Installing hardwood floors is a great way to increase your home’s value – and catch the interest of prospective home buyers. Although wood floors are generally more expensive to buy and install than carpet or vinyl, they lasts for decades. Before you set out to shop for your new floor, be sure to refer to my guide.
Solid wood flooring is made from one continuous piece of wood. Most is 3/4 inch thick. When you look crosswise at a piece of solid flooring, you may see growth rings or striations, but there are no layers or ply. Wood strips are anywhere from 1-1/2 inches to about 2-1/4 inches wide. Planks are wider than 2-1/4 inches. Most strip and plank flooring is milled with tongue-and-groove edges so boards will fit together, but some planks are flat-edged for a more rustic look.
Types of wood: The hardest species are hickory, pecan, hard maple, and white oak. Next on the list: white ash, beech, red oak, yellow birch, green ash, and black walnut. Cherry and mahogany are softer, but still make gorgeous and durable floors. Pine is a softwood, so it may dent and ding, but for many homeowners, that adds to the floor’s charm. And, like hardwoods, pine should last the lifetime of your home. Southern yellow pine is the hardest pine and is recommended for higher-traffic areas. Heart pine, from the center section of old-growth Southern longleaf yellow pine, is difficult to come by and expensive, but some experts say heart pine rivals red oak in hardness. Pine flooring is often sold in widths from 4 to 16 inches to simulate what was used in Colonial-era homes.
Engineered wood flooring is made from layers of wood stacked and glued together under heat and pressure. There are usually three or five layers stacked with grains running perpendicular to each other. All wood expands and contracts with heat and humidity, but engineered wood is more dimensionally stable because the layers keep the movement in balance.
Because it is less inclined to swell and shrink, engineered wood can be laid in areas where solid wood cannot, such as over concrete or in high-moisture areas.
Salvaged lumber offers an aged and distressed look. Antique or recycled lumber involves more labor (removing from old buildings, pulling out nails, drying, etc.). But it can be worth the price if you’re hoping to lay a floor that matches an old pine one.
When buying recycled lumber, make sure it has been kiln-dried. Even 150-year-old lumber can still have a high moisture content. Often, flooring planks are cut from old barn beams, and moisture levels can differ in various parts of the beam.
There is no formal grading for antique lumber, but most dealers offer grades depending upon the number of nail holes and other damage. In addition to grade, ask how long the boards are. It can be difficult to get long boards in antique woods, and the look of a floor made up of 3-, 4-, and 5-foot lengths is much different than one with boards that are 8 or 16 feet long.
Parquet floors are made from custom-crafted wood tiles that are used to create a patterned floor.
Wood-look laminate flooring is made to look like wood, but the decorative layer is actually a photograph. Most laminates have four-ply construction: a backing or balancing layer, a moisture-resistant wood-based core of high- or medium-density fiberboard, a decorative layer, and a wear-resistant layer of melamine resins. Flooring laminates are similar in concept to laminate countertops, but the wear layer is strengthened by hard particles.
Because laminates are only about 1/3 inch thick, they can be installed over nearly any kind of subfloor — vinyl, concrete, wood. They’re also extremely durable, with the ability to resist high heels, pet claws, and cigarette burns, making them well-suited for high-traffic areas, busy family kitchens, and homes with children and pets. Although laminates cannot be refinished as wood can, damaged planks can be replaced, and some manufacturers sell a putty for repairs.