Abby of Aurora writes, "We are planning to re-do our floors this fall. I think I want to install hardwood. Can you tell me how we deal with the hardwood where it meets existing cabinetry? Is there one hardwood you recommend that is harder than all the others? What else do we need to think about when it comes to the installation?"
You're making a good investment Abby. Adding hardwood can improve the value of your home and make it more desirable to future homebuyers. Be sure to start getting quotes now because good installers are booking weeks or months out and depending on the flooring you select, it could take you several weeks to get materials delivered.
Be sure to determine if your existing floor is flat or not. Note that I did not say, "level", because hardwood can generally be installed on floors that have some slope to them. If your floor has what I'll call a 'wave' of any kind and is uneven, the subfloor may require extra work in order to avoid any potential installation or long-term product performance issues.
Ideally all flooring is put in prior to any cabinets being installed, so if you have the option, the time and the budget, my preference is always to remove cabinetry and re-install it once the hardwood has been laid. More realistically however, it may be an option to simply remove existing cabinetry kick plates and install hardwood as far under the cabinets as will be hidden by the kick. The final and in my opinion least desirable solution, is to simply butt the hardwood up against the kick plates of existing cabinetry. It's difficult to get a perfectly even cut on the edges of the planks that butt against the kick, so you may find installing a small cove or a shoe moulding in front of the kick is required to clean up the installation. Finish these mouldings to match the cabinets, don't try to stain them to match the flooring.
A natural material, wood is susceptible to scratching, denting, moisture and dryness. If treated properly however, it can also be a flooring option that will last for years to come.
Brazilian Cherry (Jatoba) is the hardest of the woods with hickory, maple and oak also falling into the category of those considered the hardest of the species. That said, hardness is not necessarily an indicator that the product won't scratch. Know that all species of wood regardless of hardness will scratch or mark under the wrong conditions.
If this is a real concern for you, consider choosing mid-tone-to-lighter stains coupled with lower sheen finishes that are a little more forgiving when it comes to showing imperfections. The darker the wood, the more dirt, dust balls and scratches are visible. There are also great wire-brush and hand-scraped finishes that give the wood a somewhat distressed look and can potentially reduce any anxiety you may have over imperfections.
I recommend purchasing a humidity level monitor for your home so you can ensure to avoid shrinkage, cracking or cupping that can result from a home that's too dry or too humid.
Purchase doormats for all home entrances and the area in front of the kitchen sink in order to reduce the likelihood of moisture damage and the affects of dirt and salt in the winter months. Be sure to shut off the water in your home when you travel for extended periods to reduce the chance of water damage while you're away.
You'll need to make a decision between whether or not you use engineered or solid hardwood flooring. Engineered wood is made by adhering sheets of wood to a composite surface, so it is a stable product for most applications. Consider engineered options if the subfloor is concrete, you want wider wood planks or if you don't have the option of nailing the hardwood down during installation.
If you have thoughts of being able to refinish the flooring, note that you will only get one or two sands out of engineered product. Should you want the option to sand and re-stain your floors several times, you may want to consider a 3/4" solid hardwood.
Opt for better quality hardwoods that guarantee a certain percentage of longer length boards in order to avoid a patchwork look.
I don't recommend installing hardwood below grade (in basements) or in areas where water can be or is an issue, so opt for another flooring material in these areas of your home.