So you’ve decided to get hardwood floors. But you may be asking the question, “where do i begin?” With so many different options, colors, textures, hardness etc. it can be difficult to choose what will be the looking floor and also the longest lasting hardwood floor.

Within this article we will break it down for you so by the end of this you will have a better idea on which floor fits you & your home.

You have some basic options: solid wood and engineered  wood. Solid wood is what you generally think of as a hardwood floor: thick, solid planks of wood. Engineered wood is made of a veneer layer that sits atop a core of plywood. This platform deals with moisture a bit better and is recommended for concrete slab subfloors. Which brings us to our next point. The construction of the floor you’re working with will almost always dictate what kind of wood flooring you should use.

Below are a couple questions that will help guide into choosing the correct wood flooring.

1. Where will the wood be going?

Installing hardwood floors on a second story is much different than doing so in a basement. A floor that’s even with the outside ground level is on grade, and any floors above this are above grade. Where you’re installing the wood will limit your recommended options.

2. What is the subfloor made of? 

Find out what kind of subfloor you have. The three most common types are plywood, particleboard & concrete. This will help you determine whether you can install solid wood floors, or if an engineered wood would be best. Be sure to let a specialist know this information so they can guide you to the correct type of flooring for your specific subfloor or you could get lost in the labyrinth of wood floors muhahaha (just kidding).

Concrete: If you have a concrete slab floor, you’re pretty much limited to engineered wood. You can still get any type of wood in an engineered format, you will hardly notice the difference.  The thickness of the veneer on engineered wood varies. Higher-end engineered woods are no less than solid woods in performance and price. So don’t be hatin’ the engineered wood floors.

Another option is to install plywood over the concrete, but you’ll have to pay for the additional plywood, insulation and labor. For the sake of saving money it’s best to stick with what you have.

Overall, engineered floors are the way to go when it comes to a concrete subfloor.

The downsides are that you need completely flat boards which is harder to come by in longer lengths. Also, the glue is so strong that there’s a permanency to it. “If you have a leak or a flood, getting the material up is nearly impossible. You’ll also want to check the volatile organic compounds. These compounds can be toxic, so be careful with them.

Plywood: This is the most common subfloor (thankfully) and allows for the most versatility with hardwood floors. You can simply nail solid wood on top or use engineered wood.

Particleboard: This material is basically a cheaper version of plywood. For hardwood floors, you’ll need to replace the particleboard with plywood. Then, you can add engineered or solid wood.

3. What are your living conditions?

Think about how much abuse your floors will take and learn about specific wood species and their durability. Do you work out on your floors often? Have large parties often? Kids & pets? Or are you a single person who travels a lot?

The level of traffic you have on your floors is relative to how hard you want your wood floors to be. The Janka scale measures how strong a wood is; basically a BB is fired into a plank and the size of the dent it leaves is measured. Out of all types of wood Red Oak tends to be the go to since it’s the hardest wood you can get for it’s relatively cheap price range.

You can also play with grain patterns as well as with stains and finishes that will hide dents and scratches.

4. Priorities? 

Is price the biggest decider? Or do you care most about how it will look in the home, price aside. Determining what’s most important to you will help you determine the right wood for your floor.

Cost: Engineered wood isn’t always the cheapest route, so don’t think you can’t have solid wood floors on a budget. You can usually purchase generic oak flooring in various stains for $3.50 to $4 per square foot, while lower-end engineered floors start at $2.50 to $3 per square foot. Some styles of engineered wood can be priced upwards of $6 a foot. 

Long Term: If you want something that will hold up over time, you’ll want to look at the harder woods. Also pay attention to the stain that’s been applied to the wood floor. Ask the specialist your working with at the store to point you in the direction of the best finishes long term. It may be pricier but it is worth it.

Style: What style are you looking for? Are you looking for a Rustic look for that western room? Vintage for that victorian home? or Modern for that clean & efficient look. Deciding how your wood floor will add to your theme of your home will save you lots of time. We recommend doing some research even before going to the store, this way you’ll have a better idea of where to go.

Note: Pay attention to knots and grain pattern. Patterns in hickory and maple are different than in oak. You might want to spend the extra money for a unique grain pattern, or you may want to save money and go with a less-expensive wood with a better stain.

5. What type of stain/finish? 

A stain adds color to the wood. The finish protects the floors from getting dirty. Any stain or finish can be applied to almost any wood. Some people like the color of oak but want the grain pattern of walnut. That’s where staining can come into play. Base this decision on the level of activity you’ll have on the floor with the color that best matches the color of your home.

6. How will you test it? 

This is probably the most important part of making that final decision. The last thing you want to do is install 1200 square feet of black walnut based on a photo that you saw online, you might come to find out that the dark floor overpowers the room and draws away from all that nice artwork on the walls. 

Always, always & always ask for at least a 2- by 2-foot sample of what the floor will look like with your desired stain and finish on it. Use this to test it with your paint colors and decor in your home to make sure it’s exactly what you want.

That’s it! Installing wood floors is a long term commitment just like getting a new car or getting a new dog. It’s probably going to be around for a long time so you should choose something that will last & something that you will want to look at everyday.