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MIKE HOLMES: Choose reliable hardwoods for the long haul

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Lighter woods don't show dirt as easy as darker colours, but still need to be cleaned regularly.

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Lighter woods don't show dirt as easy as darker colours, but still need to be cleaned regularly.

I've got a soft spot for hardwood floors. I think most of us do. The main reason is it doesn't hold dust and dirt the way carpet does. If you have allergies or respiratory problems, hardwood is a good choice. But let's not forget the obvious: Hardwood looks good and it brings up the value of your home.

What's the best hardwood flooring? I get that question a lot, but many considerations go into answering it.

The first question any flooring pro will ask you is what's your household like? Do you have a lot of traffic? Do you have kids or pets? All of this matters in finding the right hardwood for your home.

If your floors need to handle a lot of traffic, you have to look at grain, colour and texture before you make your final decision. Don't fall in love with something from a magazine or TV show, and don't base your entire decision on just colour.

Be informed. Think about maintenance. Think about your lifestyle. Then think about what you want your floors to look like in 10 years and what you have to do to keep them that way.

Busy life, busy grain

If you have the kind of home where dogs or cats are running around, people are always coming through or kids bring their friends over to play, then you want a busy grain. A busier, grainier hardwood helps hide scratches. Oak, hickory and ash are among the best for this.

Lighter and more natural colours are also better options if you're worried about scratches, which darker stains really highlight.

In terms of maintenance, red oak natural is a good option. It will look great for years -- even with a million scratches -- because of its grain.

Light colours, light maintenance

Next, they'll ask about your maintenance expectations. Does everything have to look perfect all the time or are you OK with a little dirt? Do you usually sweep the floors every two days or every two weeks?

Any type of hardwood you choose needs to be vacuumed every four to five days. That's the commitment you make if you go with hardwood. You can also Swiffer or dry-mop it, but whatever you do, don't wet-mop it as that can remove the finish and make the wood swell.

Darkly coloured floors show dirt easily, so they need cleaning more often. That's why I'm seeing more people go for lighter colours -- but not everywhere. What might be popular in a small town won't be popular in a big city, and what works for a home might not work in a condo. You're usually dealing with different light and space -- and that affects what's best.

More texture, more leeway

More homeowners are also buying textured hardwood, which comes in oak, hickory, maple or walnut. Part of its appeal is that it's new and different. Yes, it costs more than smooth wood, but it will look better for longer.

There are two main types of textured hardwood: hand-scraped and wire-brushed. Wire-brushed is done by machines, whereas hand-scraped is done manually by a craftsperson, so every single board is different. The craftsperson even stamps the back of the hardwood board (done more for quality control than value and might even be a nice selling point if you ever decide to sell).

The most important thing when choosing a hardwood floor is to be realistic about your expectations. If you don't want to clean all the time but you want your floor looking perfect, then a darker hardwood isn't your best bet -- even if you love the look.

To stain or not to stain?

A stained natural wood is a bad idea if your flooring has to stand up to a lot of traffic because any scratches will reveal the lighter wood underneath.

A good alternative to staining is fuming. That's when the hardwood is treated to activate its natural tannins. The colour seeps all the way through the board, so if it gets scratched it still looks OK.

Remember, hardwood is expensive, so you don't want to have to replace it just because you followed a trend for bold colours a few years back.

Most homeowners can't afford to change their flooring every five years. Plus, it's a pain to replace. In most cases, the hardwood flooring you choose today will be the same one in your home 15 to 20 years from now. It's in for the long haul.

-- Postmedia News

Catch Mike Holmes in his new series, Holmes Makes It Right, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit hgtv.ca. For more information on home renovations, visit makeitright.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 F5

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