Solid wood flooring translates into solid VALUE! It is truly the REAL DEAL!
Solid wood flooring is where the real value is. Most solid flooring is 3/4" thick with a 5/16" wear layer. Solid hardwood flooring can last in excess of 100 years, no kidding. Many of the floors we refinish are in homes that are at least 50 years old, some are actually early 1900's homes. Many of these floors have more life left in them than a lot of cheaper prefinished engineered products on the market today!
With a 5/16" wear layer, solid wood flooring can be sanded and refinished 5-7 times, depending on the skill of the refinishers and the flatness of the floor in general. The flatter and more level the floor is to begin with, the less has to be sanded off to make the floor flat (or at least appear flat). This is why the subfloor that your flooring is installed on top of should be as flat and level as possible.
What To Know About Solid Wood Flooring
by Brian Kelley
Where to install solid hardwood flooring
Solid wood flooring should be installed at or above ground level, it is not recommended for installation below grade! Solid flooring is sensitive to fluctuations in moisture levels. The moisture content of most hardwood should between between 6%-10%, and it should remain as such. If moisture conent exceeds 10%, buckling can occur. This essentially pushes the floor boards together, swelling them up. If hardwood floors are installed with high moisture content and then that moisture excapes the wood after normal living conditions are met, the floor boards will usually "shrink up" causing gaps between each board. Engineered flooring is the only good option when you want hardwood in an area below ground level.
Methods of installation
3/4" Solid hardwood flooring must be nailed down to a wooden subfloor. This includes either plywood (not osb & preferrably not chipboard), or "screeds" (either 2x4 or 1x4 lumber affixed to concrete on 16" centers). There are several methods of creating a subfloor for your hardwood floors to nail to. Although there are a few manufacturer's that mill 1/2" thick flooring that can be glued down, this may not really gain you anything over an engineered hardwood floor. Reason being, the wear layer is what counts when you're talking how many times a floor can be refinished, and a 1/2 thick floor usually have the same wear layer as a quality engineered floor.
What to expect when shopping for solid hardwood flooring
The first thing to realize is that wood is a natural product, you already knew that! Well this just means that every single board is different: different grain patterns, dark mineral streaks, knots, pinholes, etc...This is what makes hardwood floors so beautiful!
Next, there is a grading system that catagorizes hardwood flooring, especially solid. Engineered unfinished flooring uses a grading system as well, but prefinished products don't generally present the option to choose different grades. To summarize, there are 4 grades that interest buyers, each with it's own price point and unique visual variations:
Rift & Quartered or Clear (most expensize and difficult to obtain)
Select & Better
#1 (most common)
Cabin Grade (this grade generally has lots of knots, splits, dark mineral grain streaks, and mis-milled boards)
For a more in depth discussion on shopping, see our Hardwood Floor Shopping Guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. My subfloor is a concrete slab and I want solid hardwood floors, what can I do?
A. This is the exact scenario that has caused engineered hardwood flooring to be so popular. The issue at hand is a 3/4" thick solid floor requires a wooden subfloor so it can be nailed/stapled down. YOU CANNOT GLUE 3/4" SOLID DOWN. Solid hardwood needs the opportunity to expand and contract. Glue does not allow for this, whereas nails do. (Note: we have seen a few rare instances where a manufacturer has offered 3/4" thick "shorts" that they specified can be glued down to a slab) In order for a hardwood floor to be glued down, each board needs to be milled very precisely and be very straight. Having said that, there are a few 1/2" thick solid flooring products on the market that can be glued down. Confused yet? Just Contact Us for questions.
Ok, so in order to install solid flooring on a slab you need to either install a plywood subfloor or a screed system (mentioned above). If your concrete slab was not recessed in order to accept such a system, you will most likely not have the clearance at some of your doors (especially outside doors), to be able to accomplish this. Here's why, the minimum height of a 3/4" plywood subfloor + 3/4" solid hardwood = 1 1/2". Take a tape measure and measure the clearance on your outside doors, you most likely don't have 1 1/2". Not to mention the transition to your other floor coverings will be much higher, cabinet toe-kicks will be shorter (if installing in kitchen or baths). If you're installing in some sort of "sunken" area, then you may not have any issues.
Q. Can I install solid hardwood flooring below grade (ground level)?
A. No, this is not advised. You should consider installing engineered flooring, as it is much less susceptible to moisture. It doesn't take water to cause moisture damage, it only takes the presence of moisture. Installing solid hardwood below grade will almost ensure that your floor will eventually buckle, especially during rainy seasons. If you are set on installing below grade, you should take precautions to make sure a 4-6 mil. plastic vapor barrier is installed under your subfloor. But again, this is not advised.
Q. Ok, so how do I know if my home is below grade?
A. If you are building a new home, you can ask your builder this question and you may get a slightly different answer than what we may give. Our assessment of what is below grade is pretty simple: if a significant part of the ground around any part of your house is above the top of the concrete slab, then guess where moisture will tend to migrate? Down to the top of the slab. Hopefully your house has a brick ledge to help prevent water from entering the home. If the foundation of your house is below street level, then you're below grade. If there is a retaining wall around any part of your house, it is below grade in a hardwood floor experts' eyes also!
"But our builder is putting adequate drainage in, and said we can install wood floors." That's great, and thank goodness for proper drainage! This should keep water from flooding your home, but solid hardwood will expand and contract with only the presence of moisture! This makes a great case for installing engineered flooring. So if your home falls into this catagory, see our article All About Engineered Hardwood Flooring.
A vast array of widths, species, colors, and grades are available.
The most typical solid hardwood flooring species are red oak, white oak, and maple. It doesn't end there, there are many other species available including walnut, beech, birch, cherry, mesquite, brazilian cherry, bamboo, and so on.
Which one you choose is up to you, the style of your home, and your budget. In general, you will pay more for imports like brazilian cherry, which is an extremely beautiful and durable species.
Solid wood flooring is also available as a prefinished flooring. Once again, you will find that most prefinished solid floors are red oak, white oak, and maple. Some manufacturer's may offer other species. There are also ways to have almost any wood flooring material custom prefinished in a factory. This would only be considered in a rare instance since site sanding and finishing a floor is completely custom as well.
Standard widths of solid wood flooring are 2 1/4", 3 1/4", 4", 5", & 6". There are custom options available as well. For example, we have refinished floors in historic homes where we have required 1 1/2" rift & quartered oak to be milled for repairs. Most solid hardwood flooring comes bundled in random length from 1'-7'. We've seen some custom milled hardwood flooring come in length up to 16'! This, or course depends on the lumber that the custom mill has available. Many times, there is no need to have anything longer than 6'-7'. Longer lengths can be more challenging to ship as well, possibly creating higher shipping costs. There are many variables involved when you start thinking about custom milling hardwood flooring.