Choosing hardwood floors is just the beginning. Learn about different types of hardwood floors, costs and pros and cons.
When you’re selecting new flooring for your home, you’ll want to consider a few factors. What type of flooring is the best? How much do you want to spend? How many people are walking (or running) across your floor every day? While you can install anything from carpet to linoleum to porcelain tile, hardwood is a common and stylish option for most homes. Here’s a primer on the types of hardwood floors available.
10 types of hardwood flooring
There are many options to choose from, with materials ranging in durability, look, feel and price.
Oak is the most popular choice for hardwood flooring in American homes, and with good reason. It’s relatively hard (read: durable), has a range of patterns and colors and fits well across aesthetics and design styles. Red and white oak costs an average of $8 to $15 per square foot.
“Our customers overwhelmingly choose oak,” said Ralph Severson, owner of Flooring Masters in Indiana. “It’s gorgeous and lasts forever as long as it is maintained.”
Hickory is another top choice for homeowners who like the specific look. Hickory wood is hard and durable for high-traffic rooms and varies in knots and color from board to board. It may cost a bit less than oak, ranging from $6 to $13 per square foot.
As durability goes, maple falls between oak and hickory, making it a good choice for most spaces. It’s relatively light in color with a fine grain and it fits many styles, from contemporary to eclectic. Maple is also on the cheaper side, with prices ranging from $6.50 to $11 per square foot.
One pro of pine is the price: expect to pay as little as $5 (and up to $11) per square foot. Pine also comes in various colors and generally has an interesting grain, but it’s softer than most wood flooring and therefore less durable.
Cherry is a softer wood that’s best in low-traffic areas, such as dining rooms. It may change color over time when exposed to frequent sunlight. Certain types of cherrywood are considered exotic, making it more expensive than other choices listed here.
Walnut is a dark, chocolate-toned wood that is medium-hard, so it may not hold up well in high-traffic areas. Like cherry, it has a particular aesthetic but is sometimes classified as an exotic wood, making it expensive to purchase and install. Brazilian walnut, for example, costs $11 to $20 per square foot.
Acacia, or Asian walnut, has a unique blonde and brown swirl to its grain. It’s durable and requires minimal care, but like cherry and other walnut varieties, it’s sometimes classified as an exotic wood.
Cork flooring comes from cork oak and is considered an environmentally friendly alternative to other hardwoods. It’s soft, relatively durable, easy to maintain and quick to install. It also comes in a variety of shades and several finishes. The cost to install cork runs between $5 and $14 per square foot.
Bamboo is basically very hard grass, and is a sustainable alternative to hardwoods that take a long time to grow. It’s durable, requires very little maintenance, comes in a range of shades, and is relatively inexpensive at $5 to $11 per square foot.
Exotic wood flooring
Exotic hardwoods are gaining in popularity because they have a unique look, and some have a beautiful natural color that doesn’t require staining. Here are a few other exotic woods that can be installed in homes:
- Brazilian cherry
- Sydney blue gum
- Australian cypress
- Brazilian walnut
Keep in mind that exotic woods are likely to cost more than traditional wood flooring. You may also want to consider whether the wood you select is endangered or controlled, as some materials are harvested more sustainably than others.
Finished or unfinished wood
Finished wood comes with a stain and topcoat—the only thing left to do is install it. Unfinished wood, by contrast, is stained and finished after installation.
Unfinished wood may be the best choice if you have a custom stain in mind, as prefinished wood is available in only a few dozen shades. Unfinished wood is also a good bet for your kitchen floor because the finishing process will seal any gaps between the boards, in the event that there’s any water spillage. That said, finished wood is quicker and more convenient to install. There’s no dust or fumes, and you don’t have to wait for the stain and finish to dry before walking on your new floors.
When it comes to flooring costs, the difference between finished and unfinished wood may be neglible, with a slight advantage for finished materials. Prefinished hardwood flooring costs more upfront but less to install. Unfinished hardwood flooring will set you back $1 less per square foot for materials, but you’ll have to pay to have it stained and finished, and defects are less likely to be covered by a warranty. You may pay less over time if you opt for finished wood.
Engineered hardwood vs. solid hardwood
Solid hardwood is the real deal, with boards cut from a single piece of wood. On the other hand, engineered hardwood contains several thin layers of material—including compressed wood, resin, polymers and solid hardwood—put together. Solid hardwood has the true hardwood look and can be refinished over and over, allowing you to buff out scratches for far less than the cost of replacing your flooring.
While not quite as pure as solid hardwood, engineered hardwood has some distinct advantages. It can be installed over concrete, as it doesn’t have to be nailed into the subfloor. It also holds up better against humidity and is less likely to dramatically expand and contract (solid hardwood can gap when this happens), so you can install it in basements or moisture-rich conditions. It’s also much easier to install, as the planks simply snap together.
Engineered hardwood is also cheaper than solid hardwood: for example, engineered red oak costs $1 to $2 less per square foot than prefinished solid red oak.
Hardwood vs. carpet
Hardwood floors and carpeting have a few obvious differences in look and feel, so you’ll have to weigh these against your personal and aesthetic preferences.
Carpet is soft and comes in a wide variety of colors and textures. It’s also fairly budget-friendly, depending on the material. However, hardwood flooring is much easier to clean and care for in the long run. While wood floors require a quick sweep and mop, carpet traps dirt that’s difficult to remove, even with shampoo. It also stains more easily.
“The downside to hardwood is it can be noisy, especially compared to carpet,” Severson said. “It will also feel a bit cooler on your feet than carpet, which can be a pro or a con depending on who you are.”
Hardwood flooring adds beauty and character to your space, and if selected, installed and cared for properly, it holds up well against wear and tear.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of hardwood floor is best?
The best kind of hardwood floor depends on the look you’re going for, where you’re installing the flooring and how much you want to spend. Solid hardwoods such as hickory and maple are especially durable if you like the aesthetic, but an engineered hardwood may be the more budget-friendly option for more humid environments.
Which hardwood flooring is the most durable?
Hickory is the most durable hardwood flooring, with an 1820 rating on the Janka scale (an industry standard for wood hardness).