Hardwood Flooring Buyers Guide 2021

November 8, 2020

Renovating your home is a big decision. The beginning of 2021 brings about a desire for change and renewal, making it the perfect time to replace outdated carpet and tile with beautiful solid hardwood flooring. As home values soar, hardwood flooring is an excellent addition to your home than ever before.

The right floors can transform the entire look and feel of your house. Plus, hardwood floors offer one of the highest returns on investment (ROI) compared to other home improvement projects. Realtors consistently report that homes with hardwood floors sell better and that 54% of buyers are willing to pay more for hardwood floors. New hardwood floors are a rewarding investment that you and future buyers are bound to love.

The wide selection of hardwoods in the market can make choosing the perfect flooring challenging. But don’t worry, our comprehensive hardwood flooring guide includes everything you need to know about getting new hardwood floors in 2021.

Questions to Ask Before Picking Hardwood Flooring

Selecting the right hardwood floor involves a ton of factors. Hardwood floors are an investment, so it’s crucial to choose a flooring option that offers the appropriate durability and performance for your family.

One of the first decisions to make is where you’ll be adding new floors to your home. Different home locations and family situations can help narrow down what type of flooring options are adequate for your home. Below are some questions to keep in mind while searching for a new hardwood floor.

Where Are You Installing The Hardwood Floors?

Due to the growing popularity of open floorplans, many homeowners remodeling their floors in 2021 choose a single hardwood flooring type throughout their home. However, if a few areas of your house have higher traffic, you may find that some hardwoods may show more wear and tear than others.

High traffic areas, like mudrooms or entryways, have a higher likelihood of scratching and discoloration. This type of wear and tear is likely if you have pets or small children. Choosing a floor with a higher hardness level can prevent scratching and keep the floor pristine throughout your home.

If your hardwoods extend to your laundry room or kitchen, waterproof or water-resistant flooring is key to avoid bowing or warping. Additionally, high traffic areas like the front of the stove and the folding table require denser floors to prevent the appearance of worn patches.

The natural lighting in your house may also influence your choice. In rooms with lots of windows, the color of your hardwoods can fade and become discolored faster than in other areas of the house. Discoloration can ruin the cohesive effect of having the same hardwood floors throughout your home. This prompts some homeowners to install different wood types with similar colors or stains to meet the needs of various areas in the house. However, if you desire to maintain the same grain and style throughout your home, engineered wood flooring or a very durable wood floor may be a better solution.

Does Your Home Have Existing Wood Accents?

If your home has existing baseboards, trim boards, and crown molding, you may think your hardwood options are limited. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth! Contrary to popular belief, your new floors don’t have to be a replica of the wood used in your existing trim boards or cabinets. Perfectly matching the wood flooring to the wood accents can sometimes negatively affect the appearance of your home.

This is especially true in homes with lots of dark wood as darker stains tend to absorb light and make a room look smaller. Choosing a lighter floor stain to complement your home’s dark accents can help expand the space while maintaining the sophisticated look of dark wood accents.

Think of the trim boards as a frame around your flooring. Take advantage of your house’s natural accents and use that coloring to guide your choice in flooring. However, if you are looking for a change, you can always redo your baseboards as you update your flooring.

If the existing wood accents are vastly different from the flooring styles you’re interested in installing, you can always paint them! White baseboards or chair rails can look striking against a dark floor and tiled wall.

In essence, we advise you to consider how your new flooring will coordinate with your home’s existing accents before proceeding with the installation process. That way, you won’t have any unpleasant surprises when the new floors are installed.

What Kind of Subfloor Do You Have?

The subfloor is a thick flat surface positioned on top of the joists (a primary structural element that supports the floor). It is crucial to know the type of subfloor in your home when selecting new flooring. The kind of subfloor you have can heavily influence the installation process because certain subfloors may need extra preparation to support the hardwood type you intend on installing.

Picking the right flooring choice for your subfloor can reduce installation expenses and shorten the installation process.

Most homes built after 1980 have tongue-and-groove plywood, while older homes may have a plywood subfloor. Plywood subfloor, specially tongue-and-groove plywood, provides a rigid and robust base that lets you install most hardwood flooring types in any direction you prefer. Plywood subfloor can also support almost any hardwood thickness, so a high-quality plywood subfloor is best for avoiding higher installation costs.

Many older homes have plank subflooring, requiring you to resecure the planks before installing your new hardwoods. The direction of the flooring planks can expand or condense room space. It is advisable to position the planks to run parallel to the walls to make space appear larger. Arranging the planks horizontally from wall to wall can make the room appear smaller.

If you wish to make a room appear spacious and choose to install the planks parallel to the walls, you’ll need to install a plywood subfloor over the planks before adding the hardwood flooring.

Similarly to plywood oriented strand board (or OSB), subflooring offers durability and rigidity. OSB can support solid hardwoods thicker than 3/4″ but may need a plywood underlayment( a layer of plywood that is placed above the subfloor) for thinner hardwoods or engineered wood flooring. You may also want to add underlayment paper over the OSB subfloor to reduce the likelihood of moisture penetrating the hardwood floors.

Plywood, plank, and OSB subfloor are suitable options for unfinished wood floors that need to be nailed into the subfloor. If you have a concrete subfloor, you will need to use prefinished engineered wood planks. These can be glued or fitted together without attaching them to the subfloor. Particleboard is not a suitable subfloor underlayment to support hardwood floors because it has low durability and strength. It will need to be removed before installing hardwood flooring.

Considering the type of subfloor in your house before proceeding with the installation process will save you money and time in the long run.

Will You Remove or Keep Your Existing Floor?

Most hardwood installers will recommend removing your existing floor before installing new hardwood floors.

You can choose to install the new hardwood floor on the existing flooring to reduce installation costs. However, choosing to leave your old floors instead of removing them before installation can limit your flooring options. You may need to select a thinner hardwood or engineered wood floor to provide the necessary space for doors.

It is recommended that you make any repairs necessary to the subfloor before installing the new hardwood floors. Hardwood floors have a long life span, but if the subfloor is damaged, you will be forced to remove the newly installed floor to address any repairs your subfloor might need. If your subfloor is decaying, it will make your new hardwood floors warp, squeak, sag, or loosen, severely shortening their lifespan.

Adding new flooring over old flooring may also void any flooring warranties that could come with your installation.

While you can install new hardwood floors over your existing floor, you may want to reconsider if the initial savings are worth the potentially costly reparations costs or even floor replacements in the future.

Types of Hardwood Flooring

Now that you’ve answered the most crucial pre-installation questions, it’s time to start looking at flooring options! The wide range of wood flooring alternatives available can be overwhelming at first, but we will help you by breaking down the most popular hardwood flooring options and how to choose which one is right for you.

Solid Hardwood Flooring vs. Engineered Wood Flooring

The first step is choosing the type of wood flooring you want, solid hardwood or engineered wood flooring. While they may look similar, there are some crucial factors to consider before making any decisions.

The first thing people tend to notice is that engineered wood is less expensive than solid wood. Engineered wood flooring costs between $2.50 and $10 per square foot, with the average cost between $4 and $7. Solid wood averages around $8 a square foot and ranges from $4 to $12 per square foot.

The difference in the price range between solid hardwood or engineered wood flooring can make some people choose engineered hardwood without considering any other factors. However, it is essential to consider that engineered flooring may not be rewarding over time. On the other hand, hardwood is a profitable investment that can increase property value in the future.

Engineered wood has a thinner layer of wood, so it can only be refinished 2 to 5 times depending on the thickness, significantly shortening the lifespan of your floor to 20 or 30 years. Solid wood flooring can be refinished up to 10 times over its lifespan, extending the life of your wood flooring beyond 100 years.

The long life span and durability of hardwood flooring outweigh the maintenance costs of hardwood flooring. Hardwood floors need to be refinished approximately every ten years, especially in high traffic areas. This is especially important if you want to keep your flooring looking pristine for years to come and increase property value.

Before choosing between engineered or solid wood flooring, remember that the subfloor may need to be adjusted for your preference. Review the subfloor section above to determine which option is best for you.

Floating vs. Fixed Engineered Floor

A floating floor is a floor type that sits/floats on top of the sub-floor/existing floor but is not attached to the surface. The planks are glued down or snapped together but are not nailed to the subfloor, making floating floors very easy to add to existing floors. Floating floors offer a much faster installation compared to fixed engineered floor, so if you’re looking to install beautiful hardwood quickly, floating floors might be right for you.

However, floating floors may not offer the resale value of traditionally installed engineered wood or hardwood floors. Fixed engineered floors take longer to install but have a longer lifespan than floating floors. A fixed engineered wood floor will typically be glued or nailed down to your subfloor. Engineered wood floors have a thin layer of natural hardwood over a large plywood layer. The plywood bottom is easy to install over almost any existing subfloor, even if moisture is a concern because the plywood layer is resistant to rotting and warping.

Plank Sizes

Solid wood can be cut to a wide variety of sizes, allowing you to choose the perfect size plank for your home.

Traditionally long planks are utilized in solid hardwood flooring. Long planks create a clean visual continuity because they have fewer joints ( the places where the planks join each other). Even hardwood floors with distinct grain patterns can offer a softer, subtler look with long, streamlined planks. If you have an open-plan home( no barriers between different house areas), the long planks will help open up space and harmoniously combine the living room and kitchen. On the other hand, having short planks can help you achieve a patchwork effect that can add depth and character to any room for an affordable price.

If you want to achieve a rustic feel in your home, wide planks are great at displaying the natural grain patterns and wood imperfections. However, if you seek a more modern look, narrow planks can offer a clean appearance that expands any space.

Prefinished vs. Unfinished Wood

Most engineered flooring comes prefinished, whereas solid wood flooring offers both options prefinished and unfinished. Below you will find the advantages and limitations of both alternatives.

Prefinished flooring can reduce the installation costs and save you time. You can enjoy prefinished flooring as soon as it is installed because there is no need for additional treatments like sanding, sealing, or staining.

Factory finished floors tend to have more durable finishes that are covered by a warranty and require very little maintenance.

The durability of the prefinished floor layers can make it difficult to change the finish without replacing the planks.

Unfinished hardwood floors take longer to install, but they allow you to customize the finish to match your home. Unfinished floors can be refinished multiple times and can hide subfloor flaws in a way prefinished planks cannot.

When choosing between prefinished and unfinished hardwood floors, consider how much you are willing to wait for the installation process and whether you want a more customizable flooring option.

New vs. Reclaimed

Finding environmentally friendly hardwood floors is becoming a priority for many buyers. If you’re looking for a more classic floor type that is sustainable, reclaimed wood floors are a great option. Reclaimed wood is high-quality upcycled wood sourced from factories, warehouses, retired ships, etc. Reclaimed lumber can help add character to your property without sacrificing durability and sustainability. Reclaimed wood can offer a unique, vintage look that is difficult to replicate. It is a great way to install high-quality wood at a reduced price.

New floors are often the standard, but it’s important to consider reclaimed hardwood floors as an option for your home. If solid hardwood is your top choice, reclaimed wood can offer a wide selection of sustainable and beautiful hardwood with a rich history at an affordable price.

Wood Stains

Once you’ve selected between engineered or solid hardwood, you can start thinking of the color and grain you’re looking for. Wood flooring can come in a wide variety of stains and dyes. With the wide range of stain options available, it can be daunting to choose a color. Below I have compiled a couple of tips to make selecting for the perfect stain an enjoyable and stress-free experience.

  1. Consider the furniture and wood accents in your house. If you want to open up space, you should avoid matching the floor’s stain to your furniture’s color as it can condense the space and make it appear cluttered. Opt for lighter stains that are more reflective and give the appearance of a larger space.
  2. Select a color range that you are interested in, whether it is warm tones with a classic feel like walnut, mahogany, and natural maple or cool tones with a modern feel like dark walnut, dark oak, and java strand bamboo. Once you’ve chosen a color range, you can experiment with different colors to see what looks best with your floor type and grain pattern. Grain pattern can look vastly different depending on the color, so having the design you’re aiming for in mind can help you narrow down which woods look best with your desired stain colors.
  3. If you have small children and pets, it might be challenging to keep lighter floors looking pristine because dirt is more visible with lighter stains.
  4. Consider where you are installing the new floor; for small rooms with little natural light, lighter colors can brighten up and enlarge the space.

Wood Grades

Hardwood is graded based on the size and number of pieces obtained from a board after it is cut to be manufactured.

The wood grade is meant to provide a quantifiable percentage of impeccable wood for each grade to guide you while selecting hardwood.

If you haven’t chosen a type of wood yet, picking a wood grade can help you choose styles with more uniformity or more character, depending on your style preferences. Here you can find the different wood grades to guide your search.

Clear Grade

Clear grade, also known as FAS ( Firsts and Second), is considered the highest quality hardwood option available. Clear grade wood planks have a uniform grain pattern and color, with almost no knots or distinguishing characteristics. Clear grade wood comes from a tree’s heartwood and is very rare. The scarce nature of clear grade wood makes it one of the most expensive wood grade options. Clear grade wood is ideal for moldings, door frames, and furniture applications.

While considering clear grade wood, remember that it is possible to achieve the smooth and consistent look of clear grade without breaking your budget by opting for engineered hardwood clear grade wood.

Additionally, keep in mind that the fewer natural characters in the wood may draw attention to scratches and flaws over time.

Select Grade

Similarly to clear grade wood, select wood has an overall uniform appearance. However, select grade wood retains a few swirls and has more color variation than clear grade. Select grade is pulled from heartwood and sapwood, making it very rare and equally priced as clear grade wood. Select grade is considered a common high-end option for solid wood flooring and is a good choice for a cohesive look with character.

These floors can adopt different stain colors very well, making them an excellent choice for furniture.

#1 Common Grade

Number one common grade wood is a popular choice for households with children or pets because it can hide scratches and human-caused imperfections. This wood grade has natural wood characteristics, like variations in color and grain pattern that draw attention away from any wear and tear. It is perfect for homeowners seeking a more organic wood appearance without any significant imperfections. The Longer planks can offer unique design opportunities and notable variations that give your floor a lot of charm.

The light and dark variations can add dimension to your room, especially across a larger space with an open floor plan.

#2 Common Grade

Number two common grade wood is often referred to as rustic because it draws attention to the natural wood imperfections. This wood grade contains numerous knots, burls, swirls, and other natural wood characteristics, making it a bolder choice than #1 common grade wood. The inconsistent grain pattern gives #2 common grade a more unique appearance and character.

#2 common grade is ideal for homeowners looking for a more natural and vintage look with beautiful variations in color and pattern.

Cabin Grade

Cabin grade wood has more character and variability than other wood types. Cabin grade offers the same durability and stability as other wood grades at a fraction of the price. Cabin grade wood has deep knots, no consistency across board or color making it perfect for high traffic rooms.

The variation in pattern and color makes cabin grade ideal for mudrooms, playrooms, and screened-in porches, as the wear and tear will blend in with the naturally diverse appearance of the wood.

Picking the Right Grade for You

Wood grades do not measure the density, durability, or quality; it merely evaluates the wood’s aesthetic appearance according to its character marks and variation.

The wood grades can help guide you and narrow down the wood types you like based on the look you want to achieve, whether it is clean and classic or rustic and full of character. This choice can come down to whether you want your floors to be the center of attention or whether you want them to be a blank canvas for the rest of the house. The wood’s grade is not related to its quality, so choose a grade based on the look you prefer rather than the price range.

Domestic Vs. Foreign Wood Species

Another way to choose the right hardwood floor option for you is to look at each wood type’s hardness rating. The hardness of wood types is measured on the Janka Hardness Scale, which can help determine your floors’ durability. Harder woods are denser and more resistant to wear and tear than softer wood types.

Domestic woods (from the U.S. or Canada) are less expensive than exotic woods; they are also softer and less durable. In the U.S, the most common hardwood floor option Red Oak has a hardness rating of 1290, which is significantly lower than exotic wood alternatives. This makes imported wood a better choice if you want a durable floor with a long life span.

Many of the denser floor types come from Brazil. These flooring options are becoming increasingly popular across the U.S. as more engineered wood manufacturers create easy to buy, prefinished planks. Brazilian walnut (or Ipe), ebony, and cherry are gaining a foothold in the U.S. market due to their durability and beauty. These hardwood options have a Janka rating between 2350 and 3680, making them some of the strongest woods available.

When purchasing exotic hardwood, consider whether the hardwoods are ethically sourced. This is a point of concern for Brazilian woods and African, Asian, and Australian woods. Sustainability is becoming a priority for homebuyers, making sourcing ambiguity a factor that may negatively impact your returns on investment (ROI).

Another important factor to consider before investing in exotic woods is maintenance; foreign hardwoods frequently have distinct color variations, making them more prone to discoloration requiring more frequent restaining than traditional domestic lumber.

Additionally, you should consider the ‘demographic of the homebuyers in your area; while less traditional woods are trendy in more urban areas, many suburban neighborhoods prefer the look of domestic hardwood. This will ensure you receive a profitable return of investment when reselling your property.

Hardwoods are an investment that can significantly increase your property value over time. Hardwood floors are meant to last, they can maintain an excellent condition for up to 100 years, but if you seek to install a wood floor fast, it may not be the best choice. Hardwoods tend to have a longer installation process than other wood types, but they also have fewer maintenance costs.

Hard woods are less likely to contract or swell, reducing possible future repairs. Plus, they stand up well in high traffic areas, making them a great choice for homes with pets and children.

The Most Popular Flooring Options in America

The most popular hardwood types and stains vary across states in the U.S. The exotic woods that are trending in the Los Angeles area may not do well in more traditional rural areas like Virginia. However, some wood species have retained popularity across different states and periods in America.

If you’re not sure where to start, these three tried-and-true flooring options can help point you in the right direction.

Oak Flooring

Oak has remained the most popular hardwood floor species in the U.S for many years. Oak has a beautifully complex character with a distinctive grain pattern that masks any signs of wear and tear.

Red oak in known for its distinctive warm undertones, and strong grain pattern. It has a Janka rating of 1290, making it a very durable hardwood alternative at an affordable price. White oak, in the other hand has cool gray undertones and a softer grain pattern. White oak has a Janka rating of 1360, making durable perfect for families.

European Oak offers a more consistent coloring distribution and tighter grain than American Oak. European Oak is not only an exquisite appearance but also a long life span and can last over 25 years

Oak has remained the most popular hardwood option for many years due to its durability and affordability.

Walnut Flooring

The beautiful and rich walnut hardwood color has made it one of America’s most popular flooring types.

Walnut flooring comes in two selections.

American Walnut Hardwood, sometimes referred to as black walnut, has a beautiful deep brown color with purple, gray, and red undertones. American walnut is a very economical hardwood alternative for homes in search of a sophisticated and modern atmosphere. While American walnut hardwood may withstand normal wear and tear, it may not be the best choice for busy families with small children or pets as it has a Jakan rating of 1010, making it softer more prone to marks, scratches, and dents.

For houses with small children or pets, Brazilian walnut hardwood might be a better alternative, as it has a much higher Jakan rating of 3684, making it much denser and resistant than American walnut hardwood. Brazilian walnut hardwood offers a range of colors from darker tones to lighter hues.

Both American and Brazilian Walnut hardwood offer high quality and durability, making them excellent choices for those in search of an elegant hardwood alternative.

Maple Flooring

Maple wood has a neutral color range that has made it incredibly popular across American homes for many years. The blonde sand tones and fine grain pattern makes it suitable for any color scheme and interior design.

Maple hardwood has a Janka rating of 1450, making it one of the hardest domestic hardwoods alternatives. The durability and resistance of maple hardwood make it a great hardwood flooring option for families with small children or pets.

Maple hardwood was believed to have color limitations because it doesn’t absorb stains well; however, innovative staining techniques have made it possible to re-stain maple wood many times without any issues.

Maple trees have a fast-growing period making them a renewable, eco-friendly hardwood source ideal for families searching for an affordable and durable hardwood floor.

Choosing the Best Hardwood Flooring for Your Home

Hardwood flooring is durable, timeless, and elegant. This makes it a great investment that will look stunning for many years and increase your property’s value. The wide variety of flooring options can make the process of selecting a new hardwood floor daunting, but hopefully, this guide can help you find the perfect floor for you.

You can contact Pacific Hardwood Flooring for more personalized assistance, and a team member will evaluate your specific needs and concerns and advise you on what is best for your home. You can visit our showroom and personally assess all of our flooring options like parquet, European Oak, and Reclaimed wood, along with their various colors and beautifully intricate designs. Pacific Hardwood Flooring has provided clients experienced and professional service from start to finish since 1990, so do not hesitate to reach out.

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