Engineered wood?
- How to pick the best wood species for flooring?
- How to pick the best finish for your wood flooring?
- Why the Grain, plank size and installation method of wood flooring matters?
Let’s check each one with all necessary details you need to know.
Where do you want to install the wood floor: Living room, Dining, Office?
More than 70% people prefer wood floor in their living room. Each room depending upon their use, may look different with different kind of wood! So, there are few things to keep in mind with the room you want to finish.
Same floor in all rooms? Or a combination?
Keeping same flooring in all areas make the entire space look big and uniform. That is true only when you really want the same flooring to continue and the layout of your space really suits that concept. Otherwise, you may want different type of flooring to suit the function of each room.
The living room and dining room has different function. So, keep in mind the possible wear and tear along with look. A nice tile or stone flooring is a better choice in this area rather than keeping same floor everywhere.
Room size vs. Plank size:
The bigger the plank, the richer the look. Places like hotels and restaurants keep 10” wide wood floors to give a rich look. But 10” wide planks may not look good in your living room.
Same way, 2” strips makes the room look very busy. Most shops offer you something between 3” to 5” size plank. Because, it is most cost effective and gives a perfect look in standard size rooms.
Wider planks are costly. The more the width, more is the waste! So, the same wood log can give a greater number of 5” planks compared to 10”. And that’s the reason why the cost goes high with wider planks.
Smaller strips make big rooms look busy. On the other end, smaller rooms, like small kitchen or laundry, may look beautiful with 2” or 3” strips compared to 5” plank!
Solid wood or Engineered wood?
Which one is better? The simple answer is, BOTH. Depending upon specific areas of application, one may prove better than the other.
Material and Making of both types:
Solid wood as the name suggests, is solid. In other words, it is more natural. When you cut it, you can clearly see a cross section of a natural solid wood.
One of the qualities to check in any flooring is- how you feel them barefoot? While, your feet touch the most natural flooring material (which is solid wood), the feel will definitely be better.
On the other end, engineered wood is made in layers. The top layer consists of a thin plank of natural solid wood. And the rest below are layers of treated wood or you can call it ply. It can also be on a particle board backing. This design makes it more stable in case of thermal and moisture changes.
Ability to sand and refinish:
Both of them can be sanded to refinish. But, engineered wood has a limitation due to a thin layer of hardwood on top. Usually, engineered wood can be sanded once or twice while solid wood can go for multiple refinish.
Installation: Thermal and moisture resistance:
Solid wood expands and contracts due to thermal and moisture changes. While, engineered wood will not be affected much due to the layered design.
Engineered wood can be installed almost anywhere in the house. But solid wood can only go on or above ground, meaning not in basements. Solid wood in basements can easily catch moisture from grade and surroundings.
Moisture in summer causes solid wood to expand and dryness in winter do the opposite. Also, the temperature variations add up some more. This issue will cause cracking, cupping, crowning, gaps and splits.
On the other end, the layers in engineered wood are set in opposite directions. As a result, the ply pattern ultimately restricts the overall expansion or contraction.
How to pick the best wood species for flooring?
Below are the choices available on wood floor types or species. Looks, durability and price are the three main factors that will determine your choice.
The details in this section are mainly for solid wood as a flooring material. But the same wood species are used for making engineered wood floors also.
Oak is one of the most popular among all wood types. It is all about the grain pattern and smoothness.
There are two types of Oak, Red Oak and White Oak. Red Oak is more popular in home owners because of the color and grain pattern. Both types look great with clear coat or lighter stain.
Oak is popular because of its strength, availability and ability to reflect stain. It can be pre-finished or stained at site with variety of different colors and shades. The pattern of grains perfectly suits the width of planks generally used for flooring (3 to 5 inches).
If you don’t want too much grains and go for more smoother look, maple is the best choice. Pure white sap wood is costly but you can find combination of heart and sap wood.
(Now here are two terms which you may want to know the meaning. Sapwood vs. heartwood. So, Sapwood is the outer layer of the tree trunk which is alive. And the Heartwood is the inner layer which is not alive.
In other words, sapwood transport the nutrients to different parts of tree. When dead it becomes heartwood and does not supply nutrients. Sapwood is lighter in color and heartwood is dark. So, any wood species will have a lighter shade with sapwood and darker shade with heartwood!)
Maple is very sensitive to humidity. Be cautious about acclimatizing this particular species. And please follow the manufacturer’s instructions on that.
Hickory is not very common in residential uses. It is good for high traffic areas and so more common in commercial spaces. It is harder than Oak and Maple and little more difficult to work with compared to those two.
Hickory has dense grains and that’s why it may look very busy on smaller plank widths. Usually, the planks with 5” or more on width will justify Hickory’s style of grain to enhance the look.
Hickory is one of the hardest solid wood used for flooring. And it has a Janka rating of 1820.
(Janka rating or Janka hardness scale is the test scale to measure the hardness of wood. A small steel ball is inserted with force in to the wood plank to measure the hardness and resistance to wear or denting. Only half of the ball is inserted and the force is measured in pounds force lbf. The force required becomes the rating of that wood. For example, Hickory is 1820 and Red Oak is 1290.)
It is a softer wood with Janka hardness 950. Most hardwood floors are above 1000 if you want to avoid wear and tear susceptibility.
But Cherry is one of the most good looking and wood looking material. It is a magical color changing wood floor. Starts with lighter pink tone and changes in to rich red after few months. Usually between 6 to 12 months.
All-natural wood floors change colors after some time. But the effect (Patina) on Cherry is more noticeable.
(Patina is the change in color after some age. The exposure to light, wear and tear cause the wood to change its color. Wear and Tear is more physical and does not add much. Oxidation is chemical process which plays bigger role in causing Patina. The results depend on the level of exposure to light and other weathering effects. Also, depends upon the type of material it is affecting. Cherry is one of the woods showing significant changes in color.)
This is one of the wood species that gives you a nice natural wood feel. It is hardly stained and left with clear coat to glow in its natural mood.
Ash and Oak both are very close in look and grain pattern. It is little harder than Red Oak and less hard compared to White Oak. There is a specific reason for using the term less hard instead of soft. Because any wood above 1000 in Janka scale is a good hard wood for flooring purpose.
It has a natural brighter color. The swirling grains of Ash will look more beautiful with almost any stain.
Canadian Ash is facing a big issue since few years. The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is destroying this species wildly. And Ash trees will be extinct in Canada very soon.
(The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is a Pest native to Asia. It is a threat to Ash trees because once infested, the tree is devastated fully. It is difficult to control their growth. There is no known natural predator in North America that can kill EAB.
Once entered in a region it can destroy all the Ash trees in that area within 10 years. Read more here in “Natural Resources Canada”
Bamboo is not a natural solid hardwood. It is natural, but it is a grass not a wood. Bamboo’s outer layer is shredded or cut in to strips first. The shredded particles are glued and hot pressed in machine to make the board or plank. On the other end, the strands are woven and compressed to make the planks.
Bamboo is unique in making but offers equal or greater benefits compared to hardwood. Same like solid wood, a thin veneer of Bamboo can be used to make engineered wood with a ply backing.
Bamboo is much more eco friendly material. Moreover, it takes about 5 years for it to grow compared to 15 to 20 years of solid hardwood. Also, it is never cut from its roots and the grass keeps growing after harvest, using the same root.
Mahogany is harder than many other wood species. It is harder because it is dense. Due to the dense packed structure, it is good in resisting water and scratches.
It is one of the most durable and long-lasting wood species. Mahogany is dark in appearance and merges well with furniture.
On the hardness scale (Janka scale), Mahogany is almost double compared to Oak species. This hardness makes it difficult to work with. That’s why it is not a favourite one for manufacturer’s and installers.
It is already dark in color and it will be darker after few months of installation (due to Patina!). So, try to choose the lightest one while picking it for install. Eventually, it will gain the desired look with Patina.
No other wood species can match the appearance of Walnut. It is like a naturally and randomly stained wood! Why? Because, it has a combination of dark and light spots giving it a unique natural look.
It is necessary to understand the color changes in wood before selecting a stain. Walnut (Specifically black Walnut) is the one you wouldn’t like to stain. Usually, people prefer to stain the light-colored wood. And leave the dark colored one with a clear coat.
In terms of color changing, Walnut is different than Cherry or Maple. Cherry and Maple get darker after some time. While, Walnut get lighter over a period of few months. Walnut changes from dark greyish tone to light golden one.
Teak could be local, imported or reclaimed. Local teak will be most economical. The native of Teak is South East Asia and the imported one will obviously be costly. Reclaimed teak is the one being recycled. The teak salvaged from old structures demolition can be reused and called reclaimed wood.
The maturity age of teak is 80 to 100 years. They need to be harvested after at least 80 years to enjoy the real teak wood properties. Just for commercializing, they are harvested early at 40 to 60 years of age. And you can still enjoy some good properties like hardness and water resistance.
Teak is brown or golden brown in appearance with long and straight grains. It is rich in oil and densely packed making it very hard and durable. Teak is very good in resisting water. Also, resisting insects and mold.
It is so hard that it is used to make boats and decks. As a flooring material, it is not very good from workability point of view. Due to its hardness and availability issues, the imported teak is very costly.
The color variation of Jarrah is unique and makes one of the most beautiful floors. It has a variation of colors with Pink, Red, Tan, Grey or Maroon. That’s why most people leave it with a clear coat to let the natural look highlighted.
The native place of Jarrah is Australia. So, Jarrah wood is imported to North America. Most of this come pre finished to avoid workmanship issues due to hardness of Jarrah. Also, to avoid shipping of large logs and extra weight which is a wastage after production.
It is costly due to availability and amount of work required to finish it.
Jarrah is very hard and dense. It is harder than Red Oak with 1910 on Janka scale. The density and weight make it heavy duty and best choice for high traffic areas.
Oak and Jarrah are so strong that they are used to make rail sleepers. While used as flooring, we get the advantage of this strength and we can use it for heavy traffic areas.
Moreover, Jarrah is resistant to dents, insects and fungi.
Mesquite is native to Southern America and Mexico. It is a deciduous tree but with shrub like appearance in some regions.
If you want a solid wood with qualities close to engineered wood, Mesquite can be a best fit. Because, Mesquite is dimensionally much more stable compared to many other hardwoods.
When dried, the change in volume is one third (1/3) compared to many other wood species. This is an indication of it being dimensionally more stable during weather changes.
Despite of having hardness of 2345 on Janka scale, it is good to work with especially in terms of machining. (Red Oak is 1290 and White Oak is 1360 – to compare with!)
Small strips and parquet floor of Mesquite are more common. It is rare to find longer and very wider planks.
Cost effectiveness of wood species:
It is not only the hardness or strength which controls the prices. The availability, workability, look and stainability also decide the pricing.
Imported wood are costly due to shipping. For North America, the wood species like Teak and Jarrah are imported. Importing them as logs is even more costly. Prefinished ones are little economical but you lose a control over size and look.
The native species are more cost effective due to availability. That’s why Oak is one of the best fits. Oak is perfect in terms of availability, look and hardness.
The harder the wood, the more difficult to cut and carve. Machine cutting and nailing is easier on softer woods. In other words, the hardwood close to 1000 on Janka scale is easier to work with.
For example, Hickory (1820 on Janka scale) is harder to work with. While Cherry (950 on Janka Scale) or Red Oak (1290 on Janka Scale) are good in handling.
This material property will directly affect the costs.
Look and Stainability
The density and grain pattern of the wood affects the capacity to absorb and reflect the stain. For example, pine or birch may show up dark spots or blotches when stained.
Although, pine and birch are not typical flooring materials. But the hardwood used as flooring may show some of those kinds of defects.
Cherry, on other end has a totally different tendency. It magically changes its color from Pink to Red with a noticeable variation. The stain applied on a Pink Cherry will look totally different after few months.
Most of them have a perfect natural look. A clear coat without a stain is much better option. The grain pattern and color plays major role on what to select. Moreover, prices vary based on look and stainability.
How to pick the best finish for your wood flooring?
Unfinished wood is porous, and it can absorb any liquid or chemical. Finishing coats do not just improve the look, they also increase the durability and life of wood floor.
One coat of sealer and two layers of finishing coats will give a desired look as well protection.
There are varieties of finishes available, depending upon the durability and look you prefer. Urethane is the most advanced one and most popular so far. There are different types of Urethane and they are discussed below.
The choice depends on the factors like;
- Drying Time
- Ease of application
- Discoloration after some time (yellowing)
- Susceptibility to stains and
- Bonding with wood (penetration).
The above factors will help you decide the best finish for your floor.
What is the best finish for hardwood floors?
Each finish has its own distinct features. Water based poly urethane is one of the most popular now a days.
Please see below table to help understand advantage or disadvantage of using different finishes.
*The finish like acid cured or Swedish finish dries faster but the fumes (odour) will take 2 to 3 days to go.
** DIY – Do it Yourself (easy application), PRO- Need a professional applicator.
Please Note that drying time above is the time it takes to make it suitable for walking (not with shoes or barefoot- only socks!).
There is a difference between drying time and curing time. Curing time is longer and in days not hours. It is when the finish is completely set and no fumes or hardening is happening.
Why the Grain, plank size and installation method of wood flooring matters?
Understanding the wood grains and pattern:
The logs are sawn in three different ways, Plain, Rift and Quarter. Plain sawn wood floor is common and economical. While Rift sawn or Quarter sawn is costly due to strength. Also, complex cutting and more wastage in case of Rift sawn and Quarter sawn adds up the cost.
How long and wide should wood floor plank be?
Most of it on plank width is covered in the beginning of this post. Length wise, the standard planks are 3 to 5 ft long. The more the length or width, the more will be the price.
The longer and wider planks help you keep less seams (joints). And less seams means a better enhanced look.
Once again, you need to consider room size vs. plank size to get the best fit.
What is the best way to install hardwood floor?
Depending upon the substrate below, there are about 4 methods from which you can choose to install.
Nailed Down – on wood subfloor.
Stapled – on wood subfloor.
Glued – on concrete or wood.
Floating – on concrete or wood (No nails, glue or staples).
Stapled install is easier and better in case of hardwood floor. When using engineered flooring, the quickest and best is floating floor. Floating floor gives ease of install as well maintenance.
Hope the above guide will make you a well-informed buyer. Use this guide before selecting your wood flooring. Also, check the warranty on materials and installations. You should also be aware of some common deficiencies before you accept a newly installed floor!