Which Kind Of Wood Flooring Should You Choose?
There’s a dizzying variety of flooring available today, including carpeting, plastic laminate, ceramic tile, and vinyl. Yet, according to the National Wood Flooring Association, Americans bought more than 900 million square feet of wood flooring every year from 2002 to 2011. The widespread popularity of wood flooring continues to grow for one simple reason: There’s no substitute for the warmth and natural beauty of real wood.
Wood flooring comes in dozens of styles and sizes, but there are only two basic types: solid wood and engineered wood. Traditional solid-wood flooring is exactly what you’d expect: Each floorboard is milled from a piece of solid wood. Engineered-wood flooring is an all-wood, laminated plank that’s manufactured from pieces of wood.
Both types of flooring come in a wide variety of colors and wood species. The specific type and style of flooring you’ll ultimately choose will depend on several factors, including price, size of the floorboards, wood species, ease of installation, type of subfloor, and the room itself. Here’s a brief look at each type:
Solid-wood flooring is commonly available in narrow strips, wide planks, and parquet squares. Strip flooring is the most popular and traditional of all wood floors, and the strips you can buy measure between 1-1/2 and 3 inches wide. Planks range from about 3 to 7 inches wide and are often installed in larger rooms and wide-open spaces. Parquet flooring comes in preassembled tiles or it’s custom-made from individual wood strips. Parquet is ideal for creating eye-catching geometric shapes, weaves, and herringbone patterns. All three flooring styles come unfinished or prefinished and in thicknesses ranging from 5/16 to 3/4 inch.
Many homeowners choose traditional, unfinished hardwood-strip flooring in either red oak or maple because it’s affordable, attractive, and they can choose the stain color or leave it natural. However, unfinished wood requires sanding, staining (if desired), and a clear topcoat finish.
Prefinished wood flooring costs more than unfinished flooring, but doesn’t require sanding or finishing. As soon as you install the last plank, you can nail up the baseboard trim and carry in the furniture. Prefinished flooring also comes in thinner planks than unfinished flooring, which creates less trouble when transitioning from one room to the next.
Remember that while wood is a renewable resource, some species take so long to grow and are being harvested so quickly that they’re no longer considered sustainable. To ensure that you are buying responsibly harvested wood, confirm that it’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or similar environmental agency.
Engineered-wood flooring was introduced to North America in the mid-1980s and quickly became the most popular type of do-it-yourself wood floor. It’s composed of three or more wood layers glued together into long planks, with a top layer composed of a thin solid-wood veneer. This laminated construction creates a floor that’s much more dimensionally stable than solid-wood flooring, so it’s less likely to cup, split, shrink, or warp. There are more than two dozen wood species to choose from, including both softwood and hardwood.
Most engineered-wood planks measure between 3 and 7 inches wide and are 7 and 8 feet long. They range in thickness from about 3/8 inch to 3/4 inch. And although a vast majority of engineered-wood flooring comes prefinished, in some parts of the country you can find unfinished planks.
When shopping for engineered-wood flooring, be sure the top veneer is at least 1/8 inch thick, which will allow sanding and refinishing if necessary. You’ll also notice that the flooring comes in three basic styles: one-, two-, and three-strip planks. Those terms refer to the number of veneer strips visible on the top layer. A one-strip plank resembles a single wide board. A two-strip plank looks like two narrow floorboards. The three-strip plank most closely mimics a traditional hardwood-strip floor; each plank appears to be three narrow boards.
The reason DIYers love engineered-wood flooring is that the planks snap together and “float” over a thin foam-rubber underlayment. There’s no nailing or gluing, so installation is quick and neat. Plus, the planks can be laid directly over most existing floors, as long as the surface is hard, flat, and in sound condition.