The conventional hardwood flooring that you're probably most familiar with is a solid section of wood, like a wide or narrow plank, that's installed by stapling or nailing it in place. Solid hardwood is an expensive choice because of the cost of the materials as well as the labor involved. There are benefits, though. Most other wood flooring options have a thin decorative surface veneer that isn't thick enough to withstand refinishing, while solid wood can be refinished multiple times. This makes it a very long lasting choice.
Limitations of solid hardwood - You can't put solid hardwood just anywhere. Solid hardwood is durable but not naturally moisture resistant, so it's a poor choice for concrete slabs or any application that is below grade (below ground level), or likely to experience high humidity, like a bathroom.
Finished or unfinished - Finished hardwoods are available in hundreds of pre-stained and sealed options. While choosing unfinished wood and staining and sealing it yourself allows you to put a completely individual stamp on your flooring choice, one big advantage to prefinished hardwoods is that they typically contain a layer of factory applied aluminum oxide as a sealer. It's harder and more durable than the multi-coat polyurethane finish usually used as a DIY sealer for unfinished wood flooring.
Thickness - The thicker the plank, the more expensive it's likely to be, and the longer it will last in your home. Thicker wood flooring provides slightly more insulation, too.
Hardness - Hardwoods aren't all the same density. Some are naturally softer and more porous than others and not appropriate for all applications. For instance, oak is less dense than maple. Wood flooring materials are usually sold with hardness ratings derived from the Janka Hardness Test. The higher the number, the harder the wood. The rating is usually matched with a corresponding traffic category:
Engineered wood is typically less expensive than solid hardwood, but it's designed to be very stable and durable. Instead of a single piece of wood, it's constructed in layers with alternating grain and a thin hardwood veneer on top. This makes it strong, dense, and resistant to warping. It's a good overall choice and also a viable wood option for areas like basements or kitchens where hardwood isn't appropriate.
It can be installed a number of ways, too. Engineered hardwood can be stapled or nailed in place like solid hardwood. It also can be glued in place or manufactured with click and lock construction. It usually can't withstand refinishing because the top decorative layer is too thin. Like solid hardwood, engineered wood also is rated for hardness.
If you've seen good looking wood flooring in very high traffic areas like restaurants or department stores, you were probably looking at an acrylic or resin impregnated wood floor. This type of flooring is pressure injected with a very hard drying polymer that makes it resistant to gouges and scratches. It's showing up in more homes and can be a good option for people with young children or pets.
A laminate floor isn't actually wood at all, although it looks similar. It's a photograph of a piece of wood applied to a synthetic backing and sealed in place. Laminate flooring is the least expensive option for getting a "wood" look on a tight budget. Newer laminates also are much more resistant to moisture than older styles that were often criticized for swelling and bubbling problems.
Weekend warriors are installing wood flooring projects like never before. To make the task easier, flooring manufacturers have come up with ways to lose the nails, staples, and glue in favor of a system of interlocking wood planks that are only anchored around the perimeter of a room. The floors actually "float" on a layer of plastic sheeting. Usually made of durable engineered hardwoods, they can be assembled in a weekend.
Flooring material isn't the only consideration when finding the perfect wood look in your home. Wood construction is popular in wide and narrow plank styles as well as parquet and a number of custom configured looks that blend woods and finishes.
There also are finishing touches to choose from like quarter round and T-molding pieces that help make attractive transitions from room to room and dynamite moldings that can help integrate the look of your walls with your new flooring.
Although personal preference plays a big role in choosing flooring colors, textures, and styles, flooring can be used effectively to help camouflage room flaws. Placing a narrow plank floor in a small room will help to make it look larger, and placing wide planks in a big or long room will make it look cozier. A warm finish, like honey oak, can brighten a dark room, and an ebony stained hardwood can make a stately room look downright elegant.
With so many wood flooring options to choose from, you'll be tempted to put wood flooring in every room in your house.
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