Wood floors are immediately recognizable for their worth, durability and attractiveness. If you have an expanse of gleaming wood flooring, or have recently discovered a viable wood floor during a home remodel, then you may be on the hunt for what type of wood lies beneath your living space.
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There are many types of old hardwood floors that can hold up to high traffic, remodels and renovations. However, not all hardwoods are the same. In order to clean, repair, stain or treat the wood flooring, you will need to correctly identify the type of hardwood under your feet.
When It’s Not Hardwood
It may appear rather sturdy, but just because you've found a gorgeous wood floor in your living space doesn't mean it is hardwood. Softwoods are often chosen for a flooring option for their smooth surface. These include Pine, Fir, Cypress, Cedar, Spruce, and Hemlock.
Softwoods are typically less expensive than hardwoods, and therefore are a popular choice for homeowners. They are also fast to repopulate and considered to be a more environmentally friendly and sustainable building product over hardwoods. The pores of the softwoods are closed and create a smoother surface with swirls of grain.
You can identify a softwood floor by scratching at the surface. If you drag your fingernail across the surface and it leaves a gouged trail, then you more than likely have a softwood floor.
Solid Wood vs. Engineered Wood
With so many options on the market, it's hard to know which one is best for your living space. Traditionally, hardwood floors were made of lumber from regional species. Today, hardwood flooring options include engineered wood that looks a lot like the real thing, but at a lower cost.
Hardwood is milled from a single piece of wood. It is cut down into planks that vary in hue and pattern as the log is cut into long layers. The cost can be around $5 per square foot for a premier pre-finished plank, such as Red Oak.
Engineered wood is processed with multiple layers laid and pressed on top of each other, with a thin layer of hardwood on top. An engineered wood plank of Red Oak may run around $2 per square foot.
Types of Solid Wood Boards
There are three main types of solid wood available in unfinished and pre-finished versions. After insulation, an unfinished floor needs to be sanded and completed. A pre-finished hardwood floor is ready to install as soon as it arrives, and acclimates to the home's temperature and humidity, usually within 24 to 48 hours.
- Strip flooring: The wood planks have a set width of 1 1/2 inches, 2 inches and 2 3/4 inches. They have a set thickness from 5/16 of an inch to 3/4 of an inch.
- Plank flooring: This type of hardwood flooring only comes in two set thicknesses, but a wider variety of widths. Thickness is 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch, while widths can be as narrow as 3 inches or as wide as 8 inches across.
- Parquet flooring: This is a mix of lengths of hardwood flooring that is set up in geometrical patterns. The slats are held in place with a mechanical fastening or an adhesive along the back.
Benefits of Hardwood Flooring
There are many benefits for choosing a classic hardwood floor. For one, hardwood floors are durable and can stand up to generations of heavy traffic, maintaining their structural integrity and aesthetic.
A solid hardwood floor can also stand up to being refinished repeatedly, and can last for decades as styles and tastes change. The planks are milled specifically to create a uniform and stable fit.
Hardwood floors are easy to clean with a quick sweep and occasional damp mop, plus mild detergent. Allergens, animal dander, dust, pollen and other particles that can collect in carpet fibers or grout won't stick to the surface of hardwood floors that are regularly maintained.
Plus, from shades to patterns and plank width, hardwood floors offer a wide variety of choices. Overall, hardwood floors tend to increase the value of your property.
How to Identify Hardwood
There are many types of hardwoods for building, but only a few wood species are typically used to cover wood floors. This makes identifying the hardwood easier, but even professional installers can be stumped when it comes to hardwood floor identification. Knowing how to clean, repair and otherwise prep the new-found wood for your home depends on what type of wood you have.
To correctly identify the type of hardwood, you need to perform a few tests. Some species are easy to identify, such as Oak, Pine, Cherry and Fir. The Wood Database online can show specific grain types, color variations and hardness to help in the hardwood floor identification.
If you aren't sure, then a wood identification app can help you identify hardwood by its color, appearance or other features. Scrape the wood in an inconspicuous place to get a good look at the original color and grain before you attempt to ascertain the type with a wood identification app or online hardwood floor types and pictures.
Types of Old Hardwood Floors
There are many types of old hardwood floors in homes around the world. They typically come from a few species. These include:
- Oak: Traditional, light and lovely, oak is a classic hardwood flooring choice. It adds old-fashioned charm and warmth and is available in red and white. Red oak is lighter and more neutral. White oak is more of a pale brown, with either a pink or gray undertone washed throughout the sturdy planks.
- Cherry: This is one of the most popular species for use in flooring. American or black cherry is identifiable for its tight grain and deep red and soft pink hues. It typically has a high shine and lustrous finish. It can be susceptible to sun damage, and is a rather expensive flooring choice.
- Walnut: The rich brown color of walnut tends to lean toward a deep purple hue with swirling grains. It is a soft hardwood, but can stand up to floods of natural light on a regular basis, unlike cherry. It is rather expensive, but lightweight, so it is often used in upper stories.
- Maple: Distinct with its blonde color and closed grain, maple is highly durable and one of the hardest of the hardwoods. It can stand up to the clawing of pets, rambunctious children and heavy traffic over decades without requiring much maintenance. Maple is affordable and can absorb stains well to create darker flooring that mimics walnut or cherry.
- Ash: Light almost to a whitish hue, Ash can stand up to high traffic, but is smooth and comfortable for bare feet. It is affordable, and adds warmth and style for almost any décor.
- Hickory: When properly maintained, the durable planks of hickory can last a lifetime. It runs from a reddish brown color to a creamy white with swirls of grain. It is expensive to install due to its hardness and difficulty in cutting.
Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for a variety of clients, including The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal Home section and other national publications. As a professional writer she has researched, interviewed sources and written about home improvement, interior design and related business trends. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her full bio and clips can be viewed at www.vegaswriter.com.