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Ask Eli - Hardwood Flooring Options?

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What kind of wood flooring should I use? - David


There are lots of different types of wood flooring and a pretty big range of prices too. Your downstairs should be about 800 square feet total according to the drawing I have. You will need to subtract areas that won’t get the flooring such as under the cabinets, the entry closet, you could leave the vinyl in the powder room, maybe the vinyl in the pantry, etc. You will need to decide where you want the new flooring and what your budget will be.


Laminate floorings run from about 1.50/ft to about 4.00/ft for materials.  At a glance they look good, but if you look closely at them you can tell that they are not real wood.  They also make a different sound than real hardwoods when you walk on them.  I don’t know if that is good or bad but it is one of the differences between laminates and hardwoods.  And the quality of the pad underneath the laminate flooring effects the sound too. If you buy a good brand, laminate flooring will last a long time and handle a fair amount of abuse.  The surface of laminate is harder than the finish on real hardwood flooring, but it is thin, and if scratched it can’t be refinished.  The big advantage to the laminate floors is that they are so easy to install.  No glue, no nailing, just snap the boards together. Ease of installation makes it a good option for the do-it-yourselfer.

Laminate/Tile Flooring

Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwoods are basically plywood with one layer of hardwood on the surface. They cost 3.00/ft to 5.00/ft depending on the type of wood and the quality.  The advantage to engineered hardwoods is that you get the look of real hardwood at a lower cost.  They are also easier to install.  Most of them snap together like the laminate floors.  The downside is that the layer of hardwood is too thin to sand down and repair if they are damaged. 

Hardwood/Laminate flooring

Real hardwood

Real hardwoods, of course, are the standard in wood flooring.  Hardwood floorings cost between 5.00/ft and 13.00/ft. depending on the type of wood.  They come in boards that are 3/4” thick and can be sanded down and refinished multiple times.  They take longer to install because each board is nailed down to the sub floor and the boards are narrower.  Being nailed down, they make a more solid sound when you walk on them.  You can buy hardwood flooring pre-finished or unfinished.  They both nail down the same way, but you have to sand and put a finish on the unfinished hardwood flooring.  This means that you have to deal with the fumes from the finishing process, and you can’t walk on it until the finish cures.

Hardwood Flooring

Eco-friendly Flooring

If you are concerned about the environment you may choose bamboo or cork flooring.  If you want bamboo you should plan on spending about 10.00/ft.  The bamboo needs to be at least 6yrs old before being harvested to be hard enough for flooring.  You can find really inexpensive bamboo but it is often as young as 3yrs old, which is not hard enough to make flooring out of.  It will wear out much faster than bamboo that has been harvested at 6yrs.  Cork runs about 7.00/ft to 8.00/ft.  It is softer and warmer on the feet, and it can be refinished if damaged.

Another Option:

Another option that is not wood but looks like wood is Vinyl Plank Flooring. The picture below is vinyl plank flooring. It is a very thick, durable vinyl that comes with a much better warranty than typical vinyl. It comes in pieces similar in size to laminate flooring but it doesn't snap together like laminate. The edge of one piece overlaps the next piece and the overlaps have an adhesive on them so the two pieces stick to each other. It is a floating floor like the laminate flooring so it is not attached to the floor at all. This isn't the cheap peal and stick vinyl tiles that you stick down to the sub-floor and half of them come back off in a few weeks. This is a good quality product and it looks good too. You don't need any special tools to install it. We used a razor knife to cut the pieces for this installation. One big advantage to using this product is repairs. With a little bit of heat you can remove a damaged piece and replace it. With laminate you have to take the floor apart piece by piece to get to a damaged piece, and then you have to put it all back together again. Another advantage is that it can't be damaged by water and, if installed properly, water won't be able to get through it to damage the sub-floor beneath it.

Vinyl Plank Flooring


Installation costs are surprisingly similar considering the difference in difficulty to install the different types of flooring.  The pre-finished hardwoods are about 3.00/ft for installation.  Laminates, vinyl plank, and engineered hardwoods are a little less and unfinished hardwoods are a little more.  If you are considering laminate, vinyl plank, or engineered hardwood, I would recommend installing it yourself.  If you don’t think you can install it yourself, you might consider upgrading to a lower cost, pre-finished, real hardwood to make it worth paying for installation.

Your Budget

If budget is your biggest concern and quality is not a concern then you should look at the big home improvement warehouses or large flooring warehouse stores.  They have the best prices but it is often for an inferior quality product.  Many manufacturers produce product lines specifically for these stores that are a little lower priced and also a little lower quality.  Sometimes you can find one of their higher priced products at a really good clearance price.

If budget is a concern but you are also concerned about quality, you might want to go with a laminate or engineered hardwood from a store that only sells flooring.  A store that sells only flooring will normally have higher quality products.  If you have a lot of traffic on your floor pick the laminates, otherwise the engineered hardwoods look really nice.  Get prices from a couple different stores to make sure you get the best price you can.  When you compare prices, make sure you are comparing the same product lines at each store so you know which store is offering the best prices.

If you want real hardwood but on a tight budget, look for pre-finished hardwoods.  You don’t have to pay for sanding and finishing after they are installed like you do with the unfinished hardwoods.  The pre-finished hardwoods normally have a bevel around the edges of each board because the surface of each board won’t line up perfectly after they are installed.  The bevel makes it so you can’t tell that they don’t line up perfectly.  The pre-finished hardwoods are more difficult to install than the laminates or the engineered hardwoods.  They can be installed by someone that is not a professional, but is very handy with handyman projects.  You will need to rent a few tools and it is a lot of work but a home handyman can do it.

If you are concerned about quality and not about budget then you should go with unfinished hardwood.  They are more expensive, but I think they are the best looking.  Unfinished hardwood flooring takes longer to install because you have to sand and finish it after you install it.  This process creates a beautiful, smooth surface that can’t be matched by laminate or pre-finished hardwood flooring.  If you are going to get unfinished hardwood flooring I would recommend hiring a professional to install it for you.  It is a very big job and a very expensive mistake if you mess it up.


I don’t claim to know everything about flooring so I still recommend that you ask some questions at a store that only sells flooring.  I wouldn’t ask advice at the large home improvement stores.  The guy that gives you his professional advice might know what he is talking about or he might have just come from the plumbing department where he was restocking plungers.  It is an expensive project and you want to talk to someone that knows what they are talking about.

There are a lot of things to consider when deciding which type of flooring to use. I hope that I have helped you make an informed decision about what you want to do.  Let me know how the project goes.


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