Homeowners and decorators prize hardwood flooring for its warmth, charm, ambience, beauty, longevity and durability. It can complement a broad range of decorating styles, from traditional to transitional to contemporary.
Are you dreaming of having hardwood flooring in your home, or interested in learning about hardwood flooring for any other purpose? If so, read on to educate yourself about the types of wood used for flooring, plus hardwood flooring’s advantages, disadvantages and important considerations, which are detailed in the article below.
Woods Used for Residential Hardwood Flooring
Hardwood Flooring Materials: People use a variety of wood species for creating hardwood floors. Some of the most popular woods in use are as follows:
- Oak — either red oak or white oak. Oak is the most plentiful and popular wood flooring material in North America.
What these woods have in common: they are all durable, long-wearing, beautiful and suitable for use as flooring.
These are not the only possibilities. You might find teak, mahogany and exotic hardwood floors installed in some older homes.
Significant numbers of older, traditional homes have heart pine flooring installed — possibly hidden underneath carpeting or other more recent types of flooring installations. There is substantial demand for reclaimed heart pine flooring; homeowners who are renovating historic homes often want it for the purpose of restoring the look of the home’s original flooring.
It is important to note that pine is not considered a hard wood — so it would be incorrect to refer to a pine floor as being a “hardwood floor”.
Contemporary Hardwood Flooring Materials: These days, bamboo flooring has become trendy for use in many home décor applications, including hardwood flooring. Bamboo has been touted as a renewable and environmentally friendly resource, although its status as a sustainable material is controversial among environmentalists.
Historical favorites such as oak and walnut remain popular for use in hardwood flooring. Mahogany, cherry and teak are still in use as well.
Unfinished vs Pre-finished Hardwood Flooring
If you want to customize the color and finish of your hardwood flooring, you have the option to purchase unfinished flooring and then apply stains, varnishes and / or other finishes to it after it has been installed in your home.
Otherwise, you have the option of installing pre-finished flooring — which might give you less upfront hassle, but also less control over the quality and nature of the products used as finishes.
Varnishes vs Stains vs Clear Coats vs Oils for Finishing Your Hardwood Floor:
You’ll find numerous different types of wood stains, finishes, coatings and oils available for customizing your hardwood flooring.
Stains and other finishes serve several different purposes. In addition to enhancing the eye appeal of a hardwood floor, some stains can also help to preserve and protect the wood from moisture or other damage. Some of these finishes can also be used to tint or alter the wood color to match the mood or décor of the room.
Varnishes: Varnishes typically include acrylic or another hardening agent, and they might also contain oil and / or colorants. The end result is a rich finish that offers both enhanced color and impact resistance. When applying varnish, the more layers of varnish applied — properly sanded in between applications — can create incredible high-gloss finishes, unless you opt for a matte varnish instead. The more layers of varnish you apply, the longer the varnish will last. All varnishes will fade over time.
One significant disadvantage of varnish: When it has outlived its usefulness, you need to strip it and remove it completely before re-applying. The removal process is labor-intensive, but necessary. If you apply new varnish overtop of the old, multiple problems can arise. Often, the new varnish won’t match the color of the old varnish, and you’ll see visible oddities — including color differences, brush strokes and other imperfections.
After varnishing, you may wish to apply an additional acrylic clear coat for extra protection — and to dramatically increase the lifespan of the varnish.
Stains: If you want to change the color of the wood, either subtly or dramatically, a stain is more likely the type of product you’re looking for.
Often, applying a stain will make the wood appear darker, or possibly redder. It can be a bit tricky to predict exactly what results you’ll get when you stain your wood — because stains typically don’t look the same on all woods. For example, a particular stain is likely to look different when applied to oak than it will when it’s applied to maple.
For that reason, manufacturers of stains and finishes make samples available, typically at low cost. This will allow you to affordably test several of them before making a final decision about which stain to use on your entire floor.
Clear Coats: If you want to add gloss without changing the color of the wood, consider using a clear coat. This will preserve the color of the wood but add a level of shine. The amount of shine depends on the product you use. Clear coats can range from matte to high gloss.
Oils: Boiled linseed oil (oil from the flax seed) is a popular oil for finishing hardwood flooring. This oil adds a rich, luxurious finished look to wood floors, and it also serves a protective purpose as well. It can help to stop water from penetrating and staining the floor.
Oil does not offer any significant impact protection, which means that flooring only treated with oil is susceptible to scrapes and dings from ordinary wear and tear.
Oil’s main advantage is that it can be applied at any time without advanced preparation. Generally, linseed oil is also non-toxic and affordable, making it ideal for green homes. However, we caution do-it-yourselfers to be aware that some commercial linseed oil products include toxic additives that can make the products unsafe for use on butcher’s blocks, cutting boards and other surfaces where food is prepared.
Linseed oil isn’t the only available choice; for example, if you’re considering a teak floor, you’ll find a wide variety of different teak oil products available for enhancing it. Tung nut oil is another possible type of product to consider.
The boards in traditional hardwood floors typically measure somewhere between two to three inches wide. This width remains appropriate for use in all major decorating styles including traditional, transitional, contemporary and modern. However, wide boards are a top flooring trend in 2018, particularly in luxury homes. Boards measuring anywhere from four to seven inches wide are becoming more mainstream in upscale homes. The widest planks are best suited to homes with open floor plans or expansive rooms. They also come with a sizable price tag.
Flooring comprised of strips of wood is known as “strip flooring”.
Solid vs Engineered Hardwood Flooring:
Solid hardwood floors are made up of solid pieces of hard wood. They’re beautiful to look at, easy to maintain and attractive for their longevity. You can sand and refinish this type of flooring multiple times. If you care for a solid hardwood floor properly, that floor is likely to last for many years — possibly lifetimes — without ever needing to be replaced.
A main advantage of solid hardwood flooring: If you install unfinished solid hardwood flooring, you have significant control over the finishes that will be applied to the floor. This allows you to achieve
the specific finished look you want. It also gives you the option to dramatically extend the life of the finishes. It’s the best way to go if you want to use the best quality products, which will give you maximum durability, and require the least maintenance over time.
Engineered Wood Floors: If you’re looking for a durable hardwood flooring solution that’s also affordable, engineered wood floors are worthy of consideration.
Engineered wood floors are composed of multiple layers. This construction gives you the look of a wood floor — without the high cost of a solid hardwood floor. Since less expensive materials are incorporated into this type of flooring, the overall cost tends to be lower.
Parquet Wood Flooring
If you’re in the market for an eye-catching style of flooring that adds artistry and unique ambience to the room in which it is installed, parquet flooring is worth considering.
Parquet flooring can feature repeating decorative patterns or even pictorial designs.When one wood color is used in the pattern, the design is more subtle than it is when two or more wood colors are incorporated.
Sometimes parquet flooring designs are intricate, resembling tile work or mosaic work. They can also be simple and contemporary in appearance.
As of 2018, parquet floors are trending up in popularity after a long period of languishing. The most popular designs right now are chevron, herringbone and zigzag configurations, although designers are doing innovative pattern work in many other patterns as well.
A Disadvantage of Hardwood Floors
One drawback to hardwood floors: they are vulnerable to water damage. If you live in an area prone to flooding, beware of using hardwood flooring in any rooms that could be affected by this. It’s also unwise to install hardwood flooring in excessively moist environments, considering that excessive moisture can damage a hardwood floor. With mild moisture issues, running a dehumidifier can help to reduce any existing problems you may experience.
How to Clean Hardwood Flooring
It’s easy to clean hardwood flooring, but there are a few precautions you do need to be aware of. The most important thing to know: You should take care to use cleaner that’s especially made for hardwood floors. Never use cleaning products intended for use on tile or linoleum floors. You also want to avoid puddling water or liquid cleaner on the floor.
So there you have it: Those are the basics you need to know about hardwood flooring. If you’re building a new home or remodeling an existing home, hardwood flooring is one of the best choices for flooring you’ll want to consider installing in your new environment.
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This page was last updated on 10-22-2018.