All About Hardwood Flooring: Oak

by Eric Hurst

Natural oak flooring is the most popular hardwood flooring in North America. Historically, it has graced homes worldwide since the Middle Ages. A premium choice among hardwoods, oak adds elegance, charm and appeal to any home. The warm tones and beautiful grain of an oak floor reveals a richness unmatched by its peers.

Varieties of Oak Flooring

Varieties of Oak Flooring

Although there are many subspecies, the most standard oak varieties are red oak and white oak. At first glance, their appearance is very similar. In general, red oak is more porous and has a more open grain and is generally red or pinkish in color. White oak is denser, more resistant to rot and water damage and features more neutral brown and tan tones. European oak refers to oak species native to Europe and North Africa.

Benefits of Oak Flooring

  • Density - Density levels for oak are 900 KG/m3 for white oak and 780 KG/m3 for red oak; this makes both varieties denser than most other woods. Density measures bulk or mass. Denser wood is stronger wood. White Oak is the harder of the two with a 1360 on the Janka Scale, while Red Oak has a Janka hardness rating of 1290.
  • Grain and Appearance - Both red and white oak varieties have a prominent, tightly arranged and appealing grain that varies depending on the quality of the planks and how they are sawn. Red oak has a pinkish-tan to gold coloring with intensifying color at knots. White oak is tan or brown with little or no visible pink or red.
  • Durability - Oak is among the most resilient and durable natural woods available. Its strength and hardness allows it to resist dents and withstand everyday wear and tear better than softer woods. Oak is considered the benchmark for hardness in the wood flooring industry, the standard by which all other woods are compared to.
  • Longevity - Because of its endurance and resistance to insects and deterioration, oak flooring does not have to be replaced or repaired as often as many other hardwoods. This is especially true for White Oak, which has unique cellular and chemical properties that make it more resistant to insects and mold.
  • Sound Reduction - Although it is strong, oak is soft enough to dampen the sounds made by footsteps. This makes it ideal for use in multi-story homes and apartments, especially if you are choosing between oak flooring vs tile or stone floors.
  • Fungus and Insect Resistance - The density and high tannin content of oak makes it less vulnerable to wood-boring insects, mold and fungal growth. White oak is particularly resistant.
  • Increased Home Value - Although it is a significant investment compared to a low end carpet or laminate floor, installing solid oak flooring in your home is believed by most real estate professionals to add value and market appeal.
  • A Green Choice - As a natural substance, oak is a renewable and eco-friendly choice that also helps to insulate the home which results in savings on energy usage and saves you money!
  • Warm Underfoot - Solid oak feels comfortable and warm underfoot. It doesn't get cold and uncomfortable like ceramic or porcelain tiles. This makes it a preferable choice for bedroom floors.
  • Asthma and Allergy Friendly - Doctors often recommend that asthma and allergy sufferers choose wood flooring because it does not trap dander and dust like carpet.
  • Versatile Style - The high permeability of oak makes it easy to stain. Almost any color result can be achieved. While oak is dense and hard, it is still able to be textured easily so that designs like hand scraped, wire-brushed and other textures can be achieved on this incredibly versatile hardwood.

Cons of Oak Wood Floors

  • Cost - Oak flooring is considerably more expensive than other flooring options. For a typical 12X12 room, oak flooring costs approximately $1200 including labor and allowances for waste. However as mentioned before, installing oak floors in your home is generally believed to be a worth while investment, as it is thought to increase a home's resale value.
  • Scratches and Dents - Although it is strong, like any natural wood, oak can be dented, scratched or damaged from impact. Care must be taken to protect heavy traffic areas.

Oak Flooring Options

  • Solid - As its name implies, solid oak is a single, solid piece of hardwood.
  • Engineered - Engineered oak is made from a layer of solid oak bonded to plywood. The surface is solid oak, but the layered construction provides a more stable floor that is less prone to movement, expansion and deterioration from humidity.
  • Oak Veneer - Oak veneer flooring consists of a thin layer of oak applied over another, cheaper material. While it is inexpensive and gives the appearance of oak, it is more likely to quickly deteriorate and warp.
  • Handscraped Oak - Distressed wood has the appearance of being aged. This category may also include genuine antique wood, but distressing is commonly done artificially. This type of floor has an appealing rustic appearance.
  • Quartersawn & Rift Oak Flooring - When a oak log is sawn into quarters, the lumber is more dimensionally stable and many believe it to be more beautiful. Use this type of oak flooring when you have radiant heated floors, or whenever you are concerned about moisture issues.

Oak Flooring Styles

Oak flooring is available in a near-limitless variety of styles and designs. Handscraped Oak flooring is incredibly popular right now, as is antique or distressed designs. Natural oak floors are simply finished with a clear coat, while other oak flooring is stained first to offer you a larger variety of colors and uniformity among the individual planks.

You will find oak floors in wide planks and narrow planks. We still offer oak flooring in narrow planks like 1 1/2" or 2" wide, and we can source oak floor in wide widths too, up to 16 inches or wider! Oak floors come in an assortment of thicknesses, including 5/16", 3/8", 7/16", 1/2", 9/16", 5/8" and 3/4", and other custom thicknesses can be made as well.

Installation Options

Solid oak flooring is nailed or stapled down over a wood sub-floor while engineered oak can be glued over concrete or installed using a floating method, where the boards are attached to each other, but laid loose over a padding on the sub-floor. Allowance must be made for natural expansion of the wood. Professional installation is recommended for solid hardwood floors, while many engineered floors are more do-it-yourself friendly.

Cleaning and Maintenance

An oak floor is easy to maintain. Daily sweeping or dust mopping with a cotton mop is recommended to remove grit that could scratch the finish. Vacuuming with bare floor attachments is acceptable for removing dust and pet hair. Liquid spills should be wiped up immediately. A pH neutral wood floor cleaner can be used for removing dirt and grime that resists other cleaning methods.

A Timeless Choice

With proper care, an oak floor is a solid investment and a beautiful, classic addition to any home. The versatility and value of oak is time-proven, and its aesthetic appeal is echoed throughout history. Oak flooring is both classic and unique at the same time, since it's appearance is cozy and comfortable, but yet each individual plank is different than any other.

This article was published on Thursday 23 February, 2012.
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