When you shop for cheap hardwood flooring, you'll find two basic types: engineered hardwood and solid hardwood. Deciding which kind to buy depends on a few factors, including where you plan to install the flooring.
Solid hardwood, which entails strips or planks cut from a single piece of wood, tends to shift, expand, and contract as the temperature and humidity in your home changes. That's why it's only recommended for rooms at ground-level or above -- and only on a plywood subfloor.
If you love a dramatic grain with light and dark tones, consider Smooth Acacia hardwood flooring, starting at $3.09 per square foot.
Engineered wood flooring features a thin hardwood veneer glued to a plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF) substrate, which makes it more stable when temperatures and humidity fluctuates, allowing installations below grade (in the basement) and even on a concrete slab. One low-cost engineered hardwood option at less than $2 per square foot is 3/8x5-inch sapele wood, which comes in a variety of finishes, including rich matte mahogany.
Solid hardwood comes in 3/8-inch and 3/4-inch thicknesses and a variety of widths: strips are typically 3 inches wide or less and planks generally measure from 5 to 10 inches wide. One cheap option for wide-plank solid hardwood flooring comes unfinished; once the floor is installed, you sand, stain, and seal the surface, allowing you to create a custom color with a smooth, clear finish that can prevent dirt from seeping between boards. Unfinished 3/4-inch New England white pine measures almost 9 inches wide and sells for $1.79 per square foot.
When shopping for cheap hardwood flooring, consider engineered wood flooring products that simply click-lock together -- a project that most do-it-yourselfers can take on. One click-lock option comes in oak or hickory finishes for $1.89 per square foot.
Another benefit of cheap solid hardwood flooring is that the thickness of the strips or planks allows the floor to be sanded and refinished several times -- a real plus for areas in your home with high traffic, kids, or pets. Engineered hardwood flooring features a thin veneer that can typically be refinished only once, or perhaps not at all. One beautiful option for solid hardwood flooring is 3/4x2-1/4-inch Millrun hickory at $2.99 per square foot.
Cheap engineered hardwood comes prefinished so you don't have to deal with the mess of sanding, staining, and applying clear finishes. Once the floor is installed, it's ready to go and the surfaces, which often feature up to eight durable layers of factory-applied clear finish, can stand up to lots of wear and is often guaranteed for many years to come. Select Brazilian cherry engineered hardwood, 1/2x5-inch planks, sells for about $5 per square foot, with at least one brand offering a 100-year transferable warranty.
Capture a timeworn, vintage look with cheap solid hardwood flooring in a distressed finish. At $4.29 per square foot, oak driftwood is made of white oak harvested from the Appalachian Mountains, with each plank featuring a wire-brushed surface and beveled edges with square ends for easy installation.
Different woods bring unique looks to your rooms. While some wood, such as oak or hickory, showcase pronounced grain patterns, others are more subtle such as maple, which in an engineered hardwood plank, can cost as little as $3.50 per square foot.
You'll find that solid hardwood floors are ranked for hardness using the Janka Hardness Rating. The higher the rating number, the more dent-resistant the wood, with red oak considered the standard. Hickory and maple offer a higher Janka rating than red oak while pine, walnut, and cherry are lower on the scale than red oak. Moroccan cherry at $3.89 per square foot, for example, is 18-percent softer than red oak but prized for its rich, deep color.
Before you buy any cheap hardwood flooring, such as engineered 1/2x5-inch natural Australian cypress at $5.29 per square foot, it's a good idea to bring home a sample. This lets you see how the grain and color suit your room, making it easier to choose compatible paint colors, fabrics, and more. Larger samples are best, with many designers suggesting that you bring home a 2x2-foot sample of the wood flooring you're considering.