Deciding to put hardwood floors in a house is the easiest part of the process. Many factors will determine the kind of hardwood floor that will be best for the house and a family, such as the traffic it will bear and how it will look with furnishings and decor, not to mention the cost of installation and maintenance.
Homeowners have two basic options. Solid wood hardwood floors will be made of thick wood planks. Engineered hardwood is made of a plywood core with a veneer; the thickness of the veneer varies by grade. This choice is just the beginning of decisions when choosing a hardwood floor that will remain beautiful for years.
Where the floor is will help determine the best hardwood floor for it. If the floor with be in the basement, experts recommend engineered wood because it can handle issues of moisture coming up through the ground. Typical subfloors are concrete, plywood and particleboard. Engineered hardwood is generally the only type to use on a concrete slab. Homeowners could install a plywood subfloor over a concrete slab in order to use solid hardwood, but might balk at the additional cost of the plywood and insulation. A plywood subfloor will support solid hardwood, which can be nailed atop it, or engineered hardwood. Particleboard should be replaced with plywood before installing a hardwood floor.
What sort of traffic will the floors handle? Homeowners should consider their habits and lifestyle to help determine the type of hardwood floor to install. For example, are there children and pets in the family? Do the dwellers have parties with large numbers of guests? Is the owner single and living a quiet life? The life of the household will determine the life of the floor: the higher the traffic, the harder the wood should be. Hardwood floors are measured by the Janka scale. The scale shows red oak to be in the sweet spot because that species is hard enough to bear traffic and still be reasonably priced. As homeowners look at various types of hardwood, they'll also see that some have grain patterns that might help hide dings and stains.
Hardwood flooring should blend well with the style of the house. Homeowners will want to choose a hardwood floor that won't clash with the house's trim or the kitchen cabinets or wall color. If the room gets lots of natural light, a very dark floor might work, but if the room is dark, a light-colored hardwood might make a better choice. Also to consider: wide or narrow planks, matte or semi-gloss finish, pre-finished or not and grain pattern.
What will it cost? Homeowners will focus their choices by deciding if it is more important to stick to a budget or go for the look they want. Hardwood flooring is sold by the square foot. While it isn't always the least expensive route, engineered hardwood is generally not as costly as solid wood. And solid wood has widely varying prices. The hardness of the wood and the finish will affect the upfront cost and maintenance. Also, the thickness of the veneer on engineered hardwood will determine how many times it can be sanded and refinished over time.
The final step is crucial. Homeowners should ask for a two-square-foot sample of the type of flooring they are leaning toward. That way, they can see it in their home and consider if it works well with the furnishings, decor and light, and know that they are choosing just the right hardwood floor.