Wood flooring is the most popular type and is considered traditional, beautiful and warm. The obvious drawback is its expense. Wood has a standard thickness of ¾" and ranges in color from light, informal tones to darker, more formal stains. The most popular type of wood flooring is oak, but ash, maple, cherry, pine and walnut are also used. And although wood flooring carries a significant price tag - generally costing from $5 to $12 per square foot - it is considered a long-term investment that adds value and appeal to a home.
There are two basic types of wood flooring: hardwood and engineered wood. Hardwood (also called solid wood) is the most traditional and generally the most beautiful. It comes in 2.25" strips or 3" to 4" planks, each of which is made from a single piece of wood. It can also be purchased in parquet squares that range from 6"x 6" to 36"x 36" and feature small blocks of wood arranged in geometric patterns. Solid wood is durable and can be sanded down and refinished multiple times, often lasting for the lifetime of a home. Pre-finished options offer the best value and best resistance to scratches, dents and moisture.
Engineered wood has much of the same beauty of solid wood, but with increased temperature and moisture stability and a lower price tag. Engineered wood is formed by three to five layers of wood that are glued or laminated together under pressure in a crisscross format to improve strength. A top layer of wood veneer is then added to finish the look. This top layer generally allows the floor to be sanded and refinished one to three times before replacement is needed, but engineered wood floors lack the lifelong durability of solid wood. Engineered wood is sold in strips that measure less than 3" wide and in planks that measure more than 3" wide.
In addition to adding value and appeal to a home, wood is a good choice due to its durability and ability to fit with nearly any décor. Although it is hard underfoot, wood does not tend to feel as cold or sound as noisy as other hard flooring choices, such as tile and stone. Solid wood stands up to wear fairly well, and both solid and engineered wood offer one or more chances to sand and refinish rather than replacing the floor, improving long-term investment value. When properly sealed, both types of wood also resist spills and scratches. Finally, the engineered wood option, while not quite as durable as solid wood, offers the look of wood for a price only slightly higher than budget choices, such as laminate or vinyl.
Wood flooring does have some drawbacks. Both types of wood are easily dented and can fade with UV exposure. And while engineered wood holds up to dents and fading better than hardwood, it can be much quicker to show wear and can often only be refinished once or twice due to the relative thinness of the real wood veneer. Both types of wood are also susceptible to moisture, with solid wood actually swelling and changing shape in the presence of direct moisture. Solid wood is very intolerant of environmental changes, so it must be installed in an area with stable temperature and humidity.
Wood flooring is best suited for hallways, living rooms, family rooms and other areas where exposure to moisture and environmental changes is minimized. Both types of wood aren't as suitable for bathroom and kitchen installation. Cleaning should also be done with dry implements whenever possible; dust mops and vacuums designed for wood floors are generally the best option. If a wood floor becomes sticky or soiled, a slightly damp mop or cloth can be used to clean the area. Buffing, sealing, finishing or professional maintenance may occasionally be required.
Wood floors can be installed in four different ways. Nail-down installation attaches wood to an established subfloor with flooring nails and is most frequently used with solid wood flooring. Staple-down installation attaches wood to the subfloor with a pneumatic stapler and can be used for solid or engineered wood. Glue-down installation is used only with engineered wood and applies the flooring to the subfloor with adhesive and a trowel. The final type is floating installation, which is primarily used with engineered wood and allows pieces to be fitted together and simply laid or "floated" on a pad placed on the subfloor.
Professional installation is generally recommended for hardwood flooring, although many parquet floors can be a do-it-yourself project. The biggest challenge with hardwood flooring is the fact that it changes shape after manufacturing due to environmental moisture, making it harder to fit boards together smoothly. Many types of engineered wood, on the other hand, allow for do-it-yourself installation. Floating installation is best for those who want to self-install their floors, as it requires minimal tools and mainly involves cutting pieces as needed, fitting them together and laying them on the floor. All types of installation can generally be completed in one to three days. Major manufacturers of wood flooring include Armstrong, Anderson, Thomasville, Lauzon, Mannington and Bruce.
Overall, wood is a good choice for those who are ready for a major investment that will increase the value of their home. Hardwood is the most durable and longest lasting, but pricier and more difficult to install. Engineered wood is less durable, but offers the look of wood on a tighter budget. Either choice is best for rooms with stable temperature and humidity, where exposure to moisture and UV light are minimized.