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Wood flooring is beautiful but with high price tags and difficult installations, it can be out of reach for many. Until now! Today, we’re discussing the pros and cons of five affordable and easy-to-install wood flooring types that will have you swooning. Let’s get started:
1. Solid Hardwood
Solid hardwood is what most of us think of when we hear “wood floors.” It is traditional and, when done right, absolutely stunning. When you consider whether or not solid hardwood planks are right for you, you need to consider your existing needs and home layout. If you’re building a custom home and starting from scratch, or have very high ceilings, installing hardwood is a doable option. Hardwood raises the flooring and will sometimes require doors to be shortened. If you’re looking for flooring for a low-ceiling basement, hardwood probably isn’t great since it will “steal” vertical space where you need it the most.
One good thing about hardwood, however, is that it is available in a wide variety of flooring choices and can be easily refinished. You can purchase it prefinished before installation, or unfinished (in which case you can finish it yourself after installation, often a cheaper option). You can also choose the width of your planks. A general rule of thumb is that thicker planks cost more, so this is another opportunity for savings.
Another opportunity to save money on wood flooring is by installing reclaimed wood floors. Pine, an inexpensive wood, was frequently used in old barns and farmhouses and is now fairly widely available. Of course, not all reclaimed wood is affordable–it certainly pays to do your homework. Traditionally, however, hardwood floors cost more than most other types of wood flooring. That’s why we’re glad we have four more options for wood flooring!
There are many different types of hardwoods to install. Combining wood you like with a plank width and stain you prefer can result in a truly custom experience. Here are some popular options:
Oak is the most popular hardwood choice in the US. It is very durable and has an obvious grain that will show through stains.
Ash is even harder than oak and much lighter in color, though the grain still shows through. The lightest ash flooring can be the most expensive.
Pine is extremely soft and varies in grain and color depending on if you’re using heartwood or sapwood. It’s often called a “character wood” because homeowners can expect just that–lots of character as this wood dents and scratches with frequent use. People who install it, however, see that as part of this wood’s charm.
Maple is another option that’s extremely hard and durable. It’s usually lighter in color and tends to become more yellow with age. It’s not used as often as oak because it doesn’t take a stain well. Most people who opt for maple do so for its lighter color and choose to top it with a clear coat rather than try to stain it.
2. Engineered Hardwood
Like most natural products, solid hardwood can change over time. Depending on humidity, weather temperatures, installation techniques, and foundation movement, wood floors can expand, shrink, or do both. They can also be difficult to care for and as we mentioned earlier, expensive. One great alternative? Engineered hardwood.
Engineered hardwood has many of the same pros as solid hardwood, with few of the cons. A plank of engineered wood flooring consists of plywood, high-density fiberwood, or a cheap hardwood surrounding by a wood veneer–an extremely thin strip of wood. You get the look of wood (indeed, what you see is wood) but the planks are usually quieter and can be glued directly to the subfloor or soundproofing material so they don’t shorten the room. They also tend to be quieter and less susceptible to moisture and heat, which means they’re less likely to shrink or expand.
These floors are typically very low maintenance but keep in mind that if the veneer is too thin, you won’t be able to sand and refinish them. Like solid plank floors, however, these come in a variety of woods and finishes however you will have fewer choices. The most popular choices for engineered hardwood flooring are red oak, hickory, and Brazilian cherry. You also might have a difficult time finding unfinished engineered hardwood options; most come prefinished.
Installing hardwood floors (whether solid planks or engineered wood flooring) is fairly straightforward. While not a quick project, it is a project that doesn’t require special tools, labor or equipment. The only thing you’ll need is a hammer, rubber mallet, a pair of kneepads, a tape measure, and a pneumatic floor gun.
3. Bamboo Flooring
Bamboo–yes, that thing that pandas eat–is a type of grass, but it’s often grouped with hardwoods because the resulting product looks like wood. When you hear “bamboo,” you probably think of traditional bamboo floors found throughout Asia. These are made by slicing bamboo stems into thin planks and nailing them down to larger bamboo pieces to create a floor that breathes.
Newer techniques, however, have created a product interchangeable with solid hardwood or engineered planks. These floors are created either by shredding, treating, and then pressing the bamboo fibers into planks or by a complex process that presses and glues treated strips together. Since some manufacturers still use formaldehyde in the production of their floors, it is ultra important to choose a reputable bamboo floor dealer. You do not want undetectable fumes wafting through your home!
Unlike wood, bamboo replenishes quickly, making it a popular choice among conservationists. While hardwoods take many tens of years to reach harvestable maturity, bamboo can be ready for harvest within three to five years.
Bamboo flooring is loved for its durability and exotic, stylish look. Depending on how it is manufactured, it can be as hard or even harder than red oak and installation is as easy as installation on other hardwood floors, which means it’s a great option for a DIY project.
4. Laminate Flooring
Don’t turn up your nose; today’s laminate flooring looks almost indistinguishable from hardwood flooring thanks to a highly-evolved photographic process that prints extremely realistic textures and designs onto a fiberboard core. You can get classic choices like red oak or exotic choices like prado and generally for a fraction of the price of the “real” thing.
One of the things people generally love is how easy laminate flooring is to install. It typically comes in a click lock system that fits together like a puzzle piece. Since the boards are so soft, they can put with a handsaw or utility knife. This does, however, make it slightly more difficult to install them, as they don’t always click and lock like they should.
Laminate floors are easy to clean, but they do need to be mopped with a special laminate floor cleaner. Like wood and bamboo, they are not impervious to moisture and are not good choices for bathrooms, kitchens, or other places where moisture might accumulate.
Like everything else, higher quality flooring will last longer, resist fading better, and look more like the real thing, while lower quality flooring will be noisier and need to be replaced sooner (and you can’t refinish laminate). However, it is usually much more affordable than wood or bamboo flooring, which makes it a great project for someone on a budget.
5. Vinyl Flooring
Similar to laminate, vinyl has gotten a bad rap in the past, but recent upgrades have made it a whole new contender in the beautiful-yet-affordable category. One of the most exciting things is that it comes in a dizzyingly-wide variety of colors, shapes, and patterns. There are four main kinds of vinyl that you’ll be likely to run into:
Sheet Vinyl Flooring
Nothing like a great roll of vinyl! Sheet vinyl is just that–a giant sheet. It’s a great choice for wet places (like the bathroom) because it doesn’t have seams for moisture to hide in. It is, however, difficult to install. If you don’t do it right, it can bubble and stretch in weird ways. Pros typically don’t charge much, however, and the sheets themselves are very inexpensive.
Vinyl Tiles (VT)
Vinyl tiles, however, are great for DIY’ers as the peel-and-stick tiles usually come in 12-inch squares that are easy to apply. Because of the seams, however, they’re not good choices for bathrooms and kitchens, so beware.
Solid Vinyl Flooring Tile (SVT)
SVT is a little more elegant than VTs or sheets since the surfaces can be embossed to look like natural texture. They are also more durable.
Luxury Vinyl Flooring Tile (LVT)
If you want the convenience and price of vinyl, but still want the beauty of wood, LVT is the way to go. It is now available in planks so that it closely resembles laminate or hardwood flooring.
Vinyl is a popular choice thanks to how soft it feels and how easy it is to clean. Keep in mind, however, that it can be punctured and must be carefully installed, as a subfloor with heavy blemishes will show through the finished product.
Any of these five wood flooring options would be beautiful in your new home or home renovation. Now, the trick is to combine your budget and style preferences to find the perfect solution for you.