How To Choose Hardwood Flooring

how to choose hardwood flooring

Hardwood flooring is not created equal. You cannot just choose the color you like and be sure your choice is perfect. There are different factors that have to be considered when you choose hardwood flooring. This impacts performance and aesthetics.

The most important things to consider when you choose hardwood flooring are presented below.

Solid Or Engineered?

Most hardwood flooring traditionally comes in solid timber, with thick planks. This is still popular these days However, engineered flooring became a viable option. These are plans that have a top hardwood layer that is thin. It is bonded to some other layers with the purpose of stopping shifting during contraction and expansion.

Wood moves in all 3 directions. Engineered hardwood flooring allows the creation of opposing forces inside the boards so that wood’s natural movement is restricted.

When the subfloor is concrete, engineered flooring is preferred. Solid wood is chosen when installation can be done over a couple of layers of plywood. This can interfere with doors since it raises floor height. Engineered flooring can be simply glued to a soundproofing mat or concrete.

Just make sure that you are careful with the engineered floors since some have a really thin top layer. If this is what you buy, you cannot refinish or sand in the future. In order to be able to do this you would need to buy better-quality products.

You should also try the flooring before you make a choice. Many homeowners prefer the solid hardwood’s feel and the fact that it is quieter.

Site Finish Or Prefinish?

Flickr image from Greg Emel

You can buy hardwood planks that have a raw face. This requires a professional finish after the installation. The alternative is the prefinished hardwood floor planks. They are already stained and have a topcoat.

The main advantage of prefinished wood is that you will know exactly what you buy. This makes designing easier. It also takes a lot less to install prefinished hardwood flooring.

On-site finishing is often preferred because of the customization that is done while actually having all other elements of the wanted design in place. Also, the smoothness of the final product will be higher. This is because site finish flooring will be sanded after being nailed down. Then, it is continuously finished, as opposed to prefinish, which is done on a per-plank basis.

Choose Your Finish


Various finishing products exist. They range from penetrating oil to polyurethanes that are site-applied. Hybrids are also quite popular. However, most hardwood finishes are either:

  • Oil-based
  • Polyurethane-based

When using oil, it penetrates wood. However, this does not mean that damage or stains will not appear. This is what polyurethane is for since it creates a much harder topcoat. Polyurethane is much more resistant to regular wear and tear. It is thus preferred in homes with children and/or pets.

Oil hardwood finishes will easily scratch but scratches are less noticeable. It is easy to touch it up whenever problems appear. Polyurethane means you have to replace boards or recoat an entire floor section.

Basically, you need to choose finish based on traffic and maintenance needs.

Choose Wood Types

Oak flooring

In USA, the preferred wood for hardwood flooring is oak. It is very durable and easy to stain. Its grain is appealing and is quite widely available. Prices thus become reasonable. With designers, white oak is very popular since it lacks red oak’s pinkish tones.

Another popular option is walnut. It is softer than the preferred oak and its color is deep. This means it is perfect for the rooms where you want to add a dark finish. Walnut is very good when you want a warmer, richer tone.

Other options that you can consider include ash, maple, cherry and hickory. You will surely base most of your choice on personal preference in regards to grain and color.

Choose The Grain Pattern

A log is cut in 3 ways:

  • Quarter-sawn
  • Rift-sawn
  • Plain-sawn

These offer 3 grain patterns to choose from.

Traditional wood grain is obtained through plain-sawn. With rich-sawn planks you have a linear, consistent, long grain that does not have cathedrals. The quarter-sawn planks are similar to the rift ones but there are irregular rays striking out across them.

Usually, you find plain-sold hardwood flooring. The quarter- and rift-sawn options tend to be mixed. This is due to the fact that you get some figuring but it is not overdone.

You will not make a bad choice with the grain pattern. You just have to think about application and what you like. For instance, in rustic properties, plain-sawn is great but in city apartments quarter-sawn might be better.

Choose Plank Width

Some years ago, most hardwood flooring was installed in 2- to 3-inch strips. Nowadays, wider planks are really popular. They have an attached sense of expense and luxury. Basically, it makes everything feel special as norms are exceeded.

Designers choose wider planks with larger rooms. Seven inches is usually the standard and many larger sizes exist. Just remember that wider planks are more expensive.

Making Your Final Choice

Whenever you choose hardwood flooring, be sure that you take into account all the factors mentioned above. As you surely already noticed, many of the choices boil down to your budget and personal preference. If possible, work with an interior designer whenever you do not know what choice to make.