Hardwood is among the most beautiful and durable flooring options available for improving your home or elevating a home remodel.
With a wide range of prices and options, choosing the right product for your home can be daunting. Homeowners who are interested in installing hardwood flooring should keep reading for more information about its benefits, the different types available, and important considerations before installation. Here are 5 things you need to know before installing hardwood flooring.
Why Install Hardwood Flooring?
Hardwood flooring has been around for centuries, making it a timeless and classic choice for any room in your home. It’s available in a wide range of styles, finishes, and species. It’s also one of the most durable flooring types available, making it a great choice in high-traffic areas, even with young children or pets. And while hardwood flooring is sometimes more expensive than other flooring materials, it can pay for itself over time due to its longevity. Because installation costs vary widely based on your flooring choice and the condition of your subfloor, it may be difficult to determine exactly how much hardwood flooring will cost. But if you’ve got it in your budget and you’re looking for a solid choice, hardwood is a winning choice.
Hardwood Flooring Is A Long-Term Investment
Hardwood flooring comes in a range of sizes, colors, wood species, etc. As a rule of thumb, hardwood is generally a mid- to high-range finish material, and for good reason: It’s a long-term investment that will last for years, provide numerous benefits and even increase the value of your home. For example, floors are a major factor in the overall indoor air quality of your home. Hardwood floors are naturally resistant to mold and other allergens. Solid hardwood often boasts enough thickness that it can be sanded and refinished 2–3 times (typically once every ~10 years with standard use), which means a well-cared for hardwood floor could last you upwards of 30 years — or more.
Different Types Of Hardwood Flooring
There are various species, grades, colors, and finishes, but the two common categories are solid wood and engineered hardwood. Before we get into the particulars of solid vs. engineered, it’s important to understand the different features that affect both categories:
Grade: Grade refers to the thickness, number of knots, and other imperfections in the wood. Many hardwood floors are sold based on grade, with higher numbers indicating a thicker piece of wood that has fewer imperfections.
- Color: Hardwood floors can be stained in a wide range of different colors, giving homeowners a lot of leeway in their design. Professionals recommend selecting a stain color that complements your design while fitting the needs of your home.
- Finish: Hardwood floors are available in a wide range of finishes, including oil, wax, and urethane.
- Species: Species refers to the type of tree the wood was sourced from (e.g. oak, walnut, hickory, maple, and cherry). Different species of trees have different inherent characteristics, including color, grain pattern, and durability.
Now, let’s have a look at the advantages and disadvantages of solid and engineered hardwoods:
Solid vs. Engineered Hardwood
Can be refinished many times since it is effectively a ‘solid’ piece of natural hardwood
Has the warmth and the character of real wood.
Typically lacks the adhesives that are used to bond engineered hardwoods, making it a more eco-friendly choice.
Can be expensive (there is a wide range of solid vs engineered hardwoods, so one is not necessarily always more expensive than the other — it depends on the product.
Tends to dent and scratch more easily than engineered hardwood.
Can “cup” (raise up at the edges, making the board slightly curved) in humid environments.
Should not be installed directly on a concrete slab A ½”–¾’’ plywood subfloor is recommended to provide proper underlayment.
Composed of multiple layers including compressed wood, resin, and polymers, with a thin layer of hardwood on the top.
Can be installed directly on a concrete slab (however, underlayment is still recommended, as it provides additional support, insulation, and allows the flooring to be removed without having to damage the structural subfloor).
Can sometimes be refinished (depending on the product), but fewer times than solid hardwood.
Stands up better in humid environments.
Can sometimes be more expensive, but it depends on the product.
Less prone to denting and scratching than solid hardwood (since it has more rigid layers below the hardwood veneer), but this depends more on the species of wood than whether it’s solid or engineered.
Important Considerations Before Installation
Whether you’re simply replacing the flooring in your home, or engaging in a full-on home remodel, there are a number of important considerations when installing hardwood flooring. The following items are things to look out for, but we strongly recommend consulting with your general contractor and/or flooring installer prior to installation:
Subfloor vs Underlayment: The ‘subfloor’ of your home is the layer of plywood that sits right on top of the floor joists. It’s possible to install flooring directly onto the subfloor, but doing so can be a long-term mistake: If you ever need to replace your flooring, you’ll almost certainly end up damaging the subfloor, and repairing it will be expensive. Instead, we recommend installing a layer of ½”–¾” plywood underlayment. This gives your flooring additional protection from moisture, and ensures you can replace it (if needed) without damaging the structural subfloor.
Slab vs Raised Foundation: Slab-on-grade foundations are foundations where the concrete slab sits directly on ‘grade’ (the dirt). In this situation, moisture conducts much more easily through the concrete, which can cause seasonal issues (for instance, during the rainy season, water can absorb into the slab and — in search of drier material — wick right into your flooring. Raised foundations are raised above grade (if you have a crawlspace beneath your house, you have a raised foundation). This allows airflow underneath, which typically (but not always) provides a much better condition for installing hardwood floors.
Glue-Down vs Floating Installation. Glue-down is just like it sounds: The hardwood gets glued directly to what’s beneath it (whether it’s the structural subfloor, or underlayment). ‘Floating’ installation is typically installed over a thin, synthetic pad that acts as a moisture barrier. Whether your flooring installer recommends glue-down or floating installation will depend on the flooring material, whether you’re installing over subfloor or underlayment, whether the foundation is slab-on-grade or raised — and other considerations.
Prefinished vs Finish-in-Place: Prefinished hardwood flooring comes prefinished from the factory. In many cases, this means that there’s little to no off-gassing of chemicals — that process has already occurred at the factory and during transport. In practice, prefinished flooring is installed as-is — it doesn’t get sanded or finished in place, so you will always have small “micro-grooves” between each board. ‘Finish-in-place’ hardwood comes unfinished. It gets sanded and ‘finished in place’, typically with 2–3 coats of an oil-based finish. This sanding and finishing process can typically add a couple of weeks to the process, but the finished product is a single, continuous surface.