If you are in the market to replace the floors in your house with new hardwood floors, here is an easy guide to the common terminology you will come across and how to use it to make the best flooring decision for your home.  

Engineered or Solid FlooringLight Colored Wooded Flooring Allows for SimplicityCredit: phongvan00 @ morgueFile

One of the first decisions you will need to make is whether you need solid hardwood or engineered hardwood.  Do not be put off by the word engineered; this does not mean that you are looking at laminate flooring.  

Solid hardwood planks are exactly what they sound like - solid wood planks.  The solid construction does make this type of flooring more susceptible to changes in atmosphere, such as heat and moisture.  It is generally not recommended to install solid planks below ground level or in bathrooms.

Engineered hardwood flooring is composed of three to ten layers of wood glued together, giving it greater durability than solid hardwood planks.  The layers are referred to as plies.  In general, the higher the number of plies, the greater the stability of the plank.

Plank DimensionsEased Edge and End Edge on Wooden FlooringCredit: photojock

The width of a plank will impact on the overall feel of your room.  Wider planks lend themselves to formality, luxury and sophistication.  They will make a great option for formal living and dining rooms, however if your home has a more relaxed feel to it, you may want to consider smaller widths.

Anything less than three inches wide is generally referred to as a strip, and not a plank.  Smaller strips make excellent floors for bedrooms and family rooms.

There are such a variety of lengths available on the market today.  While they often loosely correspond to the plank widths, it is not a rule.  In general, planks and strips sold in varying lengths tend to add a classic or traditional feel to a room, regardless of the level of formality.Thin Straight Edge Strips of Wooden Flooring Make this Room CasualCredit: jade @ morgueFile

The thickness of a plank will give you an idea of strength.  A large determining factor in choosing the correct thickness for your floor will be the depth of the under flooring from any adjoining floor your new hardwood will be installed next to.  If you are looking for solid hardwood floors to last as long as your house does, choose a thicker plank.  This gives you the flexibility to sand down and re-finish the floors at a later state should you wish to do so.

Edging Options

While there are only a few edging styles available to choose from, this can be one of the most confusing areas when it comes to choosing hardwood floors for your home.  Edging styles include beveled edges and straight edges.

A beveled edge tapers off on the sides so that when two planks are fitted together, it makes a V.  This type of style helps to disguise any irregularities in the under flooring.  A beveled edge is generally for informal room styles, such as country kitchens.  Because there is a solid outline around each floorboard, this often is a good choice if you are looking at very distinctive wood or grain patterns.

You may also see terms such as micro-beveled or eased edge and end.  These are also beveled edges but generally with a shallower groove between the boards.  If you prefer to have a traditional look, but do not want it to seem too much like a country cottage, this is often a good choice.

Straight edge floor boards need a very flat under surface, as variations will show through with time, if not immediately.  As all four sides have straight (right angle) edges, the entire surface lies flat.  Not only does this make your flooring typically easier to clean, but it also provides a modern and formal look to any room

Type and Color of Timber and Finish of Your WoodWide Planks of this Floor Add Sophistication to a RoomCredit: seemann @ morgueFile

The types of timber that are used to create wooden floors vary in different regions of the world.  In North America, popular wood to use include oak, birch, beech and pine.  These are used both because of the strength of the woods and because of pricing, though some are more than others.  Each type of wood has a unique color and swirl pattern associated with it.  The more swirls and knots a wood has, the more casual it can make a room feel.  Lighter woods also do a better job of hiding minor scratches and marks that develop over time.

If you are looking for a reddish wood, consider using red oak or beech.  If you prefer a yellowish brown wood, then consider using birch or pine.  White oak is a brown timber, but is can also appear to be gray depending on how it treated.  It is also one of the most durable woods on the market.  

In addition to the natural color of wood, your floor will generally be stained to bring out the texture and natural color of the room.  Dark colors are prefered for more formal rooms, while yellowish tints hint at a country or casual feel.  Although this is one of the biggest influences on how your room feels, the final stain treatment may be the last decision you make, because all the other factors, such as timber type and edging options all play a part.

Finally, you will often have a choice between a high-gloss or a more matt finish to your flooring.  One of the main reasons to select a low-gloss or matt finish floor is because it will help to hide scratches and dust.  However a high gloss floor is perceived to be a very elegant and formal finish to a room.  If you are installing your floor in a high traffic area, take the time to consider maintenance needs before using a gloss finish.

Installation MethodsBeveled Edges on Wooden FlooringCredit: kevinrosseel @ morgueFile

If you are planning to install your hardwood floor yourself but have limited experience in laying flooring, you will probably want to consider using an engineered wood that can be glued or floated.  Floating wood means that the planks or strips lock on to themselves and not the under flooring.  Staples can be used to attach engineered or solid planks depending on their thickness.  However if you are looking to use thick, solid wood planks, you will probably need a professional to install this as it will need the use of nails.

Although there are many factors involved in choosing wooden flooring for your home, this basic guide to the terminology should help to get you looking in the right direction.