Hardwood Buying Guide, Part 2: Questions You Need to Ask Before Purchasing Hardwood Floors

Hardwood floors are beautiful. Surprises on installation day are not. Learn how to avoid any surprises by asking these nine questions before buying hardwood flooring.

By Tamara Gane

 

Hardwood is one of the best investments you can make in your home. It adds resale value and has the potential to last for generations. But, it can also be difficult to shop for when you don’t know what questions to ask. Take the guesswork out of it. Ask these questions and shop for hardwood floors like a pro!

 

1. What is the Janka Hardness Rating?

If you’re worried about dents in your brand-new floor, you’ll want to ask about the Janka Hardness Rating. A Janka Hardness Test measures how well a given species of hardwood will resist denting under pressure. The test is conducted by measuring the force required to insert a 0.444 steel ball halfway into a representative piece of wood. Hardwood species with low Janka Hardness Ratings are more prone to dimpling and denting under normal household circumstances, such as dropping a dish in the kitchen or walking in high heeled shoes. If you have an active household, you may want to choose a species that rates higher on the Janka Hardness Scale.

 

2. What is the Warranty?

It’s worth noting that most hardwoods will have a separate warranty for the structure and integrity the boards themselves, and another for the length of time you can expect the finish to last before it wears through. Additionally, if you’re hiring a professional contractor to install your new floor, there’s likely to be a separate warranty on the installation. Make sure you ask about the length of these individual warranties and what circumstances they cover.

 

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3. How Long Will Your New Floors Need to Be Acclimated?

Most new hardwood floors, particularly solid hardwoods, need to be acclimated before the installation. This simply means that they need to be dropped off and left in your home long enough so that the temperature and humidity of the boards are the same as the temperature and humidity of your house. Otherwise, they can either shrink or expand, which can cause your new floors to buckle and fail.

 

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4. What About Wall Base or Trim?

If you’re installing new hardwood floors, your existing wall base will need to be removed. If you’re planning to put it back on, it’s important to know that it may break in the process. If you don’t plan to put it back on, what material will be used to replace it? Will it be different under your cabinets than in the rest of the room? What will look like where it meets other materials, such as the tile apron in front of your fireplace?

 

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5. Will Your New Hardwood Be A Different Height Than Your Old Floors?

Many people don’t think about the ripple effect a change in floor height can have on the rest of their home. If your new hardwood flooring is lower than your old floors were (which is often the case if you’re installing engineered hardwood), it can leave gaps underneath your molding and door jambs. If you’re reusing your original wall base or replacing it with something the same height or shorter, it will sit lower against your wall since your new floors are not as thick. This can often leave visible paint lines that will require repainting or touch-ups. A change in floor height can even mean that you will not be able to reinstall your toilet without alterations in some circumstances. Ask about floor height so you know what to expect when your project begins and don’t find yourself without a bathroom.

 

6. What Will Happen When Your Hardwood Floors Are Exposed to the Sun?

Have you ever seen a spot where an area rug was moved only to discover that the wood beneath it’s a different color than the rest of the floor? This is because hardwood changes color when exposed to UV rays and sunlight. Some species turn darker while others get lighter over time. Find out what kind of color changes to expect from the species of wood you selected so there are no surprises.

 

Tip: The best way to avoid uneven color changes in your new hardwood floor is to move your furniture and area rugs to different parts of the room from time to time so the light has a chance to hit the areas beneath them.

 

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7. Will There Be a Beveled Edge?

If your new floors are being finished on site, they will not have a beveled edge. Instead, your finished hardwoods will be flush.

 

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If your hardwood has been pre-finished in the factory, it will have a beveled edge. Some bevels are thin and subtle…

 

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… while others are more dramatic.

 

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The difference is primarily stylistic, although a wider bevel may be more apt to collect dust.

 

Tip: Don’t select your hardwood after looking at just one board. Put two or three boards together to make sure you get a feel for the what the bevel looks like when they come together.

 

8. What Kind of Stair Nose Should You Expect?

If you’re including stairs in your project, you’ll need to know what kind of stair nose to expect. If they are building your stairs out of solid hardwood, the stair nose will be flush. But, some engineered hardwoods don’t have flush stair noses available. If this is the case, they will put a lip on the edge of your stair to create a bullnose. This is a vastly different aesthetic, and the lip could present a tripping hazard if you aren’t careful. If you’re purchasing engineered hardwood, it’s imperative you ask about the stair nose in advance to make sure it’s what you want and expect.

 

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9. Will You Need to Leave Your Home for a Few Days?

If your wood has been pre-finished in the factory, it’s not likely that there will be any dangerous chemicals used in your home. But, if you’re having your hardwoods finished on site, the chemicals used in some processes can be dangerous to inhale. Find out if you will be able to live in your home while the work is being done, and if not, how long you should expect to be displaced. If you need to stay in a hotel or eat out in restaurants, this will need to be factored into your budget. You should also ask if you need to wait before you can put your furniture back and walk on your new floors.

 

Each flooring project is as unique as your house is. Asking questions is the best way to know what to expect.

 

Images used with permission, courtesy of Tamara Gane and www.shutterstock.com