When to Choose Wood
Hardwood is regarded as one of the most desirable of flooring materials, and it almost always adds value to a home. But it's also well known among professionals that hardwood floors are somewhat high-maintenance and are a poor choice for wet locations. Some flooring manufacturers make claims that the factory finishes make their products water-resistant, but it's worth noting that they are never described as waterproof. Hardwood is easily discolored by water and the fibers can swell, which can cause the entire flooring surface to buckle. Manufacturers always caution against the installation of hardwood in rooms where wet conditions are likely, and even installation against concrete slabs is questionable since moisture can migrate through the concrete.
And yet, there is a gray area when it comes to kitchens since these rooms can best be described as semi-moist, or sporadically moist. It may be possible to use hardwood as a flooring material, but much depends on the nature of your household. A very busy household or a home designed so that traffic comes directly into the kitchen from a pool deck or garage is probably not the best place for a wood floor. If you are considering wood flooring for the kitchen, you will have to take some precautions, and also keep in mind some of the other qualities of hardwood that might make you reconsider its use.
Can be refinished
Increases home value
Softer, warmer than tile
Susceptible to water damage, scratches, dents
Difficult for DIYers to install
Types of Hardwood Flooring
Many aspects of hardwood flooring—costs, maintenance, installation, etc.—vary depending on what form is being used. Hardwood flooring used in kitchens and elsewhere generally falls into one of several types:
Solid unfinished planks: Installing solid hardwood planks, then staining and finishing them in place, gives the best possible wood flooring for a kitchen. With this installation, the boards butt up tightly together and are covered with a sealer coat that covers the entire surface, providing protection that won't be penetrated by water or staining materials. And solid hardwood planks have one very big advantage: They can be sanded down and refinished several times over the life of the floor.2 Solid hardwood floors have been known to last a century or more. This is the best form of hardwood for kitchens, though increasingly rare.
Solid prefinished planks: Many manufacturers now offer prefinished solid hardwood planks, which take some of the extra work out of flooring installation. Prefinished flooring has increasingly replaced unfinished flooring as the favorite. The planks are sanded, sealed, stained, and finished at the factory, which means the installer doesn't have to do it after installation. However, prefinished hardwood flooring is sometimes milled so that the planks have slightly beveled edges, and this design can be problematic in kitchens.
Engineered planks: This type of flooring is created by bonding a thin veneer of hardwood to a base of plywood or MDF. This type of flooring is always prefinished and is often created with a "click-lock" system in which the planks interlock at the edges. This makes it possible to install it as a "floating floor" with no attachment to the subfloor. This form of hardwood is the easiest for DIYers to install. Engineered hardwood is quite stable thanks to the plywood core, and many types are suitable for installation against concrete slabs.
Reclaimed planks: There is a growing market for using repurposed hardwood flooring, such as the materials salvaged when factories, office buildings, or bowling alleys are demolished. This option is very appealing to anyone interested in eco-friendly building practices since it uses recycled materials. Most larger communities have retailers who specialize in repurposed building materials, such as Habitat for Humanity's ReStore outlets. If carefully installed so that boards butt tightly and a good sealer is applied, reclaimed planks can be an acceptable choice for kitchens.
Watch Now: The Pros and Cons of Hardwood Floor
Hardwood Flooring Cost
The cost of hardwood flooring varies greatly depending on the type of wood and the quality of the product. Surprisingly, there is not a huge difference between costs for solid hardwoods and engineered hardwoods. Although engineered woods use less actual hardwood, this is offset by manufacturing that is more complicated and costly. And these products provide an easier installation process that people are willing to pay for.
For solid wood flooring, the general range of costs for materials alone is between $5 and $10 per square foot for standard domestic hardwoods, such as oak, maple, and cherry. Tropical hardwoods (mahogany, Brazilian walnut) cost $8 and up. For engineered hardwood, costs can be as little as $4 per square foot to as high as $13, depending on the type of wood, the thickness of the veneer, and the quality of the finish.
In addition to the cost of materials, expect to pay anywhere from $6 to $12 per square foot for professional installation. The wide range of labor costs is affected by local labor standards and the complexity of the job. For example, a floor installation that requires removal of an old floor or structural reinforcement will cost more than a floor laid on a fully prepared subfloor.
Maintenance and Repair
If the right type of hardwood flooring is installed and if it is kept properly sealed, a hardwood floor in the kitchen is fairly easy to care for. In kitchens, the best flooring installation is one where the boards tightly butt up against one another, and where the floor is kept well sealed to block moisture from penetrating. Under these conditions, maintenance is a very simple matter of sweeping and periodic wiping with a barely-damp mop or hardwood cleaner.
However, if these conditions aren't met, hardwood in a kitchen can create a much different experience. Scratches, traffic wear, and other issues can easily compromise the seal coat and allow moisture or stains to permanently damage the wood. And certain forms of flooring are less suited to kitchens. Many prefinished hardwood flooring products have beveled edges that create grooves that channel water down between the boards. This usually doesn't happen with solid hardwood that has been properly sealed with an uninterrupted top coat of polyurethane.
Despite their hardness, these floors are very susceptible to scratching and they will be damaged by toenails of pets and general wear-and-tear. Make sure to choose hardwood flooring that can be sanded down and refinished. This means that solid hardwood will be a better choice than most engineered hardwood flooring. There are, however, some upper-end engineered products with very thick veneers that can be refinished. The refinishing process can range from light screening to remove the surface finish to more aggressive sanding that removes a thin layer of wood to erase scratches and damage. Either way, a fresh coat of varnish is then applied.
Hardwood is considered a premium flooring material and it almost always adds real estate value to a home. It offers visual warmth and texture and creates an earthy naturalness that can work with virtually any architectural style. If hardwood flooring has been installed elsewhere in the house, using the same hardwood in the kitchen allows for the flooring to uniformly flow throughout the house, unifying the decor.
Tips for Installing Hardwood Flooring:
- Hardwood floors should be installed over ¾-inch plywood on or above grade—not in a basement and never directly on concrete.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- To determine the amount of flooring you’ll need, multiply the length times the width of the room to get the square footage, at MyFloors we add 10 percent for waste and damaged boards.
- Install hardwood floors perpendicular to the floor joists, parallel to the longest wall, leaving a ¾-inch expansion gap around the perimeter.
- Join the ends of the boards over a floor joist, where possible, avoiding joints that form an H. Keep joints that line up at least two rows apart.
- Before starting, calculate the width the last row will be. If it will be less than an inch, cut the width of the first row in half.
Steps for Installing Hardwood Floors:
Ready to transform your space with new hardwood flooring? Follow these instructions on the installation of wood floors.
Acclimate the Flooring
- Let flooring acclimate to the room temperature and humidity for three to five days prior to installation. That’s a good time to lay the boards from several cases out on the floor and mix them up to vary the shades and lengths. (Cases tend to be all the same shade.) Arrange them in the way you’ll install them.
- Now’s also a good time to check for damaged or warped pieces. Don’t throw them away; they may come in handy later.
- After the boards have acclimated, choose the straightest ones for the first 2 rows.
Prepare Your Subfloor
- Remove old flooring and any residue. Remove carpet strips and baseboards. Vacuum.
- Old flooring materials may be made of asbestos. If you’re unsure, consult with a professional.
Install the Boards
- The first and last rows of the room have to be nailed through the face of the board. (If you have no experience, screwing these rows will make them easier to remove, if necessary.) All other rows will be nailed through the tongue. If you’re not using a flooring nailer, drill 1/32-inch diameter holes 1/2-inch from the grooved edge to prevent splitting.
- Lay the first board on the line you snapped, groove toward wall. Set ¾-inch spacers for the expansion gap along the length and at the end between the board and the wall.
- Drive flooring nails through the pre-drilled holes.
- Tap the next board in place using a tapping block and mallet. Nail in place.
- Countersink all the nails.
- When you get to the end, cut the board to fit (face side up on the saw), remembering to leave the ¾-inch expansion gap.
- Now, blind nail at a 45-degree angle along the tongue edge at every floor joist down the length of the row.
- To start the second row, push the groove of the board onto the tongue of the first row and tap together with a tapping block. Continue down the row, remembering to stagger the joints by at least 6 inches. When the row is done, blind nail in place.
- Continue installing the rest of the boards, remembering to stagger the joints, maintain the expansion gaps, and mix boards from different boxes.
- At this point, you’ll have the room to use a floor nailer. Position it to drive the nail through the tongue and tap with a mallet. Adjust the air pressure on the nailer if necessary, to countersink the nails.
- Use a jigsaw to cut around any vents or jogs, like a fireplace hearth, to fit the boards.
- Face-nail the last two rows along the tongue side. You won’t have the room to continue using the flooring nailer, so remember to drill 1/32-inch diameter pilot holes, ½ inch from the edge, to prevent splitting.
- You may need to cut the length of the boards to fit in the last row. Remember to leave the ¾-inch expansion gap. Use a pull bar to click the boards together. Then, face nail.
- To finish, cut the excess underlayment and sand and stain if necessary. Then, fill the nail holes with matching wood putty and replace the baseboards and shoe molding to cover the expansion gap.
- Finally, add the thresholds for a complete installation.