How to choose a wood floor  |  How to care for a wood floor  |   What is the difference between wood and laminate |   What is handscraped?  |  Should I buy pre-finished floors?  |  Solid vs engineered wood  |  Got allergies?  |  Types of finishes  |  Grades of wood
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Solid Wood

Solid wood floors are unparalleled in their beauty, warmth, and longevity. But they do have drawbacks, primarily in price and in where they can be installed.

Solid wood floors must be nailed to the subfloor, adding to the cost of installation and making them unsuitable for use directly over concrete. This, combined with sensitivity to moisture, which causes wood to expand, rules them out for basements. Changes in humidity can lead to squeaking and buckling.

Solid Wood FloorsEased edges have drawbacks
The aluminum-oxide coating on prefinished wood floors will last longer than polyurethane applied on-site, but the eased edges often found on prefinished boards can trap dirt and give the floor a manufactured look.

Strip flooring has been the industry standard since the 1950s. Narrow -- typically
2-1/4 inch -- tongue-and-groove boards are blind nailed (with nails concealed in the edge) into the subfloor. Wider-width planks can be attached in the same way, or are sometimes face-nailed (through the top) into the subfloor, with the nail holes covered with pegs cut from the same stock.

More and more homeowners today purchase solid-wood floors with a factory-applied finish. That means no dust from sanding, no fumes from finishing, and no waiting before the floor can be walked on. Another benefit is that the aluminum-oxide finishes applied at the factory are much tougher than the standard polyurethane applied on-site. Generally, you can expect 20 to 25 years from a factory-applied, aluminum-oxide finish, versus 10 years from an on-site, polyurethane finish. Like on-site finishes, most factory finishes can be screened that is, scuff sanded and topped off with a new coat of polyurethane.

Lovely and long-lasting

Most solid-wood floors can be sanded and refinished numerous times, making them the top choice for longevity.

For all their benefit, prefinished floors come with a catch: Because the floor isn’t sanded flat after the boards are installed, there are slight bumps and dips where the subfloor isn’t perfectly level and where the floorboards vary slightly in thickness. To conceal those misalignments some prefinished wood comes with eased edges slightly rounded corners, which create what amounts to small V-grooves between each board, giving the floor a distinctly manufactured look and dirt a place to collect.

Solid Wood FlooringA soft spot for solid wood

If you’re considering a “softwood” floor (this one is southern heart pine), you’re most likely to find it in a solid floor.

A benefit of finishing a floor on-site is that you can custom-stain it, transforming natural oak’s yellow into a rich amber, for example. The traditional mix of boiled linseed oil and wax or a coating of tung oil will darken the floor, too, and provide a period look you won’t get with urethane finishes.

Prices for solid-wood flooring vary widely based on the width of the planks, the wood species, and special effects such as hand-scraping or distressing. Exotic species and reclaimed flooring offer fresh options but at an additional cost.

If you expect your floor to take some abuse, hardwoods such as oak, maple, Brazilian cherry, walnut, and ash will be the most durable. But softwoods like southern yellow pine and fir are also great choices, as long as you’re prepared for dents and scratches. Softwoods are meant to be lived on, says residential designer Eric Moser, of Ridgeland, S.C. The more beat up they get, the better they look.

How to Choose a Wood Floor Introduction  |   Engineered Wood  |  Exotic Species