How to Pick the Perfect Hardwood Flooring

Written by Matt Pfeiffer of Northern Flooring and Interiors
Updated October 8, 2014
bare room with hardwood floor
There are as many opinions as there are options when shopping for hardwood flooring. (Photo courtesy of Angi member Jeff A. of Boston)

You'll find several options when shopping for the best hardwood floors. Which choice is the best for your home?

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Shopping for hardwood flooring today can be challenging to say the least. Solid or Engineered? Hand-scraped, distressed or smooth? Prefinished or site finished? Polyurethane or natural oil?

There are as many opinions as there are options, so how can you be sure you're making the right choice? To help, here is a breakdown on some basics so that at you are armed with knowledge to help when you start the process.

What you need to know about hardwood floors

First, I recommend that you seek a local flooring dealer with a good reputation in your area. This will help assure you are dealing with a flooring expert and not just an order taker.

Secondly, you need to understand that wood is not a miracle product and that all wood floors will dent, scratch and gouge. Also, all wood flooring requires the homeowner to control their humidity levels. Most manufacturers require that you maintain the humidity levels between 30 and 50 percent. Not doing so can result in cupping, gaping and even permanent damage to your investment.

Solid vs. engineered hardwood

Both options can be good, depending on your circumstances and moisture control. If you live in an area with high humidity or very low humidity, engineered flooring might be a better choice. Also, the wider the plank you choose, the more important it is that you consider engineered hardwood.

There are several types in this category, including rotary peeled, sliced and dry-sawn. Rotary peeled is the lowest price and lowest quality option, then sliced and finally sawn, which is very high grade. Dry-sawn and some sliced floors can be refinished, while rotary peeled can't. However all three types can be recoated when necessary.

Distressed, smooth or hand-scraped hardwood?

Your design intent and lifestyle should lead here, but keep in mind that hardwood that is distressed or scraped will likely do a better job hiding the wear and tear that is likely to occur. Whereas a smooth, shiny floor, while beautiful, will show more scratches, dents and even dirt. The general rule of thumb is the more texture and character with a lower gloss level, the better the floor will look over time.

Site-finished versus prefinished hardwood

Over recent years, prefinished flooring has become the most popular choice for several reasons. You get a bigger selection, lower cost and quicker installation with prefinished. The main reason someone might select site finished today is to avoid having a bevel between the boards. For all of the reasons listed, the industry is predominantly moving towards prefinished hardwood and we don't expect that to change any time soon.

Polyurethane versus natural oil

While polyurethane is by far the most common finish used on today's hardwood floors, natural oil is starting to become more popular every year. Polyurethane is more durable against scratching, but tends to reflect scratches in a way that makes them more noticeable. Eventually all polyurethane floors will need to be refinished, which can be a big expense and hassle for homeowners.

Natural oil on the other hand soaks into the wood to protect it, which keeps them feeling and looking more natural. These floors will scratch easier, but tend to look better with age and are easily repaired. Oil floors are the only wood floors that can be cleaned with water when mixed with an oil floor cleaner. This process continually re-oils the floor to keep it looking great. Most oil floors will require the homeowner to add a light coat of oil with a cotton cloth every year or so, but for the most part, these floors won’t need professional refinishing.

Armed with some basic knowledge and dealing with a local expert can assure that you select the right floor that will meet your family’s needs for years to come.

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About this Experts Contributor

Matt Pfeiffer operates Northern Flooring and Interiors, which provides flooring services in Detroit. He has been in the flooring industry for over 25 years and is a member of the International Design Guild. You can follow this contributor on Twitter @NorthernFloorMI and Google+.

As of October 8, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angi. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angi for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angi.

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