Quick and Dirty Guide to Wood Flooring
If you’ve always longed for hardwood floors, you’re in good company. While soft wooden floors date back to the Colonial era, hardwood floors first burst on the scene in the late 17th century. If you only know that you want hardwood floors gracing your home, read this quick and dirty guide so that your head won’t spin when you talk with your contractor. This ten-minute read will guide you through the basics of wood species, grades, types and styles.
With over 50 wood species available for wood flooring, red oak accounts for more than 50% of hard wood flooring sales. Its popularity stems from its elegance, durability and cost-effectiveness. Maple ranks second in popularity for new wood flooring. Newer trends indicate a growing appetite for bamboo, cherry, and white oak. Some of the more esoteric imported woods used in hardwood floors include Brazilian cherry, Australian cypress, African padauk, and Burmese teak.
Color options are plentiful. If color is a priority, and you want the natural beauty of the wood to shine through, select a wood species that most closely matches your color preference.
Grade refers only to the beauty of the wood, not to its durability or serviceability. Not every grade applies to every wood species. A wood species is graded as Clear, Select or Common, or it’s graded as First, Second or Third. Clear/First, Select/Second, Common/Third grades are not identical, but they’re close enough to present a shared consumer definition. The six basic wood grades include:
- Clear or First – free from most visible defects and discoloration, contains only minor visible imperfections
- Select or Second – may contain slight imperfections, such as color variations
- Common or Third – contains knots and color variations, often classified as “rustic” wood
Solid vs. Engineered Wood
Many people believe that hardwood and solid wood are synonymous. They’re not. If you’re hearing the term engineered wood for the first time, you most likely think that it’s somehow inferior to solid wood. That’s not necessarily true.
Solid wood is milled from one solid ¾” piece of wood. Solid hardwood floors expand and contract more than engineered woods and are particularly susceptible to moisture. As the wood expands and contracts, it may buckle or it may leave gaps. Two common methods of counteracting these gaps include beveled edges and leaving expansion gaps-gaps between the wood and the wall-hidden by the base molding.
You’ll find most of the popular wood species, such as oak, maple, cherry and others available in engineered wood. Sometimes called pressed wood, engineered wood comes in 3-ply or 5-ply versions-three or five bonded layers of wood. Engineered wood floors succumb to little, if any expansion and contraction and are perfectly suited for rooms susceptible to moisture. If you want wood floors in the bathroom, the kitchen or in any room where moisture accumulates, consider engineered wood for its greater stability. If you plan to lay a wood floor directly over concrete, you must install engineered wood to maintain structural integrity.
Once you’ve determined the species, wood grade and decided between solid and engineered wood, you can move on to the fun stuff-the style. Common wood styles include:
Strips and planks are long, linear cuts of woods. The main difference is the width of the wood. Strips range from widths of 1 ½” to 2 ¼”, while planks range from widths of 3” to 8”. Consider strips if your goal is to create the illusion of a larger room. Series of small wood pieces create parquet’s geometrical design. Parquet floors complement large, airy rooms.
Select your hardwood floors with care; they can add beauty and warmth to your surroundings for a very long time, even a lifetime.