Hardwood flooring is perhaps the most timeless building material. Stylish historic homes often feature them, as do many of the finest new homes being built today. No wonder installing hardwood floors is such a popular home improvement project, adding warmth and beauty to any residence – and value too. In fact, upgrading has one of the best ROIs (106% to be exact), according to the The latest remodeling impact report from the National Association of Realtors.
But with over 50 species to choose from, how do you know where to start? Thanks to decades of testing and reviews at the Good Housekeeping Institute, our experts have mastered the best types of hardwood flooring available today. Once you’ve sorted the species, read on for expert advice on other factors that affect the look and performance of hardwood floors, including construction method, finish and maintenance needs.
It is by far the most popular parquet species. “At least 70 percent of the floors we install are oak,” says Maria Ramos, chief estimator at All Boro Floors, a New York-based firm specializing in parquet installation and restoration. Whether red or white oak, the species is durable, well priced and its light tint means it can be stained virtually any color. “Oak also has a naturally strong grain pattern that masks anomalies such as scratches, dents, nicks and other minor floor accidents,” adds Agnieszka Wilk, CEO of Mon Petit Cabas Interior design onlinenoting that many of its customers have high-traffic households with children and pets that could spoil the softer woods.
Like oak, maple is widely available and therefore a good choice for budget renovations. Not that it looks cheap or underperforming. Especially if you choose sugar maple, so named because it produces sap, the result will be an exceptionally dense and durable hardwood floor with a subtle yet attractive grain parent. Maple’s tones range from creamy white to reddish brown, so in most cases you’ll be able to stain it just about any color.
If you’re looking for something different from oak or maple, but don’t want to go as far as an exotic hardwood from another continent, consider domestic ash. It is even harder than oak, making it suitable for high traffic areas. “It’s what baseball bats and ax handles are made of, so you know they’re tough,” says Walter Lourie, an expert in sustainable, all-natural wood flooring. He adds that the species is becoming more available, and therefore less expensive, because, unfortunately, many ash trees are being decimated by the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle from Asia. Like oak, ash has a strong grain and light to gray tones.
Locally grown black walnut is a popular choice with people looking for medium-toned wood floors, which tend to make a room feel warmer and cozier. The grain of walnut is mostly straight and open, but it can have some movement, depending on the cut. “It’s a magnificent species,” says Lourie, “but the supply is shrinking, so it tends to be much more expensive than oak and ash.”
Although not nearly as popular as it was at the turn of the century, cherry is making a comeback with homeowners who still want the luxurious look of dark floors. Manufacturers also tell us that the species is beginning to see new life as a nostalgic, retro-inspired flooring choice. Another point in favor of cherry: the domesticated species resembles many exotic tropical hardwoods, which are particularly hard to find these days due to global supply chain issues.
Where is the best place to buy parquet?
Hardwood floors are primarily sold through home centers, specialty retailers and local factories. If you’re working with a contractor or installer, it probably makes sense to buy your flooring through them, as they’ll get it at a lower professional rate. Make sure you leave plenty of time. “Like most things these days, the flooring industry is experiencing challenges with the supply chain,” says Brett Miller of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). Adds Maria Ramos of All Boro Floors, “The delivery time for prefinished hardwood floors is now 20 weeks, compared to the 8-10 weeks that used to be the norm.” Here are five retailers to consider:
✔️ Home deposit: With some 2,300 locations nationwide, the largest home improvement center offers a wide range of flooring at competitive prices. Whether you want solid or engineered, you’ll find it at The Home Depot, along with various financing options and installation services.
✔️ Lowe’s: The second largest home improvement center in the country is another safe bet for all types of wood flooring. Its service offerings are even more robust, including in-home flooring measurements, design advice, professional installation, and free shipping on flooring samples.
✔️ LL floor: Formerly known as Lumber Liquidators, LL Flooring has over 400 locations in 47 states, plus a great website that makes it easy to find the right flooring and receive up to four free samples. In 2015, the company announced that it would stop selling flooring containing phthalates; today, its suppliers are held to strict standards GREENGUARD Gold indoor air quality certification standards.
✔️ Floor and Decoration: Although LL Flooring has the most locations, Floor & Décor sells the most flooring, so you’re sure to find a wide selection of hardwood flooring at all price points. The site offers an extensive library of virtual hands-on clinics, for those looking to save money by installing their flooring themselves.
✔️ Local mills: Buying direct from your local sawmills eliminates the middleman, resulting in potentially better prices. Many factories will allow you to come and see the manufacturing process, so you know exactly what you are getting and also where the wood comes from.
What is the most durable hardwood floor?
Durability is a hardness factor, which is measured by a system called the Janka scale. Brazilian walnut has an extremely high Janka score of 3,680, popular white oak has an average hardness of 1,360 and Southern Yellow Pine is relatively soft with a Janka score of 870. If you’re looking for the most durable hardwood floor possible, prefinishing is the way to go, as the factory application is tough and stable and often involves multiple coats. . . Keep in mind that other factors impact durability, including how the wood is cut and how the topcoat is applied.
Are prefinished or unfinished hardwood floors better?
The main reason to opt for unfinished flooring that will be stained and finished on site is that it gives you complete control over the color. It might be worth it if you’re matching new hardwood floors with existing ones in your home. Prefinished lumber tends to be stronger and you don’t have to worry about fumes and off-gassing from field finishing.
Whichever way you go, you’ll have your pick of the sheen of the finish. The lower the shine, the less wear you will notice. Matte and satin finishes offer the least shine. Semi-gloss finishes provide a bit of shine and reflect some light. Glossy finishes reflect the most light, so they are not ideal in high traffic areas as they have scratches.
What else do I need to consider with hardwood floors?
The same species of wood can end up looking very different depending on the manufacturing process, including quality and cut. Here’s what you need to know.
✔️ To note is based on the physical characteristics of wood.
- Rustic quality will have an unlimited number of nodes in all sizes. There may also be cracks against the grain pattern. This flooring tends to be the least expensive. It can bring old-world charm to farmhouse and French country designs.
- character note will have knots and color variations, but not to the extreme of rustic grade soil. It works well in many traditional style homes.
- Select note will have boards with small knots and cracks, while others will be free from imperfection. This grade tends to be the most versatile.
- Superior quality will be almost entirely free of visible knots, cracks or color variation. It might be worth splurging on that pricey flooring if you live in a contemporary-style home with crisp, clean lines.
✔️ To cut influences performance and price. There are three main choices:
- Ordinary sawn (aka flat sawn) is the most common technique for cutting wood. This results in a cathedral grain pattern with lots of lateral movement, which can be a problem if there is a lot of humidity variation in your home. Ordinary sawn flooring is the cheapest.
- Quarter sawn is cut perpendicular to the growth rings, resulting in a more wavy grain pattern. This flooring tends to be more dimensionally stable. Its price is in the middle of the spectrum.
- Sawed fault is the least common type of flooring, and therefore the most expensive. It produces the most waste, but the result is an exceptionally stable plank or board with a very unique grain pattern.
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