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How to Choose Hardwood Flooring

How to Choose Hardwood Flooring

Benefits | Step 1 – How to Choose | Step 2 – Design & Lifestyle | Step 3 - Other considerations 

Step 1 - How to Choose

There are two main types of hardwood floors – multi-layered (engineered) hardwood and single-layer (or solid) hardwood. To make the best choice for your home, consider how the different types of hardwood flooring are made, where your room is located, moisture levels in the installation space, and what kind of subfloor would be underneath the hardwood.

Types of Wood Floors

Multi-layered (Engineered) Hardwood Flooring
Most commonly referred to as engineered hardwood, multi-layered flooring is sold as strips made up of a hardwood surface glued onto a backer board ideally constructed of 2 or 3 layers of a Baltic Birch “sandwich” running at perpendicular direction for ideal stability. The top layer is referred to as the wear layer. Its thickness will influence how many times the floor can be refinished, and should be at least 5/32” thick.

Engineered hardwood is resistant to expansion and contraction from temperature changes and moisture, offering superior strength and resistance. It can be installed above or below grade and is a good choice for condos, basements and commercial applications. The flooring can be glued directly onto concrete, an existing floor, an acoustic underlay or even a subflloor with radiant heat.    

 Engineered hardwood should not be confused with laminate flooring, which is made up of laminated planks that only look like wood, finished with a plastic polymer coating. Often laminate flooring is not fastened to the subfloor, and is called “floating floor.”


Single-layer Hardwood Flooring
Single-layer hardwood flooring (also refered to as “solid” hardwood) has been around the longest and is the most recognizable type of hardwood flooring. Single-layer hardwood planks are made of 100 per cent solid wood in one piece, as apposed to engineered flooring made of a solid wood top over an engineered base).

These floors are normally nailed or stapled to a wooden subfloor. Because single-layer hardwood is not as dimensionally stable as engineered hardwood, it should only be installed in environments that are climate controlled all year round to avoid warping, cupping or gaping.

The most common thickness is 3/4", and floors can be sold as either pre-finished or unfinished. Unfinished solid hardwood is sold in strips, which have to be nailed to a wood subfloor. They are low-cost and easy to install, but finishing the surface must be done on site and can take three to five days to complete. Pre-finished solid hardwood is sold as ready-to-install wood strips that are already sanded, stained and finished.

The impact of the subfloor on installation methods
A hardwood floor is only as good as the subfloor to which the hardwood is attached. The subfloor material determines which installation method can be used.

Types of installation
There are three basic methods of installing hardwood flooring: Nail-down, glue-down, or floating.

When nailing or stapling down hardwood flooring, the subfloor must be made of a material that will hold a nail or a staple for the life of the floor. Vinyl, glued-down carpet, concrete, plywood over concrete or ceramic tile should be removed to get down to the solid flat, level and dry subfloor.

Particleboard subfloors are not recommended, as the nails will eventually work themselves loose.

Since engineered hardwood can be glued down, installed as a floating floor or nailed down, it can be installed over a wider variety of subfloors.

  Plywood Concrete Radiant heat Vinyl and ceramic
Nail-down X X    
Glue-down X X X X
Floating X X X X

Below or above grade level
When choosing what type of hardwood floors to buy, you must also consider where they are being installed – in the basement (below grade) or, ground floor or above (above grade). This will impact which type of flooring and installation method can be used.


Above-grade (upper floors)
In wood frame multi family buildings and houses the upper floor subfloor is usually wood with joists that can be suitable for single-layer or engineered hardwood floors. Floors can be installed using any of the three methods: nail-down, glue-down or floating.

On-grade (main floor)
When the room is level with the exterior ground height, installation of hardwood will usually be on top of joists or post and beam construction, which can be suitable for single-layer or engineered hardwood floors. If installing over a crawl space, you should check for proper ventilation to avoid moisture build-up that can cause cupping and warping. Floors can be installed using any of the three methods: nail-down, glue-down or floating.

Below-grade (basement)
Basement rooms usually have cement subfloors, so engineered hardwood should be your flooring choice. There is generally higher moisture levels / fluctuation below-grade, so it is crucial to use moisture barriers. Floors can be installed using either glue-down or floating methods.

Concrete Construction
When installing hardwood on a concrete floor (with or with out radiant heat) it is best to install an engineered product. Although single-layer (solid) wood can be glued down it is susceptible to contraction and expansion as a result of varying moisture levels inherent to a concrete subfloor.


Benefits | Step 1 – How to Choose | Step 2 – Design & Lifestyle | Step 3 - Other considerations


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