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Hardwood floors are one of the best home improvement investments you can make. Besides being beautiful and timeless, hardwood floors are strong and durable . . . and that means they can comfortably carry your family’s footsteps for generations.

There are many species of hardwood available, each with its own characteristics. Color, grain pattern, the presence of knots or a smooth, closed texture are some of the aesthetics you’re likely to consider when shopping. Another important consideration is strength or hardness. When it comes to performance, you want a floor that can hold up to scuffs, scratches, dents and every day wear and tear – and still look beautiful. Choosing a durable hardwood floor is made easier with the hardwood hardness scale. The hardwood hardness scale assigns a hardness rating based on a species’ resistance to indentation under a controlled force, as determined in laboratory testing.


Strong, resilient red oak with a rating of 1290, is the benchmark against which all other wood species are compared. Red oak was chosen as the median standard because it’s one of the most readily available hardwoods. And red oak makes a great floor – it’s not so hard that it’s difficult to saw and nail, nor so soft that it’s easily dented. It’s just right!

On the hardwood hardness scale, you’ll find a wide range of species. At the top is Brazilian walnut with a rating of 3680, almost three times the hardness of red oak. At the lower end are softer species like yellow pine (690) and Douglas fir (660).


Hardwoods softer than red oak may dent or wear more easily. This is something to consider if you have young children, large pets or a very active household. Of course, you may like a floor that takes on a rugged look and feels more “lived in” over time. Then there are hardwoods that are so dense that they’re challenging to work with, meaning installation may require more time and special tools. Exotic hardwoods tend to be exceptionally hard. For example, Brazilian Cherry (2350) is about 80% harder than red oak.

Manufacturers make it easy to gauge durability when comparing hardwood flooring. You are likely to find a hardness scale for every hardwood species offered by a specific manufacturer. You can also search the Internet for “hardwood hardness scale” for a standardized listing by species.

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Scratches

Many surface scratches only affect the finish and can be repaired by lightly buffing with steel wool followed application of mineral spirits. Deeper scratches can be repaired with a light sanding followed by application of wood filler in a color that closely matches the floor. Serious gouges may require overfilling, sanding and re-staining of the plank to match the rest of the floor. Always sand with the grain, and vacuum between sandings to remove any grit. You may also want to consider a wood repair kit with fillers and markers available in popular wood colors.

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What is a Finish? The finish is a protective top coat that seals a hardwood floor against damage from everyday wear-and-tear, moisture, and stains. Prefinished floors have the finish applied during manufacturing. Unfinished floors have the finish applied on-site - at the customer's home. Prefinished hardwood floors are also called "factory finished". Unfinished floors are also called "site-finished".


Prefinished Floors. Hardwood flooring with a factory-applied finish is not only faster and easier to install, but it performs better over time. To produce the highest quality hardwood flooring, stains and finish coatings are applied and dried in a factory-controlled environment. High-performance aluminum oxide urethane coatings are subjected to as many as seven passes of ultraviolet light to cure the urethane to the wood and preserve its color, thus creating an extremely durable finish. By comparison, site-finished floors typically receive only 2-3 coats of polyurethane and then are allowed to cure by air drying.


Unfinished Floors. Unfinished hardwood flooring ships from the factory in its natural state. Sanding, staining, and finishing are all done on site after the boards are installed. End and edge treatments are typically limited to "square".

Which should you choose?Whether you choose prefinished or unfinished flooring depends on your preference and your particular project. If you're building a new home, for example, you may prefer to have your hardwood floors installed on site. For existing homes, prefinished floors install faster and easier - and there's no inconvenience to your family or dust and fumes to deal with.


Advantages?

Advantages of Unfinished:

  • Easier to match existing hardwood flooring or other interior decor
  • Custom color staining
  • Easier for installer to do customized elements, like inlays
  • Some plank widths and exotic wood species are available only as unfinished hardwood flooring
  • Can be sanded and refinished multiple times
  • Less expensive than prefinished boards, but there are additional expenses associated with finishing on site

Advantages of Finished:

  • Less time to install: flooring arrives already sanded and finished
  • No drying or curing time required – floors are ready to walk on immediately after installation
  • No strong odors or dust from sanding during installation
  • No need to relocate family during finishing
  • Prefinished floors come with a manufacturer’s warranty against board defects
  • Can be sanded and refinished multiple times


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Room Location

You may be planning to floor a bathroom or basement, and those have special considerations. In most cases, you’ll want to choose an engineered wood, and you may want to consider a type of wood common to shipbuilding, like white oak or teak. For installation in a room bathed in sunlight, you may want to consider color change before purchase. Some woods change dramatically when exposed to sunlight, and if you choose a wood for its color, you may be disappointed over time.

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Hardwood Flooring


After deciding to purchase a hardwood floor, you’ll want to put together a detailed cost estimate. Typically, hardwood flooring costs relate to two key factors – the cost of the flooring (per square foot) and the labor for installation. Now what else do you need to know to get an estimate of your complete hardwood flooring costs? Materials and services for a hardwood installation:

Materials

  • Pre-finished hardwood boards*
  • Hardwood trims and moldings
  • Subfloor/underlayment
  • Installation materials (adhesives, underlayment, etc.)
  • Additional materials required to complete the installation

Services:

  • Furniture removal/replacement
  • Removal/disposal of old flooring
  • Subfloor preparation
  • Product delivery
  • Installation


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If you invest the time now to understand hardwood flooring cost factors, you’ll know exactly how to plan your budget to get the hardwood floor you really want.


* Allow 10% extra in your square foot calculations to make sure you have enough material.

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Refinishing

One of the most common questions people ask is whether their wood floor can be refinished if it becomes damaged or dull over time. The answer depends on the type of floor you have. Solid wood and most high-end engineered floors can be sanded and restored to the original beauty with the number of times depending on thickness of the wear layer. The average is 5 – 7 times over the life of the floor. Less expensive engineered floors have a thin veneer that cannot be sanded, but they can be screened to remove layers of varnish that have dulled and re-varnished to restore the luster if the finish becomes cloudy or marred.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Hardwood


Like most people who have looked into buying a hardwood floor, you probably already know it will add beauty, comfort, and value to your home. But questions may come to mind about how to maintain your investment and keep it looking beautiful for years to come. Read on for the answers to our most frequently asked questions about hardwood.


How does humidity affect hardwood flooring?

As a natural material, hardwood can be affected by changes in humidity in your home. In bathrooms or rooms below ground level, humidity and the potential for pooling water can create problems. Solid hardwood flooring is not recommended for these areas.

What's the best way to clean hardwood flooring and keep it looking like new?

Sweep or vacuum (using a brush or felt head) your hardwood floor regularly to eliminate abrasives, like dust and dirt that could damage the finish. Use outdoor and indoor mats to collect dirt and moisture at the door before it reaches the floor. Wipe up spills immediately and periodically clean your floors with Hardwood Floor Cleaner.

Should I buy prefinished or unfinished hardwood?

Prefinished hardwood floors come from the factory already stained and sealed. All prefinished hardwood flooring comes with a no-fuss, no-muss installation. If you're trying to match an existing hardwood floor in your home, you may want to choose unfinished hardwood that can be stained to match on site before the finish is applied. Keep in mind, finishing "on site" takes longer, not to mention the inconvenience of dealing with the dust from sanding and fumes from sealants while the work is completed in your home.

Will my hardwood floor yellow or change color over time?

It's natural for hardwood flooring to yellow, darken or lighten over time, depending on the wood species. Exposure to direct sunlight greatly accelerates this process. We recommend moving furniture and rugs occasionally to allow your hardwood floors to age evenly from UV exposure.

What is an engineered hardwood floor?

Engineered hardwood flooring is made up of several sheets of genuine hardwood fused together to form a single, durable plank. This multi-ply structure gives engineered wood superior stability - greater than solid hardwood - and makes it less susceptible to temperature and humidity changes. Unlike solid hardwood, engineered wood flooring can be installed below ground level, making it a great choice for finished basements.

Can I install my own hardwood floor?

A hardwood flooring installation takes time, precision, and know-how to get it right. Even for experienced DIYers, hardwood installations can be challenging. A lot depends on your ability to take the time to learn what you need to know to properly install a hardwood floor, so that it will look and perform beautifully. If you've never installed hardwood, we recommend hiring a reputable and experienced installation company.

How do I acclimate my hardwood floor?

To acclimate hardwood flooring, move the packaged boards into the room/area where they will be installed and let them sit for several days. This allows the moisture content of the wood to adjust to the conditions in the room/area. Manufacturers typically recommend acclimation for all their solid hardwood flooring products. Often times, it is not necessary to acclimate engineered wood flooring.

Where do I get trims and moldings to match my hardwood floor

Most manufacturers offer a line of coordinated trim and molding pieces for their hardwood flooring collections. Options include quarter round molding, reducer strip, t-molding, threshold, and stair nose.

Is hardwood flooring a good choice for a home with pets?

Yes - but take precautions. The type of wood species you choose for your floor affects how well it holds up to wear and tear. You can help ensure a beautiful-looking floor by keeping your pets' nails trimmed, sweeping regularly to remove dirt, grit and fur, and wiping up spills and accidents as soon as they happen.