How to Choose Hardwood Floors and Keep Them Looking New

By Judy Marchman

Choosing the right hardwood floor for your family’s needs is important in making sure it lasts for years to come.

Photo: GettyImages/Poplasen

Hardwood floors have become the go-to choice for many homebuyers who are building or buying a new home.

Wood flooring is beautiful, durable and comes in a wide variety of colors, plank size and textures.

But, as a new homebuyer, you may feel overwhelmed when faced with all of those choices, so where do you start? And once you move in, how do you protect your investment and keep your floors looking like new?

Consider Your Lifestyle

When thinking about what kind of hardwood floors to install, your No. 1 consideration should be your lifestyle. Do you have children and/or pets? Do you like to entertain? Do you hate cleaning all the time?

“I discuss who is living on the floors and determine if they have had and cared for wood floors in the past,” said Kristi Kennedy, David Weekley Homes’ design center manager in Austin, Texas. “We discuss their experience with wood floors — what they liked and what they disliked — to gain information on the best opportunity for their home.”

Another important factor when choosing your flooring is how long you intend to stay in your home. If you plan to live in your home for at least five years, then you should think about investing in a harder wood, said Bridger Bellon, a technical manager with N-Hance Wood Renewal. “It will hold up over time and save money in the long run. If they are staying in their home anytime less than five years, they will want to choose flooring that balances durability and economy.”

Durability, Finish, and Texture

How you use your home factors strongly in what type of wood flooring you should choose. Most people want a durable surface, but if you have an active, on-the-go family, you’ll probably want something that’s low maintenance and doesn’t show wear and tear as easily. Or you may prefer sleek, shiny wood surfaces and don’t mind the work to keep them looking pristine.

Kennedy outlined some points to consider when looking at different wood species. “You should think about the characteristics of the grain (more or less character), variation (movement of color and contrast between and within each plank) and durability (the level of softness or hardness of the wood).”

Harder, more durable species include hickory and oak, which can stand up to more damage than maple or more fine-grained woods. But, Bellon noted, the finish on the wood flooring can make more of a difference in the durability than the hardwood itself.

The type of finish, again, depends on what you want out of your floors. If you like a super-glossy look, be prepared for more cleaning to keep it that way, whereas lower sheens are more forgiving, reducing the appearance of scuffs and scratches. Hardwoods can come prefinished or a finish can be added on site after installation.

“Typically, when a finish is applied at the factory, it is more durable,” said Dave Murphy, also a technical manager with N-Hance Wood Renewal. “However, with N-Hance, we apply a commercial-grade finish on site that is extremely durable.”

Common finishes range from oil-based polyurethanes and acid-cured finishes to water-based polyurethanes. “N-Hance only uses water-based polyurethanes, which have lower VOCs, making them more environmentally friendly,” Murphy added. “Oil-based and acid-cured finishes are good, but can be very unsafe for families and pets during installation.”

Hand-in-hand with choosing the wood species and finish are the wood’s texture — hand-scraped, hand-sculpted, or wire brush techniques — and color, which factor into not only your personal taste, but also that all-important lifestyle question.


“I educate buyers on how the texture can give life to the floors and as the floor is lived on, the different textures can complement the natural distressing that can happen to the floors,” Kennedy said.

Care and Maintenance

What floors you choose also influence the kind of care and maintenance that they will require to keep them in top condition.

Scratches

No matter the finish or wood species, your floors will eventually show scratches and scuffs, but there are ways you can minimize their appearance. Kennedy recommended furniture pens to touch-up minor scratches and Bellon suggested putting felt pads on all furniture and keeping pets’ nails trimmed.

Dirt

You should sweep your floors with a dry mop or vacuum on a regular basis to remove any dirt, dust, or pet hair. “Dirt is the enemy of wood,” Kennedy said. “A layer of dust can get embedded in the floor joints and make the floor look dirty, particularly with lighter-colored floors.”

For a more thorough cleaning, you can occasionally use a neutral pH hardwood specific cleaner, according to Brigitte Ballard, marketing specialist for N-Hance Wood Renewal. If you’re unsure about which cleaner to use, Kennedy suggested checking your floor manufacturer’s care and maintenance recommendations for cleaning products.

Water

Wood flooring has another enemy in water damage, so it’s important to wipe up any spills quickly and refrain from using overly wet mops for cleaning.

Warranties

Your hardwood floors typically will come with a manufacturer’s warranty, ranging anywhere from 10 to 50 years. “You still need to perform regular maintenance as recommended by the manufacturer,” Kennedy said. “By doing so, you can get great longevity past the warranty.” She cautioned that it is important to follow the manufacturer’s cleaning guidelines to make sure you don’t accidentally void the warranty.

Refinishing

Depending on what type of floors you choose and how much wear, tear and care they receive, you may find your floors need a facelift after a few years. “We recommend refinishing before major signs of wear or when surface scratches become unsightly,” Murphy said. “This is usually about every three to five years.”

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Judy Marchman is an Austin, Texas-based freelance writer and editor who writes about home building and design, including for NewHomeSource.com. As the owner of a new construction home, she’s never without plenty of story inspiration.

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