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Hardwood Flooring Buying Guide Basics

We'll start with the basics of hardwood flooring. In this section, you'll learn about the initial things to consider when planning a hardwood flooring project. We'll cover important facts on the Janka Hardness Scale, how your environment can affect hardwood, recommendations for hardwood in different rooms of your home, parts of your lifestyle to consider, and basic care and maintenance of your flooring. This Buying Guide will help you determine if hardwood flooring is the right choice for you.

Janka Hardness Scale

Throughout this guide, you'll read about hardwood flooring based on its Janka rating or the Janka Hardness Scale. This rating is reached by measuring the force required for a .444–inch steel ball to become halfway embedded into a type of wood. It's a good indicator of a wood's ability to stand up to normal wear and tear and tolerate denting. When you're looking at the Janka chart, you will see woods rated from hardest to softest. In the flooring industry, and especially North America, all woods are compared to the hardness of Red Oak, which itself is a medium density wood. The Janka Scale can generally assist you in choosing a hardwood flooring type with a certain level of hardness depending on your flooring project needs.

Your Environment

When selecting a hardwood type for your flooring project, it is very important to be aware of your climate and environment. Hardwood flooring can be a considerable investment, so be certain to take the following points into consideration when planning your flooring project.

Humidity and Temperature

Hardwood flooring is a natural product and therefore expands and contracts with changes in humidity and temperature. Extremes in humidity or dryness can cause your hardwood floor to move or change shape and become uneven. Because of its single layer construction, solid hardwood flooring is more susceptible than engineered flooring to expanding and contracting with changes in humidity. Engineered hardwood flooring, with its multi–layered construction, is less prone to movement from humidity and temperature changes. Learn more about the differences between solid and engineered hardwood flooring in the "Types" section of this guide.

Recommendation: If you are concerned about the levels of humidity or temperature, installing engineered hardwood flooring can be a better investment than solid hardwood flooring. Also consider investing in a humidifier (for dry climates) or dehumidifier (for more humid climates) to keep the humidity steady in your home; it is generally recommended that the relative humidity level is between 40% and 60%.

Sunlight

Some hardwood floors are sensitive to natural sunlight, and over time they can fade, darken, or otherwise change shades. When speaking with a flooring or installation professional, be sure to describe the amount of sunlight that your room receives through doors and windows.

Recommendation: To minimize uneven fading effects, consider hanging curtains, blinds, or other window coverings where sunlight enters a room with hardwood floors. The areas under most furniture and area rugs will normally receive less exposure to sunlight, so if slight color changes do occur, occasionally rearranging furniture and rugs can help promote the floor balancing its color and tone.

Traffic

With regular maintenance, most hardwood floors can handle ordinary household traffic. For installing hardwood flooring in high traffic areas like entryways, highly–used hallways and kitchens, look for harder types of wood with higher Janka ratings, as well as more durable types of surface finishes.

Recommendation: Be sure to take note of high traffic areas in your home before selecting your hardwood. After installation, use area rugs for additional protection on your floors.

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Room–by–Room Practicality

Although flooring is completely customizable to one's needs and preferences, consider the following recommendations for hardwood flooring in specific home areas:

General Rooms

Living Room/ Bedroom/ Office/ Den

Hardwood floors are a classic choice for almost any room of your house, but consider choosing a harder wood with a high Janka rating for particularly busy or "high traffic" rooms in your home. A durable finish may also be considered for added protection; some hardwood finishes such as aluminum oxide and ceramic provide extra resistance to stains and scratches.

Recommendation: Consider a light–colored wood to make a smaller bedroom feel larger, or a dark hardwood for a warm and cozy feeling. Use felt or rubber furniture leg/feet protectors to avoid scratching the finish when furniture is moved. Protect any particular areas of hardwood flooring in your office by using a chair mat, and maintain the entire floor regularly. Take care when moving or bringing in new furniture by using floor mats and proper moving equipment.

Wet Area Rooms

Bathroom/ Kitchen

It is generally NOT recommended that you install hardwood flooring in bathrooms due to frequent exposure to moisture which can damage the hardwood; however, secondary or guest bathrooms that do not receive daily use may be an acceptable option. Hardwood floors do work well in kitchens with the proper care. Due to the possibility of spills, the perimeter of the flooring must be sealed to prevent moisture from getting under the hardwood.

Recommendation: Check with a flooring professional on recommended installation methods for hardwood in a bathroom. Be sure to verify the warranty you are receiving from the manufacturer or retailer can include bathrooms. In the kitchen, place mats below the sink and in other potentially wet areas, and always clean up any spills immediately.

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Lifestyle Elements

In addition to climate–based environmental factors that should be considered in your new flooring search, your lifestyle may affect the choices you make for your home.

Pets

Many hardwood floor warranties will NOT cover scratches, dents, or stains, so do what you can to prevent pet damage to your flooring.

Recommendation: Keep your pet's nails trimmed and clean up accidents immediately. Consider using pet water dishes with wide edges to prevent spilling, placing protective mats beneath food and water dishes, and adding area rugs to high–traffic pet areas as well.

Children

To better handle natural wear and tear from children in a home, look for hardwood floors that rank high on the Janka hardness scale. Harder wood flooring is more durable in active areas of your home and can better stand up to the possible dings or dents if hard objects are dropped on it.

Recommendation: Area rugs throughout your home can provide added protection of your floors. Placing mats outside your exterior doors can cut down on dirt and debris tracked into your home making it easier to keep clean and also protecting the finish on your hardwood floors.

Noise insulation

For multi–level homes, keep in mind that noises and household sounds like footsteps or a dropped object can be increased with hardwood floors. When purchasing hardwood flooring, be aware that both underlayments as well as certain adhesives can be used for noise insulation. Two types of sound ratings are available to measure how well materials can block or insulate sound: Sound Transmission Class (STC) measures airborne sound like speaking and music, and Impact Insulation Class (IIC) measures impact sounds like footsteps or dropped objects against a material. Ask your local retailer about products which carry with these sound ratings.

Recommendation: For maximum sound insulation, look for an underlayment (such as cork) that is made specifically to reduce noise levels. When installing hardwood flooring on upstairs levels, engineered floating installations are best, but confirm other options you may have with your installer. Determining STC and IIC ratings for your projects can ensure additional noise level insulation.

Special Needs

If you require a wheelchair, walker, cane, or other accommodations, look for the hardest of hardwoods for your flooring. Harder wood will better withstand dents and scratches.

Recommendation: Avoid high gloss finishes which can create slippery surfaces.

Basic Care

An important thing to consider when choosing new flooring is the maintenance it will require to keep it clean, safe, and looking as good as the day you installed it.

Cleaning and Maintenance

DOs

  • DO sweep, dust, or vacuum your hardwood floor often.
  • DO place floor doormats at entry ways.
  • DO purchase a floor–cleaning kit specific to your finish.
  • DO place floor protectors under furniture such as chair legs, TV stands, etc.
  • DO use area rugs or floor mats in high traffic areas and possible wet areas.
  • DO clean or remove shoes that may trap debris and scratch or dent flooring.

DON'Ts

  • DON'T mop your flooring with excessive water.
  • DON'T use generic cleaning products that may affect the finish of your floor.
  • DON'T wear high heels on hardwood flooring.
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