Choosing a hardwood floor is about more than just the color, texture, and woodgrain. Those are certainly important since you will surely have a design in mind for your space, but more important is the durability of the flooring you choose.
If you go for a type of wood that matches your interior design but is cheap and too soft, you will find yourself replacing it very soon, due to scratches, scuffs, and dents, and it will end up costing you more in the long run. So how do you go about choosing a type of hardwood for your floor that is durable and long-lasting, but also goes well with your furniture and design?
Below, we will explain how to know which types of wood might best suit your needs, as well as how to tell how durable each type of wood is, and how to ensure the longest possible lifespan for your new floor.
How to Measure Hardwood Durability?
There are a number of factors that affect the durability of a hardwood floor, despite a common misconception that hardness is the only important consideration. A high-quality hardwood is certainly an essential base for a durable floor, but without taking some other important factors into consideration, you may find yourself rather unhappy with the lifespan of your new hardwood floor.
- Hardness: Now, hardness might not be the only factor affecting the durability of a hardwood floor, but it is certainly one of the most important. The hardness of wood is determined using the Janka Hardness Test, which checks the amount of force required to push a steel ball halfway into the wood. The test generates a number that falls somewhere on the Janka Hardness Scale, between 0 and 4500, with the higher numbers denoting harder wood types. The hardness rating of the type of wood you choose will tell you how resistant it will be to denting, and how durable it will be in the long run.
- Color: This is a very important consideration when planning the design of your home or business, but it has another purpose, too; one which is largely forgotten when one considers possible flooring types. The color of your floor can either highlight or hide the scratches, dents, and scuffs which are an inevitable occurrence with most flooring types. Lighter wood colors tend to hide these blemishes best, while also providing a bright, airy base for your design.
- Sheen: This type of coating is often a standard practice these days, as it offers a boost to overall durability while improving the appearance of the wood, making it appear glossy and bright. Be careful, however, when pairing a glossy sheen with darker flooring options, as you may find the blemishes on your wood floor stand out more than you had anticipated. Choose lower sheen or matte finishes to prevent this.
- Finish: Although the hardness of the wood will be an important consideration when choosing a durable wood type for your floor, the finish applied to the wood will be the final step towards ensuring a long lifespan. Various finishes offer different advantages, but all of them aim to protect the wood from damage and make it last longer than it would on its own. Some finishes soak into the wood through its pores, saturating and strengthening it from the inside out.
Hardwood Floors with Highest Durability
Choosing a type of wood for your new floor can be a daunting task. There are so many species of wood to choose from, and they all have different colors and wood grains, not to mention maintenance requirements and prices. Here are the 7 most popular choices for hardwood flooring, as well as their hardness and other characteristics.
Ash is the softest of these 7 types of wood, measuring 1,320 on the Janka Hardness Scale. This wood has shock-absorbing properties and is very comfortable to walk on. It has a light grain pattern which is perfect for modern home designs. Ash is very flexible and does not splinter. It is tolerant to fluctuations in temperature, as well as humidity.
The hardness of oak wood varies greatly, depending on the subspecies. White oak, a commonly-used type of oak wood, measures 1,360 on the Janka Scale and is considered the hardness middle-ground and industry standard for hardwood types. Oak is a durable wood choice, with a number of advantages, including price, appearance, and ease of repairs. Oak develops a distinctive patina as it ages, looking better, rather than worse, with time.
Maple wood is a very shock-absorbent type of wood and is often used for the flooring of basketball courts as a result. It is also a very durable wood that holds up well against daily scuffs and scratches. Maple wood has a Janka rating of 1,450 and is an easily available, renewable resource. Its colors are creamy, and it has a light, open grain pattern that is a popular choice for modern home designs.
Hickory is the hardest species of wood local to the USA and is known for its durability, damage and moisture resistance, and interesting grain patterns. Hickory measures 1,820 on the Janka scale, and is long-lasting, wearing well in high traffic situations. It has a light, airy color range, which can easily be stained to match any desired tone. Use a wax finish on this wood type to improve its moisture-resistant qualities, and to give it a soft glow.
Brazilian cherry wood is named for and recognizable by, its warm red color range. It has a fine, straight grain pattern that is tight and even, and a shock-absorbent feel that makes walking on it a pleasure. This wood type is well suited for more traditionally designed spaces, and is extremely hard and durable, measuring 2,350 on the Janka scale.
Bamboo is the most eco-friendly option on this list, being very fast-growing, easily replanted, and highly renewable, as well as widely available and sustainable. Bamboo is a grass species, not a wood, and as such, there are many different types of bamboo flooring available. In flooring applications, bamboo looks and feels a lot like hardwood, and in its strand-woven form, it measures 3,000 on the Janka scale. Other options include horizontal and vertical constructions, natural or carbonized color finishes, and even engineered bamboo for the appearance with less expense.
The least sustainable wood on this list, ebony is also the most durable, beautiful, and expensive. This is one of the hardest woods measured on the Janka Hardness Scale, with a rating of 3,700 for the Brazilian subspecies. Ebony starts out in tones ranging from dark brown to pitch black and darkens with age, so be sure you want a very dark floor in time. Ebony wood has a very high density, which means it is resilient against daily wear and tear as well as impressively moisture-resistant.
Sadly, being the only black wood in the world, ebony has been extremely popular historically, and is now an endangered species, with many subspecies already extinct. It has become very expensive and difficult to procure, and if you intend to buy ebony flooring, you should ensure that you are able to find ethically sourced and properly certified wood to avoid adding to the demise of this rare and beautiful species of tree. Although it would not have the same durability, feel, and wood grain, staining a more sustainable wood with an ebony tone would be a more conservational choice.
Common Finishes for Hardwood Flooring
Choosing your hardwood flooring is a difficult exercise that requires creativity, patience, research, and money. It is likely a job you would prefer not to repeat any time soon. To ensure that you won’t have to, make sure your new floor is properly finished with a coating that will increase durability, improve appearance, and add to the existing qualities of your chosen wood.
Polyurethane coatings come in either water or oil-based applications, with oil-based being the more advantageous choice. A water-based polyurethane coating will protect your hardwood floor without exposing you to harmful organic compounds, and a good quality finish should last about a decade.
The oil-based option may not be as eco-friendly, but it will offer stronger and longer-lasting protection. The oil solution soaks deep into the wood, sealing the pores from the inside, and your floor will be durable and water-resistant for years to come.
This is an anti-oxidizing solution that prevents the natural degradation of your hardwood floor. It is highly scratch-resistant and helps to maintain the color and shine of the wood. Aluminum oxide is a UV coating, and it works against fading caused by direct sunlight. In recent years, this coating is often added to the wood before its final finish.
Natural Oils and Hard Wax
Natural oils and hard wax oil finishes have a similar way of protecting the wood to oil-based polyurethane – they soak into the pores and coat the wood from the inside out. However, these finishes do not cause a plastic-like appearance on the top of the wood, leaving a more natural texture and feel than the high-gloss polyurethane finishes.
These natural finishes can increase the durability of the wood and extend the lifespan, and as an extra bonus, your chosen color can be added to the finish, rather than needing to be applied before the final coating, as with polyurethane. Wax and natural oil finishes will need to be reapplied periodically to maintain the appearance and protective characteristics of the coating.
This traditional woodwork coating can work for a very smooth floor that is not expected to take much damage or wear and tear. It will seal the wood, giving it a hard and clear finish that is glossy and beautiful. However, the lacquer will show any imperfections, scuffs, and dents very plainly, and is not a forgiving finish.
Choosing your hardwood floor is not just a matter of picking something that looks the way you want for your design – you will need to make sure that your chosen wood type will stand up to the daily beating it is likely to take, whether it is from many feet passing through, pets and kids running across it, or chairs being dragged around the room.
Use the Janka Hardness Scale to determine the hardness of the wood you would like to use and to give you an idea of its durability. Although most of the hardest wood options are foreign, imported, and expensive, there are plenty of indigenous options that are durable, beautiful, and reasonably priced. Choose wood with a rating over 1,000 on the Janka Scale to ensure long-term durability.
Once your wood type is chosen, be sure to select a good, durable finish that will extend the life of your new hardwood floor, and ensure that it looks good for years to come. Whether you choose a natural finish or the commonly-used polyurethane, there are options to suit every situation.