What to Know When Buying Hardwood Floors

by Sam Ferris
Columbia Hardwood's Wool Hickory line. Photo credit: Columbia Flooring
Durable. Long-lasting. Affordable. You?d think we were about to give you a spiel on the best batteries money could buy. But alas, we?re talking about hardwood floors.

In order to find out what?s best for your home, it helps to learn a thing or two about hardwood flooring, like how it?s made and why you might want engineered hardwood instead of solid hardwood. We summed up all the details for you below so you can know the answer to these questions and more with the snap of a finger.

Solid hardwood vs. Engineered hardwood

Before we delve into the hard facts, know this: the basic difference between solid hardwood floors and engineered hardwood floors is pretty simple.?

Broken down to its core, it?s all about what the hardwood is made of. Solid hardwood is made from only one wood piece, while engineered hardwood is made of several different wood plies with a real hardwood veneer on the finish. You can tell the difference visually by looking at a hardwood piece?s side. In engineered hardwood, you?ll notice several different layers as opposed to the single piece you see in solid hardwood. Solid hardwood will have better longevity since you can restore them through sanding and refinishing.

Easy, right? Well, sort of. There?s a lot more difference between the two that affects factors like stability and installation, but we?ll give you the cliff notes version a little further down.
You can tell the difference between solid hardwood and engineered hardwood by looking at the side of a piece. Engineered hardwood, above, will have several visible layers of plies.
How it?s made and what it costs

Solid hardwood is made different from engineered hardwood, and the way it's built, called harvesting, determines how much yield is produced and, as a result, how much you?ll likely pay for it.

Solid hardwood is harvested in three ways:
  1. Flat Sawn, the most common cut with the most variations ($)
  2. Quarter Sawn, where logs are cut into quarters before wood strips are cut ($$)
  3. Rift sawn, where the log is cut at a different angle than quarter sawn ($$$)

Engineered hardwood is likewise harvested in three ways:
  1. Rotary-Peel, where spikes are inserted on each side of a log while the log is rotated and wood is peeled off in the same way you unravel a roll of paper towels ($)
  2. Sliced-Face (or sliced-peel), where the log is placed in a holder and a blade is pushed through it, like grating cheese ($$)
  3. Sawn Face, where the log is pushed through a spinning blade ($$$)

Why does it matter? Each harvesting method produces a different amount of yield. For example, rotary-peel produces the most yield and is the least expensive method. In most instances, the more yield produced from a cut, the less you?ll end up paying for the hardwood.

Each method also varies in cost and product quality. For solid hardwood, rift sawn is the most costly method, but it produces the highest quality product. For engineered hardwood, rotary peel is the least expensive cut, but you?ll notice a low visual appeal and weak grain structure.

So, how the hardwood floor that you can?t keep your eyes off is made will affect what you pay for it. (Thickness, measured by the thickness of the hardwood?s top veneer, and species also affect price).
Mannington Residential's Blueridge Hickory hardwood (engineered).
How it?s installed

Hardwood floor installation includes four methods: floating, stapled, glue-down and nail-down. Before we tell you which is which and why, let?s talk stability.

Engineered hardwood is much more stable than solid hardwood. This is due to the fact that it?s made with several different layers of plies. The more plies a hardwood has, the more stable it is. But some solid hardwood is more stable than other solid hardwood; stability is determined through the way the hardwood is produced.

Because solid hardwood generally isn?t very stable, it has to be nailed down during the installation process. Engineered hardwood, however, can be either glued down, stapled, nailed down or floating. Floating is a process where pieces of hardwood are fit together kind of like a jigsaw puzzle using Uniclic technology.
Quick Tidbits?

The Plank
Planks are 3?? wide and up. Compare that to strips, which measure 2 1/4?? wide. Typically, wider planks are higher cost due to more loss in the harvesting process.

Good Color
For a cleaner look, maples are your best bet. Oaks will give you more grains. Pecans are somewhere in between maples and oaks.

Hard to Resist
Always check the hardness rating, located on the back of the hardwood's sample board. The higher the rating, the more resistance it can withstand.

Which Floor?
Engineered hardwood can be installed upstairs, first floor and downstairs. Solid hardwood, on the other hand, should only be installed upstairs or the first floor by nail down or staple. It doesn't do well with moisture.

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