Home Owners Guide to Buying Hardwood Flooring


Intro – Benefits of Hardwood Flooring

The visual allure and timeless quality of hardwood has persuaded homeowners to use hardwood from Naffco Floors and Interiors for years. The catalogue of advantages to using hardwood as opposed to other flooring options is extensive. Considering how long hardwood lasts, and the variety of styles from which to choose, you can almost never go wrong with it in terms of home design. But, at Naffco we want to match you with the best flooring option for your interior design. Before you decide on the type of floor, consider these advantages of hardwood for your home remodel.

Hardwood flooring will last a lifetime, if you maintain it properly. As opposed to carpet or even tile, hardwood can be refinished with a simple cleaning or sanding and sealing treatment. With other floors, the cost to replace old or aged areas of the floor is astounding. Hardwood often withstands damage, and can be replaced board by board as opposed to reconditioning the entire floor. If you have pets in the hardwood, you won’t worry about clearing fleas or micro-parasites from your floors, or fear spills and stains ruining your flooring finish.

In addition to cost savings for long-term maintenance, hardwood is easier to clean and promotes better air quality. Carpet especially retains dirt and odors. With hardwood, you can minimize your maintenance effort to regular sweeping and mopping with non-toxic cleaners. Plus, even as wood ages it stores carbon while producing oxygen. This process acts as a natural air quality control for any chemicals or environmental emissions that build up in the home over time.

Environmental factors play a huge part in interior design, and many choose hardwood floors because of their eco-friendliness. Manufacturers have made an effort in recent years to promote forestry sustainability, and now hardwood floors are considered one of the most environmentally conscious choices among all other options because of their minimal processing. Wood floor manufacturing uses less water and chemical additives than tile, vinyl, and linoleum. This reduction of waste accumulates over time. This also means that you’re not introducing industrial chemicals into your home.

Home value increases when you install hardwood. While tile designs come and go into fashion, a hardwood floor will be appealing to home buyers at any point in the real estate market. If you’re looking to invest in a home renovation for the future, hardwood will yield the greatest return on investment when it comes time to sell. The timeless quality and authentic value of any hardwood as opposed to trendy tile or cheap vinyl and linoleum is certainly worth the extra expense. Even if you’re not looking to sell, youwill appreciate the quality of hardwood over time.

Hardwood vs. Other Types of Flooring

The benefits of hardwood speak for themselves, but as a homeowner you want to consider all your options before making the final decision. The most common flooring options are carpet, tile, linoleum, vinyl, and natural stone. Each is appropriate for different rooms of the house, and for varying climates. Other factors like the age and value of the home will determine whether you need major renovations, or if the investment will yield enough return to justify the expense. As an educated shopper, you should know the basics of each flooring medium to make an informed decision.

Carpet is most common in smaller homes and apartments, or for people who have or plan to have children. Carpet of course is soft, somewhat durable (more so with newer brands), and reduces noise. People use carpet to soundproof rooms for children, or to make living and family rooms feel more comfortable. Families looking to reduce costs as the buy their first home or begin to renovate for children typically choose carpet because it is more cost effective. However, the quality of carpet does not compare to hardwood. Carpet can be a good option for some circumstances, but you should expect to spend more time cleaning and plan for extra maintenance costs, including professional cleaning and eventual replacement.

Next in popularity is the family of clay tile, porcelain and natural stone. Most often used in bathrooms, kitchens, and outdoor living spaces, tile is appealing for its comparable longevity to hardwood floors. Porcelain and stone are both subsets of tile, but the most common and cost-effective is the clay variety. The primary objections to tile are cost and comfort. Tile installation is very time intensive, and therefore labor costs can run high. Some people – especially those who live in cold climates – find tile very uncomfortable on the feet. You can buy area rugs to add soft surface, but the tile will absorb much of the heat from the house.

The final alternatives, vinyl and linoleum, are chosen simply due to cost. Both of these are made from cheap synthetic materials. While they cut the cost of materials and installation in half (compared to tile or hardwood), they will not last long. Both vinyl and linoleum are not preferable for kitchens, where spills commonly occur. The plastic-like material stains easily, causing cleaning headaches the longer you have the floor. Plus, these low-cost alternatives do not stage well when selling a home. Some higher quality synthetic floors look similar to tile, but a savvy home buyer or investor will notice the difference.

Of course, hardwood is a happy medium among all other flooring choices. Its value justifies the slightly higher price tag as opposed to carpet, vinyl, and linoleum. While tile can compete in terms of quality, the patterns come in and out of style and you never know what sort of replacement will be required if it ever breaks. Hardwood always provides a classic, stylish appearance, plus with the right care it will last the lifetime of your home. The main decision will be what rooms will best utilize hardwood, and where you can settle for an alternative.

Types of Hardwood

Most consider the aesthetics of hardwood the most important factor to choosing a specific type. As you shop, you’ll find an array of tree sources, finishings, manufacturings, and installation methods that differentiate one floor from the next. As we take a closer look at these, you’ll discover the nuances that make a hardwood a quality purchase or not. The first step is to take a look at all the different types of wood: birch, eucalyptus, hickory, maple, oak, walnut, and acacia among many others. These all have their distinct colors and surface patterns. Plus you’ll find that some are more durable or fit better within a certain decor scheme.

The two main manufacturing processes to hardwood consist of solid versus engineered hardwood production. Solid wood, as its name implies, is composed of one wood from one tree. You may think that most wood is made this way, but in fact most hardwood is engineered wood – made from multiple planks of the same or sometimes different types of trees. Engineered woods combine different mediums to create a more robust plank, resistant to humidity expansion and contraction. These also typically create a sturdier plank, but some of the purity is lost during processing. But either solid or engineered woods provide the same visual appeal.

Hardwoods go through different finishing processes as well. Most are finished after installation. Once your floor is set, then a professional will use a belt sander on the entire floor, then stain it with a glossy finish. If you buy from a high quality manufacturer, they may hand scrape and finish the floor prior to installation. Some will use a wire brush technique to create a distressed look, then apply the stain. Hand finished woods are rare, but they often add a unique texture that adds character to the home’s design. You can choose a brushed, semi-gloss, smooth, or matte finish depending on your design ideas.

When it comes to installation, you can choose between a floating floor and a glue-down floor. Floating floors are all made from engineered woods, and are easy to install because you simply lock the different panels to each other and have the hardwood “float” above the subfloor or concrete. Floating floors are also great if you want to use a floor radiant heating system, the most efficient way to heat modern homes. The only issue with floating floors is that they require a completely flat surface, which most houses simply don’t have. A glue-down or nail-down floor is more malleable, and you can choose a solid wood. It’s also less likely to warp over time.

Reclaimed woods are now hugely popular, due to the recent trend in recycling building materials. Reclaimed wood can come from old barns, vintage boxcars, or from factory waste. This reduces environmental impacts, and the economic incentives to use reclaimed woods have drawn many customers to choosing them over newer woods. Designers aiming for a “rustic” or “vintage” look will choose reclaimed lumber from unique sources, to add character and create a talking point for the room’s design.

Hardwood Design and Style

Choosing your hardwood comes with the opportunity to experiment with new design ideas and creative touches to really make your decor stand out. Hardwood has its practical applications, but it also is a favorite for interior designers to use with their more artistic endeavors. If you’re self-planning your remodel, or work closely with a designer, consider some of these unique styles that work perfectly with various hardwood types.

First, you must decide if you will renovate the other surfaces, such as cabinetry, wall paint, or countertops. If flooring is the easiest and most cost effective element to change, then you should plan your interior design around the rest of the room. But of course, you can choose your floor first, and plan around a certain design or medium that you like best. Your flooring may end up as the focal point of the room’s design.

Most people associate hardwood with vintage appeal, but you can create modern designs with darker maple, eucalyptus or ebonized wood. The rich earth tones in dark woods almost have the appearance of a smooth tile, which is quite contrasting to the traditional medium and light wood types. Ebonized wood is stained to create a deep black tone. Not only is this process popular for modernizing wood’s appearance, but it hardens the material to make the surface more opaque. Black or deep browns compliment lighter appliances and bright furniture upholstery well.

If you desire the traditional, “log cabin” look of hardwood, shop for reclaimed pine. Minimal finishing is required, and many people choose not to have any sort of gloss. Hand-cut and sanded pine will last a very long time, as long as it is used in areas where little moisture will affect the floor. If you decide to use reclaimed wood for the entire house, you will need to use sealant for the kitchens and bathroom areas.

Distressed wide planks create a beachy atmosphere. When using light colored materials, like ash, oak, or hickory, you can style the room to have that “endless summer” ambiance. When using light colored and wide planks (which will remind you of a boardwalk), use bright decorations and furniture to add aesthetic interest. You don’t want too much white, so avoid using light colored woods in kitchens if you have white appliances. Some of the best designed living rooms and dining areas have wide and distressed ash planks, with fun colored furniture and a variety of patterns to catch the eye’s attention.

Changing up patterns and layout for a unique design can help you mix up a relatively plain room. Modern designers have experimented with checkered hardwood designs, using puzzle-piece cuts, and even mixing and matching different types of wood to make the floor a focal point of the interior. When you don’t have the budget to completely redesign a room, you can use your flooring as a medium to shift attention away from the areas or elements you cannot otherwise change.

Hardwood Pricing

Your budget for hardwood will depend on the style factors that are most important to you. Of course, quality comes with a higher price tag, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for less with buying hardwood for your home. Work with your designer or home renovation consultant, as they will explain the different costs to using each type of wood, the installation costs, and any additional expenses related to finishing and staining. But in this guide we have estimations based on leading industry trends and years of experience.

Solid woods typically range from $6 to $16 per square foot, depending on the species. Some people also compare hardwoods and “softwoods” such as bamboo and cork. The softwoods are typically cheaper, but are not as robust against water and heavy foot traffic. With hardwoods, the more common species – oak, lyptus, ash, and pine – are cheaper than mahogany, hickory, maple, or walnut.

Engineered woods are often cheaper because they can be made with multiple wood types and installation is much simpler. Engineered woods are usually cheaper (between $4 and $10 per square foot), but a higher quality engineered wood can compare to a cheaper or reclaimed solid wood. Choosing a floating floor means you’ll to pay for fewer labor hours or can even install yourself. Engineered woods often install within a few hours. Finding a trusted professional installation company will help reduce costs in terms of labor when you’re planning your budget.

Reclaimed wood is a great option if you’re looking to cut costs and add something innovative. Buying pre-treated reclaimed lumber sometimes falls under a speciality category at retail outlets, so look for a direct source. You can find your own reclaimed wood by searching for salvage yards and new construction sites. Many places, when tearing down old structures, will simply collect the old wood for recycling. If you find old barns that are currently under reconstruction, or contact a salvage yard that collects shipping crates and pallets, seize the opportunity to buy at a reduced price. Once the reclaimed wood reaches a wholesale or recycling center, they will charge more. If you can find any piece of old wood, especially from a unique source, use it and brainstorm for creative uses in the home.

On average, the overall cost to replace or renovate flooring will range from $800 to $1200, accounting for each of the variables. This estimate breaks down into the cost for supplies, basic labor, and preparation necessary before the installation. Just the material for a standard 120 square foot house, with overage allowance, costs anywhere from $400 to $600. Then, you’ll account for approximately $400 to $700 in labor, up to $100 for supplies prior to installation, and up to $50 for auxiliary equipment during the process. Call for an estimate before you purchase materials, to stay within a reasonable budget.

Hardwood Installation

For glue-down or nail-down floors, professional installation is the best approach. Solid wood requires special equipment that you would not want to buy unless you plan on renovating as a hobby. Plus, this skill takes a significant amount of time to learn and master. While installation seems costly, it is well worth it. You want to avoid the need for repairs or replacements in the future due to a poor installation. However, for floating floors you can tackle a DIY method if you have the time to learn the process. The skillset can be easily taught by a professional, but you must dedicate time to complete the project in a timely manner.

First, you must do the prep work of trimming the casing and laying the subfloor and underlayment. You need to trim door casings so that the floor will fit snugly underneath and lock in place. To do this, you need a piece of foam the same width as your floor for reference, and a saw to cut underneath the floor where it meets with the next area. Once you do so, you should clean the subfloor of any debris or waste from the casing trim. Then it’s time to roll a foam underlayment, the material that protects the floating floor from the subfloor materials.

After you complete the prep work, you begin by gluing one plank near the wall, with a spacer block in between. This will start the first “course” or row of your floor, to provide a starting point to lock the rest of your floating floor in place.  As you get close to one end of the wall from the point where you started installation, you will need to measure and cut the plank according to the space requirement. You continue placing the floor by staggering each course, and cutting the correct measurement as you reach the walls. Use spacers between the wood and walls as you go. You can also use painter’s tape to keep the edges close but not rubbing together.

For the last course (which usually aligns along the doorway), you will need to measure for the correct width to cut. The pieces along the doorway will need to have corners cut into them. Again this will need to fit under the doorway casing, so be exacting with your measurements. Once you have carefully places the last edge, you can install new casing around the wall and door frame borders, removing the spacers and painter’s tape. This process may seem complex, but with a professional guide and some homework you can cut costs using this DIY method.

Hardwood for Bathrooms

For many years, people avoided hardwood in bathrooms because it was notorious for water damage and corrosion. But because of recent trends to revitalize older homes and use more naturalistic styles, people are revisiting the idea of hardwood in bathrooms. While you must account for certain precautions and extra maintenance, there are quite a few advantages to using hardwood in a bathroom as opposed to tile or vinyl. The primary reasons people choose hardwood (aside from the desire to retain original flooring or keep a consistent design style), is that you can refinish or reseal wood more easily than you can tile.

Woods don’t do well in high water or humidity areas primarily due to expansion or retraction. They will morph if they get too hot or wet, which will either ruin the floor altogether or create the potential for floating floor to break from its “lock and key” hold. Long-term hardwood requires more upkeep in bathrooms than any other room. Treated woods work best in bathrooms, but you can use a solid natural wood if it is sealed properly. You will need to replace the sealant periodically to avoid excessive damage.

If you choose hardwood for your bathroom, you will need to take a few extra steps in the installation process. Extra sealant is required, but it’s also a good idea to add wood putty between crevices in the floor to prevent water from seeping between the hardwood and subfloor. Once water reaches underneath the floor, it will start to mold and mildew quickly. At that point, you will have no choice but to replace the hardwood; therefore proper prep work saves you both money and frustration.

You should also consider other elements of the bathroom that contribute to water and humidity reduction. Installing a high powered vent or fan system helps dry water more quickly. Keeping doors open to constantly circulate air after you use the bath or shower helps too. As you choose your hardwood, look into area rugs for higher risk areas – at the foot of the shower, near the sink, and around the toilet – that will minimize water absorption. If you can, try to dry the floors with a towel after use of the shower. Ideally you should do this with any bathroom to prevent mold in grout or sealant deterioration. But this will significantly affect hardwood more than tile or vinyl.

Hardwood for Kitchens

Classic hardwood kitchens offer possibly the most beautiful and diverse design potential than any other room in the home. The warmth of hardwood makes a kitchen the center of entertainment and family activity. Traditionally houses always had hardwood in kitchens, until modern home renovation started to incorporate tile as a means of practicality. While tile protects kitchens from spills and water damage, it doesn’t compare to the beauty or elegance of hardwood. Modern treatment of hardwood has also eliminated many of the problems associated with water damage.

As with bathrooms, your sealant in a kitchen is crucial to its longevity and practical use. Hardwood is easier to replace than some flooring options, but once mold spreads, it quickly affects the entire area. Over time you will want to reseal your hardwood in the kitchen, more often than you will need to in a family area or bedroom. You can also restain in the kitchen, if you choose a dark or ebonized wood. Again, darker woods compliment kitchen appliances very well. Ideally, you should restain and reseal every few years, or when you see wear and tear on the boards.

You can restain and reseal yourself if you think your hardwood just needs minor touch-up. Every ten years or so you should hire a floor cleaning service, but in between major refinishings you can follow a few simple procedures to maximize the lifetime of hardwood. First, you should clean the floor thoroughly, removing all dust, dirt, and other debris from the cracks. Once the floor is as clean as can be from manual labor, take a paint roller or brush to apply a layer of stain. Brush in the direction of the grain, so you don’t damage the wood in the process. The second coat should consist of a polyurethane finish, applied using the same method. You can then sand the wood lightly with sandpaper, then add a second coat of polyurethane to complete the work.

This process should be done only when you notice visible wear in the kitchen. As they are typically a high traffic area, kitchens are a first priority when it comes to home maintenance. You will certainly have spills, but if cleaned immediately you won’t need to stain and refinish floors too often. Excessive staining and sanding thins out the flooring, making it less durable over time. Using your best judgement, clean only when you have a genuine concern. Woods readily adapt to the home environment, which is why they have been an ideal design medium for decades.

How to Protect Your Hardwood Floor

Aside from regular cleaning and maintenance, you can take steps to proactively protect hardwood from furniture, pets, spills, and heavy foot traffic. Hardwood’s natural resistance to damage benefits homes designed for families. You can never quite predict what mishaps will occur, but by taking precautions your hardwood will last longer than vinyl or laminate. Other mediums are more difficult to protect or refurbish. Woods have an innate hardiness to them, which should be utilized in the practical aspects of home planning.

Pets are common perpetrators to damaging hardwood and other flooring types. They scratch and slide across floors, which can leave unfortunate indentations in the sealant or the wood itself. Dogs especially will slip and slide on hardwood because of the soft padding on their paws. They can’t help but regain balance by digging into your hardwood. You can restrict your dog or cat to areas of the house that are carpeted, but this will encourage dirt buildup and flea breeding. If you have all hardwood or smooth flooring, trim and file their claws regularly to avoid this.

Furniture also has the tendency to rub on hardwood and cause scratching in the finish. An easy DIY prevention method is to glue felt to the legs of all chairs, couches, and other seating. Utilize area rugs whenever possible. By creating a cushion between the two hard surfaces you buffer the friction and eliminate scratches. If you have an aversion to area rugs, and don’t want to use adhesives on your furniture (for fear that the felt will not stick, causing more damage), you can use a slip-on pad made of rubber or plastic. These can be used for temporary hardwood protection if you don’t want felt on your furniture permanently.

Some woods, especially in warm dry climates, will split or crack. This happens with furniture more often than floors, but it can occur over time. Polishing your hardwood with a furniture oil will retain moisture without trapping water between the wood and subfloor. If you live in an extremely dry climate, a humidifier may be beneficial. You want to maintain a balance between air moisture and limiting excess water. The main culprits to splitting include heating vents close to the floor and lack of proper air circulation during summer months.

Finally, you will need to address the issue of spills and stains to hardwood. Treated and ebonized woods will not be affected as badly or show stains as prominently, a reason why they are preferred for kitchen design. But light woods or woods with matte finish will need significant treatment immediately after a spill occurs. Make sure to clean the floor immediately with a mild, non-acidic cleanser. Dishwashing liquid works surprisingly well for hardwood. You can occasionally use an acidic cleaner to remove severe stains, but avoid it whenever possible. Always dry your hardwood with a washcloth after you clean so the moisture doesn’t seep in and create future problems.

Conclusion – How to Make Your Decision

Now that you’ve considered the basic variables with hardwood floor, it’s time to begin seriously shopping. You’ve done proper homework, and are better prepared than the average homeowner to make an educated decision on flooring. Flooring as an investment shouldn’t be taken lightly, for your choice will influence both your home’s market and intrinsic value for years to come. Hardwood is an excellent choice for almost any room in the home. The real work now is to narrow your choices and find a happy medium between quality and affordability.

As you browse the flooring options available, plan around the areas that are most important to have hardwood and rooms where it is less important. Sometimes a budget won’t stretch far enough to cover the entire home with hardwood, so substitute with carpet for smaller or more private spaces, tile for areas with heavy moisture retention, and vinyl or laminate for areas with less foot traffic. While hardwood is ideal, you may want to save for future renovations.

You have so many types of hardwood from which to choose. The most popular are oak, birch, eucalyptus, hickory, and maple. But of course you can choose from different finishing work, width, color, and stain with each of these types. Styling your floors invites creativity into your design plans. So take time shopping to find the perfect floor for your ideal design. You can not only mix and match colors, but can experiment with patterns as you would tile flooring. Custom cut and plank width makes hardwood quite versatile.

When shopping, you can first narrow down your choices according to price. Floating floors and more common species will be less expensive. But the cost to renovate flooring also includes installation and equipment costs. You can save some money with self installation, but this is not recommended unless you have some experience with hardwood. Finding a trusted flooring installation company saves time and headache if you’re new to home renovation. You will also need to purchase sealants, stains, and tools for finishing. Remember that if you choose to use hardwood throughout the house, you will need more protection in the kitchen and bathrooms.

Browse the different style options online before you visit a store. Naffco Floors and Interiors has a great online selection of hardwood. You can narrow your choices by brand, color, installation method, style, species, surface finish and board size. Of course, if you have any questions related to hardwood flooring you can call the professionals at Naffco for a free, no-obligation consultation. We want to help you find the right flooring for your home. Call us today and start designing!

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