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How do hardwood flooring costs and durability depend on the selected material?

When buying new flooring for your home, the first thing you prioritize is the material's visual appeal and its matching with the overall interior style. If you're a stalwart backer of traditional interior design ideas, you will likely want to see luxury hardwood flooring underfoot. With the abundance of species, hues, and textures of solid wood flooring, finding a style that will add classic appeal to your home won't take you much trouble. Nevertheless, flooring is not as much about attractiveness but about resistance to moisture and wear and tear. That is why you should also consider the amount of foot traffic, sunlight, dirt, and humidity the selected flooring option should endure in a specified area of the house. For instance, one of the cons of hardwood flooring is that it's subject to ample moisture and can quickly become a host for bacteria and molds. That is why you better substitute wood with porcelain or ceramic tile when it comes to floors fitting in wet areas like bathrooms or halls. The best part is that many modern synthetic flooring materials with good water-resistant properties, like porcelain, are designed to mimic the look and texture of natural wood. We compiled this hardwood flooring buying guide to help you make the best choice underfoot. This article covers everything from the basics, like solid wood types, their longevity, maintenance, and cost ranges per square foot, to things you need to consider before your flooring installation. We hope our in-depth guide will help you make the right buying decision and pick the hardwood floor that will raise the value of your home.

How do hardwood flooring costs and durability depend on the selected material?

Hardwood flooring - The basics you need to know to make a well-thought-out decision about this flooring material

What is the difference between solid, engineered, and softwood?

Wood is one of the most widely used floor surface coverages that never goes out of fashion because of its natural charm. This material takes its origin in the early 1600s in France. Since then, it has undergone many changes, becoming more sturdy and versatile.

To help you better understand the topic, we offer to compare three major wood flooring variations, including solid, engineered, and softwood.

Solid wood floors are harvested from trees with a slow-growing time, like oak, maple, or walnut. Only one wood species is used for their manufacturing without inclusions. Hardwood planks are naturally more robust and wear-resistant than their softwood and engineered wood counterparts. Depending on the natural wood hardness rate determined by the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association (NOMFA), hardwood floorings can last from 30 to 100 years and require less maintenance. 

Softwood flooring is made from easily accessible wood species that tend to mature quite quickly. These species include fir, cedar, and pine. Softwood flooring is more affordable than its hardwood counterpart yet less durable and requires more upkeep to preserve its initial look. Floors of this type are prone to scratches and poorly withstand high foot traffic. Softwood floors are also harder to refinish, as sanding machines can create dents and ruin the integrity of the coverage.

Engineered hardwood comprises a relatively thin layer of solid wood bonded over high-density fiberboard plywood. The class-A engineered hardwood floors come with excellent flexibility and rigid plywood core that allow them to serve up to 25 years. However, the problem is most flooring options of this type can be sanded and refinished up to two times in their lifetime since the hardwood surface is thin, and you risk damaging it. Nevertheless, engineered hardwood is easy to install and can serve well as an attractive and affordable wooden flooring solution if you're on a budget.

What are the best and worst areas in the home for solid wood flooring installation? 

Thanks to its rich appearance and traditional style, hardwood flooring can enhance your home's comfort and bring you a decent return on investment down the road. The trick is not every room can benefit from this flooring type due to its susceptibility to heat and moisture. That is why it's essential to figure out the best and worst rooms in your house for hardwood floor installation.

Take a look below to find our recommendations for the rooms where solid wood flooring can become a great addition:

  • Master bedroom. There is no doubt that hardwood flooring is one of the best options for bedrooms. No matter the selected wood species, you can rest assured this material will help you to create a welcoming and relaxing vibe, eliminating the spreading of allergens and airborne particles through the space. Solid wood feels soft and warm underfoot. Besides, it does not collect dust and requires simple wet cleaning once a week.  
  • Living room. With the right choice of type, texture, and finish of solid wood flooring, this material can become a central element of your living room's interior design. Natural wood gives a good springboard for selecting stylish and extraordinary furniture pieces, accent rugs, and decoration elements. The proper contrast and combination of natural materials give the living room a warm and welcoming feel, promoting multiple cozy evenings with friends and family. It's recommended to select one of the sturdiest wood species for a living room to ensure your flooring can withstand heavy foot traffic.
  • Home office. Hardwood floors are not slippery and provide comfortable sitting or standing behind the table. Besides, they are smooth and unpretentious, so you can concentrate and enjoy an inspiring mood. As we said before, wooden floors don't collect dust and can be easily maintained by sweeping or mopping, which is ideal for a home office. 

Here are the rooms where hardwood floor installation might be a mistake:

  • Laundry room. This highly humid area of your house is the worst place to install hardwood floors. Things like spilled washing detergents, leaks, and pools of water can wreak havoc on your flooring, causing premature deterioration and promoting mold growth. Tile, ceramic, natural stone, and vinyl sheets are better flooring options to install in the laundry.
  • Bathroom. If you don't want to repair or replace your floors every 3-5 years, avoid using hardwood in a bathroom, even if you live alone, and take a quick shower once or twice a day. Steam, water splits, and hygiene products can cause serious harm to wood floors, resulting in a quick worsening of their look and severe water damage. Not to say about emergencies that can happen in your bathroom, like an overflowing toilet or a sink. Materials like porcelain and ceramic tiles, concrete, and natural stone will become much better solutions for your bathroom than wood.

What are the hardwood flooring upkeep requirements?

Solid wood floors are not the simplest to upkeep. That is why you should consider the time and finances you're ready to invest in your flooring maintenance before making an installation decision. 

Find the recommendations vital to keep the hardwood floors in good shape:

  • Install protective pads on furniture legs. Even recently installed hardwood flooring can lose its attractiveness due to visible scratches on its surface. These problems commonly result from moving heavy objects like furniture and appliances. Ask your movers to be careful and add protective pads to the legs of your furniture pieces like tables, TV stands, beds, and wardrobes. 
  • Mop and sweep your floors daily. It's recommended to sweep and mop the hardwood floors once daily to prolong their service life and ensure an attractive look. This rule is valid even if you have a no-shoes rule in your home. Don't skip regular cleaning, especially if you have kids and four-legged friends in your family. We also recommend you get a special cleaning detergent suitable for the type of wood flooring you have or going to install. 
  • Clean spills immediately. If you want to avoid discoloration, bloating, splitting, and gapping of the wood, consider removing all splits without delay. Make sure to use a dry or slightly damp cloth for this purpose, as wet mops can result in moisture buildup between boards and their premature deterioration. 
  • Vacuum your hardwood floors weekly. Weekly vacuuming is an excellent way to keep your house clean and ensure your hardwood floors can preserve their attractive look for years. Use a special brush for the parquet to avoid scratches on the floor's surface. A robotic vacuum cleaner can also become a good helper for upkeeping your hardwood floors.

What are the types of hardwood floors?

With numerous tree species used for hardwood flooring, one might find it tough to get the best option in terms of color, texture, and durability. Some tree species are more sturdy than others, which determines their cost and longevity. Use the Janka scale to figure out the level of durability of the selected flooring. Besides, see our detailed overview of hardwood flooring types below to pick the right option for your home.

Note! We also recommend you find a hardwood flooring contractor in your region and consult them about the top solid wood flooring choices for your home and lifestyle.

Cypress

Janka wood hardness scale: 1375

Cost per square foot: $4 - $6

This wood specie falls into the range of light-colored softwood flooring options with hues ranging from cream and honey to deep amber. The distinctive feature of this wooden floor is the dark knots scattered on its surface, creating a rustic look. When exposed to light, this sort of wood does not darken as much as its softwood counterparts, extending its service life and reducing the need for repeated finishing. On top of that, cypress is durable and can be matched in sturdiness and longevity with red oak.

Advantages

- Resistant to insect damage. Thanks to the chemical generated by this wood species, cypress has reliable protection against termites and other insects. Besides, Cypressene helps to protect flooring from rot and decay. 

- An excellent price-quality ratio. With an average cost of $4 to $6 per square foot, cypress flooring offers good performance and decent service life (about 30 years with proper upkeep). 

- High workability. Cypress is one of few flooring materials that have properties of both hardwoods and softwoods. It's durable but still has less density than solid wood species, which makes it easy to cut and machine.

- Attractive appearance. Thanks to the uniform grain pattern and multiple shades, the cypress floor has a smooth look that boosts the home's style and value.

Downsides

- Wood resin formation. Due to the high resin concentration of cypress wood, it might be extruded through the grain and distributed across the surface. The flooring should be sanded with sandpaper to avoid this issue.

- Poor water resistance. As cypress is a softwood flooring, it is vulnerable to standing water. That is why floors made of Australian cypress are not recommended to install in bathrooms, laundries, hallways, and kitchens.

- Prone to scratching. As well as most other wooden floors, cypress can lose its initial appearance due to multiple scratches and dents on its surface. That is why precautionary measures should be taken to prevent the adverse effect of external factors. Promote the no-shoes policy in your home, place protective pads on furniture legs, sweep and clean the floors with a cotton mop 2-3 times a week, use mats around doorways and in high-traffic areas, and refinish the floors as stated in the manufacturer’s instruction.

Maple

Janka wood hardness scale: 1450

Cost per square foot: $4 - $10

Maple flooring is manufactured from timbers cut from Maple trees that come from forests in Canada and the northern part of the US. This versatile hardwood flooring option is prevalent due to its distinctive look with fine grain patterns and resistance to wear and tear. Maple is light in origin but can reach a dark tan and even feature a reddish hint when stained. A hardwood floor of this type ensures a clean and natural look and can become a great addition to contemporary interiors. And thanks to its high hardness level according to the Janka scale, maple flooring can be installed anywhere in the house, ensuring longevity and good performance.

Advantages

- Distinctive look. Maple hardwood flooring comes in light tan colors with creamy white and light brown shades. Natural beauty and clear grain make maple the best fit for homes in classic and modern styles. 

- Sturdiness. Maple is known to be harder than oak and ash while being more affordable and simpler to install. With a Janka rating of 1450, this flooring material shows extreme density and can be installed in high-traffic areas.

- Eco-friendliness. Since maple is a fast-growing wood species, it's considered to be eco-sustainable. Besides, the use of reclaimed maple flooring is widespread across the country.

Downsides

- Limited color options. Maple comes in a few shades but is mainly installed in its original white hue, which might not be the best deal for people looking for vividness and versatility. 

- Prone to scratches. As maple flooring is light, any scratches on its surface are easily conspicuous. That is why it's recommended to place protective pads on furniture legs and use rugs in high-traffic areas.

- Poorly withstand humidity changes. Rapid changes in humidity and temperature can wreak havoc on maple floors, resulting in their shrinking and warping. That is why one should regulate the home's humidity level and balance it using a humidifier or dehumidifier.

- Need regular maintenance. As we said before, maple is a light-colored flooring material. That is why it shows up dust, dirt, and debris quite soon. That is why it should be vacuumed and cleaned with a soft and dry mop as frequently as possible.

Cherry

Janka wood hardness scale: 950

Cost per square foot: $4 - $7

American cherry comes in a range of soft types of wooden flooring and has a relatively low Janka wood hardness scale (950), making it bad to install in high-traffic areas. Nevertheless, its Brazilian counterpart appeared to be the exact opposite, with a high sturdiness level and a Janka rating of 2350. Unfortunately, flooring from Brazilian cherry wood is challenging to acquire, so we'll focus on American cherry wood. This type of wood flooring has a fine grain and a warm brown color that darkens richer with time.

Advantages

- Attractive appearance. American cherry hardwood flooring changes its color over time, developing from light creamy to deep reddish-brown hues. Besides, there's an option to make it darker by using shading options. This flooring option features attractive grain and matches multiple home interiors, from traditional to modern and rustic ones. 

- Sustainability. Cherry trees are grown in the eastern part of North America and have a relatively high growth speed, making this wood type a sustainable flooring option.

- Affordability. Compared to Brazilian cherry wood imported from abroad, American cherry wood belongs to the native species. That is why its cost does not involve shipping fees, making it available for homeowners of all budget capabilities.

Downsides

- Prone to scratching and denting. American cherry is susceptible to everyday wear and is best installed in lightly used areas. Besides, you should follow a no-shoes policy and install protective pads on furniture legs to prevent your flooring from premature wear and tear. 

- Low hardness scale. With a 950 Janka rating, cherry wood flooring is on the lowest end of the hardness scale, which makes it prone to denting and reduces its service life to 10-15 years with regular upkeep.

Pine

Janka wood hardness scale: 690 - 890

Cost per square foot: $3 - $6

Pine is a widespread, budget-friendly softwood flooring option with wide planks of light shades. This material is compatible with a variety of finishes that gives it a stylish, modern appearance. A pine floor is naturally soft (its Janka rating ranges from 690 to 890) and quickly accumulates scratches, dents, and dings over time. That is why it requires careful treatment and is recommended to be installed in rooms with the least traffic amount.

Advantages

- Attractive appearance. Floors made of pine wood are one of the best from an aesthetic point of view. They're available in different hues, from nearly white to deep brown and red, and feature distinctive grain with knots and pin holes. Besides, pine flooring comes ready to be finished in accordance with the homeowner's designer preferences. 

- Affordability. Pine comes to the range of softwoods that makes it much more affordable than oak, mahogany, maple, and other widespread hardwood options. However, while it's less expensive, it still gives you the advantages of wood flooring, like durability, rich appearance, and comfort underfoot. 

- Sustainability. Pine is a resilient and one of the quickest-grown wood species available on the planet. There are countless farms in the cultivation of pine trees for manufacturing purposes. That is why it does not take much time and investment to source this type of wood.

Downsides

- Prone to wear and tear. Compared to hardwood flooring types, pine shows wear pretty soon. If it's installed in high-traffic areas, you should expect to see dents and scratches on its surface. Regular staining and finishing are required to prolong the service life of your floors and keep them looking fresh.

- Require high maintenance. Regular cleaning is required to keep pine floors in mint condition. As we said before, pine is susceptible to scratching. That is why it should be regularly dusted to remove debris that could cause wear. After installing pine floors, sanding, refinishing, staining, and coating will also become your regular headache.

Oak

Janka wood hardness scale: 1290 - 1360

Cost per square foot: $3 - $8

Oak flooring is the #1 choice for American homeowners. The statistics say that nearly 2/3 of all floors installed in the US are from red or white oak. This material is that much sought-after as it represents a perfect blend of aesthetics and durability while being reasonably priced. Both red and white oak wood species have a high Janka hardness rating, which allows them to stand up to severe foot traffic in any area of the home. Red oak offers a gamut of colors, ranging from reddish and rusty brown to creamy and light pink. White oak is represented in white hues only, with not even a hint of red.

Advantages

- High durability. Oak wood is distinguished by incredible durability, with white oak being even more sturdy than red one, with 1360 and 1290 Janka ratings correspondingly. If properly maintained, this hardwood flooring can last a lifetime, withstanding all kinds of wear and tear.

- Attractive appearance. White oak is a trendy hardwood flooring material that ensures the interiors' clean and modern look. Thanks to the noble hues and less grain it offers, this flooring option meshes with different home styles, from traditional and rustic to contemporary and eclectic. If getting unfinished oak hardwood flooring, you can experiment with its appearance, adding texture or a weathered finish.

- Increased home value. Oak hardwood flooring has historically been used to signify wealth and sophistication, giving a fascinating look to a space. If you want to enhance the appearance of your home and raise its resale value, installing red or white oak flooring will be the best investment.

- Simple to upkeep. To keep oak flooring in tip-top condition for years to come, you only need to sweep and vacuum it from time to time, as well as clean it with a specially designed reagent. Oak floors do not need to be stained, and if they're coated with a hard-wearing finish, you won't have many troubles with scratches and dents.

Downsides

- Vulnerable to spills. Any spills on the oak flooring should be wiped immediately, as the longer a liquid stays on the surface, the deeper it penetrates the wood and the harder it will be to remove the stain.

- Prone to scratching. Heavy or sharp objects can scratch floors made from red or white oak. That is why it's recommended not to use high heels at home and install protective pads on furniture legs. Besides, make sure your oak floors are properly sealed.

- Vulnerable to temperature and humidity drops. Both white and red oak wood floors can suffer from damage due to the surrounding environment. Thus, rapid temperature drops and high air humidity can make oak floors contract, warp, and expand, resulting in dents and cracks. Keep a stable temperature inside the house and regulate air humidity and dryness to prolong the service life of your hardwood floors. 

Walnut

Janka wood hardness scale: 1010

Cost per square foot: $4 - $9

Walnut hardwood flooring is a popular choice among homeowners around the country as it has an eye-pleasing brown coloring, uniform surface, and long service life. Besides, it can be bought for as low as $4 per square foot. This wood species has less sturdiness than oak and maple and does not serve well in areas with high foot traffic, like hallways and living rooms. Nevertheless, if your interior matches with a rustic look, you might enjoy the natural wear and tear this wood shows with time.

Advantages

- Beautiful appearance. Walnut flooring comes in warm and rich tones with brown and purple hues. It has visible swirls and knots that are often darker than the overall surface, which creates an eye-pleasing two-tone patina. This wood species tends to change color over time, acquiring a more vintage and rustic look.

- Resistant to water and insect damage. Walnut is a durable wood that often lasts for decades with proper maintenance. This flooring is resistant to water damage and pest infestation. And while it is not the best idea to install it in the bathroom or laundry, it will still stay intact due to the drops in temperature and humidity levels.

- Simple installation. Compared to some other popular wood species, walnut hardwood floor installation is a quick and smooth process that a professional installer can perform in as quick as 2-3 hours. Besides, walnut floor fitting will never cost you a fortune, especially if the underlayment is in mint condition. 

- Eco-friendliness. The American walnut is a widespread and quickly-growing tree species. That is why it is considered to be a renewable wood source.

- Reasonably priced. Depending on the walnut wood type and density, its average rate per square foot ranges from $4 to $9, which is relatively cheaper than other hardwood floors like maple and ash. Plus, an affordable installation cost (around $2.50 per square foot) makes this material one of the best choices for homeowners with a limited budget.

Downsides

- Not suitable for small areas. Walnut flooring comes in deep brown tones and could visibly enclose the space and make it seem smaller. That is why walnut flooring is wiser to lay in larger spaces.

- Require utmost care. As walnut flooring has a deep color, the dust and debris quickly become visible on its surface. To keep your floors looking neat and presentable, you need to vacuum and mop them 2-3 times a week. 

- Prone to scuffs and scratches. As walnut flooring has a relatively low Janka wood hardness level (1010), it is vulnerable to scuffs and scratches. To prolong its service life, you should use rugs in high-traffic areas and install protective pads on the furniture legs. Walking in high heels or dragging furniture across the flooring should be banned.

Ash

Janka wood hardness scale: 1320

Cost per square foot: $9 - $13

Ash hardwood is made from white ash trees grown in Northern America. It typically comes in an ashy beige color and distinctive grain definition with streaks throughout. Ash flooring suits both modern and classic-style premises, making them look lavish and timeless. Ash is not an affordable flooring type, yet it has good durability and can withstand years of regular wear and tear.

Advantages

- Vivid color scheme. Compared to other wood species used for flooring, ash offers a unique color scheme that includes shades from creamy white to light grayish brown with deep brown heartwood.

- Aesthetics. Ashwood aesthetics makes it a top choice for contemporary interiors. Thanks to its natural lightness and almost complete lack of red and pink overtones, oak becomes a great addition to any room, making it feel warm and welcoming.

- Durability. The average Janka rating for ash is 1320, which means this sort of wood is solid enough to withstand wear and tear without showing dents and scratches. This hardwood flooring wears well over time and can become a good choice for areas with high foot traffic. Besides, you can safely install ash flooring in your house if your kids and pets.

- Moisture resistance. All types of hardwood floors have better water resistance than softwood ones, while none of them is considered completely waterproof. Ash does not absorb water easily, yet it's not recommended to fit in laundries and bathrooms.

Downsides

- Difficult to acquire. Ash trees are not quick to grow. Besides, they're commonly affected by the emerald ash borer that makes this species of tree endangered. If you want to buy old-growth ashwood, you will have to face serious difficulties to find one. 

- Prone to insect infestation. If you live in an insect-heavy area, you will need to treat your ash hardwood floors with pest-control surface sprays. Moths and termites can become the worst nightmare if not gotten rid of them in time.

- Inconsistent look. Ash is not the best option for homeowners looking for hardwood floors with a traditional look. The boards' size and coloring scheme can vary, which won't allow reaching consistency.

How much does hardwood flooring cost?

The national average cost of installing hardwood floors ranges from $6 to $22 per square foot per material and labor. Fitting hardwood flooring of average sturdiness in a 200-square-foot room will cost from $2.450 to $3.860. A full-fledged flooring project that entails installing hardwood floors all over the house could cost from $12.000 to $35.000, depending on the selected material. Other factors that might affect the cost of your flooring installation include: 

  • Square footage of the area that needs to be covered with flooring
  • The existing condition of flooring underlayment
  • Type and quality of the selected wood flooring (if you want to skimp on the flooring, consider its engineered and softwood counterparts)
  • The sort of the tree and its hardness level (rare wood species with utmost durability cost more per square foot)
  • Grain and cut of the wood meant for flooring

If you seek wood species that offer the best price-quality ratio, set your sights on maple, walnut, and oak. They won't cost you more than $10 per square foot. On the contrary, if you want something extraordinary in terms of look and performance, check out rare and exotic wood species like mahogany and ash. They might be more challenging to acquire, and their cost will start at $15 per square foot. And finally, if you have budget restrictions, consider buying quality engineered hardwood that mimics popular natural wood species.

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