What You Need To Know About Types Of Wood, Grain Patterns, Finishes And More
Hardwood floors have warmth, beauty and character, and they convey a sense of luxury and timelessness. No matter the style you are trying to achieve – contemporary, transitional or traditional – choosing the right wood flooring can elevate the overall look of your home. There are many options and factors to consider when selecting hardwood flooring, so read on to determine what fits your design aesthetic, your lifestyle, and your budget.
1. TYPES OF WOOD
Hardwood flooring is available in solid wood or engineered wood. The traditional type of hardwood flooring is made from thick, solid wood planks. Modern engineered wood is comprised of a hardwood veneer over layers of plywood and composite material. There are pros and cons to both types of hardwood flooring, so consider where the product will be installed, the level of durability you require and the look you want.
Since it is made from a single piece of wood, solid hardwood can be sanded to a smooth plane when it is installed. It can also be repeatedly sanded throughout the years if refinishing or repair is needed. Experts recommend installing solid wood flooring only on the main and upper levels of the home. There are two reasons for this: solid wood flooring is generally nailed, stapled and/or glued to a plywood sub-flooring, but not to concrete that is typically found in basements. And, solid wood flooring can expand and contract and buckle from dampness and moisture that can seep up from the ground under a concrete basement floor.
This type of hardwood flooring can be installed in almost any area of the home since it is not as susceptible to changes in humidity and temperature as solid wood. It can be glued directly to plywood or concrete, placed over a soundproofing mat or floated over top a radiant heat system. Some engineered wood flooring has a very thin top layer, so it can’t be sanded and refinished in the future. It’s better to choose a high quality engineered floor that has a thicker top wood layer so it can be refinished if necessary.
2. ECO-FRIENDLY WOOD FLOORING
If sustainability is important to you, then look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification on solid or engineered wood flooring materials that you are thinking of purchasing. The FSC is an international, non-profit organization that protects forests for future generations. They set stringent guidelines under which products are certified with the FSC stamp of approval. The FSC guidelines are recognized as the gold standard in defining truly sustainable wood products. You can also look for a certification from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which was founded by timber and paper companies.
Utilizing reclaimed wood is another way to have an eco-friendly floor in your home. This wood is salvaged from abandoned buildings, fallen trees or older homes. Bamboo is also an eco-friendly flooring material since it is a type of grass, instead of wood, and it regenerates very quickly.
3. WOOD SPECIES
Wood flooring is available in many species. Red and white oak are among the most commonly used hardwoods for flooring because they are durable and take stain well. Other popular species are cherry, maple, walnut, hickory and ash. Some woods, such as hickory, lend themselves to a more traditional style home, while maple or ash work well with contemporary decor. Choose a wood based on the look you are trying to achieve in your home and the durability that you desire.
4. GRAIN PATTERN
There are four patterns of wood grain that are determined by the way a log is cut during production. Plain-sawn wood has a traditional appearance with “cathedral” or undulating patterns. Rift-sawn wood has a vertical, consistent grain without “cathedrals” or flecking. Quarter-sawn wood has irregular graining and flecking across the planks. Live-sawn wood has a varied and unique grain pattern and offers a natural look. Grain pattern is a personal preference, so choose one that works with your decor and style of your home.
5. PLANK WIDTH
Standard hardwood floors are made from 2-1/4 inch to 3-1/4 inch strips. If you have a more custom design in mind, use wider planks that are available up to 10 inches in width or more. You can even vary the length of the boards if your space is large enough. Wider planks tend to look more expensive and luxurious, and that’s because they are, so take that into account when determining your budget.
6. STAIN AND FINISH
Hardwood flooring, engineered or solid, is sold unfinished or pre-finished. Unfinished hardwood is sanded, stained and finished in place. This allows for customization of the stain and sheen of the flooring. Pre-finished flooring is stained and finished in a factory, so you will know the exact color and sheen you are getting in advance and it will take less time to install.
If you are selecting unfinished wood, you will need to choose from two types of finishes: polyurethane and oil. Polyurethane creates a more durable topcoat on hardwood than an oil finish does, and will require maintenance less often. An oil finish may scratch more easily, but the imperfections are less noticeable and easier to touch up. You can choose a high-gloss finish, a traditional finish or a hand-scraped or wire-brush finish that looks distressed. There are many options and it all comes down to the look you want to achieve.
7. VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS (VOCS)
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are gases emitted from certain chemicals and they may have adverse health effects when inhaled. Many glues contain harmful ingredients that emit VOCs, even after they have dried. Formaldehyde can be found in the glue used in some engineered flooring, but there are some companies that use low-VOC, soy-based or other natural types of glues.
In addition, many floor finishes contain petroleum or other chemicals that emit VOCs. With pre-finished flooring, the majority of off-gassing occurs in the factory, so fewer VOCs are emitted inside the home after installation. If you choose wood flooring that will be stained and finished on-site, there are some alternatives that emit fewer VOCs such as water-based polyurethane or plant-based natural products. It will take some time, but check out some “green” options before deciding what type of sealant or finish to use on your wood flooring.
The cost of hardwood flooring depends upon the options you choose, so make adjustments that align with your budget when thinking about your selections. Here are some realities to keep in mind.
- Engineered wood is less expensive than solid wood.
- Pre-finished wood is less expensive to purchase and install than unfinished wood that needs to be sanded and finished in place.
- The price of hardwood varies with the species of wood you pick: the more exotic the wood, the higher the cost.
- Wider planks tend to be more pricey than narrower planks.
- Planks that are varied in length will take more time to install than traditional planks that are all the same length, and that will end up costing you more.