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There are many flooring options out there, but wood floors continue to grow in popularity. Not only are they popular choices for family rooms and bedrooms, they are also starting to replace the tile in kitchens and bathrooms, giving the entire home a unified look.

One study found that 82 percent of real estate agents believed homes with wood floors sell faster than ones with carpet. Wood also helps homeowners recoup renovation costs. In its annual cost vs. value report, Remodeling found that a wood deck addition cost almost $6,000 less than a composite addition and recouped 87 percent of the investment (13 percent more than the composite). All of the data points the same way: wood is more popular than ever; a low-maintenance, versatile surface, and a great investment for any home.

Whether you're just settling into a new home or looking to sell the one you're currently in, this guide is for you. We'll review the pros and cons of different wood types (from hardwood, to engineered, and even wood flooring-related surfaces like bamboo to laminate), highlight popular accessories and underlay, explain the care of your new wood floors, and even offer some installation tips.




Types

One common mistake that DIYers make when starting out is referring to all wood flooring as hardwood. While hardwood is a widely known option and preferred by many, there are other options out there that can better suit your lifestyle, budget, and style preferences. Here is what you need to know about the five top choices of wood flooring at BuildDirect.

Cost of Hardwood

Of all the wood flooring options, hardwood tends to be affected the most by the elements, although it also adds the most structural strength, too. While the durability of your flooring will vary by material, there are a few universal elements that define the whole hardwood family.

First, most hardwood flooring can't be installed over a concrete sub-floor or with radiant heating. Hardwood generally needs to be nailed directly to a subfloor, which concrete and radiant heating tends to disallow. Also, most species are too unstable for direct contact with radiant heat which can often dry out the boards and create the kinds of bad effects that too much moisture can cause as mentioned above.

The species and the finish will also determine how resistant to the sun's damage the flooring is. Some woods are very sensitive to light exposure, changing color over time as a response. Solid hardwood also shouldn't be installed in rooms at the entrance where snow and rain can be tracked in, or in bathrooms that are regularly characterized by excessive moisture.

That being said, there are many reasons to choose hardwood flooring. When cared for, it can last for decades, and many warranties last up to 50 years. It's one of the more versatile flooring options. It can be re-sanded and re-finished periodically to restore it. Hardwood is also the go-to recommendation for people with allergies as it doesn't have as many places for dirt, dust, and hair to get trapped as opposed to carpeting. All it takes to keep hardwood clean is a dust mop or vacuum.

Hardwood requires an underlay and generally speaking must be nailed down; apart from some newer designs for solid hardwood there's no way to install traditional solid hardwood planks using the glueless or floating method. Because of its structural strength and greater use of a natural resource, you can expect a higher scale price point when compared to other floors. It’s also a difficult material for the non-professional to install. Of course, once the project is completed, the solid hardwood floor is beautiful and will retain its look for decades.




Hardwood

Hardwood flooring grew in popularity in the Baroque era in the early 1600s. Only the wealthy were able to afford the meticulous cutting, fitting, and design that came with wood floors. American colonists used the vast deciduous forests to create homes that featured wood flooring, bringing that item of luxury to the average person.

Today, modern hardwood is still connected to its roots. Its elegant look – particularly due to intricate design patterns and rich color spectrums – still communicates an atmosphere of affluence. Domestic species like oak, ash, maple, and cherry are still used in the creation of high-quality wood floors today.

Homeowners enjoy the quality of premium solid hardwood as a durable surface, but it's the diversity in color, width, length, and finish that has made this flooring a staple in American homes. In the past few years, design trends have varied from almost black hardwood flooring, to the strong Brazilian Cherry, to wide and long planks of reclaimed wood.

Of course, the color and look of hardwood aren't the only aspects you should consider when you opt for solid hardwood. You should also look into the durability. The Janka Hardness Scale ranks different wood types on hardness by measuring the amount of force it takes to push a plank through a saw.

Harder woods have a higher ranking, which means they're more durable and scratch resistant. Depending on the traffic and location of your hardwood flooring, you may want to choose a harder wood and use a finish to get the color you want. Fortunately, hardness doesn't always correlate to price, so you don't have to break the bank to buy durable flooring.




Cost of Engineered Hardwood

If you want the beauty of real hardwood but live in a humid or very dry environment, or you want to install over concrete, then opting for the engineered wood floor is a great way to go.

Engineered hardwood can last just as long as regular hardwood, with warranties up to 50 years. It's also just as beautiful and easy to care for as solid hardwood. While engineered hardwood is a little more limited when it comes to re-sanding, it can be refinished just as often as a solid hardwood floor.

It can be installed with glueless locking or floating methods, decreasing the level of difficulty for homeowners to take on a DIY installation project while enjoying real wood surfaces, too. Engineered wood floors provide all the beauty with impressive performance, too.

Engineered
Hardwood

The process of creating engineered hardwood involves fusing a hardwood veneer to a core board of high-density fiberboard or plywood. Below the veneer, there are multiple layers in that core that support the stability of the plank. This means that a three-ply board is marginally less durable, and seven-ply boards are more robust.

Thickness of the core layers, as well as the cut, affects the price of engineered flooring. There are three typical methods of cutting this wood, and the most expensive method is dry-solid sawn. During this process, the wood is slowly dried out before it's cut and maintains its solid consistency throughout the process. The other two methods, which are rotary-peel and sliced-peel, require the timber to be boiled to soften it before cutting or peeling off layers.

While it's important to know how your wood is made – and where the price points come from – most homeowners are more concerned with the tangible benefits of engineered hardwood. Engineered hardwood tends to be more stable than traditional hardwood in certain contexts, especially when you choose multi-ply and dry-solid sawn options. This means that there's less chance of warping over time due to exposure to moisture, humidity, or frequent temperature changes – the enemies of wood.

Engineered hardwood also tends to be less expensive than traditional hardwood. This, combined with the long-term benefits of the material, make it an attractive choice for homeowners who are renovating before putting their house on the market. They're able to install a beautiful and durable real wood flooring option to increase the home's value while staying within a reasonable budget.




Cost of Laminate

This variety of flooring is billed as an "install anywhere" material. Since it isn't real wood, it won't be as susceptible to the elements as hardwood, won't be as dramatically affected by exposure to the sun, and can hold up in high-traffic areas.

Weaknesses: don't install laminate in rooms that are often wet. Bathrooms, laundry rooms, and enclosed verandas are just a few examples of this.

Two questions we're commonly asked are whether flooring can be used on stairs and if it can be used with radiant heating. The answer to both is a resounding "yes" for laminate, although some specific laminate products, it’s best to ask your customer service representative when it comes to radiant heat compatibility.

Other than avoiding excessive moisture, laminate is a low-maintenance floor. It's a good option for households with pets and kids and looks great with various finishes, widths, colors, and styles. Laminate one of the more budget-friendly options and is among the easiest to install, especially since it features glueless locking installation options.

The only feature to keep in mind with laminate is the inability to re-sand and refinish, and this is something we touched on in the care section. If your plank is severely stained or damaged, you can't sand it down and refinish it. Fortunately, the risk of damage is lowered because of laminate's durability. And if you’ve ordered extra, individual planks can often be replaced.




Laminate

Laminate flooring is traditionally made with four layers fused together to imitate that of a natural material, like wood or stone. There's a backing layer for strength and stability, a core layer that supports weight and foot traffic, a decorative image layer that has the chosen natural pattern (very often that of a wood species), and protective coating known as the wear layer. For high traffic areas, consider High Pressure Laminate, which has a fifth layer of high-strength paper in the middle. Otherwise, consider the AC rating.

Abrasion Class (AC) ratings rank from AC1 (light residential, for bedrooms and closets) to AC5 (heavy commercial, for high traffic department stores and government buildings). Consider the traffic level and use of the flooring before you buy and install. AC3 is a good median rating to help you get started.

Homeowners have three different choices when they're installing laminate flooring. A majority of laminate floors are installed with the glueless-click method, where different panels easily lock into each other. The two other options are glued laminate, which adds an extra step to install, and pre-glued, which needs to have moisture applied to activate the adhesive.

When their durability and quality match the space in which they’re installed, laminate floors are perfect for homes with kids, pets, and other elements that test the long-term resistance of a flooring surface. They aren't as affected by temperature or moisture as solid hardwood, and they aren’t as prone to drastic color changes when exposed to sunlight. When done right, they're a durable and attractive option.




Cost of Bamboo

Bamboo and engineered flooring are in the same general price range, but bamboo provides distinctive and unique natural patterns, and incredible tensile strength that makes it a very stable floor.

There's one thing to note, though. Bamboo shouldn't be used with radiant heating. Despite its pet friendliness and ease of maintenance, it joins hardwood as a material that won't pair well with heated floors. Stick with engineered flooring or laminate if you plan to incorporate those, always consulting your customer service representative for any specific products when it comes to your radiant heat system.

Expect bamboo flooring to be in the same price range as engineered flooring and require the same types of installation options. Bamboo is compatible with any installation method from nail down and glueless click to floating, depending on the design of the boards.







Bamboo

Bamboo flooring was popularized in North America starting in the 1990s, gaining in reputation as a renewable and uniquely stylish flooring surface that is even more widely known today. Bamboo, which is technically a grass, only takes a single growing season of about three months to mature, depending on soil conditions and type of bamboo. This is the basis behind its sustainable reputation, along with the fact that each plant is not harmed by harvesting. It’s equal in hardness when compared to other domestic woods and its added sustainability factors have helped the bamboo flooring industry flourish.

With bamboo floors you can choose the type of cut, installation method, and natural or carbonized color ranges that work best for your rooms according to the specific product of bamboo floor. The three main cuts of bamboo are horizontal, which shows the growth rings (or “knuckles”) of each stalk more dramatically; vertical, which demonstrates a narrower patterning; and strand-woven, made from the trimmings of the stalks which are left over from the first two cuts. Strand-woven bamboo is compressed with an adhesive, making it twice as durable as horizontal or vertical bamboo.

Similarly to laminate, Bamboo floors can be installed with a glueless click, floated with a glue seam, or nailed down.




Cork

Before moving on to the accessories and underlay that come with wood floor installation, let's talk about cork. BuildDirect offers cork flooring from Portugal, a global center for cork production, and one of the most comfortable natural materials to walk on. Not only does its cushiony surface absorb impact, it's also known for naturally retaining warmth.

Cork flooring is also a uniquely sustainable option, as the bark is harvested by hand without harming the cork oak tree. It's known for its unique colors and patterns, as well as its ability to insulate against sound. If one of your worries in switching from carpet to wood is increased noise in your space, then cork flooring might ease the transition.

The diverse patterns in cork flooring also make it a go-to for homeowners who are looking for a unique statement in a space. There are intricate patterns and subtle colors throughout the material that help it serve as a base for all kinds of interior design directions. You just have to choose how light or dark you want it, and whether you want to go with tile, or with a plank style cork surface.




Accessories

As you budget for your flooring upgrade, remember to allot for more material than you actually need in case of mistakes. Seven to ten percent extra beyond your square footage is standard. Also, don't forget about the accessories. Depending on the room, you probably won't need all of these, but you'll probably need at least a couple. These five accessories will help you put the finishing touches on your wood flooring project.

Wall Bases

A wall base can be found where the wall meets the floor, serving as a transition between the two. This accessory isn't limited to wood floors; many carpeted rooms use wood paneling to create a distinct border around the room. Depending on your preference, these can either match the wood floor, the paint on the wall, or stand on their own as white trim.

T Moldings

A T-mold is used to connect two different types of flooring, or divide one room from another. In your current space, your t-mold can be found in-between two rooms, especially as the divide between wood flooring and the tiled kitchen or bathroom.

T-molding is an arched plank with a small piece running along the bottom. It's easy enough to spot with its iconic mushroom or "T" shape. As you design, you can choose t-molding that matches the rest of your floor or go dramatically lighter or darker with the wood to create accent lines. Some homeowners are choosing to forgo t-molding altogether, though. Instead, they're replacing outdated kitchen tile with wood, and using the same material in all of the rooms to create a unified look.

Reducers

The main difference between a t-mold and a reducer is that a t-mold is meant for surfaces of similar height while a reducer eases the transition from one height to the next. Instead of a mushroom arch, a reducer is thick on one side and narrows toward the other, creating a slope.

Reducers are recommended for any two surfaces that are more than a quarter of an inch high. Any more than that and you run the risk of tripping or feeling out of sorts when you exit one room and enter another. These can be found when entering a bathroom or laundry room, which are lower to prevent flooding.

End Caps

If your floor meets anything other than a wall, or a different flooring material as we've described above, you'll need an end cap to create a polished look. They're most commonly found between the floor and sliding glass doors or fireplaces.

End caps are small pieces that fill a divide between two elements. Flooring isn't perfect, and there might be a small gap between your plank and your fireplace. The end cap fills the gap and creates a finished look between the two elements in a space.

Stair Noses

Last but not least, the stair nose is required if you're replacing your carpet stairs with wood. Also called a flush or bull nose, these panels start flat and curve around on one end. This creates a soft ledge on the transition between floor and stairs that's safer and more comfortable to walk on.

As you can see, even if you've already picked out your material and color, there are still choices to make with the accessories.

Underlay

If wood grain patterns and colors represent the beauty, then the underlay is the brains. The underlay is commonly found with floating floors and is meant to protect the planks from moisture help to create a more level surface, and to dampen sound. With a good quality underlay, your floor will last longer and will be more comfortable to walk on. While there are many options out there, including cork underlay and basic foam, there are three common materials we recommend.

Moisture Block Vapor Barrier

Moisture is the enemy of wood. If you're installing a wood floor over concrete or below-grade at all (some wood floors aren't meant to be installed in locations like these …), then you’ll want to protect your investment from moisture. The Moisture Block Vapor Barrier keeps moisture from getting to your wood. Even if the wood and concrete base are dry during installation, you could see the following damage without a water-blocking underlay:

  • Cracks: Wood planks that fit together perfectly during installation will contract during the winter and create more pronounced lines. During the warm, humid summer the planks will expand and fill the cracks.
  • Cupping: The ends of the wood will dry out and rise while the middle stays moist. This causes the plank to form into a cup shape, which may or may not flatten depending on the severity of the damage.
  • Crowning: This is reverse cupping. The center rises while the sides stay flat. When the planks are arched like this, there's little support for them.
  • Buckling: Eventually, the wood will buckle. This is found with severe water damage like flooding, and it occurs when the crowning is so pronounced that the planks are several inches above the sub-floor.




Sound-Choice Underlayment

While the Sound-Choice underlay also protects against moisture, its main focus is sound dampening. We explained earlier that some homeowners want to install cork flooring because it absorbs sounds, and this underlay can be a substitute for sound-absorption when paired with your flooring. If you want a double sound barrier, then opt for cork flooring and the Sound-Choice Underlayment. Regardless of which wood floor or laminate floor you use, sound-absorbing underlay adds a subtle but important element to creating a comfortable and peaceful space.

Sound-Choice is a favorite option for homeowners and apartment renovators because it's eco-friendly. It's made from recycled materials to dampen sound, and is ideal for a floating installation.

Duofoam

When you walk across the floor, you want the sound of footfalls reduced as mentioned above. And you want to make sure that no moisture seeps into the planks, too. As the name suggests, this underlay protects against both elements we've discussed so far: moisture and noise. It's the best of both worlds when it comes to underlay. The Duofoam 2-1 Underlayment is commonly used in floating floor installations over concrete or plywood subfloors.

The foam works as an insulator to keep the cold and heat out, depending on the season, and keep your floor stable. It also dampens the noise of footfalls for a more peaceful space. You know more about which of these elements are the most common your home and in your local climate than anyone else, so keeping them in mind when you choose an underlayment is a great idea.

Installation

In earlier sections, we used phrases like below grade, glueless click installation, and floating floor installations to discuss the different types of wood and materials you need to install wood flooring successfully. We're going to dive deeper into those terms in this section. You used the previous section to determine the type of look and feel you want in your home. Use this one to help you install your flooring or at least understand what your installer means when he or she discusses the installation.

Above Grade

Above grade refers to any floor built above ground level. This level is the farthest away from the damp ground, which makes it the driest option, although you should also factor in your local climate wherever you are installing a wood floor. Almost any flooring can be installed above grade, but if you live in a climate that is very wet or very dry, constant environmental controls is a smart addition to a space that features wood flooring.

On Grade

On grade refers to ground level flooring. On grade includes your high-traffic areas like the kitchen or entrance, so a more durable material is recommended. While you can expect a higher level of human wear, you don't have to be as concerned with the elements as you do with below or above grade because this level tends to be the most stable when it comes to temperature and humidity. Still, that addition of consistent environmental controls with your local climate in mind is an important factor in maintaining a stable floor in the long term.

Below Grade

Below grade refers to floors below ground level, commonly the basement. Below grade floors traditionally have concrete bases and are the most susceptible to moisture. Naturally, waterproof underlay is recommended for these floors.

As far as material choice, solid hardwood planks aren't generally recommended for below grade flooring. Instead, opt for engineered wood and materials that don't react quite as dramatically to changes in humidity levels and moisture.

Nail Down

Use this method for on- or above-grade installation. This is also the method you'll use to fasten your wood to a three-quarter inch plywood sub-floor. Depending on the material, the planks will either be nailed or stapled to the plywood subfloor to install the wood.

Glue Down

This is an optimal choice if you're installing below-grade or on a concrete slab. The wood is glued directly to the subfloor. This type of installation is common with certain types of engineered wood floor, and with bamboo.

Floating

When the wood sits on the top of a subfloor, is interlocked with other pieces, and isn't attached to the sub-floor, you’ve got a floating floor installation. This method has increased with the popularity of laminate flooring, and it's more economical and less messy because of the lack of glue or nails needed.

Glueless Click

Glueless click wood is manufactured for easy installation. The groove on one end tucks into the tongue of an opposing board without the necessary use of glue. As with other installation methods, success comes down to the type of locking system, the location of the installation, and type of wood floor used.

Maintenance

By now you’ve developed an appreciation for the multiple options for a wood floor installation. You're not only choosing a material; you're also deciding between accessories, underlay, and installation type based on your specific space. The hard part is over once they're installed, but it's still up to you to maintain the look and health of your floor for years to come. Here are a few tips to help you with that.

Normal Wear

Place a mat by the door or ask people to remove their shoes before entering. When guests track dirt over your floors, those materials can scratch the finish and make the wood look worn before their time. Shoe removal also keeps spiked heels and athletic spiked shoes off of your floor, both of which could easily dent and gouge your wood floor.

Naturally, this is why we suggest durable floors and finishes in high-traffic areas and rooms where people come directly from the outside. Another option is to install an area rug over particularly high-traffic areas if you worry about them.

Furniture Scratches

Wear from dirt may take a long time, especially if your guests remove their shoes, but a deep furniture gash can happen almost immediately and is visible to almost anyone. Place furniture protectors under anything that touches the wood floors, especially for sectional furniture that often moves. When you're rearranging a room, either lift the furniture so it's not scraping across the floor or place blankets between the furniture and wood and slide it across.

Water Damage

Wipe up any spills immediately, as water is the enemy of wood flooring. Avoid letting any excess moisture seep into the floors, or to stand on their surfaces for extended periods of time.

Harsh chemicals should be avoided when cleaning. A dry mop is your wood floor’s best friend, along with your vigilance at not allowing any moisture to stand on the surface of your wood floor.

Stains

Even the most careful homeowners can see their beautiful floors damaged. Most light stains and scuffs can be removed with a soft cloth and the right wax treatments can protect your finish.

For hardwood floors, treat water stains, cigarette burns, ink, and heel marks with sandpaper and color-matched stain pens for minor repairs. If the damage is particularly deep, you may need to sand down the plank and refinish it. However, you should never try to sand down your laminate floors – they’re not made of real wood. Instead, use warm water to remove stains from the image layer or try nail polish remover.

Squeaks

Contracting and expanding hardwood floors may cause planks to start squeaking when stepped on. Wood is a natural material that responds to its environment by expanding and contracting. So, this doesn't mean your new floors are experiencing permanent damage. To minimize this, try pouring talcum powder, or powdered soap in between the two planks that are rubbing together. Soon, you should be able to walk across them and enjoy peace and quiet.

Normal Cleaning

One of the beautiful characteristics of wood floors is their ease of cleaning. Go over your floors a couple times a week with a Swiffer or soft cloth broom to remove the dirt and dust that can scratch them up. Between that and immediately treating stains and water, your floors should impress for decades to come.

Let Your Budget and Your Space Guide You

Before you set your heart on a particular type, species, or flooring material, look at your budget. It’s a great idea to earn how much your underlayment and installation will cost before you can factor in wood type, accessories, and finishes, too. Evaluate your spaces for moisture and traffic. Examine your sub-floor. Factor in your local climate and environmental controls, and take them into consideration before you buy.

We hope this guide has given you the information you need to make the best wood floor purchase and installation decisions you can make. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact a friendly BuildDirect customer service representative at 1-877-631-2845.