As you begin the process of choosing the right hardwood flooring for your home, ask yourself the following questions. These questions are meant to guide you through the process of making the best decision based on the most important factors regarding hardwood flooring.
Where are you installing the hardwood flooring in your home?
This is an extremely important question because where you will be installing the hardwood flooring determines the type of hardwood you will need. Solid hardwood cannot be installed below-grade (below the ground level of the home) because it isn’t dimensionally stable enough to resist the amount of moisture below-grade. Engineered hardwoods, however, can be installed in the basement level because their construction allows them to resist humidity without being damaged. You truly cannot tell the difference between engineered hardwoods and solid hardwoods in terms of appearance, so many people find engineered hardwood to be the perfect fit for their below-grade level flooring.
If you are installing hardwood flooring on-grade (ground level) or above-grade (second floor and higher) you can choose either solid or engineered hardwood, depending on the type of subfloor.
What type of subflooring is underneath?
If the subfloor is a concrete slab, you will be limited to engineered flooring because the only way to install hardwood floors onto a concrete slab is the method of glue-down or floating. Solid hardwoods typically cannot be glued down because as humidity causes the flooring to expand and shrink, the solid hardwood would pull itself off the floor despite the glue. There is a more costly way around this, and that is to install plywood on top of the concrete slab which would provide the proper subfloor for solid hardwood. However, higher end engineered flooring rivals solids in both price and performance.
If your subflooring is made of plywood, you can install either solid or engineered hardwood floors. Some homes built in the 1970s have a different type of subfloor called particleboard which is not conducive to hardwood flooring installation because of its cheap quality. We recommend having the particleboard removed and replaced with plywood before installing your hardwood floors.
Radiant Heat: Be sure to choose a product that is rated for radiant heat if you want to have this energy efficient heating system installed below your floors. Most engineered hardwoods work well with radiant heat, and there are some select solids that can work as well.
What will the space be used for?
After determining whether you need engineered or solid hardwood, the rest of your choices depend on function and style preference. Ask yourself:
- Will the space experience high foot-traffic?
- What is my living style? (Travel often, homebody, frequent guests, etc.)
- Who will be using the space? (Children, pets, myself, etc.)
- Is this a more formal or comfortable space?
If the area where you will be installing the hardwood flooring will experience high foot-traffic, be used by many people including children and pets, and is a more comfortable environment, you probably want to consider a harder wood (learn about the Janka hardness scale) that has less gloss and perhaps a lower grade. If you desire a more formal look in a space that will most likely have low foot-traffic and experience minimum wear and tear, you could consider a softer wood with a higher gloss level and perhaps a clear grade.
What style do you prefer?
There are endless varieties of solid and engineered hardwood flooring, so whatever look you’re dreaming of, it most assuredly exists. The first thing to consider is unfinished versus prefinished hardwood. Unfinished wood allows you to create a custom-finish to your exact aesthetic specifications once the flooring is installed in your home. Prefinished wood comes with the color already stained and finish applied, so what you purchase will be complete when installed unless you decide to sand and refinish years down the road. One advantage to prefinished wood is that the installation time is significantly shorter, but you do not have the benefit of customizing your color.
Another style preference has to do with the grade of the wood. The primary differentiator between the grades is the degree to which natural characteristics, such as knots and mineral streaks, or manufacturing marks, such as sticker stain, are allowed. The prominence and frequency of these characters increases from Clear to No. 2 Common.