Red Oak vs. White Oak Flooring: Which Should You Choose?
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So, you decided on oak wood for your floor. Besides its traditional timeless look that goes well with any décor, most people believe it adds value to their home. Not to mention, it’s durable, easy to maintain, and eco-friendly.
There are two species of oak used to make hardwood floors, white oak, and red oak. On the Janka hardness scale for wood, white oak is an impressive 1335, and red oak is slightly softer at 1220. What really sets red and white oak apart is the color, but it’s not the only difference.
Which oak should you choose for your floor? Of course, deciding which wood is “better,” red vs. white oak flooring, is subjective. Choose based on personal taste and the design you want to achieve. Let’s dive in and highlight the essential differences between these two oak species to help you make the right choice.
Characteristics of Red Oak and White Oak Trees
Before we talk about the wood, we need to understand the trees. The USDA has a map for gardeners called the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. It highlights average annual extreme minimum temperatures throughout the U.S. Red oak grows in hardiness zones 3 through 8, ranging from the most northern states to the mid-south. White oak grows in zones 3 to 9, so it can grow as far south as Florida. Next, let’s look at the individual trees.
Red Oak grows around the Great Lakes region down through Georgia. Most commercial floor manufacturers harvest red oak from New Hampshire and Vermont.
The cold winters slow the growth of the trees, creating a tight and uniform grain within the wood. Because the trees grow straighter, you can find longer and broader planks in red oak. A mature red oak will grow to around 60 to 75 feet (18.5 to 23 m.) tall.
According to a Clemson University study, the Southern Red Oak can reach 70 to 80 feet heights and grows about one foot per year.
The white oak is Illinois’s state tree. It grows abundantly from Minnesota to Maryland and from Canada to Florida. Much of the commercial harvesting takes place in the Ohio River Valley and Western New York. White oak thrives in colder climates and creates tighter growth rings. White oak’s nickname is “Stave Oak,” as barrel makers selected the wood for its density and flavor characteristics for wine, whiskey, and preserving food. Red oak imparts too much tannin, creating bitterness.
White oaks can live for 300 years or more. Trees over 100 years old can grow as high as 100 feet (30meters) with a diameter exceeding 4 feet (1.2 meters).
What Are The Differences Between Red Oak and White Oak Flooring?
Of the 90 or so oak species in North America, manufacturers only use red and white oak for flooring. These two species grow large enough and have straight, knot-free wood to be commercially viable. If you want to know how to tell them apart, there are two areas; grain and color.
Color of the Wood
Red oak didn’t get the name from the color of the wood. Instead, the moniker refers to the color of the leaves in the fall. They turn a bright red, depending on soil conditions.
However, the wood does have a slightly reddish tinge, especially the heartwood in the center. On the other hand, white oak’s shade tends to be a golden tan.
Using a natural finish will enhance the color of each type of oak. The red will become more pink or reddish, while the white oak will get darker and more honey blonde. Both floors accept stains well. Red oak tends to get a deeper reddish tone when stained and white oak becomes a darker shade of brown.
Red Oak vs. White Oak Grain
If you place red and white oak side by side, you can see a definite difference in the grain of red oak vs. white oak flooring. When perfectly quartersawn, white oak has longer and more pronounced rays. Rays are the small dark lines in the wood grain which give oak its unique character. White oak has a smaller and tighter grain, giving it a much straighter and more uniform appearance.
Red Oak’s grain has more variations, swirls, deviations, and sometimes wavy or zigzag in appearance. These characteristics can hide dents and scratches more easily. Its grain is a bit wider than white oak, and red oak’s grain tends to be more visible because the wood is lighter.
White oak is highly water and rot-resistant, so many builders use it for external door thresholds. If you plan to install a wood floor where there are lots of wet feet or dog traffic, white oak is the better choice. Here are two fun facts about white oak.
- Antique furniture builders preferred white oak for its tight, straight grain.
- The U.S.S. Constitution, “Old Ironsides,” still floats in the Boston harbor since it launched in 1797, thanks to its massive white oak timbers.
Is white oak harder than red oak? Yes, white oak is slightly denser and harder, but both species are ideal for creating durable and beautiful wood floors.
Red Oak vs. White Oak Cost
When it comes to red oak vs. white oak flooring cost, is white oak more expensive than red oak?
Typically, white oak tends to be slightly more expensive than red oak. However, both are affordable choices for a new hardwood floor. You can expect to pay between $3-$6 per square foot. For example, you can find thin, ½-inch oak flooring online for just over $3, but you’ll need to purchase the tools and hardware to install it or pay someone to install it.
On the other hand, a pre-finished, solid, 3/4-inch white oak floor made by Easiklip runs $6-8 per sq ft. The price includes all the installation hardware, which is quite a savings. There are no glue or nails because it just clips together, making it a perfect choice for any DIY flooring project.
Mixing Red Oak and White Oak Flooring
Red and white oak are not interchangeable. If you need to finish out a room because you don’t have enough of the same boards, you need to keep looking for the same type of wood to continue the floor. They just don’t match. But, it can happen.
The situation of mixing red oak and white oak flooring happened to a professional installer, Dennis. Here is how he corrected the problem:
"If you try to feather in or stagger red and white oak boards together, it will stick out like a sore thumb. If you run out of suitable oak and have no other choice, you can always try the fix mentioned above, paint the floor, or use a big carpet.
Otherwise, you could make a decorative border using one type and finish the main part of the floor with the other."
Which Oak Should You Choose, Red or White?
As always, red oak vs. white oak flooring comes down to design and personal preference. White oak is the more popular option because of its simple and elegant wood grain. The colors range from beige to medium brown, and it works with all neutral colors of wall paint, kitchen cabinets, and accent pieces. White oak is excellent for modern or contemporary homes.
White oak hardwood floor - Easiklip
Red oak’s subtle red or rose-tinted undertones and wavy grains make it stand out. It adds a touch of color to rooms that are white or primarily muted earth tones.
If you plan to stain the floor in a white or gray hue, you will be better off with white oak. For medium to dark stain colors, either one will work.
Ultimately, when choosing between red oak vs. white oak flooring, use your design instinct. Choose the species of oak that has the tint and grain pattern that most appeals to you.
The Easiest White Oak Floor to Install
Before you purchase any hardwood flooring, you should consider all of your options and the costs involved. Finding a “great deal” online for oak flooring doesn’t mean that it’s the right choice. Is there enough of that style to complete your project? Sometimes manufacturers close out a style or color, and you won’t have enough.
Will you install the floor yourself, or will you hire someone? You must factor in the price of shipping, labor, and materials.
If you plan to install a white oak floor yourself, look at Easiklip solid hardwood floors. Each board is a full 3/4-inch thick and comes pre-finished in one of five colors.
You get free shipping and all the hardware. You don’t need special tools, glue, screws, or nails. The boards simply clip together. To see the colors and learn more, visit Easiklip here.
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- All flooring is 3/4” thick solid white oak (not laminate or engineered)
- Suitable to install over concrete slab
- In-stock items are delivered to your curbside in 7-14 days (continental USA only)
- Easily install yourself, or hire an expert
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- Easiklip Floors - Harry Chu