If you’re in the market for engineered hardwood flooring, I know it can be confusing with so many options available, especially in the past few years where choices are now literally in the dozens.
I mean, which really are the best hardwood flooring reviews in the face of so many?
Well there have been five companies that pioneered, innovated and introduced new styles and looks specific to the North American market and earned the trust of consumers over time. I’ve gone through each of these companies a little later in this article.
A huge influx of Chinese made products have saturated the market, often confusing customers into the real difference between a hardwood using primarily North American or European timber Vs those using Asian woods.
As a flooring contractor who has specialized in hardwood flooring of both the engineered and solid varieties, I’ve put together this brief overview for you so you can know which of the top brands use primarily North American hardwoods in their veneer.
The list is by no means exhaustive; it just shows you out of all the brands I’ve worked with, these are what I consider the very best.
First up, there are some really important things you need to be aware of when buying hardwood floors starting with…
North American vs Asian Wood
It’s important to know the difference between companies that use primarily superior North American and European hardwoods in their engineered product veneers verses using Asian woods.
See, wood that grows in the northern regions of North America (including Canada) and Europe grow a lot slower due to the extended cold winters there. So the wood ends up being denser, harder and more durable than exotic woods that grow much faster in more tropical environments.
That’s one reason you may find hardwood floors grown, harvested and made here run more than those from China.
You will also notice pound for pound; they weigh more. Check out the Janka Scale to the right if you would like to get an idea of the softest to hardest hardwoods out there.
Just keep in mind that all wood will scratch over time.
After all, have you ever seen a tree without a scratch on it?
Buying Guide – 8 Things To Look Out For When Buying Hardwood Flooring
Okay so you’re starting out or about to pull the trigger on your project and just want to do some last minute research.
Here are seven specific things to look out for when figuring out which floor type is best for you.
1. Solid Vs Engineered
Many people think that just because it’s not a solid piece of wood then engineered wood isn’t real wood.
Engineered wood is most certainly real hardwood but it’s constructed differently in many layers (ranging from 3-12) instead of one solid piece.
It is more often than not glued directly onto your concrete slab or subfloor.
The multiple layers on the product are usually cross plied meaning the grain or direction of the wood is crisscrossed down the layers. This gives the wood excellent stability meaning it does not move around anywhere near as much as solid wood.
This means less gapping and movement of the planks throughout the year when different changes in temperatures and humidity kick in.
It comes in mostly prefinished boards but there are unfinished products available as well.
That’s why engineered hardwood floors are recommended anywhere: at grade level (concrete), above grade (upstairs) or below grade (basement) while solid is only recommended for at grade or above grade. Below grade isn’t recommended for solid wood floors due to the large amounts of moisture that’s constantly present.
So before deciding on one or the other just ask yourself which look do you prefer a nd what’s most practical for your lifestyle?
Obviously with the solid option you have the ability to customize it a lot more by selecting the species of wood, level of scraping, color, finish and even plank width.
2. Species of Wood
As a guide, some woods have more natural grain and character than others.
Oak (red and white), hickory and pine are usually characterised by pronounced grain, mineral streaks and knots giving a more rustic/traditional look while maple, birch and walnut are relatively “stiller” with less going on and give a more contemporary appearance.
Pick one that your eyes are drawn to and don’t worry about what’s “in” right now. Wood is timeless so it’s all just a matter of opinion.
This is perhaps one of the most important and misunderstood aspects of buying hardwood flooring.
Many perceive the more the wood costs the better the quality. I’ve even read many experts say the same thing.
Guys, this is simply not true.
While this can be the case – like for example, Select Grade solid wood is going to run you more than Grade #2; this is not a very accurate assessment of how the wood will hold up for your particular lifestyle at all!
For example, if you have a family of 14 with 5 werewolves and lots of guests, then the $7 sq/ft installed engineered hickory is going to outlast your $15 sq/ft installed ultra exotic solid American cherry floor that’s custom handscraped and stained in a color only recently discovered by humans. Just because it is expensive does not mean it’s better quality or suitable for you.
Acacia, walnut, cherry and pine are all super beautiful floors but they’re also soft and scratch up pretty fast, especially in an active home.
I strongly advise to select the color/look you like in a type of wood that’s suitable for your lifestyle.
That way, you cover all your bases.
One common misconception here is the number of resandings and refinishings a solid floor could get is substantially more than an engineered.
It goes something like this:
“Oh wow look at the solid product and all that wood that can be resanded!”
Then they look at the engineered and say “well the top layer is only small so naturally, I will get way more sandings on a solid piece”.
Not so fast.
In some cases this may be true but ultimately, you get around the same number of sandings even though solid is usually around 3/4″ thick whereas the top wear layer of an engineered product can range anywhere from 1 ml to 4 ml.
See, you cannot actually resand the entire solid wood plank. Solid wood is installed by nailing the boards through the tongue portion into the plywood underneath.
So you can only sand as far as where the head of the nail protrudes from the tongue on the board!
Otherwise, someone will be very upset when their $10,000.00 sander is ruined. So do not base your decision on this because the only reason you would have to refinish your entire floor is either you want to change the color or the entire floor has extensive damage throughout.
Other than that you do not need to resand your floors. You can actually do a screen and recoat which removes the existing polyurethane and reapply as a fresh coat bringing new life to the floor.
5. Height Of Your Floor
Since solid wood is nailed down to the subfloor, the height of your floor is going to be considerably higher once it’s installed compared to engineered.
Keep in mind you have between a 5/8ths to 3/4″ plywood underneath.
Then when you factor in the moisture barriers your floor is going to be approximately 1 & 1/2″ inches high. This may not appear to be a big deal for some however it does have several flow on effects like…
6. Baseboards & Plugs
The second thing to look out for is your baseboards.
Since the floor is going to be higher, your baseboards will need to also be raised. If you are doing a large project such as an entire house then it’s possible all of the baseboards will need to be replaced. Obviously if it’s a new construction this won’t be an issue as the baseboards simply go on after the floors are down.
If you are doing just a few rooms or so then the height of the baseboards in those rooms will be different then connecting rooms so keep that in mind if that type of visual is not for you.
Something else that many folks including flooring pros completely forget about are wall plugs.
A lot of times since the new solid floor raises everything up, the electrical plugs around the perimeter of the room can sometimes be in the way. This means they need to be relocated a few inches away from the baseboards unless you want to notch around them. As a result, some sheetrock and painting patch work may need to be done.
If your floor is raised then there is a strong possibility your doors need to be “planed” afterwards in order to fit correctly. The more you have, the more will need to be planed (sanded from underneath) and sometimes this can incur additional costs so ask your contractor about this beforehand.
Finally, transitions between the new solid wood flooring and lower flooring like carpet or tile will be different. The threshold will ramp down to the lower flooring. These are just some things you need to be aware of before deciding on solid wood.
5 Best Hardwood Flooring Brands
#1 – Kährs
Known for their exceptional high end quality and unparalleled locking system that makes joints as tight as possible, Kahrs have their main production factory in Småland, Sweden surrounded by forest. They also have some minor production in Poland, Romania and China.
They source woods like American Cherry, North American Maple, Walnut and others out of North America but manufacture it out of their plant in Sweden. Their ash and beech products are sourced locally in Scandinavia because that’s where they are naturally most prominent.
Even their exotic woods like Brazilian Cherry/Jatoba out of South America are manufactured at their Swedish plant and they’re also a very green company ensuring trees are harvested with sustainability, replanting and environmental focus/health in mind. They do not use any wood out of China.
Their attention to detail and quality control makes this brand super easy to install so flooring installers absolutely love it but most importantly, you can literally see and feel the difference in quality with these floors compared to others. The graining is distinct, the joints are super tight and you won’t find a more vivid color and finish. Above all, their collections reflect the demands of today’s market so you’re assured of finding something that you really love.
I have worked with this brand for a long time and would place it slightly above the rest of the field for it’s overall, consistent high performance across the board while maintaining it’s wood sourcing from reputable places.
See here for a complete review of Kahrs hardwood.
#2 – Mannington
Mannington is another company I’ve had a long history with and once again, it’s just been overall consistent with the quality of it’s wood flooring products. Most of their hardwood is manufactured in the US with some manufactured in Guatemala yet in both cases, they use North American hardwood species (unless the wood is specifically South American like Brazilian Cherry for example).
Their website actually is very good in telling customers the specifications of each product including where it is manufactured.
Their product line for as long as I can remember has been very diverse containing high quality hardwood at several different price points.
Their “Jamestown Oak Plank” for example has been their entry level floor for decades. You get a very high quality product at a very reasonable price point. Yes, it is a “plain” narrow plank oak product but if that’s the sort of look you like, then it’s a safe option.
If you’re looking for a much different type of floor then there’s another 135 products to choose form.
They were for a long time also known for their smooth finish as most of their products have that satin or gloss finish but they recently started making some really impressive distressed and hand scraped products as well including some highly sought after grey colors.
#3 – Mercier
Although not as well known as the other brands, this company almost exclusively sources it’s wood in North America with both of it’s mills in Quebec, Canada where they manufacture everything. The only wood that comes from outside North America is their exotic South American species.
They, like Kährs, are a very eco-friendly company with even their finish made from 100% soybean oil which is very safe and non toxic to humans and pets.
They have just about every look to select from and a good portion of their products coordinate very well with just about any decor.
They also have a good selection of super wide boards ranging between 6.5″ – 8.5″ wide. Boards came in a standard 5″ wide in the flooring industry for a long time but Mercier gives you the option of going wider as this has been a very strong trend over the past few years.
They do something else that I feel is fabulous – a lot of their lines come in both solid and engineered varieties. This is the first time I have seen this in the wood flooring industry.
Usually, manufacturers have separate solid and engineered lines with vastly different looks and colors. The problem of course is when a client selects a color in one type of wood but wants it in another! With Mercier, they accommodate for that by making many of their products in both forms.
Overall, an excellent brand producing responsible, high quality products.
#4 – Mohawk
As the world’s largest flooring company, it also gives you the largest variety to choose from – over 800 products in the engineered line alone which can be a blessing and a curse. Of course it’s nice to have a great selection to look at but it can get overwhelming!
I have worked with Mohawk’s engineered and solid floors since 2002 and for the most part, no issues at all. Due to their sheer volume, I have had minor quality control issues with their products where a box or two were not up to standard but they did promptly exchange them.
Their product line has some really unique stuff – absolutely stunning elm, American cherry and walnut floors that while soft, offer a one of a kind “peg” look where the floor looks like it still has the original pegs in it like an old, worn log cabin. These would work perfect for a holiday home or bachelor pad that’s looking to replicate such a setting.
They also have an abundance of floors in many different widths, thicknesses, colors, wood species and finishes – even the beveled edges. Pronounced bevels can really give floor a lot of depth and authenticity so you can browse their lines and choose one you like best.
One of the key advantages with Mohawk of course is their sheer size and reach. Their products are available everywhere from Home Depot to speciality flooring stores (although the products may not be identical). They also make a comprehensive range of complimentary trim and moldings which they stock quite well (these items are most frequently back ordered / out of stock).
This brand is a very safe one due to their global presence and long history in hardwood flooring.
#5 – Bruce
Bruce hardwoods finishes out my top 5 list with it’s distinct oak and hickory floors that are sold across the country in a variety of different stores. They do carry other species as well like birch, cherry and walnut but they only form a fraction of the line which is predominately oak followed by hickory then maple.
All of their solid hardwood products are sourced and manufactured in the United States. Most of their engineered products are also sourced and manufactured in the United States with the exception of the following collections: TimberBrushed, Artesian Hand Tooled, and Rustic Accents. Those three collections are the only collections in that are sourced and manufactured overseas.
If you browse their products, you will notice they are very heavy on the distressed, hand-scraped and traditional looks with plenty of grain, mineral streaks and imperfections in their floors. If you like these types of looks, then this is an excellent brand to start with since you’ll have plenty of choices. Just don’t be disappointed if you don’t find too many of the other woods.
Quality wise, both their solid and engineered floors go down really well and their overall quality is testament to their rigorous standards. Since their milling process is so precise, the boards fit effortlessly together and the wood itself from my experience has been largely free of any defects. They attribute this to their abnormally high quality checks (up to 75) but whatever they are doing, their products are a great fit for those looking for a lot of character in their floors.
A good, dependable brand you can rely on.
Avoiding Common Problems With Wood Flooring Companies
The internet is filled with complaints from folks buying hardwood flooring across every brand imaginable – yes, even the very best.
Sometimes it’s a manufacturing problem but most of the time the issue stemmed from improper installation and/or care by the customer.
However, there are many complaints insisting it was the manufacturer’s fault so I’m going to give you a few pointers in case you find yourself locked in a frustrating war with a flooring company over defective material.
Having dealt with both retail and internet purchases many times from clients over many years, please listen very carefully if you want these companies to honor their warranties:
The number one complaint from customers was not so much that their product was defective – what really pissed people off was these companies kept on ignoring them and/or telling them it was their fault (usually due to faulty installation) or that the products became that way AFTER installation.
Basically, washing their hands of the problem no matter how bad it is.
I know this is a real problem because I’ve had to clean up a lot of messes for folks who weren’t treated right by some companies. Please understand I am not singling out any particular company I am just saying there are certain measures you can take to protect yourself from being mistreated after the sale:
- The first thing you should keep in mind is to check the manufacturer’s Internet purchasing policy for their products. Some manufacturers will honor their warranties if you buy their products online and others won’t. Do not invest several thousands of dollars into your floors only to find out later the manufacturer won’t even come out to look at it if something goes wrong.
- It’s critically important you keep your receipts for your purchase no matter where you got it from. Proof of purchase is a must otherwise they won’t look at it.
- You must purchase and use the manufacturer’s approved or recommended adhesive. Under no circumstances should you compromise this! Make sure and insist on the correct glue otherwise if anything happens to your floor and it needs to be replaced – even if it has nothing to do with the adhesive; they will not entertain your claim. And yes, they can tell what glue you used even if you disposed of it and the floor is several years old. Technology can be an ass sometimes 🙂
- It’s a good idea prior to installation you examine the boards and look for any defects. Most of the time, there’s no issue however I understand that when it comes to your own home, take no chances. Sometimes it can be one or two boxes which is still no big deal but every now and then an entire batch can be defective.
If this is the case, then film yourself pulling the materials out of their boxes ensuring to show they are defective. DO NOT INSTALL THE FLOOR.
Most manufacturers state “once the board has been installed, it is deemed to have been accepted by the installer and owner even if the latter is absent at the time of installation”.
Make sure you read the manufacturer’s warranty because they all have many different exclusions in their terms so it’s important you’re aware what they will and will not cover. If you install it then complain, trust me when I say they will not be easy to deal with.
If there are no apparent defects, take pictures anyway before anything is installed ensuring the date is recorded. Check for discoloration, delamination, abnormal holes and other faulty characteristics. This will provide irrefutable proof this was on the manufacturer, and not on you.
In case a manufacture sends their representative out to look at the floor, be sure to document everything. They rarely admit fault because they don’t incriminate their company so don’t get too upset if they don’t acknowledge what’s obviously clear.
Most cases that show clear manufacturer fault are taken care of reasonably well but in the rare case you are given the runaround, you can do the following:
1. If you purchased your floors online and the manufacturer will honor such warranty then get a hold of the local representative for that product. You can find this out by calling the company or their distributor and asking for your local rep. If they do not provide it call any flooring store and ask for the reps information for that company. If you bought your product through a flooring store you’re going to have to file your claim through them. The more noise you make and the more you follow up the faster you will get things resolved.
2. If you’re not getting anywhere after trying this then fortunately; you can get a non biased flooring inspector to examine everything and give you a detailed report.
Go to The National Institute Of Certified Floor Covering Inspectors website and search for an inspector in your area. They are an independent group that specialize in claims like this!
Plus, you may be able to recuperate this cost as part of your claim if the company isn’t cooperating. The inspector will write an independent report and if it really is the manufacturers’ fault, they will state so in an official report. This is a crucial piece of evidence if you have to go to small claims court as a last resort.
But let me just say that once a company receives a report from a Certified Floor Covering Inspector (CFCI) declaring their flooring is defective and it was not anything from the customers side, they will come to terms with you.
I really hope this article and accompanying buying guide helps you in selecting your new hardwood floors as well as avoiding any potential problems in the future.
Just remember to use common sense:
1. Pick out a floor suitable to your lifestyle and taste and not necessarily the most expensive one
2. Use the proper installation materials especially the adhesive
3. Get a qualified installer to put in your floors
4. Care for your floor as best you can following the manufacturer’s recommendation.
This ensures you have done everything right so in the rare case of a claim, you give any company very little choice but to honor the warranty.
Finally – please understand you are purchasing hardwood and not an indestructible floor. Hardwood naturally changes color and scratches over time and this is part and parcel of owning one.
By caring for it though, this will only add character to your home for many years to come.