Hardwood Flooring: Reviews, Best Brands & Comparison
When it comes to your floors, you don’t want to leave much room for error. Long-lasting, beautiful, sturdy hardwood flooring is a popular and attractive option for your home, but it’s a lot more complicated than it may seem on the outside. From understanding the benefits of hardwood flooring to learning how to choose the right kind and identify the best brands, this full-featured guide will let you in the know about everything hardwood.
What is Hardwood Flooring?
Hardwood flooring is manufactured cuts of wood (more detail about wood) designed to be laid on the foundation of your house. Sometimes this choice is made for aesthetic purpose, or practicality, but it’s been a popular option for homeowners dating back to the Victorian ages and beyond.
This material is sourced naturally and can be engineered to suit different needs. You have a large variety of species, cuts, styles, and options when it comes to the wood used for hardwood flooring. As a structurally sound choice, it remains present in hundreds of thousands of homes all across America and Europe. The stability, versatility, and design customization of this natural product is what makes hardwood floors such an appealing choice.
Benefits of Hardwood Flooring
For hundreds of years, hardwood flooring has been a favorite option around homeowners from all over the globe. It’s a solid choice, but why? These incredible reasons are what have kept hardwood floors as the leading home improvement choice:
Long-term value: Have you noticed how old, beautiful homes all have hardwood floors? Many historical real estate locations have their market prices raised high if the floors are hardwood. Your home will be of more value as the years go by, especially if you take care of the flooring and preserve the original installation.
Easy cleaning: The thick finish on hardwood floors adds a thick layer of protect against dirt, scuffs, stains, spills, and scratches. Cleaning a hardwood floor is really simple, and there is a large industry of specific hardwood floor cleaners like upright vacuum for hardwood floors or cordless vacuum for hardwood floors,… to get the occasional “brand-new shine”. Most things can be wiped up simply with water and a bit of mild soap, or by using a mop.
Tons of style variety: From wood material to plank size to finish style, hardwood can be customized just about any way you’d like. The color and design of your flooring can be entirely up to you and there are a ton of choices to pick from. Plus, you can finish the hardwood on-site, so you can wait until the end to decide what will match the atmosphere of your home the best.
You can refinish it: As the years wear on, you can patch up your floors and refinish them to preserve their original, natural beauty. This is an important step of retaining your home’s value, so every one or two decades, look into getting your floors touched up. Refinishing will help smooth out dents, scratches, and regular wear and tear of a family.
Insulation: The thickness of the wood is great for giving your home that extra warm layer of protection from the elements. Both solid and engineered hardwood flooring are great for insulating your home, and they keep out moisture, cold air, heat, humidity and anything else from the outdoors hoping to seep up through your floor. Homes with hardwood flooring save on heating costs every winter.
Cons of Hardwood Flooring
Nothing can ever be perfect. Hardwood floors, while a great option for your home, does have a few downsides to take into consideration when weighing your options. Some of the major concerning factors that home improvement experts have found with hard floor flooring exist of:
Pretty expensive: Out of most floor options, hardwood is the most expensive option. There are ways to lower your cost depending on wood type and style, but you’re going to be looking at a pretty costly bill if you’re furnishing large areas with hardwood in your home. Then again, you get what you pay for, and hardwood floors can be good for several decades and more if you refinish them as needed.
Pet damage: The biggest enemy to hardwood floors is your pets claws. This isn’t too big of a concern, since most damage is superficial to the finish and can be easily avoided by using rugs and floor mats and keeping up on grooming for your pet. Safely trimming their nails and choosing a harder, durable type of wood can protect you against this problem.
Permanence: When you commit to hardwood floors… you commit to hardwood floors. This isn’t an option you want to consider lightly, because these things are designed to last for centuries with the right care applied. With carpet, vinyl, or even bamboo, changing your mind down the road isn’t such a problem. Hardwood, on the other hand, is a pretty life-long commitment unless you want to pay a ton of money to remove and fully re-do your flooring and foundation.
Noisy: As it ages, hardwood gains quite a personality. Boards will expand or tighten, causing them to creak or shift and whine, like a spooky old house. It’s also so solid and hard that walking across them new will give off quite a sound, especially in shoes. Carpet and other floors are much quieter, nearly silent, but hardwood floors have the tendency to make themselves known. Probably why you won’t find many apartments with hardwood floors – the downstairs neighbor would go crazy!
How to choose High-Quality Hardwood Flooring?
If you’ve ever walked into a few homes with hardwood floors, you know that the variation is truly endless. It’s probably deeper than you’d think! You have to consider a lot of different things when choosing on what materials and styles to use for your floors.
With hardwood, you have a good series of options. Over the years, engineers have researched and learned the best options for hardwood flooring in homes, and figured out what works best for the type of family and house. Yet, doing all that learning on your own can seem a bit challenging, so this guide is here to help you identify your needs. Once you have, you can start looking at brands that offer what you want!
Types of Hardwood Floors
Hardwood isn’t just what it appears to be when looked at with a naked eye. There is a lot that goes on under the surface of the finish, and you may not be aware of the two different types of hardwood out there. Each has its own unique place in a home, so you need to decide which is best for your needs.
Solid: This is the most traditional type of hardwood flooring. It’s just pure wooden planks, and usually the most expensive option. These solid planks should be installed over plywood, not concrete. Solid wood is known to be higher in quality, but it can affect the door height since these planks are much thicker than engineered wood. This wood is also a bit quieter.
Engineered: As the more popular choice between the wood types, engineered wood is designed with a thin layer of pure hardwood and then a man-made mixture under it. These floors are lighter, easier to install, but harder to refinish. They also are considerably cheaper, though the aesthetic difference is the same. Engineered wood is bonded to different layers within the plank which prevent it from adjusting size over the years and tend to be more durable long-term.
Choosing flooring that looks good and matches the decor and energy of your home is just as important as getting the right type of wood. Your floors often are the first impression that a guest will get of your home, so pick something that will be comfortable and fitting for decades to come. Your home may change, but the floors won’t.
Pre-finished: You can opt for flooring that has already been finished before installation even begins. This is nice, because it’s one less step to worry about, and you can compare finished pieces together easily. However, this is a more expensive option, and it’s irreversible.
Site-finished: Most people decide to finish their floors after installation. You can get a better vision of what the finish will look like in your home and aim to match your atmosphere the best. Installation experts can usually cover this on their own, but you’ll need to pay extra for materials and labor.
Wood type: Oak is the most common type of wood for hardwood floors, but it surely doesn’t stop there. Ash, Walnut, Beech, Pine, Fir, Elm, Cedar, and dozens more wood types are out there to choose from, each with unique appearance and benefits. Doing the research into what wood offers what benefits is probably needed before a final decision, or ask your lumber retailer what their best-selling kinds are.
Finish types: The finish on your floors is as important as the type of wood you choose. You can opt for oil-base, water-base, polyurethane, wax, or varnish. Watch out for high VOC content, and ask about the color it will turn to as the finish fades. Some woods will yellow or darken. Oil finishes are the most popular, but they have a very strong odor when applied. Water-based finish types are more mild, and won’t yellow, but it’s more expensive.
Grain: Different wood will have different grains.This is purely a visual choice, and won’t affect the longevity or quality of your wood. Closed grain will take the finish better, and comes out looking modern and sleek. An open grain is more rustic and authentic, with the finish blotching in the smaller areas of the grain. Streaks, knots, blisters, ripples, and other natural shapes in the wood are going to be found with any grain.
It’s extremely tricky to narrow down the exact price of what your project total will cost. Every retailer will have a different price per square foot depending on the style and type of the wood you choose. In general, the larger the plank size, the more expensive.
You will also be paying for the labor to install your floors, which can range from $6-$10 per foot depending on your service. Exotic wood brands will be more expensive, too. Large retailers like Liquidated Lumber will have excellent prices for $4 or below, while more exclusive lumber companies will go up to $14 on the high end. This is all per square foot.
Negotiating prices and understanding the full costs of your project is key. Remember that hardwood is one of the more expensive flooring options out there, so shop around between retailers, brands, and flooring options before settling on a final opinion.
The average cost of a project is around $4,500 in America for most modest sized homes.
Top 3 Popular Hardwood Flooring Brands
With the popularity of hardwood comes the saturation of the market for it. Anywhere you go, any home improvement or hardware store, will have their collection of hardwood floors. Trusting an ethical company who offers agreeable prices, has knowledge and experience, and a good variety of styles is an important part of your flooring project. Fortunately, there are tons of brands that fit this bill.
A few great ones that have outstanding reputations and plenty of variety when it comes to style include:
Hearne Hardwood: Over 100 hardwood options are available with this top-of-the-line lumber retailer. They’ve been in business for over 30 years, hand-sourcing their wood choices from South Africa and size it on-site. They have unique wood options, both exotic and domestically sourced, and their premium wood products are reliable and simply stunning. Of course, this type of incredible manufacturing process comes with a bit of a steep price, but the family business is ethical and you know you’re paying for the genuine quality of their hardwood floors.
Lumber Liquidators: If you just need something cheap and simple, this name-brand retailer is perfect. They aren’t quite as high-end as the other two options, but they have affordable prices and good wood. 400+ styles are available and they do installation for you. There is constant deals updated weekly, and they source their inventory from personally vetted companies like Mayflower and Bellawood. Any type, style, and finish you want will be found with this outlet mall for hardwood floors.
Superior Hardwoods of Montana: 41 years of ethical, reputable business sits tucked under this brand’s belt. They specialize in antique and pioneer floor options, with affordable costs and attentive, educational staff. Their styles are gorgeous, with white oak and maple, hickory, and more. You can get the wood pre-finished or original, sleek or rugged, and they offer 4 unique style series. Quotes are offered on the website and pricing can be customized to your needs based on style and finish. Plus, they do siding and beams too, so your home can be fully outfitted to match.
If none of these tickle your fancy, no problem. You can easily find and connect with several other retailers for hardwood by going to a local lumber shop or home improvement retailer.
It’s unlikely that your home will have entirely one flooring type. Each room will call for something different. You may want vinyl in your kitchen and bathroom, carpet in the bedrooms, cork for the basement, and hardwood floors for the hall and living area. It’s very depend on the situation and family.
Taking a look at the differences between hardwood when compared to other floor types, you can get a good idea of how your finished home improvement project should be completed. Choosing which materials to use for what sections of the house is tasking, but possible. Understanding the comparisons will give you some clarity here.
Hardwood vs Carpeting
Aesthetics aren’t the only thing to consider when choosing flooring options. Carpet is the other leading type of flooring in homes, right alongside hardwood, and it’s often used together to complete the final look of the home.
The differences are pretty obvious and deliberate, with their needs implied, but if you’re trying to decide which flooring option to use over the other, a little look into the differences can be helpful.
The pros of hardwood flooring over carpeting?
- Much easier to clean
- A classy, historical appearance
- Usually a little more affordable
- Has a longer lifespan
Of course, carpet is much softer, quieter, and less prone to scratches overtime. Each has its great selling points, and each has a few downsides. Together, they make a pretty great pair.
Hardwood vs Bamboo
Two sides of the same coin, bamboo and hardwood. They are similar in appearance, lifespan, durability, and installation. Aside from some minor aesthetic differences when it comes to color and grain, most people can’t tell the two apart at first.
The pros of hardwood flooring over bamboo?
- Higher durability
- Longer time between refinishing
- Improves home value more than bamboo, a newer product
- Doesn’t soften overtime
- Scratches less easily
Bamboo is a very green product, sourced naturally from an extremely renewable plant in Asia. It’s got a better resistance to water and weather damage, and often will be more affordable than hardwood. It’s a little harder to find it in popular lumber retail stores, and you might have to do a little digging to find a good fit for your home.
Hardwood vs Vinyl
Vinyl is cheap, easy, and customizable. It’s not too shabby when it comes to lifespan, it’s easy to clean, and it’s aesthetically pleasing. It can handle water damage, extreme weather conditions, and stand up against humidity longer, but the wear and tear of a family living on it’s surface will get it quickly.
It’s also a man made product, so you’re not helping the world go green with vinyl. The pros of hardwood flooring over vinyl?
- Much better appearance value
- Refinishing allows for up to four times the lifespan of vinyl
- Stronger against wear and tear, scratches, and surface damage
- Improves home value
- A natural resource
Vinyl is becoming a bit dated as a flooring material, especially as affordable options like bamboo and cork spring up on the market. For very tight budgets or quick improvement projects, vinyl is a decent option, but it can’t compare to the quality and beauty of a true hardwood floor.