more like a solid plane, without gaps.
Choose the finish
Most hardwood floors today have a finishing coat of clear polyurethane. “Polyurethane essentially sits on top of the wood,” protecting it from moisture, wear and staining, Hammel said.
Water-based polyurethanes have grown in popularity in recent years, and the finishing sheen can range from matte to glossy.
A polyurethane finish is very durable, but once damaged or worn, it can be difficult to repair, Hammel said, because it typically requires refinishing an entire board, if not the whole floor.
An alternative is an oil-based finish. “Oil penetrates into the wood and therefore tends to make it look a bit richer,” he said. And because it doesn’t leave a film on top of the wood, it allows for relatively easy spot repairs.
The downside to an oil finish is that it requires more regular maintenance.
Select solid or engineered wood
Solid wood is just what it sounds like: a plank of your chosen wood, cut from a log. An engineered wood floor is composed of a thinner layer of your chosen wood on top of a manufactured base of layered wood, like plywood.
Engineered wood has a number of benefits. “It’s built to be more dimensionally stable,” Hammel said. “It will expand and contract less,” reducing the chance that the boards will warp or shrink over time.
Engineered flooring is especially good in basements, in high humidity areas and over radiant heating systems, he said.
And in homes with concrete subfloors, like many high-rise apartments, engineered flooring can be glued directly to the slab, whereas solid wood usually requires a plywood subfloor so it can be nailed in place.
But it isn’t always the best option. Some people simply like the idea of solid hardwood better, and in extremely dry areas, solid wood may perform better.
Pick plank widths and installation patterns
Narrow boards with widths of about 2 to 3 inches were once standard for hardwood flooring. Not anymore. Five- to 8-inch widths are now commonplace, and some homeowners opt to go even wider, with broad planks measuring up to a foot wide and beyond.
In general, the wider the boards, the higher the cost.
And “the wider it gets, the less stable it gets, because the wood wants to move,” Roberts said. “When we get into really wide flooring, we almost always recommend an engineered floor, because that prevents it from cupping and warping.”
Most floors are installed with the boards in straight lines, but there are many alternative installation patterns, including herringbone and chevron, which are enjoying renewed popularity.
You can also mix it up. Roberts sometimes uses wider boards and complicated installation patterns in the primary living spaces, and narrower boards in a straightforward arrangement in secondary spaces, such as hallways and bedrooms.
Architect Elizabeth Roberts used prefinished boards in this Brooklyn, New York, townhouse.