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Hardwood Flooring FAQ

When it comes to hardwood flooring, several questions may come to mind. A collection of the most commonly asked questions is below.

What is the difference between prefinished and unfinished flooring?


The prefinished hardwood floor is sealed with multiple coats of finish at the factory. The finish coats typically contain aluminum oxide, the second hardest substance next to diamond, to provide a hard-wearing protective finish. Unfinished flooring must be finished on site after installation takes place. Aluminum oxide cannot be used in the finish on site because the longer drying time causing the aluminum oxide particles to sink to the bottom of the finish. Site-finished floors usually are better at protecting against above floor moisture.

Can a hardwood floor be floated?


Engineered hardwood floors can be floated, but not solid hardwood floors.

How do I acclimate my hardwood floor?


To acclimate the hardwood flooring, leave it inside the room it will be installed in, with the boxes open, for at least 5 to 7 days. This way it gets used to the conditions in the room before being used. In rooms where there are extreme humidity issues, it may be necessary to install a system such as a humidifier or dehumidifier to control the environment in the room.

How does moisture affect my hardwood flooring?


Moisture can cause many different problems for a hardwood floor, such as cracking, cupping, and crowning. Over time, excessive moisture will destroy a wood floor, so it is suggested not to use excessive water to clean the hardwood floors and to mop up spills immediately.

What is an acceptable moisture content for hardwood floors?


An acceptable moisture content runs anywhere from 4 to 18% depending on a variety of factors including the species of wood, where the wood floor is installed geographically, and the time of year. As a result, most wood used for flooring is kiln dried to 6 to 9% moisture content to assist in keeping it from getting so wet it contracts and so dry it shrinks.

Can we install hardwood flooring in the basement?


Yes, but only if the flooring is engineered hardwood. Solid hardwood floors should not be installed below grade due to excessive moisture that will cause them to contract and expand.

Do I need a moisture barrier if it is above grade?


Yes, as the barrier will help prevent water from getting to the floor and causing damage. Install the barrier between the subfloor and hardwood flooring.

What are some potential moisture problems I should look out for?


There is water caught between the wood flooring and the subfloor if crowing or cupping occurs. Crowning is when the center boards are higher than the outer boards. Cupping is when the outer boards are higher than the center boards.

What is the best way to clean my floors?


The best approach depends upon how the floor is finished: surface-sealed versus penetration-sealed. Click here to learn more.

Can I use commercial cleaner?


Commercial cleaners may be used on both prefinished and site finished floors; however, it is best to refer to the guidelines for each. The manufacturer of the prefinished flooring will offer recommendations, as will the manufacturer of the sealer/finish used for the site finished flooring. It is important not use a wax based cleaner on any surface sealed floors.

How do I handle stubborn stains?


To handle stains, follow the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning guidelines. Use a damp cloth to blot stains and spills to avoid forcing any material into the wood. Avoid scrubbing a surface-sealed floor, as this could scratch the flooring surface.

Can I apply a wax finish to my surface sealed-floor?


Wax based finishes and cleaners should never be used on any surface-sealed floors.

The floor beneath my rug is lighter than the exposed floor, what can I do?


It is normal for certain species of hardwood floors that are exposed to sunlight to darken over time. To eliminate the obvious tone differences, it is best to rotate rugs and furniture so that the flooring gets an equal amount of sun exposure. Any differences in light exposure will eventually fade away.

How can I better protect my floor from early finish wear?


Protecting the floor from early wear is as simple as establishing a consistent cleaning routine recommended by the manufacturer. This includes using damp cloths and/or vacuums rather than wet mops, employing the use of rugs, and using plastic or felt discs under furniture to keep the legs from scratching the flooring surface.

What is the most durable hardwood floor available?


Hardwood floors finished with multiple coats of aluminum oxide finish. While this will certainly help the durability of the floor, it is the hardness of the floor that will give the best indication of durability. Refer to the Janka Hardness rating for a true indication of hardness for a selected species:

  • American (Black) Cherry 950
  • American Black Walnut 1010
  • Yellow Birch 1260
  • Red Oak 1290
  • White Ash 1320
  • White Oak 1360
  • Hard Maple 1450
  • Santos Mahogany 2200
  • Brazilian Cherry 2345
  • Brazilian Teak 3540
  • Brazilian Walnut 3680
  • Ebony 3692

However, how well a floor is maintained and cared for often dictates how long it will last. Put another way, an American Cherry for that is properly cared for can outlast a poorly cared for Brazilian Cherry floor.

When ordering hardwood flooring how much extra should I order to allow for waste?


It is best to order about 5 to 10% more than you think you need to make sure there is enough. Take a good look at the room layout and consider your skill level in hardwood floor installation before making a final decision. You will want extra in case of boards that arrive damaged or are damaged during installation. It is also a good idea to have some extra boards for future repairs.

What are the different moldings and how are they applied?


  • The Quarter Round molding is used to hide the expansion gap left around walls during installation.
  • The T molding is used as a threshold in doorways or as a transition strip where the hardwood flooring meets floor or carpet of similar height. T moldings can also be used to change the direction in which the floor is laid.
  • The Reducer molding is used as a transition from the height of the sub-floor to the height of the hardwood floor.
  • The Stair Nose molding is used to cover the front edge of a stair tread or step. If used on a stair, flooring is installed behind the Stair Nose to cover the horizontal part (the tread) of the stair.
  • The Stair Tread molding is a one-piece molding used to entirely cover the structural stair tread.

How do I maintain my hardwood flooring?


Maintain hardwood flooring by establishing a consistent cleaning routine to prevent dirt and debris from scratching the surface. Use only recommended cleaning solutions, and avoid getting water on the floor. In high traffic areas, use a rug. Do not use harsh detergents on the floor and avoid using any abrasive materials to clean the floor, such as steel wool.

Where can I install hardwood flooring?


Hardwood flooring can be installed in virtually any room of a home except the bathroom. Essentially any area that is prone to wetness should avoid using hardwood. Only an engineered hardwood should be installed in the basement, as excessive moisture in these areas will cause solid hardwood to expand and contract. Highly trafficked areas should use a harder wood to ensure durability, but remember that even harder woods will show signs of wear and tear if not properly cared for. Refer to the Janka Hardness Scale for help selecting a floor based on its hardness.

How do I install hardwood flooring?


There are four different installation methods for hardwood flooring. These include: nail/staple down, glue down, floating glue-seam and floating glueless-click. The instructions will vary depending on which method is chosen. Regardless, it is important to ensure the subflooring is clean and flat. Follow manufacturer’s instructions carefully, especially when using the flooring over a radiant heating system. Remember to let the floor acclimate for at least 72 hours by leaving it in the room it will be installed in. Estimate anywhere from 5 to 10% in overages to account for mistakes during installation and/or future repairs.

What are the benefits of hardwood flooring?


There are many benefits of hardwood flooring including: an increased home value, variety of options and styles to customize the appearance, several installation methods, easy to clean and maintain, hypo-allergenic, warmth and durability.

How do I get my hardwood floor to look like it did when it was new?


There are many products on the market today designed to help restore the condition of a hardwood floor. Research these products and only use products recommended by the manufacturer to prevent further damage.

Should I expect my floor to have color variations?


Color variations will be present in all grades of hardwood, as it is a natural product and cannot be controlled.

Should I use unfinished or prefinished hardwood?


Both choices have their advantages. If you are trying to match to an existing hardwood floor, you may want to go with an unfinished floor so it can be stained to match. However, this will mean finishing will be done onsite, resulting in more noise, dust and delays in using the room. Prefinished floors, on the other hand, are already finished with 10 coats of an aluminum oxide finish. This means you will get the convenience of not having to shut down the room while you finish the floor onsite.

What is the difference between Select and Better, Mill Run and Rustic grades?


The difference between the various grades is simply the amount of allowable character. For example, you’ll find the most amount of character knots, mineral streaks, pin holes, etc. in the Rustic grade. All grades are structurally sound, the difference is really in the appearance of the wood.

Can I install a solid wood floor over a concrete slab?


Thin profile solid wood (5/16” thick) can be installed over concrete. Standard ¾” solid hardwood should not be installed over concrete. However, it is possible with several additional steps. The concrete should be covered with a plastic sheet and sealed at all seams. Then, another moisture barrier, such as a plywood subfloor should be added to protect the flooring. Regardless, follow all manufacturers’ instructions carefully.

What wood floor can I install over a concrete slab?


It is not recommended to use a solid hardwood over a concrete slab because of the swelling and contracting caused by excessive moisture. Using an engineered hardwood is the best way to install over a concrete slab because it is much less likely to swell and contract. Thin profile solid hardwood (5/16” thick) can also be installed over concrete.

Can we install a hardwood floor over a vinyl floor?


This depends on the individual situation. If the vinyl is securely attached to the subflooring or has a strong cushion beneath it, it may be possible to float an engineered hardwood floor on top of it. Be sure to check with the manufacturer or seller.

Can an engineered wood floor be refinished?


Yes. It may not be able to be finished more than a few times because of the thickness of the veneer, but it can be done. Engineered floors that are hand scraped cannot be sanded and refinished or have a veneer thickness less than 2mm cannot be sanded and refinished.

Is hardwood a good choice for homes with pets?


While it is true many home owners who have hardwood in their homes also have pets, this type of flooring can be scratched or dinged by pet claws. A lot also depends on the type of the pets. Obviously, two Great Danes will have a bigger impact on a hardwood floor than a Toy Poodle.

If pets will be inside, it is best to ensure that pet claws are kept trimmed. And, it is extremely important to clean up any “spills” immediately as these can permanently stain the wood.

Consideration should be given to the species of the wood, as some species are harder and more durable than others. The Janka Hardness Scale measure the hardness of different wood species.

What’s the difference between engineered flooring and laminate flooring?


Engineered flooring uses a veneer of real hardwood at the top which, depending on the thickness of the veneer, can be sanded down and refinished. As laminate flooring is nothing but a photographic image of the wood grain on engineered flooring, it cannot be sanded and refinished.

Can nail down hardwood floors be installed over a particle board subfloor?


Real particleboard will not be able to hold the hardwood well, causing it to loosen over time.

When should hardwood floors be installed?


If the house is being built or restored, save the hardwood installation until the end to avoid potential issues with damage and moisture as other projects are being completed.

Is it safe to use throw rugs on a hardwood floor?


Yes, it is safe to use throw rugs on a hardwood floor to help protect the finish, provided they are color safe. This means the dyes will not run. If a rug is not color safe, the dye could seep into the wood and stain the flooring. It is best to use throw rugs and entranceways and in front of sinks to help protect the flooring from dirt and grit brought in from the outside and from moisture.

Can gapping be stopped?


Gapping cannot be stopped completely, but by controlling the humidity in the home, it can be reduced.

What can be used under furniture to prevent it from scratching the floor?


Use plastic, foam or felt discs under all the furniture legs. These can be purchased at many retail stores, and are designed not only to reduce or prevent scratching, but also to reduce or prevent movement of the furniture all together.

Why should oil based cleaners be avoided for surface-sealed floors?


Oil based cleaners will leave an oily residue on the flooring surface, making it more difficult to clean in the long run, while also increasing the signs of wear and tear.

What can be done to soundproof?


If the wood floor has already been installed, not much can be done to help soundproof, as there are only two products, cork and another more expensive synthetic product, which must be glued to the subflooring before the hardwood is installed.

What can be done to level out dips and dings in the flooring?


Try replacing individual boards of hardwood, or look for a patching compound recommended for use on the floor.

What if there are uneven transitions?


The only thing that can fix this problem is to sand and refinish the floors.

How can air bubbles be removed?


Air bubbles may not be the fault of the people who are applying the finish as each coat tends to dry a little bit faster than the one before it. Sand the floors a bit and reapply another coat. Try having this professionally done for the best results.

What’s the best way to hide scratches?


Removing a scratch depends on how deep the scratches are in the wood. Light scratches can be hidden using a repair kit suggested by the manufacturer. Deeper scratches may require board replacement.

How can paint safely be removed from the hardwood?


If it is fresh paint, warm water and a damp cloth will do the job. If it’s dried on and has been there for a while, using something abrasive will be required, which means that part of the floor will need to be refinished.

(12) Comments

  1. Can you help? I have hardwood flooring in my living room through to the hallway. There is a slight level drop from the living room door to the hallway and the flooring is lifting at the doorway where the drop occurs and the door catches and scrapes the flooring. I have trimmed the door but shortly after, the door scratches the flooring. I suspect the flooring is lifting as you can press down at the door area or its been fitted too tight. What can I do to sort?

  2. I have four Border Collies. The puppy still messes, and because of this, our oldest male pees over it. I have severe asthma and need to get rid of the carpet. What flooring best matches my situation? Or is there another solution for me?

    • Well, new vinyl plank tile, and wood grain porcelain could be floors to consider. Both have been designed to be supremely moisture resistant, and easy to clean.

      Hope this helps!

  3. I am remodeling my master bath, we are looking for a material to use on the vaulted ceiling. We are considering a “engineered flooring system” but due to the possible humidity we have some concerns.
    Since the wood will be on the ceiling there would be no standing water concerns, but rather high humidity concerns. We have a large exhaust fan plus to operable skylights to vent the room.

    What type of hardwood would you suggest. We are thinking bamboo or possibly hickory, either would be stained to match our dark oak trim (doors, base molding)

    Thank you, William

  4. We are in the process of building a home. We have four pets, two cats and two large dogs. Would it be better to buy hand scraped flooring to hide any damage my pets may due to the flooring?

  5. I’m having engineered wood put in my kitchen, and I don’t know much about this type of wood. Are there different qualities of engineered wood? What should we look for? We got a sample of engineered wood and was told that the material it was glued to was a poor quality material. I didn’t know there are many levels of wood; how many levels should we look at?

  6. Pingback: Hardwood Flooring Learning Center

    • Hey Bob,

      It is generally not advisable to install a solid floor over a radiant heating system. Solid wood naturally expands and contracts according to moisture content in the boards. Direct heat tends to dry out a floor in a short period of time, and can cause irreparable damage. However,a lot of engineered floors (although not all) have been designed with radiant heating systems in mind, just because the core layer in these specific products is prone to manage the changes in temperature without drying out more so than the wood layer does.

      If you are looking at an engineered floor, make sure to ask your vendor about radiant heating systems and how the product of your choice is likely to perform. Check your warranty on the floor, too, with regard to systems like this. It might also be worth contacting the manufacturers of the radiant heating system you’ve got, or have in mind to get. They might also be able to advise you with regard to how well their product works in conjunction with an engineered wood floor.

      I hope that answers your question, Bob. 🙂

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