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Hardwood Flooring Buying Guide

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From determining the right type, species and color to understanding proper care techniques, there are many considerations when choosing hardwood flooring for your space. Luckily, we have everything you need to know right here. Browse this handy guide for types of hardwood flooring, color choices, cleaning tips and more!

Hardwood Flooring 101

When it comes to choosing hardwood flooring, the process is a little more complex than simply picking something that looks pretty in your home. You’ll also want to consider factors such as:

  • Type of flooring
    You’ll first need to decide whether you want solid or engineered hardwood flooring.
  • Wood species
    You’ll have a wide range of species to choose from, including oak, walnut, maple, cherry and others.
  • Grain pattern
    Depending on how the wood was cut, it will create a specific pattern on the planks.
  • Finishing options
    Your flooring’s finish will dictate how you clean and maintain the floors. Pre-finished hardwood comes with a pre-applied stain and top coat. Meanwhile, unfinished floors arrive raw and unfinished. The contractor will apply the finishing layer after completing the installation.

If you’re interested in learning about the basics of hardwood flooring, check out our Hardwood Flooring 101 guide for everything you need to know as a beginner!

White cabinet kitchen and island with wood floors

Types of Hardwood Flooring

Learn More About Types of Wood Floors

Every room in your house reflects the unique style and vision you have for your home. Whether you’re going for a traditional, modern or rustic style, the right hardwood floor can tie the whole aesthetic together. Quality flooring is also fundamental to your home’s functionality, so consulting a professional with extensive knowledge about hardwood flooring is a must.

Let’s look at two popular types of hardwood flooring below!

  • Engineered hardwood: Engineered hardwood is highly resistant to humidity and moisture, accommodating a variety of spaces. It’s also a more cost-effective option than solid wood.
  • Solid wood hardwood: Solid wood is highly durable, allergen-resistant and easy to maintain. Its superior acoustics, quality and attractiveness add value to your home.
Kitchen with dark wood floors, light wood island and white cabinets

Engineered Hardwood

First, engineered hardwood flooring contains a thin strip of durable wood species over high-grade plywood, which are compressed into a criss-cross design. The plywood is stable enough to resist cupping and warping from moisture, meaning it won’t expand and contract with the changing seasons.

Unlike solid hardwood, you can place engineered hardwood in areas like kitchens, bathrooms and basements provided they don’t have significant moisture exposure. Additionally, engineered hardwood tends to be less expensive than solid hardwood.

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Industrial style kitchen with dark cabinets and light wood floors

Solid Wood Hardwood

Next, solid wood flooring consists of thick, solid wood planks bonded with a tongue and groove along each side. Each plank typically has one piece of hardwood about ¾ of an inch thick. The wood can come in a range of species like oak, maple, cherry, bamboo or walnut, each offering a unique look.

With its natural grain and colors, many enjoy the authenticity and feel of solid wood. It’s also popular for its long life and durability. Because the boards are generally thicker than engineered wood planks, you can sand down and refinish them multiple times.

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Hardwood Flooring Color Options

Learn How to Choose a Hardwood Floor Color

Brown hardwood stain colors are known to reflect nature. Contemporary and dramatic, some popular stain colors in darker tones. For a bright and cheerful space, consider these light hardwood floor stain colors.

Species of Hardwood Flooring

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Now that we’ve explored the types and colors of hardwood flooring, let’s go over some popular wood species.

White oak wood flooring White Oak
White Oak

White oak contains brown or yellowish undertones, giving it a deeper color and less bright appearance. Its lighter graining and more subtle pattern can appeal to homeowners who want their oak flooring to blend into the background. Furthermore, white oak can be a good choice for humid areas like kitchens or bathrooms, as it’s more tolerant to water exposure than red oak.

Red oak wood flooring Red Oak
Red Oak

While it doesn’t achieve the same level of brilliance as cherry hardwood, red oak has a distinctive reddish hue. Red oak and white oak are similar in terms of graining, but red oak’s grain is slightly more prominent. This feature allows red oak flooring to hide blemishes more effectively. Although red oak is a tad softer than white oak, its sturdiness can withstand normal wear and tear just as well.

Maple wood flooring Maple
Maple

Maple flooring has a creamy, blondish hue. It features subtle grain patterns with occasional swirls. Its clean complexion and light color make it a great choice for contemporary-style spaces. Maple is one of the hardest wood species available, boasting a 1,450 hardness rating on the Janka hardwood scale. Because it’s one of the densest species, maple can be an ideal choice for high-traffic areas like living rooms and kitchens. Despite maple’s hardness, it’s not as stable as other species, making it more vulnerable to environmental changes. Fluctuations in humidity and temperature can result in warped, split or shrunk floorboards.

Walnut wood floor Walnut
Walnut

Walnut flooring has a dark chocolatey brown color with an almost purple undertone, as well as elegant knots and swirls. These unique qualities make it a beautiful and luxurious addition to any home. It’s also highly insect repellant and easy to clean. However, walnut flooring also requires the utmost care. Black walnut, in particular, is highly susceptible to scratching and scuffing if not treated correctly, so laying heavy furniture on it requires great caution. Additionally, walnuts’ deeper tones reveal more everyday dust and debris, which makes cleaning the flooring a frequent chore.

Cherry wood floor Cherry
Cherry

Due to its lovely natural color, cherry hardwood flooring is rarely stained. It typically starts with a soft pink tone, then deepens to a brilliant red over time when exposed to light. It has good wood bending properties, as well as fair strength and shock resistance. On the downside, cherry flooring has a Janka hardness of 950, making it one of the softest wood species and more prone to dents and scratches.

Birch wood flooring Birch
Birch

Birch hardwood flooring has a warm, comforting appearance that makes any space look homey and inviting. It’s known for its naturally wavy and curly wood grain patterns and varying shades of brown, yellow and red. Birch is durable, fairly rot-resistant, eco-friendly and easy to install. However, it can have difficulty absorbing stains, meaning it may not be the best choice if you want to color your floor darker. It also tends to shrink when exposed to moisture, so it’s best to keep it away from bathrooms, kitchens and decks.

Brazilian Cherry wood flooring Brazilian Cherry
Brazilian Cherry

Brazilian cherry hardwood flooring is best known for its vibrant reddish brown hue, along with a medium to somewhat coarse grain. With a whopping 2,350 hardness rating on the Janka scale, its durability and resistance to shock and termites are unmatched. However, Brazilian cherry’s main drawback is its higher than normal acclimation period. Its high density can also make it tougher to saw through.

Hardwood Flooring Installation

At 50 Floor, our installation process starts with helping you choose the right hardwood flooring. We’ll come to your home and show you various flooring options to help you determine what meshes best with your space. Tell us about your vision and ask us any questions so we can find a floor that meets your needs.

After you’ve made your purchase, we’ll go over all logistics such as warranties, ordering and installation agreements. Our vetted professionals will ensure a timely and stress-free installation process so you can enjoy your new floors as soon as possible.

To learn more about our hardwood installation process and how you can prepare for your new floors, checkout our hardwood installation guide here.

person installing wood flooring

Hardwood Flooring Care

Next, here are some hardwood floor care and maintenance tips to keep it looking top-notch:

  • Clean spills instantly. Because wood is sensitive to moisture, it’s important to wipe up spills immediately with a dry or slightly damp cloth.
  • Consider furniture pads. One of the best ways to keep your hardwood floor from scratching is by adding furniture pads to the legs of sofas, chairs and tables.
  • Dust or sweep daily. Dust, pet hair and other debris can easily settle into the grain and between floorboards. This makes regular sweeping or dusting a must.
  • Refinish when necessary. Wood flooring can last 20-30 years when properly maintained. However, you might consider refinishing your floor if you notice slight color irregularities, scratches on a couple of boards or dried-out wood. Extreme wear and warping likely indicate it’s time to replace the floor altogether.

Explore our complete guide to caring for hardwood flooring for more helpful tips!

Hand cleaning hardwood floors with cloth

Hardwood Flooring Color Inspirations

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Earlier, we discussed some common color families for hardwood floor stains. Below are some quick tips for choosing a color:

Cherry floor sample

Brown Stains

Consider a shade of brown like mahogany, cherry or walnut if you desire a warm and rugged feel for your space. Brown floor stains can suit a range of styles, from traditional to modern to rustic.

Espresso wood flooring

Dark Stains

Darker colors like espresso, ebony and true black are great choices if you prefer an elegant, sophisticated and exotic aesthetic. They can help camouflage the grain of your floor for a sleek, contemporary look. Keep in mind that darker floors tend to make rooms look smaller, so it may not be the best choice if you desire a more open feel.

Red oak floor sample

Light Stains

Light tones like gray, off-white, pine and golden oak help create a bright, open and airy feel. Consider a lighter stain when installing flooring in a smaller room. In most cases, light-colored floors make rooms appear larger.

Up-close photo of wood floors
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Hardwood vs. Other Floorings

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Earlier, we discussed some common color families for hardwood floor stains. Below are some quick tips for choosing a color:

Laminate Flooring

Laminate

Laminate flooring is designed to resemble wood, tile and other materials. Unlike true hardwood, laminate contains synthetic composites made from four layers of materials, which are fused onto a hard surface. Hardwood also adds more value to a home than laminate. Explore their differences more in-depth in our hardwood vs. laminate flooring guide.

Compare Hardwood & Laminate Flooring
Tile Flooring

Tile

Tile flooring tends to be more stain and scratch resistant than hardwood. However, hardwood floors are generally easier to clean. Tile floors need to be mopped, scrubbed and swept more frequently, as their grout lines get easily caked with grime and dirt. Learn more about their differences in our tile vs. hardwood flooring guide.

Compare Hardwood & Tile Flooring
Carpet Flooring

Carpet

While carpet is soft, comfortable and considerably less expensive to install than hardwood, it’s also far more difficult to clean. This can make hardwood a better choice for homes with young children, pets and spill-risk areas. Browse our detailed guide to the differences between carpet and hardwood flooring.

Compare Hardwood & Carpet
Luxury Vinyl Flooring

Luxury Vinyl

Similar to laminate, vinyl flooring emulates the appearance of real hardwood. However, hardwood showcases natural tones and grains for a more authentic appearance. Vinyl is less expensive to purchase and install and requires less regular cleaning and maintenance. You can view our guide to luxury vinyl vs. hardwood flooring for more information.

Compare Hardwood & Luxury Vinyl Flooring

Best Flooring for Your Interior Design Style

Next, let’s look at the best hardwood for different home styles:

  • Traditional: For a more traditional style — think classic elements that blend warm colors and neutral shades for a homey, inviting feel — white oak, red oak or birch are almost always ideal choices.
  • Modern: The modern home style embraces clean lines and geometric shapes. Dark walnut hardwood boasts a luxurious, elegant feel, accompanying modern homes nicely.
  • Contemporary: The contemporary home style embraces minimalistic elements like shades of gray, white and beige. This can make maple or white oak good choices for contemporary homes.
  • Rustic: Rustic home styles can be described as natural, organic and even a little distressed — think farmhouses and Tuscan-style homes. Cherry or Brazilian cherry hardwood flooring can be great choices for rustic homes as they showcase robust, authentic colors and grain patterns.
Hardwood Flooring

Best Flooring for Your Home Architectural Style

No matter your home’s architectural style, there’s a hardwood floor calling your name. Let’s look at some examples below.

Cape Code Style Home

Cape Cod

Cape Cod-style homes are symmetrical in nature with a centered front entry, shingle siding, gabled dormers and subtle exterior ornamentation. Essentially any type of hardwood can look stunning in Cape-Cod homes, from dark walnut to bright and cheery maple.

French Country Style Home

French Country

French country architecture consists of stately stone facades, double chimneys and tall and rectangular windows. Slightly weathered or distressed wood flooring tends to look best in French country homes, making birch or cherry excellent choices.

Colonial Style Home

Colonial

Usually made from brick, wood or stone, American colonial homes are known for their simplicity, classic style and traditional architecture. They typically feature plain exteriors, minimal embellishments and rectangular and symmetrical structures. White or red oak can be great picks for an elegant yet minimalistic interior.

Victorian Style Home

Victorian

Some defining characteristics of a Victorian-style home include steep, gabled roofs, towers and dormers, round angles, bright colors and decorative accents like stained glass. With the sophisticated and luxurious appeal of Victorian houses in mind, walnut hardwood flooring can be a lovely addition.

Tutor Style Home

Tudor

Tudor homes feature steeply pitched gable roofs, embellished doorways, masonry chimneys, half-timbering and groupings of windows. Brazilian cherry is a wonderful complement to Tudor-style houses, offsetting neutral wall colors and dark wooden interior beams.

Cottage Style Home

Cottage

Some key features of a cottage-style home include stucco walls, small porches and balconies, bay windows and gable roofs. Depending on your interior design preferences, nearly any hardwood species can suit a cottage house, from classic white or red oak to vibrant cherry.

Best Flooring by Room Type

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Finally, let’s look at some of the best rooms for hardwood flooring below:

Hardwood in Living Room

Living room

Arguably the best place to install hardwood flooring, a living room is designed to host guests with a warm, welcoming feel. Explore the best hardwood flooring for living rooms in this handy guide!

Best Flooring for Living Rooms
Hardwood in Bedroom

Master bedroom

Hardwood flooring creates a fresh, clean and relaxing vibe for any master suite. Its ease of cleaning also makes it an attractive option for bedrooms. See our guide to the best hardwood flooring for bedrooms!

Best Flooring for Bedrooms
Basement with Grey Carpet

Basement

Because basements are prone to moisture, it’s important to choose a durable, water-resistant option like engineered hardwood. Check out our guide to the best flooring for basements for more options!

Best Flooring for Basements
tile in office

Office

Hardwood flooring can achieve a professional, relaxed and warm feel simultaneously for your home office. Browse our guide to the best flooring for home offices to gather some ideas!

Best Flooring for Offices
Light wood flooring

Schedule an Appointment for 50 Floor Hardwood Installation

At 50 Floor, we make it easy to shop at home and save on quality flooring. Simply book an appointment online, browse our flooring options from the comfort of your own home, get fast installation, then enjoy your beautiful new hardwood. Save the hassle of a trip to the store and let us come to you. Schedule an appointment today!

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