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Types of Hardwood Floors

July 21, 2021

Types of Hardwood Floors

Hardwood has been a popular flooring material for hundreds of years thanks to its charm, versatility, comfort, and durability. It also comes in a wide variety of styles, allowing every homeowner to find an option that perfectly suits their tastes and needs.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, you've come to the right place. We'll walk you through the most popular hardwood floor materials available, explain the differences between hardwoods and softwoods and provide some tips on how to pick out the best flooring.

Popular Hardwood Floor Types

If you decide to install hardwood for your flooring, you can opt for several different types, including: 

Unfinished 

An unfinished hardwood floor refers to one with no stain or protective finish applied. Consider getting an unfinished hardwood floor if you want to apply a custom stain before applying the final finish or want to match the color of your existing flooring. 

Unfinished flooring is a good choice if you want to install hardwood in your kitchen. If you finish it yourself, you'll seal the seams between the boards, preventing water or other spilled liquids from going in between them. 

Finished

Finished hardwood floors leave the factory already sanded and sealed, which means the installation will be quicker. It also means there will be no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or odors from finishing on the site, and you can walk on the floor right away. 

Solid

If you were to ask someone, "What is hardwood flooring?" the solid variety is likely what comes to mind. Manufacturers make solid hardwood planks from a single species of wood for a cohesive, traditional look.

Homeowners love solid hardwood for its beautiful and natural look, which gives homes an authentic, warm charm, regardless of the species. It's also valued for its exceptional durability, as it can last a lifetime with proper installation and maintenance. 

Note that solid hardwood does have a higher sensitivity to moisture than other options. Avoid installing solid hardwood in places with high humidity levels.

Engineered

Engineered hardwood, by definition, goes through more of a manufacturing process. Whereas solid hardwood consists entirely of one wood species, engineered hardwood includes several wood layers pressed together. The top and bottom are layers of real hardwood. This multi-ply construction makes the flooring less susceptible to moisture damage. It allows the wood to contract and expand with no unwanted consequences as humidity levels change. 

This type of hardwood is loved for its versatility, as homeowners can install it in basements, upper floors or even directly on top of a concrete subfloor. It can also go over a radiant heating system without any ill effects. Affordability is another major draw of this hardwood type, as it's less pricey than its solid counterpart. 

One disadvantage of engineered hardwood flooring is that you can't sand and refinish it as often as you can solid options. It's also a little less durable and doesn't boost your home's resale value as much as solid wood. 

Custom

If you want to give your home's interior a more unique, customized look, consider going with a custom floor. Like many other custom features in a home, custom floors are a great way to make a statement about your lifestyle and tastes. 

The options for custom floors are practically endless, both in terms of designs and materials. Although opting for a custom floor may increase the project's cost, it'll give your home a distinctive look and feel your guests will love. 

Types of Hardwood Floor Species

There are many different types of hardwood for your home, ranging from domestically grown varieties to more exotic species imported from abroad. Choosing your species is an important decision that will affect your floor's overall appearance, including the grain pattern and color. While durability is one of the main benefits of hardwood for your home, some species are more durable than others. The most popular hardwood types include:

Cherry

There are several varieties of cherry available, the most popular being American cherry. Also called black cherry, American cherry is characterized by its pink and red colors and light, wavy grains. Despite being a relatively soft hardwood, it nonetheless manages to maintain excellent dimensional stability. 

Note that cherry does not rank as high as other hardwoods when it comes to photosensitivity, and long periods of sunlight exposure can cause some damage. It's also at the pricier end of the spectrum. 

Oak 

Oak, a hardwood species loved for its warmth and classic look, is an excellent option for more traditional homes. It also suits various decor styles and furniture types. 

There are two primary oak hardwood flooring varieties available — white and red. The most important difference between them is their color. Whereas red oak is lighter and has a reddish color, white oak features a pale brown shade and tends to have a gray or pink hue throughout.

Both oak varieties have a mid-range hardness rating. Although oak flooring can withstand heavy impacts, it's also susceptible to scraping. If you're considering oak floors, using furniture pads is a must. 

Hickory

Hickory is one of the strongest and hardest American hardwood species, so it will come as no surprise that it's valued for its exceptional durability. If you maintain it properly, a hickory floor can last for a lifetime with very little wear and tear. 

The color of hickory tends to range from light red-brown to a medium tan. Creamy white varieties exist, too, although they're harder to find. Regardless of the color, hickory usually has dramatic grain patterns. 

Hickory's natural beauty makes it great for rustic styles, like cabins. Its extreme durability also means it's a good option for homes with many children. While its hardness lends to its durability, it can also make hickory difficult to cut. Installation may be a bit higher than other wood types, and the overall price for hickory flooring is usually a little above average. 

Maple

Maple is a distinctive variety, and homeowners love it for its unique grain pattern. Its uniform texture and light color also contribute to maple's wide popularity. 

Another benefit of this species is its hardness and durability, as it is one of the hardest available hardwoods. It's difficult to scuff and can resist heavy impacts. This quality makes it a great option for homes with pets or children. Maple hardwood floors also require little maintenance and are quite affordable. 

Walnut

Walnut comes in several varieties, with the most popular species in the states being American walnut. This variety is characterized by its rich brown color that tends to have a purple hue. It features swirling, dark grains that look gorgeous in any type of home. 

Walnut is exceptionally resistant to sun damage, meaning it's great for installing in areas with lots of direct sunlight. Another advantage is its lightweight, which allows you to install it on upper floors without any problems. Those benefits can come at a slightly higher cost than other wood species. 

Birch 

Birch is commonly used for home construction, including hardwood flooring. It features a yellowish-white to creamy white color and attractive, clear wood grains, meaning it looks great in almost any style of home. 

Birch flooring takes stains well, and you can easily transform it using a variety of colors to achieve a more individualized look. It's also very affordable due to the abundance of the species. 

Be mindful that birch is one of the softest hardwoods, making it susceptible to scratches and dents. It's also rather unstable — it contracts and expands as humidity levels and temperatures fluctuate. We recommend you only install birch in places with low levels of moisture. 

Softwoods vs. Hardwoods

All wood used for hardwood flooring falls into one of two categories — softwoods and hardwoods. If you're trying to choose a species of wood for your flooring project, it's important to know the differences, which include:

  • Origins: Hardwood comes from flowering plants, officially known as angiosperm trees, which include oak, maple and walnut. Softwood comes from gymnosperm tree species such as pine and spruce. Softwoods are much more common, comprising 80% of the timber worldwide
  • Appearance: Hardwoods tend to feature colors like dark reds and browns, sometimes even whites, making them suitable for contemporary applications. Softwoods usually have a light red or yellowish color.
  • Durability: Hardwoods tend to be more durable than softwoods. They're also better at withstanding heavy traffic and tend to have longer lifespans. Although softwoods also have varying degrees of resiliency, they're typically more susceptible to scratches and dings. Keep in mind that staining and sealing softwood will increase its longevity. 
  • Affordability: As hardwoods tend to be denser and tougher, they're usually the pricier option. They'll give you the most value in rooms where foot traffic is higher, such as bedrooms, the kitchen, and the living room. In rooms with lower foot traffic, a stained and sealed softwood floor may last just as long and cost you less. 

To help your decision between the two, consider your variety of options for both soft and hardwoods. Hardwood varieties include:

  • Cherry: Cherry is a redwood commonly used for making furniture. 
  • Ash: This hardwood variety is highly resistant to splintering and breaking under pressure.
  • Maple: Maple, often used for making furniture, can be challenging to stain, but the beautiful results are worth it.
  • Walnut: This hardwood, which features an eye-catching color and grain, has long been a go-to choice for making furniture, veneers and musical instruments.
  • Oak: This durable hardwood, which exists in hundreds of varieties, is extremely resistant to rot and insect damage.

Examples of softwoods include:

  • Cypress: Cypress, which is common throughout the swampy marshlands of the Southeastern United States, is highly resistant to rot in extremely wet environments. It's often used to make docks, decks and outdoor furnishings. Cypress trees are closely related to redwoods and sequoias in California. 
  • Spruce: Spruce exists in many varieties around the wood, making it a popular option for construction. 
  • Redwood: There are three species of redwood in the world, two of which are found in California. The third species is native to China. 
  • Pine: Pine is commonly used for construction projects, ranging from home construction to crafts. It's highly affordable, widely available and ranges from knotty to clear.

Hardwood Floor Design Considerations

When choosing hardwood floors for your home, keep the following considerations in mind: 

Wood Species 

There are many species of wood you can use for your flooring, but some are harder than others. Harder species are more durable, which suit installation in higher-traffic areas. Notably durable hardwoods include red oak, white oak, hickory, maple and walnut. Exotic woods like Brazilian Koa, Brazilian cherry and Cumaru are some of the hardest wood species available.

Color, Grain and Appearance

Because wood flooring is available in such a wide variety of styles, species and finishes, it's easy to find a floor to go perfectly with your space's decor. If your home is colonial style, for instance, consider maple or oak flooring with wide plank widths. If your interior is country-style, we recommend finding flooring with a distressed look and defined wood grains.

For more contemporary styles, you can use practically any wood species, depending on the stain or finish you apply. Dark charcoal, whitewash or pewter finishes can make any species of wood look stunning in modern spaces. 

Finish Type 

The finish you apply to your wood will affect its overall appearance and durability. Any given species of wood will look entirely different in a distressed finish versus a clear gloss. There are many different finishing techniques and gloss levels you can choose from, allowing you to achieve a wide variety of looks.

Can You Have Two Different Types of Hardwood Floors?

Differences in wood flooring can work — just don't attempt to match the two floors exactly. Instead, find two floors that contrast well with one another and make the decision look purposeful. 

If you already have a maple hardwood floor with an ebony finish, for instance, consider pairing it with the grain of white ash finished with a medium-tone natural stain. The grains of the ash will pop against those of the maple, which are more subtle by comparison. While the ebony and natural finishes look different, they both share cool tones, allowing them to exist peacefully together. 

It's also important to pick a direction. If two rooms are separated by a door, the flooring can go in different directions in each room. If there's no door in the opening between the rooms, we recommend having the planks on either side run in the same direction to achieve visual harmony. 

You should also consider using a T-molding, which covers up the gap between the two floors, allowing your eyes and feet to easily move from one space to the other. Try to have it match one of your floors as working in a third wood will be more complicated. 

Reach Out to SK Builders 

Dreaming of the flooring you'll include in a new home? SK Builders offers many hardwood flooring options for your new construction house. For the past 25 years, we have been serving our community with a dedication to efficient design, superior craftsmanship, and quality customer satisfaction. Based in Greer, South Carolina, we build homes throughout the upstate region, including Greenville, Anderson, Simpsonville, and surrounding areas. 

If you're looking to find or build the perfect home, reach out to us via our contact form and one of our representatives will be in touch with you shortly.