CHOOSING YOUR HARDWOOD FLOORS
When it comes to choosing the flooring inside your home, many homeowners choose hardwood. It's timeless, durable, and often adds to property value. Once you have decided to go with hardwood floors, there are still many things to consider before making your final selection. As our Passive House construction is currently underway, we have recently selected our floors. From our experience, there are six main things about hardwood that we had to consider. These are 1) type, 2) color, 3) grade, 4) plank width, 5) texture, and 6) edges. Let's check these out in more detail!
1) Type: Solid vs Engineered
When you think of hardwood floors, solid wood is what you would normally expect. But these days, engineered hardwood is quite common. On the surface, both look identical and it's hard to tell them apart when installed.
Solid wood flooring, as the name suggests, is made of solid wood throughout its thickness. It is made entirely from oak or other tree types. It can be sanded and refinished many times to keep it looking new.
Engineered wood flooring is made of several layers of wood. The top layer you see is the actual hardwood. The layers below are composed of plywood that are glued together. It can usually be sanded and refinished once or twice (or in some cases not at all) because the hardwood layer is relatively thin.
Intuitively, solid hardwood is the clear winner. It is 100% natural and does not contain chemicals from adhesives used in engineered hardwood. Unfortunately, as much as we like solid hardwood, it is not compatible with radiant floor heating. Solid wood is naturally vulnerable to temperature spikes and drops. This decreases the efficiency of the radiant floor heating system and can cause damage to the flooring. Engineered hardwood can be created with high-quality plywood that is stable and won’t react to the heating and cooling process. This makes engineered hardwood the better choice for us.
2) Color: Dark vs Light
Choosing between the classic dark hardwood or the popular light finish is a matter of personal preference and how you want to impact your home décor.
Dark hardwood is classic and elegant. Its darker color absorbs sunlight, resulting in less sun damage and fading while retaining its dark sheen longer.
It tends to hide debris better and easier to touch up with a brown marker. If you have pets and kids, this might be a more practical color for you.
Light hardwood is trendy and modern. It reflects more light and makes your room feel larger. Its airier feel accented by natural light makes it a great choice for houses with limited square footage.
If you have signature furniture pieces and abstract wall art, a light floor can definitely make those items pop, enhancing your décor.
For us, choosing light color hardwood was an easy decision. The naked wood color mimics that found in nature and creates a connection with nature through biophilic design.
3) Grade: Select vs Character
When you browse floor samples, most are usually available in character or select grade. The grade of a floor refers to the way wood planks are classified based on color variation and the presence of knots, splits, and other character marks.
Select grade is generally considered the highest grade as it has the least color variation and marks. It has a consistent look across all planks, albeit minor variations from the tree's natural wood grains.
It is the more expensive grade as only wood with the fewest imperfections is used.
Character grade is marked by more color variation and some occasional knots. As the name suggests, this grade gives the hardwood floor more "character" allowing some of the wood's imperfections to show through.
The variation in character grade creates a more authentic and natural look and feel.
We initially flip-flopped back and forth between select and character grade. We like the clean look of the select. But considering that floors are prone to scuff marks from dragging of furniture and toys, the character is more practical for our everyday use to mask normal wear and tear.
4) Plank Width: Narrow vs Wide
Hardwood floors come in different widths. Although wide planks are currently "in" right now, it might not necessarily be the right choice. When considering plank width, you have to consider the size of the room. Wide planks work best in open concept areas. When wide planks are installed in a tiny room, the proportions can seem off. So it's best to choose a width that works best for you.
Narrow planks width ranges anywhere between 2 to 5 inches. In a small room, narrow planks can create an elongated look which makes the room look longer.
Narrow planks have more seams and make the floor look busier. Costs are typically lower because they can be cut from any part of a tree.
Wide planks are boards with a width anywhere between 5 to 14 inches.
Wide planks have fewer seams and fewer interruptions of the natural lines of the wood. This allows more of the wood's charming character to show through. Costs are higher because only the thickest part of a tree can be used.
Our Passive House is an open concept, so choosing wide planks was an obvious decision for us. We want a continuous look and feel throughout.
5) Texture: Wire Brushed vs Smooth
You normally don't think about the texture of hardwood because you rarely run your hands across the floor to feel it. But texture in hardwood floors is a subtle detail that can bring depth and warmth to make the space look naturally lived-in.
Wire brushing is a technique used by scrubbing the wood with a steel bristle brush to pull the soft grain out of the wood, leaving behind the harder hardwood exposed.
The degree of texture can vary from light to moderate to extreme. It can be effective in masking scuff marks from everyday foot traffic.
A smooth finish has no texture and is smooth to the touch. It is easy to clean and doesn't allow dust and debris to be trapped in the grains.
It has a pristine and clean look, which, unfortunately, makes any dents and scratches more visible.
We decided on a lightly brushed hardwood that was not completely smooth. It is a more practical choice because as much as we want to avoid dents and scratches, sometimes it's simply inevitable.
6) Edges: Square vs Bevel
Edges refer to the sides and ends of each wood plank. When hardwood is installed, the plank edges meet to give a connected appearance. The edge style can accentuate the interior design.
A square edge refers to the sides and ends being flushed from one plank to the next. The edge is barely visible and creates a sleek and seamless transition between planks.
However, as hardwood is prone to shrink and expand with temperature, any plank that is no longer flush with its neighbor will stand out negatively.
A beveled edge is where the sides and end are cut at an angle giving the appearance of lines.
As floors can shift over time, this can hide unevenness between planks more effectively.
Many things to consider when choosing your flooring...
Choosing our particular hardwood floors was not as straightforward as we had initially thought. We had to consider many things and the type, color, grade, plank width, texture, and edges were just some of them. Of course, the cost is also a major factor. But in the end, we chose an engineered hardwood that was compatible with our radiant floor heating, gives an airy appearance, and is durable over time. What you choose will depend on your preferences.
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