What’s under your feet (or how you get around) is as important as anything when it comes to the house. That’s why this fall, we collaborated with The Home Depot on an A-to-Z guide that will give you the confidence to make the flooring choices you’ll love. Read the manual from A to Z here.
Flooring trends can come and go, but hardwood is the classic next-gen material desired by largest segment of U.S. home buyers. What many first-time installers don’t realize, however, is that there is a flowchart of choices to be made when selecting an ideal hardwood. Your decisions can shape not only the installation process, but also how to maintain your floor for years to come.
Don’t worry, however: Home depot has products, resources, and setup help to help you through the process – and here’s a step-by-step guide to what to look for when making decisions.
Hardwood vs Engineered Hardwood
The initial decision is important: choose either solid hardwood (a dense plank of wood) or engineered hardwood, which has a thin layer of hardwood veneer visible over several layers of plywood (not visible).
Engineered wood can often be simply glued directly to the substrate or installed using easy “click and lock” technology, while solid hardwood requires a plywood underlay, nails and a lot. of elbow grease. Despite the easy installation process, engineered hardwood often cannot be sanded and refinished in case repairs are needed later – a risk many are unwilling to take.
“The warmth of solid hardwood floors is a good reason to go,” says interior designer Laura Umansky, although it’s generally more expensive. “They are also a good option because they can be sanded down and serviced again quite easily.” Plus, because of its long lifespan, hardwood floors can often have a positive impact on a home’s value if a homeowner is looking to sell.
Choose a solid finish
If you’ve decided to go for solid hardwood, your next choices will be more aesthetic: type of hardwood, prefinished or unfinished planks, and style of finish. (As you may have guessed, due to the nature of its construction, engineered hardwood is almost always prefinished.)
The fun choices that will dictate the look – like choosing the type of wood, grain, and plank width for your room – are mostly a matter of personal taste. Oak, hickory, walnut, and ash, and all their variations, are common choices for interior hardwoods due to their appeal and durability (read more about hardwood hardness and scale from Janka, check out letter j!), while the board width can range from the more traditional 2-3 ” to ultra-wide 7 ” planks, which can show the intricacies of the wood grain.
With prefinished planks, you will be able to choose the exact shade, grain and finish of your hardwood floors right from the start. This allows for a more concrete view of what the flooring will look like when fully finished (without unwanted surprises). Unfinished planks – which are installed first and stained later – give a more personalized look, but are a gamble if the stain doesn’t turn out quite as you imagined.
“I think hardwood is timeless,” says general contractor Jessica Pleasants. “And whatever finish you use – whether it’s a penetrating oil, a polyurethane top sealer, or a prefinished material – will greatly affect the overall final look of your floors.
There is a whole range of finishing products for hardwood floors, and to choose the one that’s right for you, it’s important to (again!) Think about the space you’re approaching and its everyday uses.
- Polyurethane finishes, whether water-based or oil-based, are long lasting and long lasting, making them strong candidates for high traffic areas.
- Penetrating oils, on the other hand, has a more matte appearance, which works to accentuate the grain of the wood but is much less resilient. They are often combined with wood stains and sometimes come as a combination of oil and stain.
This may be enough to make your head swim – semi-gloss or satin; the level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) you are comfortable with; evaluate scratch and scuff resistance (phew!) – but know this: like Goldilocks, there’s a finish there that’s just right for your room.
Installation is no joke
Think of your hardwood floor as a living, breathable part of your home and you will be on your way to success.
Solid hardwood planks should be able to sit in the room they will be installed for more than a week before nailing them. This will allow the hardwood to expand (or contract) in response to the exact temperature levels and humidity point in the room. Otherwise, you risk ending up with gaps between the planks or buckling if they are not properly acclimatized. (Engineered wood, on the other hand, only takes about 24 hours to adjust to its new environment.)
The next step (and no, you’re not nailing yet!), Is to lay out or ‘tidy up’ the boards in the order you want them to be on the floor, parallel to the wall most. along the room. Think of this part as a giant jigsaw puzzle, shuffling and matching planks from different batches side by side to make sure there are no seamless patches throughout the space.
You will also want to leave at least half an inch of space around the perimeter of the room, called “expansion space,” to account for the expansion of the board. These spaces will eventually be covered with plinths or moldings. (More on this under the letter M for the cast!)
Yes, you need to make nail choices
Hardwood floors are held in place with nails – also called “cleats” – or staples, and most often rest on a pneumatic floor nailer to help lock the boards in place. The nails should be just long enough to sink into the sub-floor, but no more, making exact measurements (and following the manufacturer’s instructions) key to installing a solid, sturdy floor.
The nails visible in new hardwood floors are less prominent than they were before. The rise of the tongue-in-groove construction hides the nails through a method called “blind nailing”, where the groove of each subsequent plank hides them in the tongue of the plank in front of it, and so on. “Face nailing” – driving a nail into a pilot hole – is used closer to walls, where a nailer often won’t fit.
For those interested in more exposed nails and have a vintage feel, Oh la la postman? There are a growing number of decorative flooring nail options out there, like square heads, antique versions, brass, and everything in between. Just make sure you don’t sacrifice form for function for these sharp little beauties.
The finishing touches matter
The grand finale of the hardwood installation will often include cutting (probably using a jigsaw) the last row of boards to fit, then nailing them. If your flooring goes around some kind of obstacle, like a fireplace or kitchen island, the wood will also need to be custom cut in the same way. And, if you are DIY, always protect your physical health during the process by removing sawdust and wearing knee pads during an installation.
Although the material is more expensive, solid hardwood is a no-brainer for those looking to invest in their home for decades to come.
“For my money, a prefinished hardwood floor not only offers the best value for money, but it’s probably the most accessible to install from a tool perspective,” says general contractor Mark Clement., which points out that even the slightest error in installation procedures with “click-lock” engineered hardwood can void the manufacturer’s warranty.
“With prefinished – or even unfinished – solid hardwood, there is a certain physicality that the [engineered] the flooring does not have. And once you’ve got everything set up during setup, you’re off to the races. “