I feel like I could write a book on everything I’ve learned during our never-ending renovation. Of the many subject matters I’m quickly becoming an expert in (or at least FEEL like I’m becoming an expert in) flooring has become one of them. With my real-life experience (which you simply can’t beat) and some additional tips from a Shaw Flooring expert (Natalie Cady, Shaw’s Hardwood Category Manager) I wanted to give you guys some pointers on what I’ve learned during this process.
1. Different types of hardwood perform better or worse for certain types of environments, lifestyles & zip codes.
Solid hardwood is more dominant in northeastern markets while engineered hardwood is more prevalent in most all other zip codes, especially concrete slab environments like Texas, Florida and California. But since our home isn’t new, and doesn’t have a concrete slab foundation, solid hardwoods ended up being the best option for us.
Another fun fact is the softer the hardwood, the easier it is to dent, as I’m sure you already knew. Pine is considered one of the softest, so if you’ve got an active family or pets around the house, Pine might not be the best choice. That’s typically why hardwoods like oak, maple and hickory are three of the most popular species. Oak is a great choice for durability and reasonable price points.
2. Your subfloors have to be WAY flatter than you would ever expect, but it’s all for a good reason. Let me explain…
I never knew a subfloor had to be super flat in order to install a new wood floor. Our house is nearly 100 years old, so our original hardwoods were in BAD condition, and that’s putting it nicely. Our house is a pier and beam (not slab like most new homes), so over the years, our joists under the house that supported our original hardwoods had morphed over time, causing our floor to look like Mount Everest in certain areas.
After months of going back and forth on how to handle the situation, myself and the Shaw team ultimately decided that it would be best to go with a pre-finished solid hardwood. The flatness of the floor had to be within a certain amount of inches (it varies per home) in elevation in order to begin install. If your subfloor isn’t flat enough (or too old, damaged or susceptible to moisture), the floors could pop out of place over time due to an improper sub floor.
Long story short, I worked with my general contractor to rip out our old floor and rebuild our subfloor, and after a few days of work, we were able to begin installing our floor. And let me tell you, it was all worth it! Our floors are SO flat and look amazing. Above is progress shot from install day. Big difference, huh?
3. With so many products and brands out there, it’s hard to choose between them all, but believe it or not, the brand of flooring DOES matter.
Think big picture here. Think about the quality of the floor. Think about the quality of the customer service. When picking out hardwoods, you even have to think about the installation. As I went through this process with Shaw, I found myself impatient at times, because I just wanted the floors to be done asap so I could get my little family moved in. (short term goals, right?) Well, looking back, I’m SO glad Shaw was actually looking out for me and my family for the long haul. They have very strict installation standards and only recommend certain types of flooring for certain types of homes. They had my back through the whole process, even though I could only focus on my short term goals.
Before working with Shaw, I made it a point to walk into multiple hardwood suppliers in the area and ask specifically, “If you were installing hardwoods, which brand would you go with?” Each time, the answer was Shaw Flooring. When I asked “Why?”, the answer was pretty consistent. “You just can’t beat them.” After months of research, I knew this was the brand I wanted to work with.
4. Dark flooring might be dreamy, but it also comes with some baggage.
Forever we dreamed about dark hardwoods. It was all I could think about! Many people advised us against it since we have cats that shed and a newborn baby, but we couldn’t get the idea out of our head. It wasn’t until we brought a sample home and realized that with our pet-friendly and kid-friendly home, it wasn’t going to be the right fit for us.
The cat hair immediately started to appear and we knew our plan needed to change. If you live in a household without kids or pets, a super dark hardwood just might work for you! But for our multi-cat house and kids on the brain, it just wasn’t the right choice for us.
(Below is a photo of the medium-toned hardwood we ended up installing and LOVING)
The above flooring is World Traveler in Trail from Shaw Flooring
5. There is a difference between pre-finished solid hardwood and engineered hardwood.
Ok, so when you’re in the store looking at samples, they kind of all look the same, right? Well, they’re not.
By definition, solid hardwood is exactly what it sounds like – solid; each plank is made from a solid piece of wood that’s typically 3/4 of an inch thick.
Engineered hardwood is made of a core of hardwood with a real wood veneer on top. Shaw Flooring’s popular EPIC Plus Engineered Hardwood is made with a ground-breaking technology called Stabilitek; their proprietary core platform designed for high performance and lasting durability.
Something else to keep in mind: Engineered hardwood may be cut in a variety of ways and lengths. Solid, on the other hand, is limited on width and length due to limitations from the log.
6. Before installing, you have to let the wood acclimate to your home.
You finally get your beautiful hardwoods delivered and now your ready to install! Well I hate to break it to you, but that’s not how it works. It’s always a best practice to let the wood acclimate to the average temperature of your home. You will thank yourself later. No, it doesn’t have to be weeks and weeks of waiting, but an average of 1 week is pretty standard.
7. You want your installer to lay out the entire floor BEFORE nailing it down.
The above flooring is World Traveler in Trail from Shaw Flooring
When installing the floor, we found out that a good installer will literally lay out your entire wood floor before nailing (or gluing) it down. This is done to make sure the coloring and grain looks even throughout. Not every installer does this, so when shopping around, make sure to ask if they “rack the floor” during install. “Racking the floor” is a critical, yet time consuming step. It typically requires 2-3 people and is important in determining appropriate placement of joints and lessening product waste.
8. If you’re doing a remodel like we did, you might need to cut all of the bottom of the doors before install.
This is yet another thing we forgot about during our remodel. With so many decisions being made, and so many projects going on, it can be hard to remember everything. But make sure to remember to cut the bottom of your doors! This can be done before or after install, but just know that if it’s not done before install, your contractor will literally have to remove all the doors from your house so that the floors can be installed. Even if you cut all the doors before install, there is a good chance you will have to go in and re-cut a few doors after the flooring is complete.
9. Quarter round can be painted or stained, so make sure to determine and communicate which you want.
We went with stained quarter round, but it’s really just a personal preference. Whichever you choose, make sure to communicate that to the flooring company that you’re ordering your product from. Wouldn’t you hate to have the wrong finish-out due to a simple miscommunication?
10. Bring your samples home before making that final decision.
Flooring samples look SO different in the store compared to your home. For example, the lighting in the flooring store might be a yellow light, when your home has a ton of windows, which leans more toward a blueish/white natural light. This difference can be huge when looking at the coloring of the floor. One floor might have a green tone in the store, but when you bring it home, it’s the exact brown that you were looking for. The floor we ended up choosing wasn’t even our #1 choice when we were in the store. I think it was our third favorite. But when we brought it home, we knew that was “the one!”
11. Flooring comes in different plank sizes, and even a “mixed width” option if you just can’t decide.
Yup. As if there weren’t enough choices already, plank sizes run from 2 ¼” to 9 ¼” wide. But please note that not all sizes are available in all styles. For example, 4” is standard in solid hardwood but not engineered. Many collections now have mixed widths in the same carton for greater variation and realism. We personally debated between all of these choices and ultimately decided on the 4 inch option for our solid hardwoods.
So I hope all of these tips are helpful in your search for hardwood floors. After nearly a year of research and “lessons learned” I couldn’t help but share my experiences with you all!