You probably know that installing hardwood flooring in your home looks great and is a good investment. But, which species of wood should you choose?
From oak and maple to bamboo and engineered options, you’ve got some big decisions to make. Here’s the best hardwood flooring options broken down by species, room and more.
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Popular Wood Floors
Oak is one of the most durable species, with a tight, dark grain that works in almost any room. For hardwood flooring in homes, it is the most popular material. Its wide availability means that it costs less than other types, starting around $2 per square foot. With good upkeep, it can last longer than a century.
Although oak has a classic yellowish-brown look, board colors vary quite a bit. You may get a whitish-gray with touches of pink, or a hue closer to redwood.
The second most popular hardwood, maple has a predictable pattern and color with a hint of character. Compared to oak, this species is lighter in color, more like a latté than a cappuccino, and has a less-pronounced grain. You’ll often see hard maple on basketball courts, which proves its durability.
You won’t get the same variety in colors with maple. But if you’re willing to pay about $15 to $20 per square foot, you can get boards with an interesting look. Common high-end styles include:
- fiddleback, which looks like rippled velvet
- bird’s eye pattern, which gives a peacock-feather appearance
If you want a style that is similar to oak but harder, hickory is a good choice. This U.S. native hardwood ranks much higher on the Janka hardness scale, making it more resistant to scratches and dents.
It takes about 200 years for hickory to mature, 5 times longer than oak. This difference means you’ll pay at least $2 to $3 per square foot more for hickory than oak. For its strength and character, hickory probably has the best return on investment.
Brazilian Cherry hardwood flooring sports tight, flowing grains. It’s strong and has a beautiful reddish hue that deepens within a few months with exposure to sunlight.
One of the hardest species available, it can last as long as the house. Some Brazilian Cherry products, like Bellawood, carry a transferable 100-year warranty.
Although bamboo technically comes from grass, it deserves a place among hardwoods for its appearance and durability. It’s harder than oak or maple, but weaker than ironwood. Because it is a grass, plantations can grow and harvest it sustainably within 3 to 5 years. That’s much less than the 200 years it takes to regenerate hickory.
Manufacturers produce the boards by shaving stalks into strips that are kiln-dried and glued together under high pressure. The result creates flooring with a striking color, beauty and texture much like other hardwoods.
Since this process is still fairly new, it’s hard to tell how long bamboo floors will last. Manufacturers rate many bamboo products for about 25 years.
Hardwood Flooring Types
Compared to solid planks, engineered hardwood offers a similar look that’s easier on your budget. These boards have a base (often plywood), plus a thin veneer of something like oak, maple or hickory on top.
You can usually sand and refinish engineered hardwood just like solid boards, but not as many times. The composition of the planks make it possible to install it as a floating floor. This means you can put it in places solid hardwood can’t go, like the basement.
Distressed hardwood flooring is made from planks that have been artfully damaged prior to installation. Manufacturers can alter any wood species and use different methods, such as:
- industrial presses that roll imperfections into the wood
- custom artisans who beat the surface with burlap bags full of nuts and bolts
Either way, you’ll get a new floor with the character of one that’s been around for centuries.
Hand scraped hardwood flooring is made of raw materials worked by hand into pieces. It adds character and tradition to any room, and usually come in wider planks than milled boards. Homeowners like the irregular scrapes, planes and textures.
For a higher initial cost, pre-finished wood flooring takes away some of the extra work during installation. Manufacturers sand and seal these planks in the factory. This means your installer doesn’t have to do it after they place the boards, cutting down on the labor.
This approach isn’t appropriate for every situation, however. If you are trying to match existing wood floors, you’ll want to choose an unfinished product.
Reclaimed hardwood flooring refers to the use of planks that have already served another purpose. Many homeowners like this approach because they can save material that otherwise would go to the landfill.
The reclaimed planks often come from demolished barns, factories and office buildings. These structures often used heartwood, otherwise known as some of the strongest, most beautiful and durable boards ever harvested.
Hardwood Flooring Comparison
Best Hardwood Floor Brand
The most popular hardwood flooring brands for availability, durability and quality include:
- Lumber Liquidators
Most Durable Hardwood Flooring
The most durable hardwood flooring is bamboo. The manufacturing process makes it harder than most common species.
Best Value Wood Flooring
The best value wood flooring is oak. It’s a widely-available, durable material, which keeps prices down.
Best Hardwood Floor for Radiant Heat
The best “hardwood” for radiant heat is engineered or bamboo. These products can be installed as a floating floor and are less likely to dry out. This helps keep them in good condition while creating the perfect environment for the heating system.
Most Scratch-Resistant Wood Flooring
The most scratch-resistant wood flooring has a rating high on the Janka hardness scale. Brazilian Cherry is a good example.
Best Waterproof Wood Flooring
No wood flooring is truly waterproof, but bamboo and engineered hardwood come closest. They’re less likely to warp from humidity or spills.
Most Beautiful Hardwood Floors
The most beautiful flooring depends on your personal preferences. Many homeowners find exotic hardwoods, like Brazilian Cherry or Sapele Mahogany, to be the most interesting and unique.
4 Best Hardwood Flooring Options by Room
The best wood flooring for the kitchen could be almost any type, from hand-scraped oak planks to Brazilian Cherry. Just make sure to give it several weeks to acclimate inside the home, so that it won’t expand and contract with the humidity.
2. Living Room
The best wood flooring for the living room is oak or maple without too much color variation. Wider widths, typically 5″ or more, will look more modern and consistent.
This tends to be the largest open space in the house. So, a choice with lots of character can distract from the rest of the décor.
The best wood floor for the bathroom is reclaimed or engineered white oak. This species is more likely to handle the increased moisture of the space with minimal damage, particularly as it ages.
The best wood flooring for the basement is engineered. Most solid planks can’t go in this space because they must attach to a non-concrete subfloor.
What color hardwood is best for resale?
The best hardwood for resale should have a light or a dark stain with a brown or gray tone, not yellow. Yellow tends to make the flooring look dated.
What is the most popular finish for hardwood?
The most popular finish for hardwood is polyurethane with a base of water or oil. These products are easy to find at big box stores like Lowe’s and tend to cost the least.
Can you mix different wood floors in a house?
It’s possible to mix different species in a house, but you’ll want to find a professional hardwood installer near you. This design offers a unique look, but it can be difficult to place planks of different widths and styles. Certain types need longer to acclimate than others, particularly tropical woods like mahogany.
Is bamboo flooring better than hardwood?
Bamboo flooring is harder, more durable, water-resistant and sustainable than hardwood. By comparison, hardwood is easier to refinish and can last decades longer.
What’s the best hardwood floor for dogs?
Solid planks of hickory distressed by the manufacturer is a great hardwood floor for dogs. The ideal choice has a hard surface and a tight grain to minimize scratches.
If you’re interested in hardwood flooring, consult a hardwood flooring cost calculator and talk to a few certified flooring contractors about what you need to do to order and install one of these unique, one-of-a-kind hardwood floors in your home!