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How to Choose the Best Hardwood Flooring


So you’ve decided on hardwood flooring. Unfortunately, that’s less than half the battle. Should you opt for solid wood or engineered wood flooring? Pre-finished or unfinished? What about the type of wood - should you go with maple, cherry, oak or pine?

There are literally hundreds of hardwood flooring options from which to choose, and making a decision can be overwhelming. This guide will help you sort through all the confusion to make the best choice.

1. Set Your Budget

Hardwood flooring varies dramatically in price - anywhere from $3 per square foot for unfinished pine from a big box store to $20 per square foot for high-end Brazilian cherry. Before you start shopping - and potentially fall in love with hardwood flooring you can’t afford - set a budget for the project. This will narrow down your options and prevent you from breaking the bank.

2. Research Your Options

Once you know how much you can afford, start looking at all the options in your price range. Clueless about the differences among species of wood? Use this TLC guide to learn more about the color, grain patterns and characteristics of the most popular varieties. Make note of the colors and grain patterns you like best.

3. Think About Your Lifestyle

The look of hardwood is important, but it shouldn’t be the only consideration. Your lifestyle should also be a major factor in the decision. Do you have limited time for care and maintenance? Do you have kids or pets? Does your home get a lot of foot traffic?

If you need low-maintenance flooring, you might want to consider engineered wood floors, which are built in a factory using a top layer of high-quality wood like oak or maple and bottom layers of cheaper or recycled woods. Engineered wood floors are more uniform and durable, and they require less maintenance. And if a section of the flooring gets damaged, simply swap out the boards in that area.

If you expect your floors to take a beating, you’ll want to purchase a harder variety of wood that is less susceptible to dents, dings and scratches. Use the Janka hardness scale to identify species of wood that hold up best to wear and tear. The higher the number, the more durable the wood.

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4. Decide on Installation

Are you planning to tackle the installation yourself or hire a professional? Do-it-yourselfers tend to have better luck with engineered wood flooring, which snaps into place easily without nails or glue using tongue-and-groove construction. If you prefer solid wood, consider pre-finished boards. The final product is likely to be more consistent and uniform in color.

If you’re hiring a professional to install solid wood floors, keep in mind that the quality of the finish is only as good as the installer you hire. If you hire an inexperienced installer, you’re likely to see defects.

5. Shop Around

To get the best quality flooring for the lowest possible price, it’s imperative that you shop around. Scour the Internet and local hardware or building stores for the best prices. Order samples of hardwoods to see how they look in your home. Seek quotes from multiple installers, but don’t necessarily choose the guy with the lowest price. Check references and the company’s record with consumer organizations like the Better Business Bureau to make sure you’re hiring a reputable installer.

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