If you’re shopping for new hardwood flooring, of course you want to know which is the best. The answer, however, depends on what it is you’re looking for and other factors surrounding your circumstances such as your lifestyle, geographical location, and personal taste.
Hardwood Flooring 101
Hardwood flooring is a favorite worldwide with popularity growing each year. Hardwood is versatile, functional, and full of charm. Depending on which wood you choose, it can last a lifetime. Some choices are expensive, but you can find affordable options too.
Hardwoods and Softwoods
When searching for the best hardwood flooring, you’ll want to compare softness and hardness. Both hardwood and softwood are used in hardwood flooring. The difference is that softwood has a lower Janka Rating (hardness scale) while hardwood generally has a rating of 850 and above.
Softwood grows quickly so it is considered more sustainable. It is more prone to scratches, dents, and scrapes and is more difficult to refinish though. But the aesthetic appeal for many softwoods is irresistible, evening out the negatives.
Hardwoods come from trees that grow slower and therefore yield denser wood. Hardwood requires less maintenance but can prove to be more difficult to install. You’ll find hardwood is very durable and the harder it is, the more it will hold up to abuse such as wear and tear from heavy traffic, pets, and children. Hardwood flooring usually lasts much longer than softwood flooring.
The Look and Feel of Hardwood Flooring
Hardwood flooring never goes out of style. It’s been around for thousands of years so you can be sure you’re making a great decision when you decide to install it in your home.
Choosing the best hardwood flooring for you will partly depend on your taste. Do you like light, dark, or medium wood? Do you want a distressed, rustic look or a more formal touch? There is a huge range in the way wood looks so be sure to do your homework to find out which look and feel you love the most.
Some of the factors to consider are:
- Uniqueness. Wood has a personality all its own. From the grain patterns to the coloring and texture, there are dozens of different species – domestic, imported, rare, and common.
- Character. Wood changes with time. It will eventually become more subtle and will also pick up dents, nicks, and scratches. Aging brings character to your flooring so plan ahead of time for the effects time will naturally grace it with.
- Space in your place. You’ll want to consider the size of the room you’ll be putting the flooring in. Dark wood can make a small space look even smaller but it wonderful for large rooms that need to feel cozier. Light flooring gives a more formal look and feel to a room and make small rooms appear larger.
- Style. If you are laying a wood flooring in a formal dining room, you probably don’t want to go with a rustic flooring as it will clash. Likewise, if you are putting flooring in a vintage-themed room, a sleek, modern light hardwood floor might not go well. Matching your flooring to your décor is advised unless you are really good at pulling off a well-balanced contrast.
• Price. There is a huge difference between the cheapest hardwood and the most expensive. You won’t want to go by price alone because in most cases, you get what you pay for. More expensive wood is typically priced higher because it is more durable and will last longer but that’s not always the case. Exotic species can cost a pretty penny just because they are rare. Pine and cedar are nice choices that are generally quite affordable.
- Feel. You might think all hardwood flooring feels the same underfoot but…not so. Softer woods are more comfortable to walk and stand on. Wood, typically, is warmer than natural stone but not as warm as carpet. Installing your flooring directly over concrete will make it feel harder and colder so try to have a subflooring in between.
- Noise. Noise is another factor you’ll want to think about when deciding what the best hardwood flooring for you and your lifestyle is. Will you have the pitter patter of toddler feet, cat claws, and dog paws? If so, you may not want to choose the hardest wood although you won’t want an extremely soft wood either lest it dent, ding, and ping. The more padding you use under your flooring, the less noise it will tend to carry.
- Durability. How long a wood floor is expected to last is a determining factor many homeowners use to decide between their favorite hardwood floors. The hardness, thickness, and quality of the wood will play a big role when configuring how long a floor should last.
Solid Hardwood Flooring vs. Engineered Wood Flooring
A contender in the best hardwood flooring section is engineered wood flooring. Engineered wood flooring is made of two parts – a fiberboard or plywood base layer with a thin veneer of genuine hardwood on top.
Sometimes referred to as “fake wood”, engineered wood used to be exactly that. In modern times, it looks almost exactly like hardwood and has advantages solid hardwood doesn’t such as being less susceptible to environmental changes, less expensive, cheaper to install, and sometimes – more durable.
Solid wood flooring is a classic. It never goes out of date. You’d be hard pressed to beat it but depending on your needs and wants, engineered flooring might be an even better fit.
Most Durable Wood Flooring Choices
The durability of the wood is an important factor to consider regardless of whether you are going with solid hardwood flooring or engineered wood flooring.
Some of the most durable woods include:
Oak is wildly popular in flooring. It comes in several varieties such as white oak and red oak. Red oak rates a 1290 on the Janka Score while white oak is a 1360. Durable and beautiful, oak is always a winner.
Hickory is the hardest American wood species. It will last for decades. It is unique – sporting a ton of character and color variations. It’s a wood that has a look and feel most homeowners either love or don’t care for at all.
If your home is decorated in modern, you’ll love maple. It’s a pretty light wood that is super shock-absorbent too.
Mahogany is an exotic and very durable wood. Santos mahogany is a favorite. It has a light grain and rich, deep red color.
Ebony is quite durable. Some adore its jet-black coloration. It’s rare though and you’ll pay for that but for those who feel it’s worth the extra cost, it will be around for a lifetime quite possibly.
If you live in an area that is extremely humid or have flooding risks, teak is a fabulous choice. It is a very hard and stable wood. It’s as water resistant as a flooring gets and also stands up well to scratches, dents, and pings.
Ash is hard and durable and stylish too. With a Janka Rating of 1320, it is a great wood for modern designed homes. Currently, it can be hard to find and pricey too because its been threatened with a beetle infestation.
Bamboo is a grass, but it has properties that make it an excellent choice for wood flooring. As a grass, bamboo is soft but after being strand-woven, it boasts over 3000 on the Janka Scale. It’s a sustainable product so it’s earth-friendly.
Hemp, like bamboo, isn’t technically a wood but it is used as wood flooring. It is highly sustainable and has a 3500 Janka Rating so it is very durable. Hemp is a new comer on the scene that is showing great promise to become a favorite.
Brazilian walnut is one of the two most durable options in wood flooring. It has a 3680 Janka Rating which put many other woods to shame. It has a gorgeous grain and deep rich coloration.
Wrapping your decision up, you want to consider the finish. Some of the most common are:
Oil-based polyurethan. This finish is a popular one because of its beauty and durability.
Water-based polyurethane. Water-based polyurethane is a nice option to oil-based because it’s easier to apply but is a little less durable that oil-based.
Lacquer/Shellac. These traditional finishes are often used when woodworking but are not as widely used for flooring unless you want a super glossy effect.
Natural oils. If you don’t mind refinishing your wood regularly, natural oils is a good way to go because it can be very durable and is less risky for your health since it’s natural.
Aluminum oxide. Many pre-finished floors already have aluminum oxide in them to protect from UV fading.
Whatever wood flooring you choose, make sure you’ve done enough research to know exactly what you’re getting with all things considered such as look and feel, wood species, and the finish and you should end up with a floor you’ll love for many years to come.