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How to Install Hardwood Floors: Choosing the Type of Wood and Grade

By Edited Oct 22, 2016 1 0
How to Install Hardwood Floors Part I
Credit: Tomwsulcer via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the only other home renovation project that has the power to transform a home more than new paint, is the installation of hardwood flooring. Whether natural or engineered, hard wood flooring adds an elegance to a home that carpet or other flooring materials cannot match.

In fact, if you are trying to sell your home, one of the best remodeling projects you can undertake is to install hardwood floors. Most buyers list them close to the top of their lists of “must haves”.

When deciding on the type of hardwood flooring, there are some important considerations and terms you need to think about before you go out and buy something that is not going to work in your home.

Your main decision points will be whether you want to install prefinished engineered wood, or prefinished or unfinished hardwood, the size of the planks or strips and what you will be laying your new floor over.

Prefinished vs. Unfinished Wood Flooring

How to Install Hardwood Floors Part I
Credit: Opensource

Prefinished wood flooring does not require sanding and staining which saves a lot of time. However, these days, most types of wood flooring whether natural or engineered, is sold with a polyurethane or other finish that protects the wood surface.

Unfinished wood flooring is still used in restoration projects for older homes and is sanded on site during installation.

Engineered Wood Flooring

Engineered wood flooring is thinner than solid wood. When you look at it from the side, you can see layers of plastic laminate veneer and real wood (called plies) that have been glued together in opposite directions to form one piece. This cross ply technique creates a wood that is stable and not affected by extreme changes in humidity and temperature.

Do not confuse engineered and laminate though. They are not the same thing. Laminate wood has no real wood.

How to Install Hardwood Floors Part I
  • Easier to install for an inexperienced DIY’er
  • Cheaper that solid wood
  • Purchased prefinished
  • Resistant to extreme temperatures and humidity
  • Can be installed above or below grade

Longstrip Hardwood Floors

Longstrip hardwood floors are comprised of engineered wood on the top layers with a center core made of a softer wood material for the tongue and groove. They come in plank sizes about 86 inches to 7.5 inches wide. Once installed, longstrip plank appears to be an entire preassembled section.

Longstrip floors are one of the easiest options to install because they can be placed over virtuall any subfloor as a floating installation, with no glue or nails.

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Solid Wood Flooring

How to Install Hardwood Floors Part I
Credit: mjpyro

Solid wood flooring can also be purchased prefinished but more often is installed unfinished and sanded on site before a protective finish is applied.

The type of solid wood makes a big difference on how the wood will respond to sanding, nailing, and finishing.

Solid wood has a tendency to warp, twist, expand, or contract with changes in moisture and temperature so proper selection and installation is critical.

It should be allowed to adjust to your homes normal humidity level to prevent expansion and contraction after installation. Remove the solid wood from packaging and set it in the rooms where it will be laid for several days before you begin.

There are three main types of solid wood flooring:

  • Strip flooring - has a set width, but the thickness can vary from 5/16 of an inch to 3/4 of an inch wide. It comes in widths of 1.5 inches, 2 inches and 2.25 inches.
  • Plank flooring - available in thicknesses of 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch but in a wide range of widths from 3 - 8 inches.
  • Parquet flooring – created by geometrical patterns of individual wood slats. This type of flooring is more common in parts of Europe and South America.

Here are some other things to consider when deciding on a solid wood flooring.

Hardness

Each type has a Janka rating. The higher the rating, the harder the wood.

  • White oak - light-brown in appearance with an open grain and good durability with a  Janka rating of 1360.
  • Red oak -  reddish in appearance with a coarse, open grain and good durability with a  Janka rating of1290.
  • Maple - whitish to light-reddish-brown in appearance with a closed, uniform grain, and a Janka rating of 1450.
  • Brazilian cherry -  reddish tone and an interlocking grain, and a Janka rating of2820.
  • White ash - light-brown to dark-brown in appearance, with an open grain and a Janka rating of 1320.

Grade

The grade of the wood refers to the amount of manufactured and naturally occurring marks, characteristics, and variations allowed to appear in the wood flooring product.

The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) has developed the following rating scale to assist consumers.

  • Clear - uniform appearance with very little discoloration primarily made from the densest and oldest portion of a tree referred to as heartwood.
  • Select – subtle differences in color primarily made from a combination of heartwood and sapwood.
  • #1 Common - considerable color variations and a range of characters
  • #2 Common - obvious natural wood variation and manufacturing marks
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Final Thoughts

According to WFCA, once installed, it is difficult to tell the difference between a solid hard wood floor and some of the engineered products. However, the most popular option continues to be solid hardwood floor strips.[1]

If you are considering replacing your existing flooring with some type of hardwood option but are confused on the best direction to go, I would suggest that you talk to some of your immediate neighbors that have gone in that direction first. If they installed solid wood floors but are having issues within a couple of years of flexing and warping, you know that either the area of the country you live in is too humid for that option, or there may be an issue  when the builder put together all of the homes in your subdivision.

Also, consider the value of your home. Solid wood floors are more expensive in materials and more difficult to install. If the value of your home is low, or you have many other issues to address, it doesn’t really make financial sense to go with the most expensive flooring option if for example, you still have laminate counter tops and a prefab bathroom.

In any of those cases, engineered wood is probably the best route to go. It is durable and less susceptible to issues once installed.

Now that the decision has been made, it is time to prep the base floor for installation.

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Bibliography

  1. "Hardwood Flooring Types." World Floor Covering Association. 15/06/2014 <Web >

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