Updated On

January 23, 2024

Why You Can Trust Us

Today’s Homeowner exists to help you maintain or improve your home safely and effectively. We uphold strict editorial standards and carefully vet the advice and resources referenced in our articles. Click below to learn more about our review process and how we earn money.

Learn More

    Wood flooring is a preferred choice for many homeowners, serving as a valuable investment that adds a beautiful, timeless element to your home. It’s durable and lasts for years, making it an excellent long-term flooring solution and worthwhile home improvement. 

    This flooring material comes in two primary options: solid wood and engineered wood. Solid wood is exactly what the name implies, whereas engineered wood has a thin layer of real wood atop various core materials. 

    Both options are available in different wood species and finishes and can be installed using different methods, so there’s something to accommodate any situation. This guide dives into the specifics of wood flooring to help you decide if it’s a good choice for your home and which option would best suit your needs. 

    Ready to connect with one of the top flooring installers? Use the tool below.

    Top Pick
    fci logo

    4.7

    Complimentary post-installation follow-ups

    Provides convenient in-home consultations

    Hundreds of flooring showrooms nationwide

    GET QUOTE
    Limited Time:
    10% off all floors during the Twenty-Twenty-FLOOR-Event
    Best Shop-At-Home Experience

    4.8

    Offers next-day installations on certain flooring options

    Multiple financing options

    Mobile showroom option for convenient at-home shopping

    GET QUOTE
    Limited Time:
    Currently offering a 1/2 price sale
    Best Flooring Options

    3.8

    Natural and engineered hardwood options

    Offers augmented reality visualizer tool

    Provides free samples online and in-store

    GET QUOTE
    Limited Time:
    20% Off Select Flooring

    What Is Solid Wood Flooring?

    Solid wood flooring is made of milled lumber, so the pieces of flooring are solid wood throughout. Flooring pieces come in various sizes and shapes including wood planks, strips, and parquets to accommodate varying aesthetic preferences and household needs. 

    While expensive, hardwood flooring is a go-to choice for many homeowners. It’s versatile, as it comes in numerous colors, grain patterns, and textures, making it a good choice for rustic wood flooring and many other situations. 

    Wood flooring (particularly hardwood flooring), is incredibly durable, holding up well over many decades. When the finish wears down and the wood begins to appear worn out, you can sand it down and refinish it for a like-new appearance. Since solid wood flooring is solid throughout it has nearly infinite refinishing potential since so little wood is removed during sanding.

    However, while wood flooring has its perks, there are a couple of downsides to consider. For example, it’s susceptible to moisture, so it’s not a great choice for high-moisture areas. Of course, sealing the floor properly helps, but it’s usually not ideal for moist areas like bathrooms. 

    It’s also susceptible to temperature swings, making it a less-than-ideal choice for areas that regularly experience extreme heat or humidity fluctuations. Wood is porous, so drastic temperature changes can cause the flooring to expand and contract, leading to a host of issues with an installed floor. 

    Can be refinished
    Durable, lasts for decades
    Many species and finishes
    Expensive
    Susceptible to humidity and temperature changes

    How to Choose the Best Solid Wood Flooring for Your Home

    When choosing wood floors for your home, it’s important to consider all aspects of your options before committing. First, evaluate your budget. If you have a set amount you’re willing to spend, 

    You can filter your choices and be less likely to get your heart set on an out-of-budget option. 

    Wood flooring is priced based on several factors, including the species, grade, cut, and finish. Certain species like walnut are pricier than other options like pine. Additionally, higher grades, like cuts with few defects, are pricier than those with numerous flaws. 

    The cut of the lumber also plays a role. If the boards are flat sawn, they’ll have a distinct flame-like pattern. These boards are more natural and rustic looking and tend to be cheaper. In contrast, quarter sawn boards feature a straight grain due to the way they’re cut, creating a more consistent appearance and raising the cost. 

    Beyond your budget, consider the type of wood you want. There is a number of popular wood species for floors, including oak, maple, cherry, walnut, and hickory. Each option offers unique benefits and features but comes at a different cost. 

    Next, evaluate what type of finish you want to use. Some boards come pre-finished and ready to go, streamlining the installation process and eliminating post-installation wait times. Raw wood will require a finish for protection. You can choose from various finishes, including water-based polyurethane, oil-based polyurethane, and stains. Each option provides specific benefits and is best suited to varying situations. 

    Water-based polyurethane is best if you want your floors to have a high-gloss look and easy cleaning. Oil-based polyurethane is available in high gloss varieties too but is best for emphasizing amber colors in the wood. Stains come in many shades and help draw out the natural grain patterns in your wood while matching the color scheme you desire. 

    Lastly, consider the installation method applicable to the wood flooring you choose. Nailing, stapling, and glue-down methods are all viable options, but the best method hinges on your specific situation. If you’re unsure which method is best for you, check the manufacturer’s instructions and consult a professional flooring installer. 

    Once you iron out the details of your expectations and needs, you can move forward in selecting a wood flooring material to accentuate your home perfectly. 

    What Is Engineered Wood Flooring?

    Engineered wood flooring features a thin strip of real wood, known as the veneer layer, glued atop a rigid plywood or high-density fiberboard (HDF) core. It usually comes in wide planks with a repeated wood grain pattern. The real wood layer creates the appearance of solid wood floors, making engineered hardwood less expensive than solid wood. It’s also cheaper to install since it’s a floating floor (not nailed or glued down). 

    Since it mimics the appearance of actual wood flooring but is more affordable, engineered flooring is a popular alternative to solid wood. It provides beautiful, realistic, and inviting looks, complete with the characteristic durability and versatility of typical solid wood flooring. 

    However, it has drawbacks, falling short in areas where solid wood flooring excels. For example, since the veneer and wear layers are so thin, it has limited refinishing potential. It can only be sanded down a couple of times before you’ll grind through the top layer and expose the HDF layers beneath the layers of wood. However, it has better resistance to moisture and temperature changes than real hardwood. 

    Affordable
    Easy to install
    Realistic finishes and grain types available
    Grain pattern is repeated on various boards
    Thin veneer and wear layers

    How to Choose the Best Engineered Wood Flooring for Your Home

    If solid wood flooring isn’t a viable solution for your home but you love the visual appeal of wood, engineered wood floors might be a perfect alternative. Like solid wood floors, engineered wood varies in cost based on several factors. 

    The thickness of the veneer (the colored part on the top of the planks) is a primary contributor to cost, as thicker veneers are pricier than their thinner counterparts due to the cost of wood. The core material also contributes to the price, as more durable options tend to be more expensive. Lastly, the finish and wear layer (the wood under the veneer layer) play a key role, with more realistic finishes and thicker wear layers driving higher costs. 

    Like natural wood floors, engineered wood flooring features multiple wood species. Popular options include oak, maple, teak, and bamboo flooring. The wood sits atop the core layer to create the sought-after realistic wood finish. 

    Finishes complete the look, allowing you to customize your floors to accommodate your preferences. Lacquer finishes provide a smooth, low-maintenance option to complete your floors, while natural oil offers a more natural, classic look. UV-cured finishes are more durable, protecting the wood against foot traffic. 

    Once you select the perfect engineered wood flooring for your home, it’s time to install it. After the flooring acclimates to your home, choose an installation method that fits your flooring. Common installation methods include click-and-lock systems and glue-down systems. Each option is suitable for different applications and types of hardwood flooring, so consult your flooring installer or manufacturer for help with the best fit for your home. 

    What Are Popular Types of Wood Species for Wood Flooring?

    Various wood species, including oak, maple, and walnut, steal the spotlight for household flooring. Appearance, durability, cost, and hardness vary based on the species you choose. 

    Wood hardness is a key consideration and is measured using the Janka scale, which gauges the density of unfinished woods and their resistance to dents, dings, and day-to-day wear. Since it directly correlates with durability and longevity, a wood’s Janka rating is an essential piece of the puzzle when evaluating which wood is best for your needs and preferences. Many exotic woods like rosewood and Brazilian ebony have the highest Janka ratings.

    Oak

    oak floor
    Credit: LL Flooring

    As a highly popular choice for hardwood floors, oak is a worthwhile consideration. It’s available in two types: red oak and white oak. The former, known for its warm hues and compatibility with varying aesthetics, is more popular. It has a Janka rating of 1290, which is a solid hardness value. 

    White oak is harder than red oak at 1360 on the Janka scale. Its hardness makes it a great choice for high-traffic areas, as it holds up well under frequent use. As the name implies, white oak has no reddish tones, instead sporting slightly grayish undertones. It offers a more modern, elegant appeal, making it a suitable choice for varying aesthetics. 

    Oak flooring is widely available, affordable, durable, and easy to work with, so its popularity makes sense. 

    Hickory

    hickory floor
    Credit: Empire Today

    Among hickory flooring’s pros and cons are its hardness, availability, and price. Hickory flooring is widely available and sought after for its impressive hardness of 1820 on the Janka scale, making it highly durable and a great choice for high-traffic areas. It ranges in color from creamy neutrals to warm fall hues with rich brown bands, creating a mocha tone. 

    This wood often features large knots that offer a unique touch, making it perfect for rustic, farmhouse-style homes. Given its hardness, it tends to be pricier than some options but still cheaper than exotic hardwoods.  

    Maple

    maple floor
    Credit: The Home Depot

    Maple is another popular pick, supplying lighter neutral tones that blend beautifully with nearly any aesthetic. The wood can feature various colors, including cream, beige, and tan with reddish undertones. 

    It offers a solid Janka rating of 1450, making it a good choice for areas with moderate to heavy foot traffic. It’s fairly inexpensive and readily available through many retailers throughout the country. 

    Walnut

    walnut floor
    Credit: LL Flooring

    Walnut is another favorite, known for its elegant chocolatey color that adds a splash of drama to any space. It features large, straight-grain patterns with minimal color variations, creating a consistent appearance throughout an area.  

    Walnut wood is a slightly softer wood with a Janka rating of 1010, so it’s best suited to areas with light or medium traffic. In areas with high traffic, it may show signs of wear after just a few years.

    Like other popular wood types, walnut is widely available but a bit pricier than other options. 

    Related: Acacia vs Walnut – Which One is Better for Furniture and Flooring?

    Cherry

    cherry floor
    Credit: LL Flooring

    Cherry wood is a coveted option for wood floors for its rich, reddish-brown color and beautiful swirling grains. Its appealing looks make it more expensive than other wood options, yet it’s among the softest natural woods for flooring material, with a Janka rating of 950. 

    The delicate nature of this wood makes it susceptible to damage from scuffs, dents, stains, and warping. It’s also vulnerable to color changes in direct sunlight, as it’s highly photosensitive. 

    This wood is widely available through almost any retailer that sells American hardwoods, including big box stores and local lumber retailers. 

    Read also: Gluing and Nailing Hardwood Floors Compared

    What Are Different Types of Wood Finishes and Stains?

    After selecting a suitable wood species for your new floors, you’ll need to select a wood finish or stain. The option you should choose will hinge on your aesthetic preferences, as each stain and finish brings something different to the table. Finishes and stains are typically applied after your flooring installation but vary based on the different wood flooring options. For example, engineered hardwood and prefinished hardwood flooring are stained before installation.  

    Oil-based stains

    Oil-based stains are a popular option for wood floors. They’re fairly easy to apply with a brush, cloth, or paint pad applicator. However, since they are liquid, they can drip into places they’re not supposed to, so you need to be careful during the application process. 

    These stains dry within about 24 to 72 hours, depending on the hardwood species, and come in a number of colors to accommodate varying preferences. When using oil-based stains on your wood floors, proceed with caution, as they often release high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. 

    Today’s Homeowner Tips

    VOCs are emitted as gasses from flooring finishes and other home improvement products and may have short- and long-term adverse health effects, so we recommend wearing a respirator when you apply it and waiting until it dries before going back in.

    Water-based stains

    Water-based stains are another go-to pick for finishing wood floors. They dry quickly, fully curing within 24 to 48 hours, although they’re usually dry to the touch in three or four hours. Like most stains, they’re available in several colors and offer solid durability. 

    Water-based stains have lower levels of VOCs than oil-based stains, making them a safer alternative. However, while the VOC content is lower, it’s still important to be careful during application and curing. 

    Gel stains

    These stains are thicker than most, building up on the surface of the wood instead of sinking into it. While they build up on the top of the wood, though, they leave the appearance of the wood’s texture intact. These stains don’t drip and are considerably easier to use than regular stains, making them perfect for DIY projects.  

    They’re durable, long lasting, and can take anywhere from 24 hours to several days to dry completely. You can add extra layers to darken the color, which will hinge on your chosen product. 

    While like many stains gel stains have VOCs, there are a couple of options without them, making these choices safer to use.

    Oil-based finishes

    Oil-based wood finishes are a great way to protect your floors. They provide a clear covering over the wood, usually producing an amber tint as they age. These options include straight oil and polyurethane — both popular wood finish picks. 

    Like many oil-based wood finishing products, these finishes often contain high levels of VOCs, so it’s important to use them carefully. However, they’re more durable than shellac or lacquer, making them ideal for high-traffic areas. They come in a variety of colors and take a couple of hours to harden and anywhere from a few days to weeks to cure fully. 

    Water-based finishes

    Similar to the story of oil-based versus water-based stains, water-based finishes have lower VOCs than oil-based finishes. They offer solid durability and create a clear coat protecting your wood floors. They dry within a couple of hours but can take more than a few days to cure. 

    Shellac finishes

    Shellac is another solid option, providing a clear finish over your wood floors. It’s not as durable as other options but still provides excellent protection. While it’s high in VOCs, they evaporate very quickly and only persist for a short time. 

    This finish option takes up to four weeks to cure depending on your flooring choice but will usually dry within about 30 minutes. 

    Lacquer finishes

    Lacquer finishes are great for wood floors, as they fill in the pores in the wood, eliminating the need for fillers. They provide a clear, durable protective finish over wood flooring.

    Lacquer contains a low amount of VOCs compared to some finishing options, but as with any wood finish, it’s important to be careful during the application process. After applying this finish, you’ll need to wait about half an hour for it to dry. The complete curing process can take several weeks or months.

    Read also: Expense for refinishing hardwood floors

    So, What Type of Wood Flooring is Right for Your Home?

    The best wood flooring material for your home hinges on your preferences and expectations. For example, walnut might be a perfect option if you want a dramatic, sophisticated floor to complete your home’s aesthetic. Or, if you have a busy household with pets and kids, hickory might be the best fit to withstand the heavy foot traffic. 

    On the other hand, engineered wood might be a great option if you want the look of wood floors but have a limited budget. Oak and maple flooring are also affordable options. Ultimately, the best fit for your household will come down to factors specific to you.

    Get Flooring Estimates in 30 Seconds
    Connect with local experts to help with your project.

    FAQs About Wood Flooring Types

    What is the best flooring for pets?

    If you have pets, harder wood flooring is better than a softwood. Hickory, hard maple, and white oak are solid options, as they’re considerably harder than options like cherry or walnut. The hardness protects against dings, scratches, dents and other damage pets may unwittingly inflict on your floors. This makes it one of the top-rated scratch resistant flooring.


    Which type of wood flooring is best for a kitchen?

    Kitchens are often a hub of activity, so the floors experience heavy foot traffic on a regular basis. Because of this, harder wood floors are the best choice for kitchens, as they hold up better under normal wear and tear. Oak, hard maple, and hickory are excellent options.


    Which is better, engineered hardwood or laminate?

    Each option has merits, so the best one hinges on your needs. Engineered hardwood offers a more natural feel and look and provides superior durability but is more expensive than laminate. Conversely, laminate is easier to install and more affordable but doesn’t last as long.


    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Jonathon Jachura

    Jonathon Jachura

    Contributor

    Jonathon Jachura is a two-time homeowner with hands-on experience with HVAC, gutters, plumbing, lawn care, pest control, and other aspects of owning a home. He is passionate about home maintenance and finding the best services. His main goal is to educate others with crisp, concise descriptions that any homeowner can use. Jon uses his strong technical background to create engaging, easy-to-read, and informative guides. He does most of his home and lawn projects himself but hires professional companies for the “big things.” He knows what goes into finding the best service providers and contractors. Jon studied mechanical engineering at Purdue University in Indiana and worked in the HVAC industry for 12 years. Between his various home improvement projects, he enjoys the outdoors, a good cup of coffee, and spending time with his family.

    Learn More

    photo of Roxanne Downer

    Roxanne Downer

    Editor

    Roxanne Downer is a commerce editor at Today’s Homeowner, where she tackles everything from foundation repair to solar panel installation. She brings more than 15 years of writing and editing experience to bear in her meticulous approach to ensuring accurate, up-to-date, and engaging content. She’s previously edited for outlets including MSN, Architectural Digest, and Better Homes & Gardens. An alumna of the University of Pennsylvania, Roxanne is now an Oklahoma homeowner, DIY enthusiast, and the proud parent of a playful pug.

    Learn More