Learn how to size up the many types of wood floors available and make the choice that best fits your home and budget. We'll tell you the strengths and weaknesses of solid wood floors and laminated wood floors, as well as the price range and the skills you'll need if you want to install them yourself. We'll also give you expert buying advice so you can shop for your wood floor and get the best deal possible.
Love wood floors? It's no wonder. Wood is rich looking, warm, durable and easy to keep clean. It's still the most seductive and charming type of floor in a home. But it's also a big investment, one that you'll live with for a long time. In this article, we'll tell you how to size up the many types of wood floors available and make the choice that best fits your home and budget. Most wood floors fall into two categories with unique characteristics: solid wood and laminated (layered). We'll tell you the strengths and weaknesses of each type, as well as the price range and the skills needed if you want to install them yourself. Finally, we'll include buying advice we gleaned from wood floor experts.
A traditional solid wood floor has random butt joints, a variety of wood grain patterns and, often, slim cracks between strips during the dry season.
3/4-in. x 2-1/4-in. oak solid flooring has a traditional appearance that last a lifetime.
Unfinished 3/4-in.-thick strips are nailed, sanded and finished on site, making this type of floor the most labor-intensive choice. It can be custom-stained for the exact color desired. Widely available in many grades of oak and maple, and almost any other species by special order. Cost: $3 to $5 per sq. ft. for flooring (oak) and finish; $8 to $12 per sq. ft. professionally installed and finished.
Prefinished strips offer more precise milling and the slight edge bevels allow nailing without sanding. The strips have a tough, factory-applied finish in a limited choice of stains and species, mostly oak and maple. Cost: $4 to $6 per sq. ft. for flooring (oak); $8 to $12 professionally installed.
Prefinished or unfinished planks (3/4-in.-thick tongue-and-groove boards) are available in a more limited range of hardwoods and softwoods. These sometimes require additional screws or nails to keep the floor solid. Cost: Same as other unfinished and prefinished flooring.
Solid wood flooring is usually made from 3/4-in.-thick strips, either 1-1/2- or 2-1/4 in.-wide, or sometimes 3/4-in.-thick “planks, ” which are wider. It has a tongue and groove milled into the edges. When nailed through the tongues, the strips interlock to form a strong floor that feels solid underfoot. The strips are typically milled at random lengths up to about 6 ft. long. The finished floor shows random butt joints and strips displaying a wide variety of grain patterns, both traditional characteristics of a solid strip floor. A thick wear layer allows sanding and refinishing four to six times before it wears out.
Unfinished flooring must be sanded. You'll need to rent a flooring nailer and a sander.
Laying a solid wood floor requires some carpentry experience. You may need a power miter saw and a table saw for cutting smooth transitions to other types of flooring and for other details.
Expands and contracts with humidity changes. Expect slight cracks to open between strips during the dry season unless you control indoor humidity year-round. The cracks will be prominent in light-colored wood.
Laminated wood flooring is stable, excellent over concrete and easier to install than solid wood flooring.
Laminated floors consist of wood layers with narrow strips on the top that mimic solid wood strip floors.
Laminated floors are prefinished, have precision-fitted tongues and grooves and mimic the appearance of a traditional strip floor.
Laminated floors consist of wood layers, much like plywood, with the “show” wood on the top. Don't confuse these with “laminate” floors, which have a tough plastic top layer. You can choose among a wide variety of flooring boards 3/8-in. to 5/8-in. thick, 3-in. to 8-in. wide and up to 8 ft. long. The top layer of wide boards usually consists of narrower strips to better mimic solid wood strip floors. The boards have precise tongues and grooves for tight-fitting joints. Laminated floors are prefinished in a wide range of stains. Depending on the thickness of the top “wear” layer, laminated floors can be sanded and refinished zero to four times. Material prices range from $5 to $12 per sq. ft., virtually the same as for prefinished solid strip floors.
Lay a pad and snap or glue together floating floors. Clamps hold glued edges tight until they dry.
With the floating technique, you don't fasten the flooring to the subfloor. Rather you glue or snap the edges of the boards together to make a solid sheet that rests on a pad. This technique works well over concrete as well as wood subfloors. A floating floor must be free to expand and contract. Use special transitions to cover the edges where the floor meets carpeting, tile, stairs and other types of flooring. Buy a sound-deadening pad from a dealer; floating floors tend to be loud underfoot.
A floating floor is easy to lay but requires simple carpentry skills around edges and transitions. When edge-gluing, use special clamps to make sure the joints stay tight until the glue dries. Rent or buy these clamps from the flooring dealer if you do it yourself.
Glue laminated strips to dry, flat subfloors much as you would do with tile.
Most types of laminated floors can be glued to a wood subfloor or dry concrete. However, when the wood contracts, a glue-down floor is more prone to gaps at the joints than a floating floor is.
Rent a special flooring stapler designed for the flooring thickness.
Much like solid strip floors, some types of laminate flooring can be nailed (usually stapled) to solid wood subfloors.
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
You may require specialized tools depending on your installation technique. Specialized clamps are required to hold floating floors in place until the glue dries. You may have to rent a flooring nailer and a sander to install both solid and laminate wood floors.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.