Wood flooring has been around for centuries, and its popularity only continues to increase with time. And with this popularity comes new innovations in the way that floors are created and installed. Different wood species, engineered wood, solid wood, Janka scores, and finishes can all make the selection of a wood floor more confusing than what older floors involved.
All of these choices, however, mean that it’s now possible to find the perfect floor for every application. Whether you’re looking for a long-wearing floor for a commercial office or you want a more decorative floor for a residential living room, there are wood flooring products out there that can meet your exact needs.
This guide to wood flooring options will help you navigate the different terms, materials, uses, and styles so you can find the perfect wood flooring for your next project.
Types of Wood Floors
Wood flooring has a lot of different labels to it. Wood species are one consideration and the finish is another. But you also need to consider how the flooring is made. There are two basic types of wood floors available today – solid wood and engineered.
Solid wood is exactly what it sounds like – each plank of wood is made of a solid piece. The top grain goes all the way down through the wood, so a solid wood floor can be sanded down and refinished countless times. Solid wood floors can last for hundreds of years and work well in a number of areas.
When choosing a solid wood floor, make sure that you install it at or above grade. Avoid high moisture areas or below grade (basement) installations, because the wood can swell with moisture, and over time may warp.
Engineered wood floors are also made of real wood, but instead of being made of single pieces, they’re made of multiple layers of wood (plywood) put together with a solid piece of wood on top. The different layers are each positioned going in a different direction. This makes the floor more stable when it comes in contact with moisture, so an engineered wood floor can be installed below grade. The surface of the floor is all that you see, and it can be refinished a few times, but it does have its limits, because eventually you could sand through it to the layer below, which is not meant for show. Treated correctly however, an engineered floor can last for decades and is considered a very durable choice, particularly for damp areas and commercial spaces.
Wood floors can be installed in a few different ways. Most solid wood floors are nailed or glued down to the substrate below them.
Engineered wood floors may also be nailed or glued down, but many also have the added option of being installed as a floating floor. This means that the edges of the floor boards are designed to lock together, rather than attaching to the substrate. This makes them an ideal choice for not only basements and slab installations, but also for helping to encapsulate older floors that can’t be easily removed.
Species and Sources
One of the things that makes wood flooring unique is the many different wood species and sources the wood can come from. The two most commonly used wood floors in the U.S. are oak and maple, but these are far from the only types of wood that you can find.
Other woods frequently used in flooring include:
There are also many exotic woods available as well, although they may be less common and have fewer options available.
Wood floors are often made of what’s known as new cut wood, or wood that’s been harvested directly from trees and put to use immediately as flooring. The wood may be old growth, or trees that have had years to mature or they may be newer growth, which may mean smaller planks.
Wood floors may also be formed from reclaimed material or antique wood. Reclaimed wood has been collected from buildings more than 100 years old. The wood can be refinished to give it a new appearance or it may show marks and wear of its previous use such as nail holes, saw marks, and patina. In some cases, it may even be possible to find wood species no longer in use, such as elm. Reclaimed and antique wood floors still have many years of use left in them, and they bring added dimension and character to a room.
Janka Scores and Durability
Wood floors are very durable and can last for decades when treated and maintained properly. Some woods are harder and more durable than others, which may make some woods a better choice for very high traffic areas or commercial spaces.
Each wood is given a rating known as a Janka score, which refers to the hardness, and therefore durability of the floor. The higher the score, the harder the wood. For example, maple has a Janka score of 1450, while hickory – the hardest domestic wood – has a score of 1820, and southern yellow pine – a softwood – has a score of 870. This means that of the three, southern yellow pine would be the easiest to dent or scratch, while hickory would be the hardest.
Most hardwoods are suitable for floor use. However, if you need a floor that can hold up to higher levels of use or foot traffic, opting for a wood with a higher Janka score can give you better results.
Wood floors are fairly low maintenance in general, particularly floors that have been pre-finished. Older wood floors used to be installed, then sanded and finished before use. The finish was as good as the installer, meaning that it could be inconsistent. Most newer floors are now factory finished, which means that the floor is installed already finished and ready to walk on. Factory finishes last longer and are less likely to show scratches and wear more than some other finishes.
In most cases, wood floors benefit from regular sweeping and damp mopping. Avoid using the beater bar of a vacuum to avoid scratches, and place mats near doors, particularly during wet or snowy seasons, when it’s easy to track in grit that could scratch the surface of the wood.
Uses of Wood Floors
Wood is one of the most diverse and versatile materials that is being used for floors today. It’s durable and relatively low maintenance, and it can be finished in a wide variety of ways. This means that it has a lot of uses in both commercial and residential settings.
Wood adds a lot of warmth and interest to a room, and depending on the finish it’s given, it can also complement a number of different styles. For example, in a cottage setting, a rustic, reclaimed wood floor could add character and charm to a room where it was otherwise lacking.
At the same time, a sanded, white oak floor laid in wide planks and given a white finish would be the ideal complement to use in a contemporary restaurant or bar.
This kind of versatility, combined with the durability of wood means that it can be installed anywhere from children’s bedrooms to hotel lobbies. The key is to match the color, style, and finish of the floor to the project for the best results.
Benefits of Using Wood Floors
Beyond their durability, wood floors have several benefits for the home or business owner. Wood has an almost universal appeal as well as a timeless appearance. Wood floors have been installed in homes and businesses for centuries, and part of that history can mean that these floors are instantly recognizable – they aren’t a fad or something that’s going to go out of fashion quickly.
At the same time, wood in general has been found to have appeal on other levels as well. Wood is seen as warm, welcoming, and natural. When included in the interior design of a home or business, it can help occupants feel more welcome and relaxed. Combined with the fact that wood floors can fit into any style or design, from rustic to contemporary, this makes wood the ideal flooring for nearly any application.
Get the Ideal Floor
Wood floors come in so many styles, finishes, colors, and designs that it’s easy to find one that will work for your application. Whether you want something antique or contemporary, there is a wood floor that will complement your space. Get the right floor for your needs, and choose wood to complete your project.