Ask the Expert: How Do I Select The Right Type Of Wood Flooring For My Home?
With so many options on the market, it is important that you choose a flooring product that fits your style, and that functions well for your family. There are pros and cons to each type of flooring material, so it is important to understand the differences.
When considering a wood, or wood-like flooring product, there are three basic options on the market; hardwood flooring, engineered flooring and laminate flooring.
Laminate floors come in many varieties and styles, but are always prefinished and ready to use when installed. Hardwood, and some engineered products are available prefinished, as well. If you choose the unfinished variety of either, you will be able to customize the finish and color of your floor, however it will require some additional work after installation.
Before you start ripping your home apart, do your homework on the flooring options available in your price range, find out what the lead time will be to get the materials, and most importantly make sure you understand the manufacturer's suggested installation process.
Hardwood flooring, also known as solid wood, has three categories; strip flooring, plank flooring and parquet flooring. In addition, each is available in prefinished and unfinished versions.
When installing unfinished wood in your home, the finishing process is done on site, after installation. After the boards are carefully installed, they have to be sanded, stained and sealed. This process will require about 3 to 4 rounds of application. Because each application has a cure period, the project can take an additional 3 to 5 days to complete.
Prefinished products are finished at the factory by applying approximately 5 to 10 coats of an aluminum oxide finish to the wood. This process is designed to add a layer of protection to help prevent scratches. It's more durable and solidifies the product. Some manufacturers will apply an aluminum oxide layer to the backing of each board as well, to add moisture resistance.
The benefit of purchasing a prefinished product is the extended manufacturer's warranty. As the manufacturer controls the quality of the finishing process, the warranty is provided anywhere from 10 years to lifetime. The added benefit of a prefinished floor is that once the flooring system is installed, it is ready for immediate use.
One of the downsides of a prefinished floor, is the boards are micro-beveled at the edges. This means you are more likely to see the lines between each plank. If you're seeking a more traditional or sleek look, unfinished products are the way to go. The boards are flat, not beveled, so you will not see the separation of the floor boards, rather a seamless pattern. The only downside to unfinished flooring is that they do not come with a warranty, and if they do, the warranty is typically only good for one year.
What makes hardwood flooring a valuable investment, is it can be re-sanded and refinished 3 to 7 times to look brand new and should last at least 100 years. In addition, it is the only flooring option that can add considerable value to your home.
There are a slew of species of hardwood floors to pick from, ranging from domestic options like red and white oak, birch, pine, maple and hickory to exotics from all around the world like Brazilian cherry, Brazilian teak and Santos mahogany. Each species carries its own characteristics. It is important to research the most suitable species for your living environment.
Each type of solid wood floor is graded by the manufacturer. The wood is not necessarily graded by the quality, durability and stability of the wood, rather look of the wood and its characteristics. The best grades of wood are clear and select. These woods have fewer markings and are more consistent in appearance than the common grades, which may have a variety of markings.
Hardwood flooring can only be nailed down on a plywood subfloor with no moisture — no exceptions. It's typically installed on the first floor with a basement below and can also be installed on second floors and above.
For cleaning, you can use a soft bristle broom or dry microfiber mop — no water. If the floor has beveled edges, vacuum with the beater bar turned off to remove dust between the floorboards.
Engineered flooring, like hardwood, also comes in prefinished and unfinished options. It was originally designed for below-grade levels, like basements, as it performs well in high-moisture environments. Because of this, it can virtually be installed anywhere in your home.
The boards are made of multiple layers of plywood at its core and other moisture-resistant materials. It looks like real solid wood, and can also be sanded and refinished depending on the quality of the material. A wood veneer is applied to the top of the board, which can range from 1 to 4 millimeters in thickness. The thicker the veneer, the better.
Engineered flooring must be glued down when installing. Pricing is comparable to hardwood, and it can last 20 to 100 years, depending on the manufacturer. If the boards have a 1 to 2 millimeter-thick veneer, it can't be sanded and refinished — you'll eventually have to replace the floor due to wear and tear.
The flooring is easy to maintain. You can either use a vacuum with a soft flooring attachment, broom or dry microfiber dust mop to clean.
Laminate flooring only comes in prefinished options. Unlike the other flooring options, there is no wood material. Instead, it's made of a high density fiberboard (HDF) core and can appear like plastic. The boards are installed using a click-lock floating method over a foam pad with no adhesive, nails or staples.
Like engineered flooring, laminate flooring is also moisture-resistant. It's also more resistant to stains and won't expand or contract as much with seasonal changes in humidity. It can be installed on, above or below-grade level, but it's not recommended for full baths. Instead of a veneer, the top layer has a computer-printed image of a wood species, and multiple coats of a finish are applied at the factory.
Laminate flooring isn't a high-maintenance product. You can use a dust mop or vacuum with a soft brush or wood floor attachment. You can also use a slightly damp mop for spot cleaning, just be careful to avoid excessive water.
Quality laminate flooring also isn't easily scratched or dented, performs well in high traffic areas, and is a more affordable option. But unlike hardwood and engineered, laminate flooring only spans 10 to 20 years and can't be sanded or refinished. If you're not planning on staying in your home for a long period of time, laminate flooring is a good option to go with.
When selecting a new floor for your home, consider consulting with an expert in the field. They will be able to provide you with advice on the best flooring options for your home, budget and family needs. As the cost of replacing your flooring can be an expensive portion of your remodeling budget, it is important to do your homework.
When pricing different flooring options, remember that flooring is priced by the square foot. It's a good idea to know your measurements before you go shopping. Once you know the square footage of the area to be covered, you'll be able to compare the cost of the materials for your home project. Just remember that when shopping for flooring materials, costs for installation, and the materials to prepare your floor for the installation, will need to be added to the project cost.
John Kolbaska, President - The Men With Tools Home Remodeling
(347) 815-4151 www.themenwithtools.com
All our experts are licensed, bonded and insured members of the Staten Island Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (The Home Improvement Contractors of Staten Island). Homeowners should always consult with licensed professionals, check a contractor's license through the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (call 311 for information) and ensure that their project complies with NYC DOB regulations before embarking on any home improvement project.