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How to Find the Right Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood is a top choice for flooring. What options are right for you?

close up of hardwood parquet flooring herringbone textured effect with warm medium tint stain
Image: JONGHO SHIN/Getty

For years, homeowners have preferred hardwood flooring. These floors are an investment because they’re timeless and durable. On top of that, you can choose from different colors, stains, and grains to get the look you want. 

Because hardwood floors are popular, they can help homes sell faster and increase your home's value. Installing new wood flooring can recoup 118% of their cost, according to the National Association of REALTORS® "2022 Remodeling Impact Report." That made it one of the survey's top two interior remodeling projects for cost recovery, behind hardwood floor refinishing.

Another benefit of wood flooring is you don't need to replace it, unlike carpet or tile flooring. Instead, you an simply resand or refurbish it, saving money over time. 

Even though wood floors have so many benefits, they have a few downsides. For example, wear and tear can easily dent and scratch them, and mold, detergents, water, and termites can damage them.  

If you’re considering replacing or updating your floors, follow these basics to help you find the right hardwood flooring.  

Refinishing vs. New Floor Installation

hardwood flooring installation workers hand and tool varnishing of oak parquet herringbone floor light warm color
Image: simazoran/getty

A new hardwood floor has a lot of selling points, but it may not be in your budget. In that case, you can refinish your existing floors to make them look brand new without the high price tag.  

If you're unsure which way to go, have a professional look at your floors. With an objective opinion, you can more easily decide if refinishing is right for you.  

Of course, if you refinish your existing floors, you'll spend less than you would on installation. Refinishing can cost $1.50 to $5 per square foot without staining and $2 to $7 per square foot with it. But new hardwood floors run $9 to $12 per square foot. 

Considerations for Choosing the Right Hardwood Flooring

In choosing the type of hardwood you want, you'll select from engineered or hardwood flooring, and prefinished or finished on-site. You can also pick from different wood types and plank widths. 

Engineered vs. Solid Hardwood Flooring

Solid hardwood planks are single pieces of wood, while engineered hardwood combines multiple layers of hardwood. Interlocking options make installing engineered hardwood easier. 

Another plus for engineered hardwood floors: They reduce moisture problems you’d usually find in standard hardwood flooring.  

Both types typically cost $5 to $15 per square foot. 

Prefinished vs. Finished On-site

almost finished dark stain application with handheld pole and pad on new oak hardwood floor
Image: BanksPhotos/getty

Prefinished hardwood floors are finished at a factory, and a coat of polyurethane tops each board. Site-finished hardwood is shipped to your home unfinished, and the process of sanding, staining, and sealing is done after the floor is installed. 

Prefinished boards have more uniform color and staining, and some come with anti-scratch coating. But with site-finished planks, you can test and select stains and finishes that work with your interior. Many flooring experts can provide on-site guidance to help you find the best match for your home

Unfinished boards cost less per square foot, but prefinished boards cost a bit less overall because of installation. 

Wood Types: Grain and Color

Wood flooring comes in different styles and shades, including grains and light and dark colors. 

Grain

The way the wood flooring is cut and sliced determines the grain. Your floor’s wood grain is like its own unique fingerprint. Because no two look alike, this feature adds character to your home. The three common types of wood grain are flat, straight, and curly.

Color

Wood flooring is available in a wide range of colors. Trending colors include beige and gray tones, natural-looking wood, and dark charcoal or black stains.   

Look for wood colors that complement your home’s overall design and your lifestyle. Darker wood floors will show scuffs and scratches more easily, while wear and tear will be less visible on lighter floors.  

Keep in mind that applying stains on-site will alter the natural colors of the wood. Most floor teams will help you select stains that hit your goal hues.   

Plank Width

The plank width of your hardwood floors can make a world of difference in your finished floor design. You can make a room look bigger or smaller depending on the width.  

If you choose wider wood planks, you'll get a rustic or modern upscale look to your home. The wider the planks, the fewer the seams you’ll have. Wide plank flooring ranges from five inches to 12 inches.  

More narrow plank flooring boards can work well in smaller spaces and add a clean, contemporary look. Standard plank widths are between three inches and 4.75 inches.  

Alternatives to Hardwood Flooring

samples of laminate flooring with different pattern and wood texture and colors for hardwood floor alternative
Image: Uladzimir Zuyeu/Getty

Despite wood floor advantages, they aren't in everyone’s budget. Here are some alternatives for a great look minus the hefty price tag.  

Bamboo

Bamboo flooring is a budget-friendly option that comes from the bamboo plant. The bamboo is sliced, shredded, and pressed with heat to form wood-like boards.  

Pros

Bamboo floors resist pests and are durable, easy to maintain, sustainable, and environmentally friendly. They also cost much less per square foot than most solid hardwoods. 

Cons

These floors react to moisture, so they're not a good choice in a humid climate. They also may show scratches more easily, and the range of tones and finishes is more limited. 

Laminate

Laminate flooring is made of multiple layers of products combined through lamination, and it resembles wood flooring.

Pros

These floors come in planks or tiles that snap together, making them easy for DIYers.  

They aren't made from trees and are extremely durable (great for high-traffic areas). Maintenance is easy, too.   

Cons

Once laminate floors start to lose their sparkle, they can’t be refinished. You’ll have to replace them.  

Because laminate is made with plastic and sometimes formaldehyde, it isn't environmentally friendly.   

People with chemical sensitivities should make sure that any laminates conform to health regulations.  

Moisture may damage some laminate flooring, so it shouldn't be used in bathrooms or laundry rooms.  

Questions to Ask Your Flooring Contractor

When it comes to your home, you want information. Here are some critical questions to ask your flooring contractor so that you're well informed before and during the installation process.  

  • Are you licensed and insured to install and/or finish hardwood floors? 
  • Can you provide references, pictures, and online reviews to support the quality of your work? 
  • What's included in your flooring warranty? 
  • Is my subfloor suited to this installation? 
  • What’s the best hardwood flooring for my home? 
  • How long will it take to install my floor? 
  • What could happen to increase the installation price? 
  • How will you contain the dust and debris and handle the cleanup? 

You can also contact a REALTOR® to get references to area contractors who have installed wood flooring. REALTORS® have information from satisfied homeowners and feedback from open house guests that will offer you a solid foundation.  

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