Skip to main content

Material World – Wood Flooring 101

No matter your aesthetic preference when it comes to interiors—from mid-century to minimalism, cottagecore to classic–wood flooring is a must-have for most of us. It’s beautiful, durable, wears well, and can last decades. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing your floors–here’s our informative first stop.

Terminology to Know

Unfinished floors

Whether you’re a perfectionist in search of a custom stain or you’re hoping to match current floors, unfinished is the way to go. Unfinished floors can require a lot more upfront work with staining and sealing, prolonging their “down” time and potentially giving off strong fumes. 


Arrives sanded, stained and coated. A great choice if you’re looking for a quicker turnaround, since once they’re installed, you can start using them immediately. Finished flooring also doesn’t require any potentially harmful chemicals since there is no coating or sealing process involved.

Solid Wood

Crafted from a single piece of solid wood and are usually between 5/8 to 1/2 inch thickness. Most of the time, folks use hardwood as a floor choice, though that’s not a hard and fast rule. 

Janka Hardness Test

Named after Gabriel Janka, a USDA employee, the Janka test is designed to measure the resistance of wood to denting/wear, specifically when it comes to flooring. The more pressure the species can take, the higher its Janka rating. It’s now a recognized and standardized scale used around the world to rate wood hardness.

Types of Solid Wood Floors


Probably the most popular choice for solid wood floors. Oak is a hardwood that’s incredibly durable and can transition through interior design styles with ease. Additionally, walnut, hickory, maple, and cherry are also gorgeous hardwood options! 


Rather than focusing on a specific type of wood, why not go the reclaimed route? Not only is reuse more environmentally friendly, you’re certain to achieve an one-of-a-kind, worn in look that would otherwise take years to get. 

Bamboo, cork, and beyond

Want to get weird? Or at least a little different? There are quite a few alternative woods that are durable, comfortable, and make a major aesthetic statement.

Engineered Wood

Still also technically wood floors (they are sometimes mistakenly referred to as fake wood floors–but they’re not fake, just not solid!). Here, you’ll find a veneer layer, or thin layer of solid wood, that’s been glued on top of plywood or high density fiberboard.

Pros of Solid Wood Floors

Can be sanded/refinished multiple times

Because it’s solid wood and because they’re usually quite thick, this type of flooring can withstand being sanded down and refinished over the years.

Ultra durable

Solid means something! There’s a reason folks get excited during a renovation when they discover old wood floors under carpets. Barring any water damage or warping, solid wood floors can last lifetimes.


Again, especially in the case of unfinished solid wood flooring, you have so many choices when it comes to finish, stain, look, and layout. 

Look and feel

This might be subjective, but solid wood floors just feel good under your feet and wear age well too. They’re always a gorgeous choice.

Cons of Solid Wood Floors


Just like wood furniture or wood siding, wood floors are susceptible to water damage, extreme humidity, warping, and splitting over the years.


In news that will surprise no one, solid wood is among the most expensive flooring options (at least initially). The upfront cost will be higher, but since solid wood wears so well, they do almost always end up being worth that initial cost in the long run.


To extend the life of your wood floors, it’s also important to properly care for them–both at the time of installation and periodically over the years. Sanding, finishing, and sealing all play an important role in solid wood floor health

Pros of Engineered Wood Floors


Often (but not always!) more affordable than solid wood floors–though there are so many options, you’re sure to find one in your price range. 


Engineered wood is less susceptible to fluctuations in heat and humidity, meaning it isn’t as prone to warping, shrinking, or expanding like solid wood. Which means it….

Can go anywhere

Well, almost–but it can definitely go more places (like the kitchen) than solid wood can!

Ease of Installation

Engineered wood floors are ready to walk on as soon as they’re installed.

Cons of Engineered Wood Floors

Not completely indestructible

While they can handle a lot, engineered wood floors still shouldn’t be installed in an open bathroom concept, a basement prone to flooding, or in a home with lots of pets and kids. 

Refinishing Limit

Because there’s only a veneer of solid wood on the top of each plank, most engineered wood either can’t be refinished at all or can only be refinished once. 

Differences Between Installing Solid and Engineered Wood Floors

The biggest difference between solid wood flooring and engineered wood flooring is that solid wood floors need to be nailed or stapled to a subfloor while engineered wood floors can also be “floating,” meaning they lock into each other and merely rest on the subfloor, rather than connecting to it. 

In addition, the subfloor does not need to be perfectly flat for solid wood floors. If you end up with a less-than-perfect subfloor, you can sand out any minor discrepancies easily! If you’re installing an engineered floor, the subfloor must be perfectly flat in order for it to remain stable. This is great news when you’re re-doing a floor in an older home that has settled over time.

Installation Tips

Let it rest: Before you install your flooring, give the wood time to acclimate to the room. Lay it out and make sure it’s “settled” and readjusted to your home’s specific temperature and humidity levels.

DIY + Inspiration

Pressure Washers: Types + How to Use
Get to Know Katie Freeman
Top 6 Places to Feature Handmade Tile with Fireclay Tile
Stay Up To Date With Us
Positive vibes. No mansplaining. Ever. Follow along to learn about the newest Pros on the MBuild roster, our favorite DIY + renovation tips, and stories about badass women in the trades. Let’s build the matriarchy one project at a time.