Eek! We did it. We ordered the hardwood flooring for our first level. It’s been three years in the making and while I’m excited, I also have a pit in my stomach. Dropping a large amount of cash at one time is, well, scary.
The journey to finding the right hardwood floors was a long one filled with disappointment and surprises. I was naive when I started looking, so I had a lot to learn about flooring. While I am not expert, I’m a more informed customer now.
What type of Wood Flooring did we Pick?
There are so many options today for wood (or wood-looking) flooring: vinyl, engineered hardwood, luxury vinyl, laminate, tile, bamboo flooring and solid hardwood. The options seem to be endless and I’m not mad about it! Yes, it can feel overwhelming with so many choices, but the upside is that there is something available in every price range and for every lifestyle. I’m excited about all the options and hope that one day I get to try them all!
To be fair, I knew I wanted solid hardwood floors for their durability, capacity to be refinished and the look/feel of the flooring. But that didn’t stop me from exploring all the other options. I put together the chart below showing the different “wood” flooring options comparing price, recommended use and material.
The table contains general information, but there can be a wide variation between products within the same category. As we’ll see below, all solid hardwoods are not the same and this is true for the other categories listed above, too. Likewise, the pricing can vary greatly in all the categories. I tried to assign the price symbols based on the average cost, but you can find examples of engineering hardwoods costing more than some solid options.
We ordered a prefinished solid white oak hardwood. Specifically, we ordered this Bellawood flooring from Lumber Liquidators. The decision came quick, but it occurred after learning everything I could for three years about hardwood.
I always knew there were different species of wood but I didn’t really think much about the difference. I selected white oak because it has a good Janka Hardness score (a measurement of it’s hardness) which means that it will be a hardy floor. There are 60 different types of oak trees, but they are broken down into two main types: red and white oak. White oak, in my opinion, tends to always stain beautifully (just check out this post by Chris Loves Julia where they tested multiple stains on a variety of wood species), and since it has a pinkish-gray undertones, it feels very neutral. If we ever need to redo the floors, I am confident that white oak will stain beautifully and give us lots of different options (light, dark or medium brown).
Other types of wood species, like red oak, can be more challenging. While red oak can be stained a wide variety of colors and tends to stain evenly, the red undertones can be difficult to minimize if you are not a fan of that color. Pine, a cheap and widely available wood, is difficult to stain. The staining can be blotchy (use wood conditioner!!) and doesn’t always absorb medium brown stains well. However, they can look beautiful if stained with a very light color or in the hands of a talented tradesman (or expert DIYer). When picking the wood floor species, it’s best to think about how you want the floors to look and how versatile they will be in the future if that’s important to you. It will ensure that you get the flooring you want!
When I first started shopping, I didn’t know wood flooring had grades. I thought they were all basically the same with different color stains. This was based on my limited exposure to wood floors, which is what I saw at Home Depot and Lowe’s. Of course, I was totally wrong and I had to take a deep dive into what the heck each grade of wood meant. A grade refers to the “quality” of the wood. This does not necessarily mean buying the best grade would be right for every project. The grade is determined by a couple of things: consistency of coloring (better ratings = more consistency), number of knots (better rating = fewer knots), and plank length (better rating = longer planks). As you can imagine, if you wanted to embrace knots and natural color variations then selecting a wood floor with a lower grade would probably be a better option.
We purchased “select” grade, which is near the top of the grade level. For our house, I wanted a consistent color and to minimize knots and other imperfections. My goals was for the floor to blend in and provide a nice foundation but not be the star of the house. For another house, a natural grade or cabin grade could provide more character and interest to the floors. I found these articles really helpful when learning about flooring grades: Article 1, Article 2, and Article 3.
I generally break wood flooring down into two categories: unfinished (raw wood that will need at minimum a clear coat) or finished (already has a stain or clear coat applied).
Unfinished wood is cheaper and allows you to customize the look of your wood. You can pick the color of the stain (even customize it!) and determine how glossy or matte the floor finish will be. It’s a great choice if you are adding hardwoods to a house with existing wood floors and you hope to match them. Of course, unfinished wood flooring is more work and time (but it could totally be worth it). After the flooring is installed, you’ll need to prep the wood for staining, stain and apply any protective coatings. This could extend your projects by several days and make it difficult to live in your house if you’re staining floors in the main living areas.
My generic “finished” category has a lot of variation in color and style. The one thing they have in common is after you lay them down you are DONE (no staining or applying poly coat). They are ready for you to start living your best life. We selected a pre-finished wood for two reasons. First, we plan to live in our house while putting down the new hardwood floors and extending the time that we couldn’t use parts of the house did not seem like a good idea. In addition, we plan on installing the wood floors one room at a time. That would make staining everything at once time (which is really how it should be done) basically impossible. Lastly, we are new at this and the floor is a big investment for us. I don’t want to mess it up by staining it poorly or with the wrong color.
There are a wide variety of finishes–some floors are stained and others are unstained (just a clear coat). Some have a matte finish and others are very glossy. Trying to find the perfect pre-finished floor became a challenge and definitely made me rethink my original plan.
When I first started looking at hardwood floors, I looked at big box stores and all their solid hardwood had an orange tint. That was not the look I wanted, so I was adamant I was going to find another option. I ordered a ton of samples from Build Direct that had a matte finish and brown wood tones. However, after I got them I realized that most of these options were, well, not very durable. The shiny, orange looking hardwood floors were more hardy. I assume the orange tint was due to the oil polyurethane coating that protects the wood (this article mentions the ambering of oil polyurethane treated floors). To say I was torn, would be an understated. I was adamant that I was not getting orange floors, but I knew that my lifestyle required floors that could withstand real use. My husband, Mr. Function, was not going to accept spending thousands of dollars on floors that would be scratched up and destroyed after one year. So, I caved and recognized that it was more important that the wood floors be durable.
I searched for shiny, poly-coated floors that had the least amount of orange possible. The ones we ordered are pretty good and I am happy with them. Realizing that I had to compromise on this was a disappointment at first but I pretty quickly accepted that it was a compromise worth doing for my family and my sanity. Ordering samples were the best thing I could have done. It gave me an opportunity to test them which caused me to shift gears and, ultimately, make a better decision.
I cannot wait to pick up the floors and start installing them. This will be our first time, so I’m sure there will be a learning curve.