Choosing the right type of hardwood flooring for your home
Design Ideas | April 21, 2014
It is not a big secret. The popularity of hardwood flooring in North America continues to rise for one simple reason: there is no substitute for the organic warmth and natural beauty only offered by real hardwood flooring. But before you embark into you next hardwood installation project, make sure to review our ultimate buying guide for important tips on installation, wood varieties, approximate hardwood costs and more.
Solid vs. Engineered
Choosing hardwood flooring is without a doubt one of the most effective ways to improve the look and value of your home. However, before you start choosing the colours and textures that speak to you, make sure to consider the construction of your floors as this will pretty much dictate the kind of hardwood flooring that you will be able to use. There are three main types of sub floors:
– Basement or concrete surfaces located below ground level
- Concrete surfaces located at or above ground level
- Plywood surfaces located at or above ground level
The location and construction of the sub floors is very important as moisture (usually found in below grade locations) can create serious issues such as warping and gaping of your hardwood floors. As a general rule of thumb, solid hardwood should not be installed in basements or considered for any type of below grade installations.
Understanding the difference
Traditional solid hardwood flooring is exactly what you would expect: thick hardwood planks milled from a solid piece of wood. Solid hardwoods are very susceptible to humidity and temperature changes and thus should only be installed above grade. They also need to be nailed down to the sub floor, so if you have a concrete slab floor to work with, you will be pretty much limited to using engineered hardwood styles in your home. The good news is that virtually all hardwood types, are also available in engineered format. If you are still not sold on the engineered product, you can always consider laying plywood sheets over the concrete floor and then installing your new solid hardwood floors over the plywood (as long as installation is on or above grade). This last installation option however might be a bit more pricey as you will need to take into consideration the skilled labour as well as the cost of the additional materials that will be required.
Engineered hardwood floors on the other hand, are designed to be installed over concrete. Engineered hardwoods are composed of three or more wood layers which are then stacked in a cross-grain configuration and bonded together under heat and pressure. As a result, engineered hardwoods are less likely to cup, split, shrink or warp. Popularity of engineered wood types is increasingly growing (especially amongst the DIY community) as installation methods are much more versatile. Engineered hardwood planks can be nailed down, glued down or simply snapped and floated over a foam-rubber underlayment. In addition to this, engineered hardwood planks can be installed directly over any type of pre-existing flooring (on, above or below grade locations) as long as the surface is hard, flat and stable.
Choosing the right colour and hardwood species
The next step in choosing the right hardwood for your project, is considering the type of use and the potential abuse that your floors will take, and choosing a hardwood species that provides the durability that you are looking for.
The Janka rating system
If you have young children or pets, you may want to choose a harder wood. If in doubt, refer to the Janka Rating System (below) which measures the relative hardness of woods. This test measures the force needed to embed a steel ball (.444 inch in diameter) to half its diameter into the piece of wood being tested. The higher the number, the harder the wood and thus the more resistant it will be to indentations.
If you run a busy household, also try choosing a hand scrapped, wire-brushed or distressed hardwood texture over a smooth hardwood texture as the special treatment will help to hide dings, dents and scratches.
While choosing a harder wood might be the deciding factor for some people, others are simply driven by the unique and creative appearance of some hardwood species. Determining what’s important to you, will always be the key factor in this process. Make sure to consider the amount of natural light as well as the colour palette of the rooms where you are considering installing hardwood. For bright rooms with lots of windows, you may want to choose a rich and dark hardwood floor. If you have a dark house already, a lighter hardwood floor will help you open and brighten up your rooms.
To achieve a contemporary look, consider installing a grey-toned hardwood (preferably without knots) to create a clean aesthetic and help you to achieve a sleek and modern look for your space. For the more adventurous, consider mixing hardwood stains, grains and textures. You would be surprised… playing with different hardwood styles and colours can yield all sorts of amazing results!
Benefits and considerations of different hardwood flooring species
Oak is the most widely used hardwood species. There are more than 50 oak species in North America, which can be primarily separated into two basic varieties: white oak and red oak. Red oak has a pinkish tinge, while white oak is browner. Oak hardwood is commonly known for its high resistance to dents and deep scratches which makes it a very popular choice amongst homeowners who like to avoid area rugs.
Maple is another popular hardwood species. Its curly grain is so hard, it is often used on gym floors or bowling alleys. Its grain lines also tend to be more subtle than other woods.
Walnut is a strong, hard and durable hardwood species without being excessively heavy (hence the given price tag). The wood colour ranges from light to dark chocolate brown with a straight grain in the trunk.
Rosewood is a fragrant wood variety which offers some of the most unique close grained wood patterns. It is also a very hard wood species with an inherent reddish brown colour to it.
Cherry is one of the few wood types that actually darkens as it ages. But while it makes for an easy to maintain and attractive home flooring, you should keep in mind that it can also be easily scratched.
Also known as Jatoba, brazilian cherry is a very hard type of wood. It has a rich burgundy colour which makes it a popular choice amongst designers.
Considered a hot seller in the flooring industry right now, acacia is known as one of the hardest and sturdiest wood species. Its subtle mix of lighter and darker tones is highly priced amongst homeowners as it enhances the personality of the rooms where it is installed.
When you see a light coloured hardwood floor, more often than not, it is ash wood. Considered to be one of the toughest hardwood species in the market today, ash wood is in fact used in the production of baseball bats! Without a doubt, this is an excellent choice for heavily-used rooms.
Pine is a soft, white or pale yellow wood which is light weight and straight grained. This species is ideal if you are going for a country-like appearance or a more traditional, less formal look.
Although technically considered a grass, bamboo is actually harder than most hardwood species. It is best described as a sustainable and very durable flooring product available in a wide variety of colours ranging from light brown to deep cherry browns.
Cork is an engineered hardwood product made from the bark of the cork tree. Approximately 50% of cork flooring is air, acting as a cushion underfoot as well as a natural sound absorber.