Hardwood Buying Guide

The beauty and durability of hardwood flooring is a great long-term investment for your home. Whether you’re looking for solid or engineered hardwood, oak, or birch flooring, let our buying guide help you make the right hardwood flooring choice for you, your house, and your budget.

A cozy living room scene with a dark finish hardwood floor

Buying Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is a great investment for your home with many advantages. Its wide range of colour and grain options allows you to indulge your design fantasies, while remaining a practical choice in terms of cleaning and maintenance. Additionally, hardwood floors are a highly desirable feature amongst house hunters, so installing them could help increase the overall resale value of your home.

Hardwood Flooring Types

Engineered hardwood flooring planks with a light finish

Engineered Hardwood

  • Construction: Engineered hardwood is made from three or more layers of high-density fibreboard (HDF) or medium-density fibreboard (MDF). The top layer is made of real hardwood veneer, which is bonded under heat and pressure.
  • Installation: Recommended for spaces with high moisture or frequent temperature changes, like kitchens, damp basements, and rainy climates. Does not cup or warp during climatic changes.
  • Advantage: Engineered hardwood is constructed for optimal uniformity and dimensional stability due to its multi-ply design.
  • Recommendation: Under the right circumstances, engineered hardwood can be installed over concrete, which makes it an option for condominium dwellers.

Tongue and groove hardwood planks in a light finish

Locking Hardwood

  • Construction: A locking or "floating" floor is an engineered hardwood floor, but with the added advantage of a locking tongue-and-groove system.
  • Installation: Nails, staples, and glue are not required to install locking flooring, making it the perfect DIY flooring solution.
  • Finishing: Some locking floors can be sanded and refinished, allowing you to fully customize your room.
  • Advantage: All you need to do is roll out the moisture barrier underlayment and lock the flooring planks into place.

Solid hardwood planks

Solid Hardwood

  • Construction: Solid hardwood is milled and constructed from single, solid, thick pieces of wood.
  • Installation: While often more expensive than alternatives, prefinished flooring is usually available in thinner planks, which can help when transitioning flooring from one room to another.
  • Finishing: Available in a variety of widths, solid hardwood can be either prefinished or unfinished (you sand, stain, and finish it yourself).
  • Recommendation: Solid hardwood is best for rooms with controlled temperature and humidity. They can only be installed above grade, or over plywood, wood planking, or Oriented Strand Board (OSB) subfloor.

Hardwood Flooring Pro Tip

IMPORTANT! Avoid using solid hardwood in basements. Installing a solid hardwood floor in your basement opens you up to the risks of water vapour damage. Water is continually evaporating from the soil beneath your home’s foundation and up through your basement’s concrete floor. That vapour will be absorbed by any hardwood flooring you have installed which can cause them to warp over time. Deterioration of this kind often won’t become apparent until some time after installation is complete. Immediate damage can also result from flooding, drain backups, broken water pipes, or wall leaks. Repairing or replacing damaged flooring can be very costly and time-consuming. If you're looking for wood flooring in your basement, choose engineered hardwood for peace of mind or consider another option, such as laminate flooring.

What About Laminate Flooring?

Love the look of hardwood but aren’t sure it’s right for your home? Take a look at our selection of laminate flooring. Laminate is a highly durable, great looking, and an economical alternative for basements, bathrooms, or your entire house.


What Type of Hardwood Do You Need?

Not sure which type of flooring you can install in various areas of your home? Consult our handy chart to make sure you choose the right flooring type for your subfloor and desired installation level.*

Choosing Hardwood Plank Width

Plank width isn't only a structural consideration, it's also an important design feature that will determine the aesthetic of your space. The wider your planks, the fewer seams you'll have in your flooring.

Hardwood Plank Widths

2 to 4 inch wide hardwood flooring in a dark finish

2 inch - 4 inch Wide Hardwood Flooring

Only use a narrower width (2 ¼ in. or 3 in.) if you are building a parquet floor; otherwise, try finding a wider plank size. 5 in. boards are now the new standard in "wide" flooring.

4 to 7 inch wide hard wood flooring in a light finish

4 inch - 7 inch Wide Hardwood Flooring

Do you want all your flooring planks to be the same width or to vary in size? Random widths can work in any décor style.

7 to 12 inch wide hardwood flooring in a gray finish

7 inch - 12 inch Wide Hardwood Flooring

The wider your plank, the longer the length should be otherwise, the room will look smaller and less pulled together.

Hardwood Textures

The texture of the hardwood's finish can have a significant impact on the atmosphere of your space. The four primary types of hardwood textures are smooth, hand-scraped, distressed, and wire-brushed.

Light finished hardwood with a smooth texture

Smooth Hardwood Flooring

Smooth textures are the most popular type: floorboards are sanded flat and then factory-finished. Smooth texturing can look quite elegant, especially when applied to a darker finish. However, this texture will show scratches and dents more easily over time.

Dark finish hardwood flooring with a scraped texture

Scraped Hardwood Flooring

Hand scraped surface textures can range from subtle to bold. This finishing will leave indentations on the boards that create a wave-like appearance. This texture creates a casual, lived-in atmosphere full of warmth and comfort. It’s an ideal choice for high traffic areas, homes with active children or homes with multiple pets as the scraped finish easily hides dents and scratches.

Dark finished hardwood flooring with a distressed texture

Distressed Hardwood Flooring

Distressed texturing evokes a beautiful "antique" look, even in a new home. Distress marks could include dents, burn marks, or blackening of edges. The hardwood is intended to look lived in and beaten up. Polished distressed hardwood is great for hiding dents, scratches, or imperfections in wood.

Light grey finished hardwood flooring with a wirebrushed texture

Wire-Brushed Hardwood Flooring

Wire-brushed texturing offers a middle ground between smooth and hand scraped flooring. The flooring’s finish is lightly scraped with a wire-brush, creating long linear strokes and visibly accentuating the wood grain patterns.

Why Choose Prefinished Flooring

Pre-finished maple hardwood flooring

If you're doing it yourself, the easiest and least labour intensive choice is prefinished hardwood. No sanding or finishing is required, making this the ideal choice for the DIY-er who wants to save time.

However, this type of hardwood is pre-finished on a board-by-board basis, so the finish which seals each individual board does not seal the small spaces between each plank the same way that post-installation finishing does. The significant advantages of prefinished hardwood are no mess, no fumes, no sanding, less work, and quick installation. Beautiful hardwood flooring can be yours in a cinch!

Hardwood Flooring Edges

Another feature to consider when purchasing hardwood floors is the edging of the planks you’re using. This can affect the aesthetic of your room, giving it a more finished or rustic feel depending on your choice.

Plank Edges

Rich red hardwood floor with square edges

Square Edges

Hardwood floors with square edges are milled so the planks meet up exactly, creating a uniform surface. The result is a seamless floor that’s easy to finish and maintain.

Dark finish hardwood flooring with beveled edges

Bevelled Edges

Bevelled hardwood edges give a distinctive grooved look to your floor. The deep V groove compliments a more rustic aesthetic by making each board stand out individually. Hardwood floors with bevelled edges often come in hand scraped and wire-brushed textures. An added advantage is that bevelled planks can accommodate irregularities in the subfloor, making them ideal for installation in older homes. There are a variety of bevels to choose from, such as scraped or pillow edged, which allow you to further customize the look of your hardwood.

Medium finished hardwood flooring with a microbeveled edge.

Micro-Bevelled Edges

Also known as kissed or eased edge planks, micro-bevelled planks have a V groove, but shallower and less noticeable. This type of hardwood is the most versatile flooring choice because it complements a variety of décor.

Choosing Hardwood Flooring Species

Different species of wood come in varying colours, textures, and degrees of hardness. Depending on the room where you'll be installing your flooring, a certain level of durability may be more desirable. The relative hardness of a wood species is measured by the Janka Scale. The higher a wood species' Janka Scale rating, the harder the wood.

What is the Janka Hardness Test?

Schematic describing the Janka Hardness Test for determining the hardness rating of a type of hardwood.

How Does It Work?

How many pounds per square inch (PSI) of force does it take to push this steel ball halfway into this piece of wood? The more force required, the higher the wood species' rating on the Janka scale. Species range in ratings from the low 600s to the high 2000s. A mid-range wood hardness is around 1300 PSI.

Our Most Popular Hardwood Floor Species

At Lowe's, we carry everything from bamboo to oak flooring. But the three most popular and frequently-used species are oak, maple, and birch. These wood species are versatile, reliable, and beautiful.
Oak hardwood flooring in a natural finish.

Oak Flooring

  • Rating: Has a Janka Scale rating of approximately 1360 in white oak and 1260 in red oak (both are medium hardness level).
  • Grain: Oak has an open wood grain, with red oak being slightly more porous and coarser than white oak.
  • Colours: White oak usually comes in a light brown colour, but some boards may have a pinkish tint or a slightly greyish cast. Red oak has a slightly more amber hue than white oak.
  • Finishing: Oak has above-average to excellent responsiveness to machining and sanding, which means it stains well with good stain contrast.
  • NOTE: White oak contains tannins which may react to some liquids and cause discolouration. This tends to happen with products that have a high-water content, so keep this in mind when selecting finishes.
  • Advantages: Oak is the most popular, readily-available, mass-produced wood species. Because of these factors, it's relatively affordable.

Maple Hardwood flooring in a natural finish.

Maple Flooring

  • Rating: Has a Janka Scale rating of approximately 1450 (medium hardness level) in sugar or hard maple varieties. Soft maple wood is also available, but is less commonly used for flooring.
  • Grain: Filling pores is unnecessary when finishing this wood, due to its tight grain. The density of the grain makes maple very durable, but also means it does not accept stain as readily and uniformly as other hardwoods.
  • Density: Maple is a dense, heavy, stiff, tight-grained hardwood that possesses a uniform texture and sands to a beautiful finish.
  • Colours: Varies in colour, from cream to yellow to light pink.
  • Finishing: Extra care should be taken when sanding and finishing this wood, as marks are more visible due to maple's light colour and density.
  • Advantages: Maple is durable, readily available, and highly resistant to termites.

Birch hardwood flooring in a natural finish.

Birch Flooring

  • Rating: Has a Janka scale rating of approximately 1260 (medium hardness level).
  • Grain: Birch is a fine-grained wood that features subtle swirls and barely-visible graining patterns.
  • Density: Unlike other hardwoods, birch is highly porous, making staining more challenging (staining birch is best accomplished by using lighter-coloured dyes and a multi-step process involving sanding and spraying).
  • Colours: Yellow birch is made from the sapwood of the birch tree and comes in a light, creamy, toasted almond colouring. Red birch is derived from heartwood stock and has a golden brown colour with red undertones.

Do it Yourself or Call a Pro

After deciding which hardwood flooring to use, it's time to ask whether you can do the installation yourself. That answer depends entirely on your knowledge and comfort working on a project like this by yourself. While there are undeniable cost savings but you have to weigh that against the peace of mind of an expert installation.

Frequently Asked Questions

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