All About Hardwood Floors

All About Hardwood Floors

Reclaimed hardwood floors
Reclaimed hardwood floors


To ensure that you have good floors in your house, just knock on wood. Nothing rivals the way wood warm-ups a room, its classic good looks, or how long it lasts

—qualities that earn it the distinction of flooring.

Whether you’re laying a wood floor in a new house or replacing one that’s damaged beyond repair, there are dozens of species to pick from, including trusty domestics, such as oak and maple, and intriguing exotics, such as tamarind and acacia. You also have a choice of widths—be it rustic wide planks or traditional narrow strips—and stain colors, which allows you to tailor your floors to your house’s style and decor. And thanks to modern adhesives, a wide variety of species are available as “engineered” boards. Made from a stable sandwich of veneers, rather than solid stock, engineered floors can go places where it wasn’t practical to install wood before: over radiant-floor heating systems and concrete and in basements.

Floor FAQs

What it costs: From $1.50 to $10 per square foot depending on wood thickness, species, and grade.

Installation could be from $2 per square foot to $14 depends on which hardwood you pick.

How it will hold up: Some prefinished solid-wood boards come with a 50-year warranty. With regular care, though, any solid-wood floor can easily last twice that long. Warranties on the finish for engineered
wood range from 10 to 30 years.

How to maintain it: Fight a finish’s biggest enemy—abrasive dirt—by vacuuming regularly and laying runners and doormats near entries.

Where to install it: Just about anywhere, except in areas prone to extreme humidity and standing water.

Shown: Its hardness makes oak ideal for high-traffic foyers. Clear-coated white oak works with cream wall paint and a peach stair runner for a serene color palette.


What to Know Before You Buy

Ask yourself these questions to narrow your search for the right wood floor:

Where do you plan to use it?
Kitchen and entryway Choose a hardwood, such as oak or hickory, which can handle heavy foot traffic better than a soft pine.
Bedroom and home office Rooms off the beaten path are good locations for softer woods, such as black cherry or black walnut.
Basement Avoid using solid-wood flooring below grade, where high humidity prevails. An engineered wood floor is a better option here because it’s more stable.
Bathroom Water can warp wood, making it a poor choice for baths with tubs and showers.

What’s it going over?
Plywood subfloor As long as it’s solid and flat, you can install any type of nail- or glue-down hardwood, as well as a click-together, engineered strip or cork plank floating floors.
Existing wood floor Thinner boards with long-wearing factory-applied finishes are better here to ensure safe, no-trip transitions to adjacent rooms, hallways, and stairways.
Concrete slab or tile Nails aren’t an option. Consider a click-together floating floor or one that can be glued down.
Radiant floor Engineered flooring is ideal because it’s thinner and more stable than most solid wood.

Add It Up

To figure out how much your floor will cost, calculate the room’s square footage, then add 5 to 10 percent for cuts and waste. Multiply this figure by the board’s square-foot price to get your cost. Don’t forget to add on a few extra bucks for door thresholds, shoe moldings, and any nails or staples you might need.

Thickness Solid ¾-inch boards can be refinished up to 10 times. Thinner ones can’t be sanded as much, but when topped with durable factory-applied coatings, they shouldn’t require frequent refinishing.

Length Longer strips mean fewer distracting end joints. To make a small room appear bigger, use shorter strips.

Width Six-inch planks have a rustic appeal, but the joints open wide during dry spells; 2¼-inch strips look busier but stay tighter. Mix widths for the best of both.

Hardness The harder the wood, the less prone it is to dents and gouges. The table shown shows how various species stack up.

Hardwood Cuts

Flatsawn boards are cut so that the growth rings are roughly parallel with the face, leaving a distinctive flamelike grain pattern.

Quartersawn boards, which are more expensive, have a straight grain and
growth rings perpendicular to the face.

Mills sort each piece of flooring into different grades depending on the number of defects, such as knots and color variations. The fewer the defects, the more costly the wood. Just remember that the definition of defect changes from species to species.

Prefinished Vs. Site-finished

Finishes packed with aluminum oxides and cured under UV lights in a factory are tougher than ones applied on-site. And you can walk on the floor the day it’s installed since there’s no sanding or waiting for coats to dry. But every edge has a slight bevel at the joint, something you won’t see on a site-finished floor.