When it comes to wood floors, you have an incredible number of options available. That’s a good thing, but it can be challenging to know what to choose for hardwood flooring and what will work best in your home’s design while fitting your family’s lifestyle.
You want your floors to withstand regular wear and tear while fitting in seamlessly with your design aesthetic.
If you don’t know where to start in your wood flooring journey, this ultimate guide to choosing hardwood floors will help. We’ll outline everything from lifestyle considerations to tips for choosing the right wood species for your new wood floor to guide you to the perfect flooring for your home.
How to Choose the Best Hardwood Floor
Wood flooring comes in many different types of wood, colors, grains, styles, widths, and finishes. Both design and your lifestyle are critical components of choosing the right wood floor. These steps can guide you to flooring that will look great and stand up to your family’s use:
Step 1: Consider Your Lifestyle and Home
First, it’s necessary to take your family’s everyday lives into account and how it might affect the type of flooring you choose. Hardwood can look beautiful when you lay it throughout each room in your home.
However, it’s not always the best choice for rooms that can get wet, like a laundry room, bathroom, or even a mudroom.
Related article: best wood flooring for bathroom.
If you want to use hardwood in every room, you should only do so if your wet rooms have plenty of ventilation to reduce moisture.
It’s also necessary to clean up spills or splashes on your flooring as quickly as possible and use kitchen area rugs and bathroom mats to prevent water from pooling. Engineered floors, which we’ll discuss in the next section, maybe the best option for your home if it’s prone to moisture.
Pets can also cause damage to hardwood floors. Their nails can scratch flooring easily as they run, and non-housebroken pet accidents can add further damage. One of the harder, more durable hardwood species, like maple or Brazilian hardwood, could be the best option for a household with pets.
Step 2: Understand the Difference Between Solid vs. Engineered Floors
The primary types of hardwood floors you’ll need to choose between solid hardwood and engineered hardwood. Solid wood consists of pure timber throughout each plank.
In contrast, engineered wood combines a layer of plywood with a top layer of real wood. Due to their construction, engineered hardwood floors are usually more affordable than solid hardwood floors.
The most significant benefit of engineered hardwood is that their layered construction prevents planks from shifting, expanding, and shrinking as they settle in place or undergo temperature changes.
Additionally, you can install engineered wood on concrete, unlike solid wood that usually needs plywood underneath before installation.
However, engineered hardwood may not last as long as solid hardwood that homeowners are diligent about cleaning, refinishing, and taking care of.
Read more on which type of underlayment you should use under wood flooring in this article.
Step 3: Choose the Right Board Width
Hardwood floor comes in various widths, from narrow boards to a wide plank look. Wide planks are best for a rustic look and tend to be the trendier option in modern renovations. Narrow and wide planks differ more than in just their appearance, though.
Narrow plank flooring doesn’t need as much room to expand and contract with temperatures. Wide planks do need more room, which means they’ll also need some extra maintenance if you live in a high-humidity area.
However, installation can be more challenging and time-consuming with narrow plank floors because there are more planks to install. Narrow planks can also be slightly more expensive to install simply because of the extra labor.
Step 4: Consider What Type of Finish You Want
You’ll choose between non-finished and prefinished hardwood floors. A non-finished floor gets installed first and finished on site. A prefinished floor consists of planks that are already finished before installation.
The primary benefit of a prefinished floor is that you know precisely how your boards will look after installation. It’s also a lot quicker to install than non-finished flooring, which may take days to weeks post-sealing before you can walk on it.
Read reading: protecting newly finished hardwood floor.
Some homeowners choose non-finished wood for its customization perks. With a non-finished floor, you can work with your contractor to get the exact look and behavior you want.
If, for example, you want a smooth finish that’s easy for floor polish to swipe over, you can let your contractor know before they begin the finishing process.
Step 5: Select a Type of Wood Species
Red oak, white oak, maple, and birch are among the many wood species you can choose from for your floors. Each type of wood looks and behaves differently, with some feeling a little softer underfoot and others creating a more durable, long-lasting floor.
Hardwoods, like maple, Brazilian walnut, and cherry, are known for their durability. These woods are best for high-traffic areas or homes with kids or pets. Other woods, like hickory and mahogany, may not be as durable, but their non-traditional looks could give your home the unique design touch you’re going for.
Bamboo is another popular option that isn’t technically a wood, but it behaves much like one. With different grain patterns and finishes, it can also closely replicate a hardwood floor at a lower cost.
Step 6: Choose a Color and Grain
Your options for finished hardwood floor looks are virtually endless. The completed design will depend on what you choose for color and wood grain. With colors that range from traditional, realistic wood coloring to deep reds and blacks, there’s definitely a hardwood floor look for everyone.
It’s best to choose a color that works with the rest of your design and doesn’t leave your room feeling cramped. Dark tones can make a small room look even smaller or a room without much natural lighting feel tight and dark. Lighter colors can brighten a space and help it feel more open.
Wood grains can vary from subtle to deep and may look realistic or more dramatic. Subtle grain tends to work best in more modern designs, while a deep grain can lend well to a rustic home.
Step 7: Consider Installation Patterns
Another point to consider is how you want your finalized floor to look. Although it’s common to have wood planks laid in a staggered fashion horizontally throughout a room, you can create fun patterns with them for a more unique look. Herringbone, swallowtail, and diagonal are a few examples of hardwood flooring patterns.
The problem with patterns in wood floors is that it can be challenging to strike a balance between the pattern and the wood’s grain. Depending on the finish of your wood planks, your completed floor could look messy or haphazard.
Speak with your contractor at the beginning of your floor renovation process to explain the patterned look you want. The contractor can help you choose a floor grain that can complement the pattern well to give you the effect you envision.
Related reading: What is the Best Hardwood Floor for a Basement?
Budgeting for Hardwood Flooring and Installation
Because hardwood floors come in so many different sizes and woods, its pricing can range dramatically. According to HomeAdvisor, hardwood floor generally ranges between $6 and $12 per square foot, including materials and installation. That’s up to $24,000 for a 2,000-square-foot home.
Although the price of flooring shouldn’t be your only consideration, it is an important one. Here are the costs you can expect to go into adding hardwood floors to your home:
- Hardwood flooring materials: The materials include the hardwood floor planks themselves and the underlayment that your flooring usually needs. The materials, on average, cost between $3 and $7 per square foot, according to HomeAdvisor.
- Installation: A professional flooring installer can ensure that your subfloor is ideal for new flooring and knows how to lay hardwood floor properly. HomeAdvisor estimates that professional labor costs between $3 and $5 per square foot of flooring.
- Unexpected repairs: It may be necessary to repair subflooring that’s dry-rotted, uneven, or otherwise damaged before adding your hardwood. This can raise the cost of your new installation significantly. Still, it’s critical to ensure that the professional can place the new flooring correctly and prevent future flooding issues.
Related article: How Can I Protect My Hardwood Floors in the Bathroom?
Laminate vs. Hardwood Flooring
Laminate flooring is a popular alternative to hardwood floor, especially for homes with pets and young children. Laminate is extremely durable, standing up to scratches and everyday wear better than most hardwoods.
It’s also a more budget-friendly option than hardwood, usually priced a few dollars cheaper per square foot. The downside is that laminate, especially lower-priced laminates, may not give you the exact wood look you want for your home.
With a wide range of colors and grain designs, you can find one that matches your design aesthetic.
For more detailed comparison read our article on Laminate Vs Solid Hardwood Flooring.
We hope this guide helped you learn how to choose hardwood flooring that meets your home and family’s needs. If you know someone looking to add hardwood floors to their home, feel free to share this guide with them!