The Scoop on Hardwood Flooring

A barefoot family on a hardwood floor.

Hardwood has been a popular flooring choice for hundreds of years and it is still one of the most desired flooring types today. There's no secret to why hardwood is so popular. It's beautiful and lasts for years (the flooring can even last longer than the house where it's installed). After a number of years as the floor gets worn, the hardwood can be refinished and given a new lease on life. Hardwood is also easy to keep clean, and since it's wood it won't hold dust or dust mites as a carpet might, making it a great choice for a home where people have allergies.

Environmental Concerns

One concern people often have about hardwood is by using it in their home they're contributing to the depletion of the world's forests. However, primarily because reforestation practices are mandatory in the United States, our forests have actually grown in size over the past hundred years and almost 1/3 of the land in the US is covered with trees. In fact, experts say there are actually more trees today than in the 1950s.

Solid Hardwood or Engineered Hardwood?

Just as the name says, solid hardwood is milled from solid lumber. It can be installed in most rooms in a home but not below grade (where ground moisture could get into the natural wood and cause swelling or warping).

Engineered hardwood is a man-made product consisting of a hardwood surface layer bonded to an underlay of laminated plywood or fiberboard. Since it looks like solid hardwood, it can be installed everywhere solid hardwood can be used, but the laminated structure means it can also be used below grade.

Perhaps the major difference between solid and engineered hardwood is solid hardwood can be refinished many times while the engineered wood (which only has a surface layer of hardwood) can only be refinished once or twice.

Choosing the Right Wood

Oak - Oak is among the most popular hardwood flooring choices. There are actually two types of oak used for flooring--red and white. Both are primarily golden brown in color but the red oak has a slight pinkish tone while the white oak is browner.

Maple and Birch - Maple and birch are lighter in color than oak and have light grain lines. Since they're not as dark as oak they provide a bright, modern feel and can actually lighten up a dark room.

Ash - Ash is often darker brown in color than oak and has a more pronounced grain pattern. It's extremely hard (it's used to make baseball bats) so it's long-wearing and a good choice for a room with lots of traffic.

Walnut - Walnut is a dark brown color but since it's not as hard as some of the other hardwoods it's best used in rooms with little traffic, such as a bedroom.

Cherry - Cherry not surprisingly has a reddish tone that tends to darken over time. It also has a distinctive grain pattern that not everyone appreciates. Cherry is quite hard, so it stands up well to traffic.