While there are dozens of ways to alter the interior of your home, changing your flooring can have a dramatic effect. Hardwood flooring is by far the most popular style found in homes today, and it’s an investment you need to consider carefully.
Choosing the right type of flooring can significantly increase the value of your home, but the wrong type of hardwood can leave you with an expensive problem. Considering there are dozens of domestic and exotic species to choose from, navigating the world of hardwood flooring is going to be difficult when you don’t know where to begin.
With that in mind, our hardwood flooring buying guide was created to help consumers find the right hardwood for their homes. We’re going to cover all the important areas you should consider before settling on a style, and we’ll even tell you where to purchase some of the best hardwood flooring.
Pros and Cons of Hardwood Flooring
Hardwood flooring and paint are two things that can change the entire look of a room. While there’s plenty of prep work with paint, it’s a whole different ballgame when you have to rip up carpet or level a floor for hardwood. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of this sturdy type of flooring.
Hardwood Flooring Pros
Solid hardwood flooring can increase the value of your home while bringing a whole new look to any room. It adds warmth to a room, and unless you choose a colored finish, it provides you with a fairly
High-quality hardwood can outlast vinyl and carpet as well. You can refinish or sand solid hardwood planks and some forms of engineered flooring if the wear layer is thick enough. Solid Oak and Pine flooring has held up for hundreds of years whereas even the best stainproof carpet is unlikely to last more than a decade.
Do you have allergies? Well, a new hardwood floor can save you a lot of headaches – literally. It’s easier to clean than most styles of flooring and can be easier to replace if you do have an issue. There are kits designed to fix dents and chips in hardwood, and you may be able to replace single planks depending on how the flooring is installed.
Hardwood Flooring Cons
If you own large dogs with or cats with sharp claws, hardwood floors can be an issue. They will scratch, so you’ll want to pay close attention to the finish and color if you own pets. Some shades hide those problems better than others.
While hardwood floors are durable, traction can be an issue with pets as well. They can also be cold and unforgiving on your feet if you’re used to walking across plush carpeted floors. Cost can be an issue although that depends on the style and species of flooring you choose. Overall, hardwood is higher than other types of flooring but can be cheaper than carpeting or tile.
Moisture is probably the biggest problem with wood flooring as a flood can warp those boards quickly. Some forms can handle it better than others, but solid hardwood is generally not a great idea in a basement or even bathrooms. There are products rated for below-grade rooms; however, and engineered products are often found in bathrooms.
Solid Hardwood vs. Engineered Flooring
Thanks to advances in printing and manufacturing, you can find vinyl flooring or laminates that look like real wood. When you want real hardwood flooring, you only have two choices with Solid Hardwood and Engineered Wood.
Engineered Hardwood Flooring – Whenever you see a product labeled as engineered, think of the layers on a cake. The outer or top layer of an engineered plank has a thin “slice” of natural wood, and the middle is a core that’s usually plywood or MDF, a medium-density fiberboard. The bottom layer is also wood although there are a few variants on this combination.
Most engineered flooring comes prefinished with several layers of coating. You can lightly sand boards a few times with some brands, and they are much easier to install overall. Engineered planks are also more stable and less prone to expansion and contraction from humidity.
Solid Hardwood Flooring – Solid hardwood flooring is made from one piece of wood and built to last decades. It’s ideal for rooms that get a lot of foot traffic, but not a great choice for basements. It’s not as stable as engineered products in that regard, but you can sand it numerous times regardless of species or brand.
You will need to nail or staple solid hardwood flooring which makes it not as user-friendly as engineered flooring. You can purchase this flooring prefinished or unfinished, and it’s the best choice if you want durable flooring that your grandchildren and their grandchildren can enjoy.
Hardwood Flooring Buying Guide
Once you know what to expect from hardwood flooring, it’s time to take a look at the species, finishes and some of the more popular brands. Most of these species are available in solid and engineered form although the latter can be difficult to come by with some types of wood.
Common Types of Hardwood Flooring
Domestic species that come from the United States are prevalent and popular with a few exceptions. That means they are more affordable than hardwoods from Brazil and other regions and easier to find. They aren’t quite as durable, however, and the selection is somewhat limited compared to important products.
Not so common, but still an option…
Those are just a handful of hardwood flooring options you can find locally or online without any problem. If you prefer something a little rarer, but still domestic, Heart Pine is a fine choice. It’s the most durable form of pine and generally comes from reclaimed boards or logs found in mills, factories, and rivers.
With exotics, French Oak is an interesting choice and not too hard to find. You can say the same for Santos Mahogany and the popular Tigerwood, also known as Brazilian Koa. Bloodwood, Caribbean Heart Pine, and Wenge are a few other alternatives worth considering. Just remember that standards can be lax or non-existent with some exotic species and some are priced considerably higher than traditional hardwoods.
Light to Medium Brown
Reddish to Light Brown
Cream to a Light Golden Tone
Light Brown to a Reddish Hue
Light to Chocolate Brown
Light Pinkish Brown
1,700 – 2,200
Various shades of Brown, Gold & Red
Bamboo (Strand Woven)
1,180 - 3,000+
Light to Medium Brown
Brazilian Walnut (IPE)
Reddish to Dark Brown
Light to Medium Brown
1,400 – 3,000+
Light Golden to Brown
Are you going Green?
One of the bigger perks to hardwood flooring is the sustainability factor. Solid hardwood is a cleaner product in general than vinyl and other materials that often end up in landfills. As you can refinish it, you won’t have to replace it unless you decide to go for a completely different look.
In that case, most homeowners just cover it up instead of removing it. Hardwood flooring is one of those things you only need to buy once, and there are plenty of companies that sell wood which has been harvested responsibly.
When you’re installing something in your home, you want to ensure it doesn’t affect the air quality. IAQ is something you may run across, and it stands for Indoor Air Quality. FloorScore certification is one thing you’ll want to look for when dealing with engineered hardwood flooring. Several of the top brands like Armstrong, Mohawk, and Mannington have products that meet those standards.
If you’re concerned about how your wood was harvested, the FSC is a great place to start. The Forest Stewardship Council works to protect the forests and ensure they are managed responsibly. Worldwide, the company has certified over 380 million acres and they have a listing of companies that provide eco-friendly products on their site.
Grades of Hardwood Flooring
When you’re looking for top quality wood, keep an eye out for a grading system as that can tell you a lot about the quality and character of the wood. Unfortunately, while the NWFA has a scale in place, it only applies to certain species and many manufacturers or mills often use their own terms as well.
You will also want to keep an eye out for the term “and better” when attached to a grade. If the flooring is labeled as “Select and Better” that means you’ll get a selection of boards from both grades although the ratio can be skewed in either direction.
Textured or Smooth?
Consumers that are new to the world of hardwood flooring may be in for a surprise when it’s time to think about finishes. We’re not talking about the layer of protection that keeps your wood safe, but how that wood is “finished” before the top coat is applied.
Boards with a Smooth finish are milled to keep things nice and even, and it’s your best option if you want a clean, modern look. Alternatively, Antiqued hardwood flooring is given an aged look through various means although the boards are still brand new. This style looks great in older homes, especially residences filled with antique furniture.
If you want your wood to look worn or rustic, there are a few options as well. Hand Scraped wood is a popular choice when you just want to show a bit of wear while Distressed flooring is intentionally roughed up or comes from reclaimed boards. Wire Brushed is another popular option, and a great idea when you want some texture to your flooring or have pets as the style helps hide scratches.
Hardwood Flooring Finishes
While grades are critical, a thick coating of finish can make a huge difference with your flooring. Before you can begin to think about stains or top coats, you have to consider if you want to pick up your boards unfinished or prefinished from the factory.
In a nutshell, when you buy unfinished hardwood flooring, you’ll have to “finish” it yourself unless you hire a pro. The term site finished refers to any flooring that’s installed on-site… then finished afterward. If you plan on hiring a contractor to finish your flooring, your color options are unlimited which is ideal for new construction or if you want to make a dramatic change in a room.
When choosing prefinished flooring from a hardware or flooring store, your color palette is somewhat limited, but as its “ready to go” you don’t have to wait for anything to dry. You also won’t have to move out for a few days while the odor dies down although you can’t fix any scratches or dings from the installation process as the boards are already sealed.
As for the finishes, Aluminum Oxide is one of the best options if durability is a concern and you’re buying engineered flooring. This coating is often guaranteed for 25 years or more and holds up better than polyurethane-based finishes when it comes to general wear and tear. Polyurethane finishes are softer and easier to touch up or redo, but not something typically found on engineered flooring. It’s also better suited for DIY installations as aluminum oxide isn’t something you’ll want to try yourself.
If you plan on finishing your flooring, keep in mind water-based polyurethane finishes are clear and dry quicker. You can recoat floors in a few hours, and it has a low odor compared to oil-based finishes. If you go with oil, you’ll have a longer wait time between coats, and you may have to temporarily relocate if the smell becomes an issue. It can add a nice hue that highlights the characteristics of your flooring, however, and goes on thicker.
DIY or Hire a Pro?
Are you going to planning on installing the flooring yourself or are you considering hiring a professional? That’s an important question and something you should give a lot of thought to if you’ve never installed hardwood flooring before.
If you plan on installing the flooring yourself, a floating or click-lock floor is your best option. You will want to have a good back and some knee pads however as it is not as easy as you think. There are plenty of videos online that can lend a hand, but engineered is always going to be easier to deal with than solid planks.
Hiring a contractor may seem like a daunting task, but the benefits far outweigh the cons unless you’re experienced with flooring or remodeling. When you hire a pro, you won’t have to waste time with endless trips to the hardware store when you run out of supplies (it will happen), and you won’t break your back.
You also won’t have to worry about expensive mistakes if you make a poor cut. They are professionals for a reason although we recommend getting a breakdown of the full cost from any contractor. As with any hired help, you’ll want to check contractor reviews thoroughly before you let someone rip up or cover your existing floor.
If you want to get an idea on how much hardwood flooring installation costs in your area, be sure to check out our pricing tool…
Price can be a major factor in any project around your home, and flooring is no different. Before you become fixated on a particular style of plank, you have to consider hardwood flooring costs. While that varies by brand, style and the size of your material, here’s what you can expect from some of the more popular brands on the market today.
$4.02 - $9.88
$3.69 - $7.09
$3.50 - $6.76
$3.90 - $5.39
$3.59 - $9.88
$3.72 - $10.05
$4.69 - $7.49
$4.32 - $7.56
$3.63 - $4.61
$4.19 - $6.49
$4.12 - $8.42
$6.09 - $8.09
$5.02 - $5.68
$3.69 - $5.39
$4.19 - $5.79
$6.09 - $8.09
$5.02 - $5.68
$5.22 - $7.69
$5.39 - $5.79
$6.08 - $6.70
$5.19 - $6.46
$3.95 - $5.49
$3.48 - $9.54
$6.03 - $8.37
$3.90 - $6.27
$4.22 - $6.99
$5.62 - $8.81
$6.79 - $8.99
$5.59 - $6.23
$6.19 - $7.79
$6.32 - $12.72
$7.69 - $8.99
$7.19 - $8.99
$5.65 - $6.47
$6.49 - $10.14
$6.97 - $7.39
$5.47 - $7.43
$4.39 - $4.99
$3.99 - $6.31
$3.99 - $5.99
$3.89 - $6.19
$3.49 - $7.49
$4.61 - $5.62
$5.99 - $6.42
Best Hardwood Flooring Brands
Whenever someone asks us what the best hardwood flooring brand is, it’s not an easy question to answer. That’s because some companies specialize in domestic species while others may only carry exotic hardwood flooring. Below you’ll find a mix of both along with a breakdown of the types of products they offer to homeowners.
Shaw Floors is a one-stop shop for all your flooring needs whether you want tile in the kitchen or carpeting throughout your home. They also have a solid selection of hardwood spanning 90 styles across five different collections.
Shaw’s hardwood comes in three flavors with solid, engineered and EPIC Plus, a green product with known for its durability. They carry all the popular domestic species like Hickory, Oak, and Maple along with Ash and Birch. Their only exotic wood is Kupay from Paraguay which is unique and found in their San Polo collection. The company’s colors range from beige to green, so there is a shade and texture for everyone.
You can find Shaw Floors products at flooring stores across the United States, but you can’t order direct from the company, and you probably won’t find their hardwood at big-box retailers like Lowe’s or Home Depot.
Mohawk Industries is one of the largest and oldest flooring manufacturers, and one with plenty of brands under their umbrella. They are responsible for Pergo, Karastan, and a half-dozen other brands including their water-resistant RevWood flooring.
While Mohawk has over 100 shades of solid hardwood flooring, the majority of it is Oak. Their planks are covered in Armormax for additional protection and range from 2.5” to 5” in width. You can choose from light, medium or dark hues and most are smooth finished. When it comes to engineered flooring, there are around 300 shades covering seven species with Hickory, Maple, Oak, Acacia, Elm, Ebony, Maple and Walnut.
Mohawk is a great brand to turn to when you want Oak flooring, but their selection is a bit sparse when it comes to other species. Their floating floor system is ideal for beginners that want to install their own flooring and RevWood is certainly an option if you’re interested in luxury vinyl.
Mullican has produced high-quality flooring since the mid-80s, and are still going strong today. They have a nice mix of species including engineered flooring and solid planks that are available in finished and unfinished forms.
With over 100 options on the engineered side, Mullican carries exotics like Cumaru, Jatoba, Amendoim, and Tigerwood along with domestic species like Oak, Maple, Birch, and Hickory. You can pick up these boards in wider sizes up to 9.45 inches. Solid flooring is available in Hickory, Maple, and Oak, but there are no exotic planks listed at this time and the widths top out at 5 inches. Textures for both styles include smooth, hand sculpted, wire brushed, whitewashed, and saw marks.
Mullican has one of the more varied selections when it comes to style and species. We also like the way they things down with modern, rustic, and traditional along with eclectic and coastal vibes. You can find their products in specialty shops and flooring stores from coast to coast across the United States.
Armstrong is one of the few brands the average consumer may be familiar with. They make a lot of laminate and vinyl flooring but have a lineup of over 300 styles of wood flooring in both solid and engineered form.
With the former, you can choose from solid Hickory hardwood with Autumn Apple or Bark Brown if you want something durable. They also have some beautiful Maple-based planks along with Red and White Oak. Things open up with Armstrong’s engineered products as you can choose from Birch, Acacia, Cherry, Hickory, Walnut, and others. Many of their floors are broken down by collection, and you’ll have a wide variety of sizes and finishes at your disposal as well.
Armstrong’s hardwood floors come in smooth, hand scraped, distressed or parquet style depending on the species and your preference. You can find Amstrong’s products in hardware and flooring stores, but they recently sold their wood flooring business to AIP, so the selection and lineup is likely to change in the coming years.
If you’re not blown away by Armstrong’s selection, you may want to check out Bruce. They are owned by Armstrong but have a larger selection to choose from including some interesting variants like Hydropel.
The Bruce hardwood flooring collection is geared more towards solid than engineered products with close to 200 styles of planks. While most of their lineup is Oak, they also have Maple, Hickory, Cherry, Birch, and Walnut. We also like the way their products are broken down on-site as they have filters for Gloss, Look and even DIY level. Their engineered selection covers the same species, and the usual finishes and sizes are available.
Whether you want your flooring to have a nice natural look or prefer something wilder like Orange or Gray, Bruce has something for everyone. As they are a part of Armstrong’s flooring family, they are part of the AIP sale, so keep an eye on their lineup in the future as well.
Wicanders is different from the other brands as they carry a varied lineup consisting of wood, stone and cork products. While their products can be a little tricky to find, they should be at the top of your list if you’re interested in exotic engineered planks or cork flooring.
The company’s cork lineup is called Cortica with Go and Essence. Go is an affordable option for low-traffic areas while Essence is a little tougher. Their cork is in tile form with a whopping 26 styles and shades available. As for the hardwood, it’s all engineered, but the planks range from light creamy color to a dark, chocolate brown. They only carry Oak and Pine, however, so their hardwood selection is limited compared to other brands.
Wicanders Wood and Cork flooring will look great in any room of your home, and their products carry warranties that range from 10 years to a limited lifetime guarantee. You can purchase their products at carpet and flooring stores in the U.S. and a dozen other countries around the globe
Those are just a few of the bigger names you are likely to encounter when shopping for new hardwood flooring. If they don’t have the style or shade you want, there are hundreds of other options, but here are a few of our favorites.
When you need budget-friendly flooring, Great Lakes and Bellawood are solid alternatives. The former is sold through Menards while Bellawood is found at Lumber Liquidators. Somerset specializes in Appalachian Oak flooring and other domestic hardwoods while Mannington has a variety of FloorScore certified engineered products like Bengal Bay Tiger’s Eye and Iberian Hazelwood.
If you prefer exotic species to domestics, Ambient has an excellent selection of Eucalyptus and Bamboo flooring. WE Cork can fulfill all your Cork needs, while companies like IndusParquet and Kahrs carry several exotic species like Brazilian Cherry, Rosewood and Chestnut.
Where to Purchase Hardwood Flooring Online
While our list of the best hardwood flooring brands can give you an idea of what to look for, most are sold in specialty shops which vary from state to state. If you live within the continental United States, these stores are the best places to purchase hardwood flooring locally and online.
Lowes is a company that carries a lot of lumber, and their flooring selection is quite impressive with carpeting, tile, and laminates. Their selection of hardwood flooring includes several top brands as well along with their affordable store-branded flooring.
If you want to purchase Cali Bamboo’s products locally, Lowe’s is your best choice. They also carry Bruce, Mullican, USFloors, Pergo, and Shaw. It’s almost an equal split between engineered and solids a swell with over 150 of each style available. While there aren’t too many exotic species, they do carry Cork, Eucalyptus, French Oak, Acacia, and Bamboo. As you might suspect, Oak, Hickory, and Maple make up the bulk of the selection due to their popularity and price point.
You can find a Lowes in every state, so it’s a great place to browse for flooring if you’re undecided on a style. They also ship if you prefer to buy online and have everything you need to install the flooring yourself if you don’t plan on hiring a contractor.
If Lowes isn’t your preferred hardware store, you’ll be thrilled to know Home Depot can hold their own in the flooring department. Their selection is just as vast as their main competitor, and as they carry some of the same brands, it gives you an opportunity to price match.
Home Depot’s products are broken down into three sections with solid, engineered and bamboo flooring. Bruce is responsible for most of their solid planks with over 200 products. Blue Ridge Hardwood, Shaw, and Mohawk are also available while the store-branded Home Legend and the Home Decorators Collection represent bamboo. They have plenty of domestic species available with Hickory, Oak, Maple, and Walnut along with exotics like Eucalyptus, French Oak, and Sapele.
Just like with Lowes, you can find a Home Depot in almost any town in the United States. Overall, their products are a little cheaper than other box-box retailers or flooring stores, and some flooring can be purchased by the pallet instead of by the box or case.
Whereas Lowes and Home Depot are huge “hardware stores” what carry everything from lawn mowers to pavers, Lumber Liquidators specializes in flooring. That includes cork, tile, luxury vinyl planks, and traditional or engineered hardwood flooring.
Some stores tend to focus on a handful of species, but that isn’t the case with Lumber Liquidators. They have hard to find exotics like Bellawood’s solid plank Purple Heart flooring or Hevea, otherwise known as Rubberwood. With engineered flooring, you can choose from species like Brazilian Koa, Acacia, Beech, and Spanish Hickory just to name a few. On the downside, they don’t carry many major brands so you’ll need to do your due diligence with some of the smaller brands or in-house alternatives.
While there aren’t quite as many Lumber Liquidators compared to Home Depot or Lowe’s, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding a store in your area. They also ship direct if their shops are out of your range or you see something you like that’s not in stock locally.
One of the more surprising places to purchase quality flooring is from Wayfair. From carpet tiles to laminates, they have a little bit of everything including cork, bamboo, and an absolutely massive selection of hardwood flooring.
On Wayfair, you’ll find hundreds of styles of solid hardwood flooring. They have a nice mix of both domestic and exotic species as well with standards like Oak, Hickory, and Walnut along with Cork and Jatoba. In fact, they even have Tigerwood, Kupay, and Brazilian Teak all of which can be difficult to find. The company’s selection of engineered hardwood features over 800 products and a few new species like Curapay, Ash, and Pine.
While we won’t go through the brands, Wayfair has everything from APC Cork to Wicanders. There are over 40 brands available, and you’ll get free shipping on anything over $49, so your hardwood flooring will ship for free regardless of how much you need.
Green Building Supply
Most of the companies we’ve touched on carry “Green” products, but you may have to dig to find them, and some definitely do not live up to the hype. If you want vetted green goods from a
This online retailer carries eco-friendly goods, and while they don’t have the largest selection of flooring, they have some very interesting products. They have Caribbean Walnut, Cork and Bamboo as well as Oak, Hickory, and Hard Maple. Want solid Poplar planks? Green Building Supply has you covered, and we think you’ll be impressed by their Jarra, Beech, and Ash flooring as well.
The majority of GBS’s products are engineered, so you’ll only have a handful of solid hardwood options to choose from. They currently carry Kahrs, USFloors and Tesoro Woods flooring and every product on their site is certified as eco-friendly and many qualify for LEED credits.
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Hardwood Flooring FAQ
Q: For active households, what’s the most durable species of hardwood flooring?
A: According to the Janka scale, the hardest solid hardwood flooring is IPE with a rating of 3600 or Brazilian Cherry at 2300, although both depend are expensive and can be challenging to obtain or install. With domestic species, the most durable alternative is Hickory, with a Janka rating of around 1800.
Q: What’s the best way to clean hardwood flooring?
A: Most manufacturers recommend using a broom or microfiber mop or dry debris and spot cleaning for stains. Vacuums for hardwood are an option as well, as long as follow a simple few rules outlined in our guide.
Q: Can hardwood flooring really increase the value of my home?
A: Solid hardwood flooring is a surefire way to increase the value of a home, but how much of a return on your investment you get depends on a variety of factors, including how much flooring is installed and the species.
Q: Is it safe to wet mop hardwood flooring lightly if it’s rated as water-resistant?
A: No, it’s generally a bad idea. Water and organic flooring like wood don’t mix, and no matter how well-sealed your floor looks, water will find a way to get between the boards.
Q: What type of hardwood flooring can be installed in a basement?
A: It’s not recommended to install solid hardwood in any below-grade rooms. There are some circumstances where that may be suitable, however, depending on the climate where you reside.
Q: Can I install hardwood flooring over a radiant heating system?
A: Yes, but you’ll want to read the installation instructions carefully before settling on a brand. The thickness, installation method, and type of heating system can have a major impact on what’s suitable.
Q: How long should I expect a hardwood flooring installation to take?
A: It largely depends on how many square feet of hardwood are being installed and the layout. Regardless of who is installing the floor, door jambs and closets take additional time along with any prep work that’s needed. An efficient team should have no trouble handling between 700 to 1000 square feet per day.
Q: How do I know if the wood used in my hardwood flooring was sourced responsibly?
A: That can depend on the species and region where it comes from, but there are a number of agencies that handle certification like the USFS and Forest Stewardship Council.
Q: Unfinished hardwood is significantly cheaper, is it worth the discount?
A: It can be, but only if you have experience finishing hardwood or have a pro in mind for the job. You still have to finish the flooring, which requires additional material and time. Some types of finishes can only be applied by professionals or in a factory setting as well.
Q: Are steam cleaners safe to use on hardwood flooring?
A: No. While you can use steam cleaners on certain types of flooring safely, solid hardwood certainly isn’t one of them.
Q: How many times can solid hardwood flooring be refinished?
A: It depends on how thick it is. Hardwood that’s ¾” thick can typically be sanded 3 to 5 times.