Your Guide to the Different Types of Wood Flooring

The enduring good looks of hardwood flooring come in many types and styles to fit different needs and budgets.

By: John Riha
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If you’re thinking of putting in wood floors, you can’t go wrong. All types of hardwood floors have unmatched natural beauty and go with any decor — modern, traditional, country, you name it. Hardwood flooring goes in any room, although kitchens and basements warrant special considerations.

Contemporary Open Kitchen

Contemporary Open Kitchen

Cowhide bar chairs sit at the wet bar in this open floor plan kitchen and dining area. Two chrome pendant lights over the bar match chrome hardware in the kitchen, marrying the two spaces.

Photo by: Cure Design Group

Cure Design Group

Unfinished or Finished?

Unfinished hardwood flooring is a good option if you want a custom stain applied before the final finish, or if you want to match the color of existing flooring. After hardwood flooring installation and staining, the flooring is given several coats of protective finish. If you’re thinking of adding hardwood flooring in your kitchen, unfinished flooring is a good choice because the finish will penetrate and seal the seams between boards, helping to prevent water from seeping between boards.

Prefinished hardwood flooring comes from the factory already sanded and sealed, meaning the whole installation job goes quickly. There are no odors and VOCs from finishing on-site, and the floor is ready to walk on immediately.

Light and Airy Living Room has Contemporary Flair

Light and Airy Living Room has Contemporary Flair

Clean white French doors open the contemporary living room to the backyard. A traditional wood table displays favorite books and accessories, while abstract art brings modern elements to the space.

Photo by: Dacian Groza

Dacian Groza

Solid or Engineered?

Solid hardwood flooring is all wood and comes 5/8 to 3/4 inches thick. Because it’s solid wood, it can be sanded and refinished many times. However, it’s susceptible to changes in humidity, and isn’t recommended for below-grade basements.

Engineered hardwood flooring is a veneer of real wood glued to several layers of wood underneath, like plywood. This gives engineered wood excellent stability over time and makes it a good choice for any area of your home, including below-grade basements. Depending on the thickness of the hardwood veneer, engineered hardwood flooring can only be sanded and refinished once or twice during its lifetime.

Glass Front Door Fills Home With Natural Light

Glass Front Door Fills Home With Natural Light

Families tend to spend the most time in rooms that get the best natural light. Maximize your family room's light by using doors with glass inserts. When the doors are closed, they'll still allow plenty of natural light into the space.

What Species Is Best?

The best hardwood floors are made with wood species that are readily available and — you guessed it — very hard. Oak flooring, maple flooring and cherry flooring are all good choices. Other species include bamboo (which is actually a grass), walnut, ash and mahogany. You’ll pay a premium price for more exotic species, such as teak, jarrah and mesquite. Check to make sure the hardwood flooring you choose comes from sustainably harvested forests.

Another option is reclaimed hardwood flooring, which you can find at salvage yards. It likely has some signs of wear and age, but you’ll pay about half what it would cost for comparable new flooring. If they don’t have what you’re looking for (and you have the time), ask to be put on a waiting list. Salvage flooring is an especially good choice if you’re renovating an older house.

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