One of the oldest choices for flooring materials is still one of the most desirable ones, and it goes with contemporary, classic, and eclectic design styles. Different types of hardwood floors can complement your existing decor while adding value to your home. This flooring is natural, durable, and renewable, and you can choose from a range of grain patterns and colors to suit your lifestyle needs and individual tastes.
The most common types of hardwood floors are hickory, walnut, oak, cherry, and maple. They’re often used in residential flooring, and each has a set of properties. However, before you pick out a species, you should understand the difference between solid and engineered types of hardwood flooring. There are also finishes to consider, and we’re going to outline it all for you below.
Hardwood flooring is making a huge comeback, and it’s common to see whole houses featuring hardwood throughout instead of carpet. WP_20131203_010 by Mike Gil / CC BY 2.0
Solid Hardwood Flooring
When most people imagine types of hardwood floors, they imagine solid hardwood. As the name suggests, it features solid pieces of wood from whatever species you pick out. The entire hardwood plank gets made from your chosen wood species, and people love this pick for the natural beauty you get. It offers a very authentic and warm charm to your home, no matter which species you go with.
Solid hardwood flooring is also very durable. If you install it correctly and maintain it according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, it can last for decades and look like new. The downsides to this type of hardwood floor is that it has a higher price tag attached and moisture damage is a real possibility. You should keep it out of rooms with higher humidity levels, like the bathroom.
Engineered Hardwood Flooring
On the other hand, engineered hardwood floors get made by pressing several layers of wood together. There is a layer of actual hardwood laid over the core layer and on the bottom of the wood layers. It has a multi-ply construction that makes it much more resistant to damage from moisture. It can contract and expand as the humidity levels change without any damage.
This type of flooring also has a valve for the flexibility factor. It’s versatile enough for you to put it on your upper-story floors for basements. You can even put it right over a concrete subfloor or a radiant heating system without issues. The price is another big selling point for this type of hardwood floor, and it’s much less expensive than solid hardwood. However, you can’t sand or refinish it like you can hardwood, and it’s not as long-lasting or durable. It also won’t boost your home’s value by much.
- Remember, engineered hardwood flooring is different from laminate wood flooring.
Popular Wood Species for Hardwood Floors
Did you know that there are dozens of species of wood that people use for hardwood flooring? You can find everything from species that are more exotic and imported from around the world to domestically grown ones. The species you pick out will determine what the final look of your type of hardwood floor is, including the grain pattern and coloring.
Some species are also much harder and more durable than others, so they’re more suited for heavy-traffic areas of your home. However, despite the fact that there are dozens of options available, most people choose one of the following 15 options for their type of hardwood floor.
This type of hardwood floor species belongs to the Birch family, and it’s a softer hardwood that is less expensive than maple or cherry. You may hear it called the Western Alder, Red Alder, Pacific Coast Alder, or the Oregon Alder. It was once considered to be a nuisance tree or weed by Pacific Northwest loggers. It’s a tree that grows prolifically, and it can easily reach heights of 100 to 130 feet. Cabinet makers were the first to discover how easy it was to work with this wood, and it has a huge range of uses today from trim and cabinets to flooring and furniture framework.
A lot of people who tried to destroy this tree at first now encourage it to grow. You get a very uniform, fine texture with a staring grain pattern in a reddish brown to light tan coloring that makes it an eye-catching type of hardwood floor. It also accepts stains very well to bring out the wood’s natural coloring. Per square foot, including installation, you’ll pay between $3.00 and $6.00 with an additional $3.00 to $5.00 charge for installation.
This is a beautiful hardwood species that is a great type of hardwood flooring to have in upscale homes that prize a chic style. The wood has a slightly lighter coloring to it, and it can even come with a whitish hue. The light coloring gets complimented with an active wood grain that lends a natural, warm look. Ash hardwood comes with a medium hardness rating. It’s soft enough to be comfortable to walk on barefoot but hard enough to withstand heavy traffic.
Due to the average hardness of this type of hardwood floor, it’s a stylish choice for hand-scraped flooring. You should also note that it stains well. The downside is that it takes routine maintenance to keep it looking nice. Since it has lighter coloring to it, it gets dirty very quickly. You’ll need to clean it more frequently, but using a stick vacuum is one easy way to accomplish this. It’s a more affordable flooring type too.
Native to Asia, parts of Europe, and the Eastern part of the United States, Beech is a very slow-growing hardwood that can get between 100 and 130 feet tall at full maturity with a five-foot diameter trunk. It’s very resistant to diseases, and it can easily live between 300 and 400 years. The lumber from this tree is usually a pale cream color with brown or pink hues, and it has a straight grain with a medium to fine texture that gives you a very durable, hard flooring. However, the wood’s density does make it harder to stain.
Europeans used this type of wood to smoke meats for generations. Additionally, Budweiser’s beechwood aged logo comes from their usage of specially treated beech slats that they stack on the bottom of their fermentation tanks. This type of hardwood floor will cost between $4.00 and $10.00 a square foot, including installation.
Beech is a very warm flooring option that can make a room look and feel lighter, especially if you have heavy furniture with darker colors. Floor close up/knots by Ross Catrow / CC BY-SA 2.0
Birch is a very popular species of wood for types of hardwood floors and home construction, and it’s so abundant that birch is a very affordable hardwood type. It’s a good balance of style and functionality versus price. You’ll get attractive, clear wood grains with this wood, and it comes with a yellowish white to creamy white coloring that looks fantastic in virtually any home.
Birch will also take and hold stains well, and it’s easy to add a variety of colors in order to get a more unique look. However, birch has a downside in the fact that it’s a very soft wood, and it’s relatively unstable. It’ll contract and expand with humidity level and temperature changes. You should only use this hardwood flooring in areas that have very minimal moisture, but it’s an affordable option if you’re on a budget.
Cedar is one of the most popular types of hardwood floors in the United States. It has a very aromatic smell to it that attracts a lot of people. It’s a very popular material used in building ships or houses. It has a natural resistance to decay and pests, and the durability factor is another great reason to consider it.
Cherry is another very popular type of hardwood floor, and you can choose from several varieties when you buy it. The most popular variety is American Cherry, and it’s also called the black cherry tree. It has pretty pink and red hues in a wavy, tight grain that makes it very attractive. It gets further complemented by a lustrous finish.
Cherry is a much softer hardwood, but it has great dimensional stability. When it comes to photosensitivity, cherry hardwood flooring is on the lower end. So, the sun will be very slow to damage the floor if you choose to put it in a location with direct sunlight for several years. However, this is a more expensive type of hardwood floor.
7. Douglas Fir
The Douglas fir is noted to have a very uniform appearance to it. No matter the tree or the cut, every plank with this type of hardwood flooring will look virtually identical to the next one. The color of this flooring choice is a mixture of brown and orange. It has a straight, long grain running throughout it. You get a very natural look that helps to give your home a more rustic, comfortable feel.
This tree will regularly grow to very tall heights, and this allows you to pick out longer floor boards if you choose. However, it’s important to note that this hardwood flooring is one of the softest types on the market. If you don’t take the proper maintenance or care steps on a regular basis, it’ll quickly get damaged. It’s a mid-range flooring choice in terms of price.
This is the hardest of every type of hardwood, and it’s an extremely dense wood that isn’t able to float in water. Ebony is grown in Asia and Africa, and India and Ceylon are huge exporters of it. Due to little replanting and over-harvesting, this type of hardwood floor is very rare and expensive. It’s a very deep black wood that was popular for use in carving ornamental pieces, decorative items, and tribal masks.
Some of the different types of hardwood floors made with this wood have deep red veins running through the grain, and they turn into works of art when you polish them. Since it’s so rare, it has a hefty price tag, and it ranges from 40% to 60% more than Burma Teak, and this is another expensive wood. It’s possible to stain your oak flooring to look like ebony.
Since ebony is so expensive and rare, many people buy a lighter type of hardwood floor and apply ebony stain to it to mimic this look at a fraction of the cost. ebony stain on oak floors how-to by Nina Hale / CC BY 2.0
Very few species of American hardwood can match hickory for sheer strength and hardness. So, it makes sense that this type of hardwood floor will be extremely durable. It can last a lifetime while showing very little wear and tear if you care for it correctly. It’s a light reddish-brown to medium tan color, and you can find it in a creamy white coloring. No matter which color you pick, you’ll get a more dramatic grain pattern.
Hickory’s natural beauty makes it a great choice for any log cabins or rustic-style homes. The higher durability factor that comes into play makes it a good pick for families with lots of pets or kids. The biggest downside is also the biggest benefit, and this is the overall hardness. This hardness level makes cutting the wood difficult, so you’ll have higher purchase and installation costs. It’s a slightly higher priced type of hardwood flooring.
Maple is one of the most distinctive types of hardwood floors, and it’s notable for the characteristic grain pattern. This is what makes it stand out. It has a very uniform texture with a lighter coloring to it, and this increases the overall popularity. Another big selling point of maple flooring is the durability factor. It’s one of the hardest options on the market, and it won’t scuff or scratch easily with heavy use. It also has a reputation for being able to resist heavier impacts.
Since this is a more durable type of hardwood flooring, it fits well in households with kids and pets. It doesn’t need a lot of maintenance to stay in top shape either. It stains so well that a lot of people get it and stain it deeply to help mimic other wood species. You do have to use a proper sealant with it though or you’ll end up with a blotchy looking stain. This is a more affordable flooring option.
Oak is another hugely popular type of hardwood floor, and it has classic good looks with a very nice warmth. It’s a wonderful choice if you have a traditional home style that you want to match, and it blends in well with a huge range of decor and furniture. There are two main oak varieties to choose from, including white or red oak. The main difference between the choices is the coloring, and they are:
- Red Oak – This is a much lighter choice with a more neutral coloring that has a reddish hue to it.
- White Oak – You’ll get a pale brown coloring with this type of oak, and it has a gray or pink hue streaking through it.
Both types of oak offer a mid-range rating for hardness. It can also stand up to heavier impacts, but it’s prone to scraping. You should use furniture pads to move heavier pieces to prevent damaging it. It’s a mid-priced choice too.
Pine chips may make a great mulch alternative, and pine is usually what people think of when they picture different types of hardwood flooring. When you consider the appearance, you’ll notice that it’s a more traditional type of hardwood. It comes with a very rich coloring to it, especially when you stain it. You’ll see interesting knots and pinholes with a distinct grain pattern. It’s also one type of hardwood floor that people like when it ages.
If you let it age naturally over several years, you’ll get a more rustic look and feel that lends warmth to your home. Since pine trees tend to grow very quickly and tend to thrive, it’s an environmentally-friendly choice for your hardwood floors. The biggest drawback of pine is that it’s soft. It’s relatively easy to scratch or dent when you compare it to other hardwoods, and this means you’ll spend more time maintaining and caring for it. It’s one of the most affordable options available.
Pine is a much lighter coloring with interesting pin holes and knots that add interest to your floor when you install it. Entryway by garann / CC BY-SA 2.0
Better known as Yellow Poplar or Tulip Poplar, this is easily one of the biggest hardwood trees. It has an average height of 160 feet, and the trunk’s diameter can stretch between six and eight feet. You’ll find it growing throughout the eastern portion of the United States, and it’s the State Tree of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana. It has a yellowish brown to light cream coloring with streaks of green and gray, and the grain is a medium texture with a uniform and straight look.
However, poplar is one of the softest hardwood species. It’s a lower-density wood that has a reputation for being inexpensive and economical, and it’s a utility wood that works for furniture frames, pallets, and cabinetry. Since you can stain or paint it, this type of hardwood floor can match any decor while lasting for years. If you’re someone who wants a lighter flooring, adding a coat of clear Varathane will bring out the grain’s natural beauty. Pricing can be as low as $1.50 per square foot, and you’ll add a $3.00 to $5.00 per square foot installation fee.
Teak is slowly gaining popularity as a type of hardwood floor, and it’s an exotic wood that has a reputation for being durable. It’s one of the strongest, hardest woods available. You can install it in the highest traffic areas of your home, have several pets or kids walking on it daily, and it’ll withstand any damage. It also is very popular for the natural finish and shine. It does look very nice with a varnish or stain added to it, but teak also has natural oils. A lot of people leave it unfinished and allow it to naturally age.
Naturally aged teak types of hardwood floors are gorgeous. When you use it as a flooring medium, it gives you a mix of upscale feeling with traditional charm. The downside is that there are routine maintenance requirements you have to fulfill. You have to oil it every few years to keep the luster, and you have to buy it from a reputable retailer. Certain retailers have been caught selling this wood from endangered species. You only want to purchase Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified teak. You can also get reclaimed teak. It has a higher price tag because it has a higher importation cost to the United States.
Finally, walnut is a nice type of hardwood floor, and it has several species available in different varieties. In North America, the most common type is American walnut. It has a reputation for having a very rich brown coloring with a deep purple hue. The darker swirling grains look stunning. Walnut is a soft hardwood, just like cherry is.
This makes it not a great choice if you want to use it in high-traffic areas like in the dining room where your heavy dining chairs will regularly slide back and forth. However, walnut does offer a high resistance to light damage. It has great photosensitivity that makes it a nice choice to put in rooms that get year-round sunlight. A second benefit of this type of hardwood floor is that it’s very lightweight. You can use it on upper stories without any issues, but it’s one of the most expensive choices available.
Prefinished and Unfinished Hardwood Floor Benefits
There are benefits to both prefinished and unfinished hardwood floors, and knowing what they are can help you choose between them easier. Hardwood floors going into danjo house by Stone Soup Institute / CC BY 2.0
Up until very recently, solid hardwood flooring got installed unfinished. Once the install was complete, the installer would apply stain with a durable finish coat to protect it. Today, you can get it as an unfinished or prefinished product with the stain and topcoat already on it. There are benefits of each, including:
Prefinished Hardwood Flooring
- Comes in a few dozen color choices. You’re not able to customize it to the shade you want.
- Comes with a manufacturer warranty attached. The warranties often guarantee against any defects in the finish coat or stain.
- Has a higher upfront cost for materials but a lower installation cost than unfinished types of hardwood floors. Since you won’t do any staining or finishing, a professionally installed floor in this category is usually more cost-effective than a professional installed unfinished hardwood floor. Over time, you’ll most likely end up paying less for a prefinished style of flooring.
- There is no exposure to toxic fumes or dust.
Unfinished Hardwood Flooring
- Is the smoothest type of hardwood floor you can get. It gets installed and sanded so you have no board-height discrepancies.
- Allows you to pick out custom colors. If you want to get a unique shade, you can install an unfinished floor and custom-mix the stain in a paint store.
- Takes longer to install from start to finish. The installer finishes the floor in phases, including the installation, sanding, staining, and finishing. This can easily take three days or more to finish.
- Has the risk for potentially toxic fumes and a big mess. Sanding the whole floor kicks up a lot of dust, and some of the finish and stain products can produce fumes that require ventilation as you work.
- Lowers your overall material costs. An unfinished type of hardwood floor, on average, will be around $1.00 a square foot less than a prefinished floor. So, if you have unfinished Red Oak floor at $4.00 per square foot, the prefinished option would be $5.00 a square foot.
- Has higher installation costs. The additional labor required to finish and stain your floor makes unfinished types of hardwood flooring more expensive to have a professional installation. Depending on your local labor costs, you could pay more for a professional to come in and install and finish the floor than you would to install a prefinished flooring type. However, a professional installation will usually stand behind any workmanship defects. If you try to install it yourself and run into problems, you could pay out a lot to fix it.
We’ve outlined 15 types of hardwood floors that you can consider putting in your home. Each one comes with benefits, drawbacks, and slightly different price points. We also touched on prefinished and unfinished flooring options, so you can decide which one is going to work best for your needs and get gorgeous flooring that can last a lifetime.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.