Here is our ultimate guide to buying hardwood flooring for your home.
So you’ve narrowed your floor choice to hardwood. That’s good. It’s not always easy because hardwood can be costly.
However, your decision-making process isn’t done. Now you need to choose a type of hardwood as well as a finish.
That’s where this article can help, at least with which type of hardwood flooring to get.
Below we set out all the main types of hardwood flooring available and provide pros and cons of each as well as approximate costs.
Table of Contents
- I. Hardwood Flooring Buying Guide
- A. Hardwood Flooring Type
- B. Wood Species
- C. Wood Flooring Color Comparison Illustration
- D. Wood Janka Wood Hardness Scale
- E. Other Hardwood Flooring Design Options
- E. DIY or Professional Installation?
- II. More Details
I. Hardwood Flooring Buying Guide
You must make dozens of different decisions when buying hardwood flooring for your home.
These start with hardwood flooring type (solid or engineered). From there, you must choose your preferred wood species and hardwood flooring grade.
Once these decisions are nailed down, you can start thinking about additional design elements like flooring style, dimensions, color, edge detail, and much more.
We cover all of these different elements and more in our ultimate hardwood flooring guide below.
A. Hardwood Flooring Type
There are two main types of hardwood flooring: solid hardwood flooring and engineered hardwood flooring.
1. Solid Hardwood Flooring
Solid hardwood is generally what most people think of when they imagine hardwood flooring.
It consists of solid pieces of wood from your preferred species. The entire hardwood plank is constructed from that wood.
People love solid hardwood for its natural beauty. It gives your home a warm, authentic charm, no matter the species.
Solid hardwood flooring is also extremely durable. Install it right and maintain it as directed to ensure it lasts a lifetime.
The downsides to solid hardwood are its high price and susceptibility to moisture damage. Don’t use it in rooms with high amounts of humidity.
2. Engineered Hardwood Flooring
Engineered hardwood is constructed from several layers of wood pressed together. A layer of actual hardwood is laid on top of this core layer as well as on the bottom of it.
The multi-ply construction of engineered hardwood flooring makes it less susceptible to moisture damage. The wood can expand and contract with no negative results as humidity levels change.
Engineered hardwood flooring is also valued for its flexibility. It’s versatile enough to use in basements and upper-story floors. You can even install it directly over a concrete subfloor or a radiant heating system with no ill effects.
An additional benefit of this type of hardwood flooring is its price. It’s must less expensive than solid hardwood flooring.
The downsides to engineered hardwood are that it can’t be sanded and refinished, it’s not quite as durable and long lasting, and it doesn’t add as much resell value to your home.
* Remember that engineered hardwood flooring isn’t the same as laminate wood flooring!
B. Wood Species
Dozens upon dozens of different wood species are used for hardwood flooring.
These include species that are domestically grown as well as more exotic species that are imported from countries around the world.
The species you select will dictate the overall look of your hardwood floor, including its color and grain pattern. Some species are also harder (so more durable) than others.
Despite a large number of options available, there’s a small handful of species that most homeowners choose for their hardwood flooring.
Here are ten of the most popular hardwood flooring wood species.
Source: The Spruce
Cherry is one of the most popular species used for hardwood flooring.
It’s available in several varieties. The most popular is American cherry.
American cherry, also known as black cherry, is notable for its red and pink hues as well as its tight, wavy grain. These are complemented by a lustrous finish.
Though cherry is a very soft hardwood, it still manages to maintain good dimensional stability.
Cherry hardwood flooring is also on the lower end regarding photosensitivity, meaning it will show sun damage if installed in direct sunlight for multiple years.
Cherry is an expensive type of hardwood flooring.
Walnut is another popular hardwood species available in multiple varieties.
The most commonly used in North America is American walnut. It’s notable for its rich brown color that often contains a purple hue. The dark swirling grains look beautiful in any home.
Like cherry, walnut is a soft hardwood. It’s not the best option for use in areas like a dining room where heavy dining chairs slide back and forth on a regular basis.
Walnut does, however, have a high resistance to light damage. Its stellar photosensitivity makes it a good choice in rooms with year-round direct sunlight.
Another benefit of walnut hardwood flooring is its light weight. It can be used on upper stories without a problem.
Walnut is one of the most expensive types of hardwood flooring.
Another popular species for hardwood flooring, oak is loved for its classic good looks and old-fashioned warmth.
Oak hardwood flooring is a great choice in traditional style homes. It blends well with a wide range of furniture and décor.
Two main varieties of oak hardwood flooring are available: red oak and white oak. The main difference between the two is color.
Red oak is much lighter. The neutral color features a reddish hue. White oak is a pale brown. It often has a pink or gray hue throughout.
Both types of oak feature a mid-range hardness rating. Despite being able to stand up to heavy impacts, oak is prone to scraping. Use furniture pads on all heavy furniture to prevent damage.
Oak is a mid-priced type of hardwood flooring.
Source: Lumber Liquidators
Maple is one of the most distinctive types of hardwood flooring.
It’s notable for its characteristic grain pattern that sets it apart from other hardwoods. The species light color and uniform texture also help it appeal to the masses.
Another highlight of maple hardwood flooring is its durability. It’s simply one of the hardest hardwoods available. It doesn’t scratch or scuff easily. It’s even known for its resistance to heavy impacts.
The overall durability of maple hardwood flooring makes it a good choice for homes with children or pets. It doesn’t even require much regular maintenance to stay in tip-top shape.
Maple takes stains so well that people often stain it deeply to mimic other species. It’s essential to ensure a proper seal, though. Otherwise, the stain will likely look blotchy.
Maple is an affordable type of hardwood flooring.
Few species of American hardwood are harder or stronger than hickory.
So naturally, hickory hardwood flooring is notable for its extreme durability. It can last a lifetime, with minimal wear and tear, if properly maintained.
Hickory is usually a medium tan to light red-brown color. It’s also less commonly available in a creamy white color. No matter the color, hickory usually has dramatic grain patterns.
The natural beauty of hickory wood flooring makes it the perfect choice for log cabins and other rustic style homes. It’s high durability also makes it a good choice for families with lots of children.
The biggest downside to hickory hardwood flooring is also its biggest benefit: its hardness. The hardness makes cutting the wood difficult, leading to higher installation costs.
Hickory is a slightly above average priced type of hardwood flooring.
Source: Hull Forest Products
Ash is a beautiful species of hardwood that’s perfect for flooring in upscale homes where chic style is appreciated.
The wood is fairly light in color. It even has a whitish hue sometimes. The light color is complemented by an active wood grain that gives it a warm, natural look.
Ash hardwood flooring has a medium hardness. It’s hard enough to stand up to heavy traffic but soft enough that it’s comfortable to stand on barefoot.
Thanks to its average hardness, ash is also a great choice for stylish hand-scraped floors. It’s also notable for how well it takes a variety of stains.
The downside to ash hardwood is the maintenance it requires. Because of its light colors, it gets dirty easily. You’ll need to clean it more frequently than other species.
Ash is an affordable type of hardwood flooring.
7. Douglas Fir
Douglas fir is notable for its extremely uniform appearance.
No matter the cut or the tree, each plank of hardwood flooring you receive is sure to look nearly identical to the next plank.
The color of Douglas fir is a mixture between orange and brown. It features a long, straight grain throughout. It’s natural looks help give your home a more comfortable, rustic atmosphere.
Douglas fir trees regularly grow to very tall heights. This allows you to find equally long flooring boards if desired.
Unfortunately, Douglas fir hardwood flooring is one of the softest types of hardwood flooring. It’s damaged easily if the proper care and maintenance aren’t taken on a regular basis.
Douglas fir is a slightly under average priced type of hardwood flooring.
Teak is quickly becoming a very popular type of hardwood flooring.
The exotic wood is most notable for its durability. It’s one of the hardest, strongest woods out there. Install it in the highest traffic area of your home, throw in multiple kids and pets, and it will still stand the test of time.
Teak hardwood flooring is also loved for its natural shine and finish. Though it looks great with stain or varnish applied, teak also holds its natural oils. Many people choose to leave teak unfinished and let it age naturally.
Naturally aged teak is beautiful. Used as hardwood flooring, it adds a unique blend of traditional charm and upscale swagger to any home.
The downside to teak is the maintenance it requires. You must oil teak every few years to maintain its luster.
It’s important to note that you must always buy teak from a reputable retailer. Certain sellers have been caught selling teak that was harvested from endangered species.
To be safe, only buy FSC (Forestry Stewardship Counsel) certified teak. Better yet, look for reclaimed teak to use as flooring.
Teak is an expensive type of hardwood flooring, largely due to the cost of importing from outside the United States.
Source: Lumber Liquidators
Birch has long been a popular species for all means of home construction, including hardwood flooring.
The species is so abundant that birch is an affordable type of hardwood. It’s a good in-between regarding functionality/style and price.
Birch hardwood flooring has clear, attractive wood grains. Coupled with its creamy white to yellowish white color, it looks great it just about any home.
Birch also holds stains very well. It’s easy to stain it with a variety of colors for a more individualized look.
The downside to birch is that it’s a very soft wood. It’s highly susceptible to both dents and scratches.
Birch is also relatively unstable. It expands and contracts as temperature and humidity levels change. It’s best to only use it as hardwood flooring in areas with minimal moisture.
Birch is an affordable type of hardwood flooring.
Pine is probably what the average person imagines when they think of hardwood flooring.
It’s the most traditional type of hardwood regarding appearance. It has a surprisingly rich color, especially when stained, and features interesting pin holes and knots in addition to a distinct grain pattern.
Pine hardwood flooring is also notable for the way it ages. Let it naturally age over the course of several years, and you’re sure to love its appearance even more than you did when it was first installed.
Thanks to how quickly pine trees grow, and their overall abundance, pine is known as an environmentally friendly hardwood flooring choice.
The main negative to pine hardwood flooring is its relative softness. It’s more likely to be dented and scratched than other woods, leading to more time spent on care and maintenance.
Pine is one of the most affordable types of hardwood flooring.
Source: Canadian Flooring
Mahognay offers a deep, dark rich floor. Mahogany grows in warmer climates such as Mexico and into the South America.
While expensive, it’s durable and hard.
12. Brazilian Tigerwood
Grown in Brazil, Brazilian Tigerwood is expensive and very hard (with a Janka rating of 2,160).
Belonging to the Birch family, Alder is considered a soft hardwood and a less expensive alternative to cherry or maple. Several common names are Red Alder, Western Alder, Oregon Alder, and Pacific Coast Alder.
Once considered a weed or nuisance tree by loggers of the Pacific Northwest, where Alder grows prolifically, this fast-growing tree can easily reach heights of 100 to 130 feet. Cabinet makers first discovered the ease of working with this wood, and its uses have multiplied over the years from cabinetry to trim, furniture framework to flooring. Many who once tried to destroy this species now encourage its growth.
A fine, uniform texture with generally straight grain patterns sets off the light tan to reddish brown color of the wood, which accepts stains well for deeper, richer color choice.
Approximate cost per square foot, installed, ranges from $3.00 to $6.00 with an additional $3.00 to $5.00 installation charge.
Native to parts of Europe, Asia, and the Eastern United States, this slow-growing hardwood can reach heights of 100 to 130 feet with a three to five foot diameter trunk. Disease resistant, these giants have been known to live for 300 to 400 years.
The lumber from Beech trees is typically a pale cream color that may contain pink or brown hues. The straight grain and fine to medium texture makes for hard, durable flooring. The density of the wood does make it hard to stain, though.
For generations, Europeans have declared this wood to be excellent for smoking meats, sausages, and certain types of cheeses. The ‘beech wood aged’ logo of Budweiser comes from their brewmasters using specially treated beech slats stacked at the bottom of their fermentation tanks.
Expect to pay approximately $4.00 to $10.00 per square foot for installed flooring.
The very hardest of all the hardwoods, this unusually dense wood will not float when put in water. Grown in Africa and Asia, with Ceylon and India being the major exporters, Ebony is now a rare commodity due to over-harvesting and little replanting.
This very deep black wood was mainly used for carving ornamental pieces, tribal masks, and other decorative items. Some of the different types of Ebony have veins of deep red running through the grain, making for unique works of art when polished.
Because of its rarity, Ebony is extremely expensive. On average, prices tend to be 40 to 60% higher than Burma Teak, another costly wood. Hardwood engineered flooring is much less costly, and oak is commonly stained to mimic the look of Ebony.
Also known as Tulip Poplar and Yellow Poplar, this is one of the largest of the hardwood trees with an average height of 130 to 160 feet and a trunk diameter of six to eight feet. Spread widely throughout the Eastern United States, Poplar is the State Tree of Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
Light cream to yellowish brown in color with streaks of gray or green, the grain is normally straight and uniform with a medium texture. Considered one of the softest of the hardwoods, this low density wood is economical and inexpensive, known to be a utility wood perfect for pallets, furniture frames, cabinetry, etc. Because it is easily painted or stained, Poplar flooring can be matched to any décor and will last for many years. For those who prefer a lighter flooring, a coating of clear Varathane brings out the beauty of the grain.
Pricing can start as low as $1.49 per square foot plus $3.00 to $5.00 per square foot for installation and finishing.
C. Wood Flooring Color Comparison Illustration
Here’s a great illustrated chart comparing the different colors of hardwood floor (exagerated to make the point as to hue and tone).
D. Wood Janka Wood Hardness Scale
Below is the Janka wood hardness scale that rates the hardness rating for many wood species. The lower the number, the softer the wood.
E. Other Hardwood Flooring Design Options
After you select your hardwood flooring type and species, it’s time to consider a few other design factors before getting down to installation.
These include flooring style, dimensions, color, finish, gloss, texture, grade, and edge detail.
Source: Home Epiphany
Your two options for hardwood flooring styles are pre-finished and site-finished. The names say it all.
Pre-finished hardwood flooring comes with the finish already applied and dried. It’s ready for installation as soon as it arrives at your home. No need to fuss with sanding or finishing yourself.
Site-finished hardwood flooring comes to your house in its raw conditions. It must be sanded and finished by yourself or a contractor.
The benefit of site-finished hardwood flooring over pre-finished hardwood flooring is all about the looks. Simply put, it looks more beautiful and unique. Your options are nearly limitless for how the design can turn out.
Pre-finished hardwood flooring, on the other hand, is much easier to install. It also comes with a much longer warranty since the finish tends to be stronger and more resilient.
The warranty for pre-finished hardwood flooring is usually around 5 and 35 years while the warranty for site-finished hardwood flooring is usually just 3 to 5 years.
Source: Hosking Hardwood
Hardwood flooring comes in two main varieties as far as its width goes.
These varieties are strips and planks. Strips, the thinner of the two, usually measure less than 3 inches wide. Planks are any boards wider than 3 inches.
Hardwood flooring board width has a big effect on the overall atmosphere of a room. Wide boards are best suited for large, open rooms, but can be overwhelming in small rooms.
Thickness is another element to consider when it comes to hardwood flooring. Most planks and boards are either ¾-inch or 5/16-inch.
3. Color, Finish, Gloss, and Texture
Source: Ei Ei Home
Though the species you select largely dictates what your hardwood flooring looks like, there are several additional design options to consider.
The color of your hardwood mostly comes from the species natural color. A variety of stains and finishes can change this color. Even long-term sun exposure can change the color of your hardwood flooring.
Adding a gloss not only makes your hardwoods look brighter, but it also prevents scratching and other damage over time.
Low-gloss floors don’t look as bright, but they do hide scratches better. High-gloss floors look much brighter, but show scratches more.
Finally, you have texture. Common hardwood flooring textures include smooth, hand-scraped, distressed, and wire brushed.
The texture adds to the overall look and atmosphere of the flooring. It can also change how the flooring feels underfoot.
Source: Flooring Ideas
Hardwood flooring grade largely relates to the wood’s appearance.
Choose a clear and select grade for a clean appearance with minimal knots. Hardwood of this grade also tends to have few color variations and relatively straight grain patterns.
Milkwood and cabin grades, on the other hand, have a much less clean appearance. The knots and streaks are allowed to stand out. Most also have color variations throughout the same strips and planks.
5. Edge Detail
Edge detail doesn’t have a huge effect on the appearance of hardwood flooring but is still worth considering.
As the name implies, it relates to how the edges of each strip or plank is cut. The most common options include square, micro beveled, eased, and beveled.
A beveled edge detail creates a dramatic appearance that emphasizes each board as an individual.
A square edge detail gives off a much more seamless appearance where the borders between each board are barely noticeable.
E. DIY or Professional Installation?
A DIY installation is an option when it comes to installing hardwood flooring.
However, like installing any other type of flooring, the ease of DIY installation largely depends upon the specifics of the hardwood flooring you choose, namely the width, thickness, and species.
Certain models of hardwood flooring can be installed without glue, staples, or nails. These are the best bet for those bent on making installation a DIY process.
Hardwood flooring that needs glue, staples, or nails is usually better suited for professional installation.
Engineered hardwood flooring is also relatively easy for the average Joe to install. Though it also needs to be stapled, glued, or floated, doing this is easier than for solid hardwood.
Of course, there’s no need to install your hardwood flooring by yourself, even if the type of flooring you choose makes it easy.
Hiring a professional contractor just makes the job of installing hardwood flooring all the easier and worry free.
Knowing that an experienced pro is installing your hardwood flooring guarantees that you protect your thousand dollars investment from any damage your inexperienced hands might inadvertently do.
II. More Details
Here are some other important factors to consider when buying hardwood flooring.
A. Overall Home Design
Hardwood flooring looks great in just about any room in any home.
You still want to make sure that the variety you choose works well with your furniture and décor.
Select your hardwood flooring to complement the overall design of your home. Your choices span the range of modern, rustic, traditional, contemporary, and so much more.
Another factor to consider is how each room is used. Go with a harder hardwood flooring for rooms with heavy traffic. Softer hardwoods are good for rooms with less traffic if you like how they look.
Homes with children or pets also benefit from the hardness of the harder species of hardwoods.
B. Other Considerations
Keep the following factors in mind when buying and installing hardwood flooring in your home:
The type of hardwood flooring you select can have a big impact on insulation, both for temperature and for sound.
Certain species of hardwood flooring lasts much longer without visible wear and tear than others. These are harder species.
Pre-finished hardwood flooring is also generally more durable than site-finished hardwood flooring.
3. Extra Flooring
Make sure to order around 10% more flooring than your measurements dictate for your project.
The flooring boards need to be cut to fill the space, so there’s some waste involved. The ends of these boards usually can’t be used and need to be discarded.
You might consider ordering even more than 10% extra if your hardwood flooring is being installed near a fireplace, stairs, closet, or bay window.
4. Expansion Space
Leave a small amount of space around the perimeter of your room when installing hardwood flooring.
Your hardwood flooring will likely expand and contract as temperatures, and humidity levels change. The extra space enables it to do so without damage.
5. Care and Maintenance
Most hardwood floors require some form of care and maintenance.
The majority only require sweeping and mopping. Others might require resanding and restaining after years of use.
C. Cost and Budget
Pricing for hardwood flooring varies wildly.
The main factors that affect pricing are the type of hardwood flooring (solid or engineered, species used, and size of the project.
The type and difficulty of installation are other major factors. DIY installation is naturally cheaper than a professional job.
The cost of a professional installation job varies not only on the amount of flooring being laid but also on the layout of your room. Expect to pay slightly more for a room that has a fireplace, stairs, or a closet.
With that said, HomeAdvisor lists the average cost of installing wood flooring as $4,430. They list a range of $1,180 to $10,000 with a medium area of $2,582 to $6,476.
The organization goes on to state that soft hardwoods like pine average out to about $3 to $6 per square foot of material. Their average cost of installation sits at $3 to $5 per square foot.
High-end, harder hardwood flooring species like teak cost around $8 to $14 per square foot of material. They cost around $4 to $8 per square foot to install.
Most mid-range hardwoods, including cherry and oak, run between $5 and $10 per square foot for materials and $4 to $8 per square foot to install.
Engineered hardwood flooring is, on average, cheaper with a material’s cost between $3 and $10 per square foot and an installation cost between $3 and $10 per square foot.
These days, hardwood is the most common flooring choice for many rooms of the home. It’s the most popular flooring option for the following rooms:
E. Shades of Light Hardwood
The shades of light wood flooring can range from white, natural or beige, yellow or tan and gray. There are also several types of wood floors you can choose from.
Denser and heavier than Red Oak. Recommended for high traffic areas.
Has a reddish natural tone and stains of varying hues.
As hard as the Red Oak. Color varies from creamy yellow to light reddish brown and wears out beautifully.
Known to be harder and more durable than Oak. It also has wide-ranging grains and colors. It stains beautifully, adding character to a room.
Ideal for contemporary flooring with its pale white to reddish brown color tones, simple grain and grade consistency.
Known for its stone-like hardness, lead-like weight and ox-like strength. Its color varies from white to reddish brown and can look rustic with its characteristic knots and sap pockets.
One of the hardest of hardwood floors with varying color options that can add a homey and casual feel to any room.
Has a smooth texture and very linear grain. Color varies from pale yellow to brownish yellow.
F. Types of Dark Hardwood
Walnut – Has dark and rich colors such as a dark chocolate brown with a purple tinge. This is ideal for formal or rustic rooms and can look very dramatic.
Wenge – This is an exotic dark wood used in rooms that call out for a bold dark color or a dark contrast. An aged wenge has a deep nearly-black color.
Rosewood – Known for its hard and dense qualities as well as its color of dark brown to violet with tinges of black.
Acacia – Acacia is hard, dense and resistant to decay. It looks dark red-brown and can be polished to look even more appealing.
Teak – This type is hard and durable as well as resistant to decay and termite attack. The color of the heartwood ranges from dark golden brown to dark golden yellow or rich brown with darker chocolate brown steaks. It can be greasy with a dull luster and has a leather-scent when freshly cut.