Hardwood—just the word evokes images of charm, richness, and classic looks. Wood floors last a lifetime and gain “character” with age.
Board Widths. Select from narrow strips (less than three inches), wider planks (more than three inches), parquet squares, and—a new option—squares and rectangles. The traditional choice, strips, give the illusion of more space, while planks impart a rustic look.
Wood Species. Hardwood species vary in durability, grain patterns, and colour. Oak, maple, and cherry are among the most common species due to their hardness. Exotic woods like mahogany and Brazilian cherry aren’t as durable, but are prized for their striking appearance.
Colours. Hardwoods run the gamut from blond to black, depending on species and finish.
Textures. You can get hardwood floors that look shiny and new, or you can buy brand new wood that looks like an antique and adds timeworn character to your room. Many manufacturers offer distressed and hand-scraped hardwoods that will disguise heavy use over the years and give the floor an appealing timeworn appearance from the moment it’s installed.
Hardness. For busy households with pets and kids, it’s a good idea to choose the hardest wood species possible. Hard species, such as red oak, will withstand wear and tear, while softer species, such as pine, tend to show scratches. If you’re on the fence, keep in mind that choosing solid hardwood means scratches from a puppy’s claws or dings from a toddler’s toy can be sanded out and refinished over and over. Whichever you choose, preventive care and proper maintenance can keep your floors looking good for years.
Finish. Along with protecting the surface, hardwood finishes imbue floors with colour and luster. Much commercially available hardwood comes prefinished, which simplifies installation and eliminates dust, chemical fumes, and waiting time. These factory-applied finishes generally have a longer warranty as they are longer lasting and more durable than site-applied finishes.
Some homeowners prefer site-finished floors due to the wider selection of stain colours and the opportunity to hone the surface and even out imperfections after the boards are in place. Boards are also easier to repair if damaged.
When you purchase hardwood floors, you’ll also need to decide between solid or engineered.
Solid hardwood is milled from a single piece of wood. Because it can be repeatedly sanded, it can last for decades. A natural material, solid hardwood is susceptible to temperature and humidity changes and cannot be installed below grade or in damp spaces. It must be nailed or stapled to a wooden subfloor.
Engineered hardwood is created by bonding layers of hardwood (“plies”) together in a cross-grain construction. These layers give greater stability. Because it can withstand higher levels of humidity, engineered hardwood can be installed in bathrooms and basements, as well as over concrete subfloors and radiant heating elements. Engineered hardwood uses fewer trees than solid hardwood. It can be stapled or glued, or it can “float” (affixed to itself rather than the subfloor).
While solid hardwood can be repeatedly refinished, engineered hardwood flooring can only be refinished a limited number of times. That’s because the thickness of the top veneer varies. However, prefinished engineered floors are quite durable, generally eliminating the need for frequent refinishing.
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