The Ultimate Guide to Hardwood Flooring: Types, Advantages, Finishes, and Maintenance Tips

By thewriteDuffy •  Updated: 06/07/24 •  8 min read

Hardwood floors have long been a favorite choice for homeowners in the USA and Canada, offering a perfect blend of natural beauty, durability, and a touch of luxury.

In this guide, I’ll dive deep into the world of hardwood flooring, exploring its advantages and types, discussing different finishes, and touching on maintenance and care tips. I’ll also provide tables, charts, and other illustrative elements to make your journey into hardwood flooring as smooth as possible.

Advantages of Hardwood Flooring

  1. Timeless appeal: Hardwood floors have an ageless charm, adding warmth and elegance to any room in your home. Their classic beauty transcends ever-changing design trends, ensuring your home always looks stylish and inviting.
  2. Durability: When properly maintained, hardwood floors can last for generations. Thanks to their solid construction, they can withstand daily wear and tear, making them a great long-term investment.
  3. Easy to clean: Unlike carpets, hardwood floors are a breeze to clean. Regular sweeping or vacuuming, coupled with occasional mopping, is all it takes to keep your floors looking their best.
  4. Adds value to your home: I’m always a fan of anything that can increase the value of your home and hardwood floors are a sought-after feature among homebuyers. This means installing them can significantly boost your home’s resale value.
  5. Allergy-friendly: Hardwood floors are an excellent choice for allergy sufferers, as they don’t trap allergens like dust, pollen, and pet dander. This makes for a cleaner and healthier living environment.

Comparing Hardwood Flooring to Other Flooring Options

Flooring TypeProsConsIdeal for
HardwoodTimeless beauty, durability, allergy-friendlyCan be expensive, susceptible to water damageAny room, except bathrooms and laundry rooms
LaminateAffordable, easy to install, low maintenanceLess authentic look, not as durable as hardwoodHigh-traffic areas, budget-friendly projects
TileWater-resistant, low maintenance, versatileCan be cold, hard, and noisy underfootKitchens, bathrooms, entryways
CarpetSoft, warm, comfortableTraps allergens, requires more maintenanceBedrooms, living rooms, playrooms
VinylAffordable, water-resistant, easy to installNot as eco-friendly, may not add value to homeKitchens, bathrooms, basements

Each flooring type has its pros and cons, so consider your specific needs, preferences, and budget when making your decision.

There’s a wide variety of hardwood floor options available in the USA and Canada, each with its unique characteristics. Here’s a table comparing the most popular choices:

MaterialProsConsBest for
OakDurable, affordable, timelessSusceptible to water damageTraditional or rustic homes
MapleHard, smooth, light-coloredMay yellow over timeContemporary or minimalist interiors
CherryRich and unique color, easy to maintainExpensive, prone to scratchesUpscale homes or formal spaces
WalnutUnique grain, dark tonesExpensive, not as hard as other optionsLuxurious or eclectic interiors
HickorySuper durable, rustic lookCan be difficult to installFarmhouse or cabin-style homes

Remember that the best choice for you will depend on your personal taste, budget, and the overall style of your home.

Durability and Lifespan of Hardwood Floors in Relation to Wood Choice

When selecting hardwood flooring, it’s essential to consider the hardness or softness of the wood species, as it can impact the floor’s durability and resistance to wear and tear.

A graphic showing the most popular variety of hardwood floor options from hardest to softest.
Here’s a graphic showing the most popular variety of hardwood floor options from hardest to softest.

The Janka hardness scale measures the resistance of wood to denting and wear, with higher values indicating harder wood species. For example, oak and hickory are popular choices for their durability, with Janka hardness ratings of 1,290 and 1,820 respectively.

Maple, another common option, has a rating of 1,450.

Softer woods, such as cherry (950) and walnut (1,010), can be more susceptible to dents and scratches but offer unique aesthetics that may be desirable for specific design preferences.

By considering the hardness or softness of the wood species, you can strike the right balance between durability, maintenance requirements, and visual appeal for your hardwood flooring project.

Durability and Lifespan of Hardwood Floors in Different Climates

Hardwood floors can withstand various climates, but some factors can impact their longevity:

  1. Temperature fluctuations: Extreme temperature changes can cause hardwood floors to expand and contract, leading to gaps or warping. Choose engineered hardwood flooring, which is more dimensionally stable, for regions with significant temperature swings.
  2. Humidity: High humidity can cause hardwood floors to swell, while low humidity can lead to shrinking and gapping. Maintaining consistent indoor humidity levels (between 30% and 50%) can help prevent these issues.
  3. Sun exposure: Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can cause hardwood floors to fade or discolor. Use window treatments or UV-resistant window films to protect your floors.

With regular and proper maintenance, hardwood floors can last 25 years or even a lot more, making them a worthwhile investment for your home.

Maintenance and Care Tips for Hardwood Floors

Here are simple maintenance and care tips to keep your hardwood floors looking their best:

  1. Sweep or vacuum often: This helps remove dust, dirt, and debris that can scratch or dull your floors.
  2. Deep clean regularly: Use a damp mop with a hardwood floor cleaner for occasional deep cleaning. Avoid using excessive water, as it can cause warping or damage. Stick to cleaners specifically designed for hardwood floors.
  3. Place spot rugs in high-traffic areas: Rugs can help protect your floors from wear and tear, extending their lifespan.
  4. Use furniture pads: These can prevent scratches from chairs, tables, and other heavy items.
  5. Address spills immediately: Quickly clean up any spills or wet spots to prevent water damage or staining.
  6. Refinish when necessary: Over time, your hardwood floors may become dull or scratched. Refinishing can restore their original luster and extend their lifespan.

For more detailed information on hardwood floor maintenance and care, check out our comprehensive guide.

Hardwood Flooring Brands and Retailers

There are numerous hardwood flooring brands and retailers available in the USA and Canada. Some of the most popular and reputable options include:

  1. Bruce Hardwood Flooring: Known for its high-quality oak and hickory floors, Bruce offers both solid and engineered hardwood options. I personally love their varied-length flooring as it looks super professional and almost custom.
  2. Mohawk Flooring: With a vast selection of domestic and exotic hardwoods, Mohawk caters to a wide range of tastes and budgets.
  3. Mirage Floors: A Canadian company renowned for its superior craftsmanship and commitment to sustainability, Mirage offers an impressive variety of hardwood species, colors, and finishes.
  4. Armstrong Flooring: A trusted brand for over a century, Armstrong offers an extensive range of hardwood flooring options, from classic oak to exotic tigerwood.
  5. Shaw Floors: Shaw’s hardwood flooring collection includes both solid and engineered options, with a focus on durability and easy maintenance.

Installation Process and Costs

The cost of installing hardwood floors can vary depending on factors such as the type of wood, the complexity of the installation, and your location. On average, you can expect to pay between $6 and $12 per square foot in the USA and Canada, including materials and labor. Keep in mind that choosing a professional installer can save you time and ensure a high-quality result. It’s essential to gather multiple quotes from local installers to get the best deal and make sure to factor in additional expenses like subfloor preparation, underlayment, and trim work.

Here’s a rough breakdown of installation costs for popular hardwood flooring types (in US dollars):

MaterialCost per square foot (materials and labor)
Oak$6 – $10
Maple$7 – $11
Cherry$9 – $13
Walnut$9 – $15
Hickory$8 – $12

Remember that these figures are estimates and can vary, a lot, based on your specific location, design choices, and flooring situation.

Hardwood Flooring Finishes

There are several types of finishes to consider for your hardwood floors, each with its unique set of pros and cons:

  1. Oil-based polyurethane: This finish provides a warm, amber glow and is highly durable. However, it takes longer to dry and can emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds) during the drying process.
  2. Water-based polyurethane: This finish dries quickly and has a clear finish, making it an excellent choice for preserving the natural color of your wood. It’s also more environmentally friendly than oil-based options but can be less durable.
  3. Hard-wax oil: This finish offers a natural, matte appearance and is easy to repair. On the downside, it may require more frequent maintenance than other options.
  4. Aluminum oxide: This highly durable finish is typically applied during the manufacturing process. It offers excellent scratch resistance but can be difficult to refinish when it eventually wears down, which it always will.

Environmental Impact of Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring has both positive and negative environmental impacts. On the one hand, sustainably harvested hardwood can be a renewable resource, as trees can be replanted, and well-managed forests can help combat climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide. Additionally, hardwood floors can last for decades, reducing the need for frequent replacements.

On the other hand, irresponsible logging practices can lead to deforestation and habitat loss.

To minimize your environmental impact, look for hardwood flooring certified by organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which ensure the wood comes from responsibly managed forests.

Conclusion: There’s Likely Hardwood Flooring Choice for You

Whether you’re building a new home or renovating an existing one, hardwood floors are a classic choice that never goes out of style.

Hardwood flooring is an attractive, durable, and timeless option for your home. With various materials, finishes, and maintenance tips to consider, you can create a personalized look that adds value and charm to your living space.

thewriteDuffy

At home, April is a mom, wife, and DIY darling. Among other home projects, she helped her husband Dan renovate their 1986 bungalow and is currently designing and decorating the 2023 custom home they are building themselves. Professionally, April is a writer, author, and online marketer with 15 years of experience writing for newspapers and magazines, building online authority websites, and publishing books.