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Under Your Feet: Steps for Shopping and Caring for Hardwood Flooring

Natural hardwood is the gold standard in flooring that newer flooring technologies are measured against for aesthetic appeal, comfort level, durability, ease of maintenance and environmental friendliness. So far, it’s been no contest. Wood is warmer underfoot than any man-made product, more pliable and more durable by miles. Many colonial homes have had their hardwood floors for centuries, after all. Solid hardwood only needs refinishing once every couple of decades or so.

If you’re excited about installing hardwood floors in your home, you should be. It’s a flooring choice that instantly raises the value of your home, screaming quality in a way potential homebuyers always notice. If you’re ready to shop, here’s how you should go about it.

Decide if you’re going to do the whole house or just a room or two

If you’re doing the whole house, you can be assured you’ll have a seamless expanse of color and grain everywhere. If you’re only doing a couple of rooms, though, you do need to seriously consider matching for wood species, color and grain. You need to make sure that the materials that you get match the flooring that you already have in other rooms. It’s usually a good idea to buy a few square feet of different woods on your shortlist first, have it installed to check for good match and transition. Once you decide on something, you should make sure that you buy at least 10% more than you think you need by your best calculations. You’ll also need an extra couple of boxes extra to set aside for future repairs.

Make sure that you consider all natural options

To many people, the term hardwood is a catchall for solid hardwoods, glueless hardwoods, engineered hardwoods and even bamboo. Getting these terms mixed up usually means they don’t pay adequate attention to the different possibilities available. Bamboo is cheaper and lighter, but just as beautiful as hardwood, if not as durable. Engineered hardwood also tends to not as durable, but can be more resistant to the warping forces brought about by high levels of humidity. Glueless hardwoods are easier to install for the DIY enthusiast.

Make sure that you understand the grade that you’re buying

Hardwood comes in several grades of quality. The traditional and exclusive grades are high quality, but not as good as the select and better grades. You can easily compare by asking for the same species in different grades, and holding them next to each other. You’ll usually see more natural coloring and grain variation in the higher grades.

Selecting the right width

It’s preferred these days to choose hardwood planks as wide as 3 ¼ inches. The wider the width, though, the more humidity-related expansion there tends to be. If you live in a high-humidity area, 2 ¼ inches tends to be more appropriate.

Installing hardwood flooring

It certainly is possible to lay down your own hardwood flooring, especially the newer, glueless kinds. It’s important to remember, though, that there is a lot more to successful hardwood installations than making sure that the center of the room is nicely level. The edges, with their cuts and joints, can get complicated; adjusting door and baseboard heights can be a pain, as well. If you’re getting natural hardwood, warping- and humidity-related expansion is a major concern. Hardwood floors are an investment of a lifetime. It makes a lot of sense to leave things to the experts.

Making sure that your hardwood flooring always looks like a million bucks

If you’re getting natural hardwood, as opposed to the engineered kind, the number one rule of longevity there is to maintain humidity to around 45%. If you have anything higher in your area, you should get a dehumidifier. Low levels of humidity can actually make a house more comfortable to live in, as well.

Once you have all concerns about humidity taken care of, it’s time to think of day-to-day maintenance.

Basic care from one day to the next

The number one rule of caring for hardwood is to not let dust settle. Dust that lies undisturbed on hardwood for weeks together will usually stick to the surface. Regular vacuuming is what helps.

You will likely see dirt, oil and grime build up over time in spite of your best efforts with the vacuum. You need to go over your floors with a damp cloth to rub any spots out before they become too ingrained. If you see oil-based stains, you’ll need a spot of dishwashing liquid to take it out. Watermarks and high heel damage come out with steel wool and floor wax.

It takes some constant care to make sure that your hardwood is the way it should be. What you get in return, though, is a home that is truly high-end.

Bryan Farrar has worked in the construction industry since leaving school. He discovered he enjoyed writing, sharing his knowledge of the industry, when he was stuck in hospital after a work site accident left him with some broken bones and was thrilled when his first article was published.

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