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Hardwood 101

Explore hardwood flooring styles and options before you buy.

Types of Hardwood Floors

There are two basic types of hardwoods floors: Solid and Engineered.

Solid Wood Floors

Solid floors are made with planks of solid wood, usually ¾ to 5/16” thick. Because they are solid, they can be sanded and refinished many times, giving them a long life span. They can be installed over a plywood subfloor at or above grade. They are not suitable for installation in basements due to the instability of below grade flooring installation. Below grade installation can result in swelling due to damp conditions in the flooring. Gaps can also develop over time due to humidity fluctuations. Be forewarned that when installing hardwood flooring below grade, it will typically void any type of warranty offered by the retailer or manufacturer.

Engineered Wood Floors

Engineered hardwoods are made with layers of wood veneers bonded together. The top layer is a finished wood that can be resanded a limited number of times depending on its thickness. Because it features multiple sublayers laid in opposing directions, it is more stable than solid hardwood and resists warping and damage from moisture better. For that reason engineered wood floors can be laid over concrete subfloors in addition to wood and are suitable for use in basements. This is due to the fact they do not move as much due to their orientation and thus are less likely to develop defects due to a settling house.

Wood Species

Color and Grain. Hardwood floors are produced from the wood of many species of trees, each offering different qualities that affect their appearance and performance. Some woods such as oak have prominent grain patterns; others, like cherry, have very mild graining. Every variety of wood also has unique natural coloring that affects its finished color when stained.

In addition, woods vary in their hardness, which affects how easily they will dent and scratch under regular use. In general, the harder the wood, the greater its scratch and dent resistance. The industry standard used to classify hardness is called the Janka test. The rating system was developed by measuring the amount of force it takes to embed half of a .444 inch steel ball into a sample of the wood species. Typically, the more exotic hardwoods like Brazilian Ebony or Ipe score highest on the hardness scale while the domestics such as American Cherry and American Beech tend to be softer, more pliable hardwoods.

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