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Remodeling Companies » Articles » Hardwood vs. Softwood

What's the Difference between Hardwood and Softwood?

Contrary to popular belief, the terms "hardwood" and "softwood" apply to a tree's origin and structure. Although it may seem confusing, these two classifications are not necessarily about the tree's density or durability. Understanding the differences between these two types of wood may prove helpful you as you go about selecting flooring for your next remodeling project.

Originating from trees with enclosed seeds – aka angiosperm trees – hardwood includes such tree types as maple, mahogany, elm, oak and cherry. At the same time, gymnosperm trees, which are trees with exposed seeds, are the source of softwood. These include pine, spruce, and cedar.

As opposed to softwood, hardwood is denser and more fire resistant. One of the basic differences between these two types of wood is that hardwood is characterized by the presence of pores of varying shape and size. The function of the pores is twofold: not only do they contribute to the hardwood's grain pattern, but, even more importantly, they allow water to flow from the roots, thereby nourishing the tree. In contrast, softwoods are comprised of tracheids – straight, linear tubes which produce sap, transport water, and make the stem stronger.

In terms of their colors, hardwoods are, in general, of varying shades of white, rich brown and dark red, whereas softwoods are mostly of a red or yellow color.

Since hardwood is considered more durable, it is a popular choice when installing wooden floors. However, it is also considerably more expensive than softwood. A practical solution when remodeling is to install hardwood floors in those rooms that are prone to more foot traffic, while opting for softwood in rooms that are visited less frequently, such as basements or attics. Also, as any expert remodeler or professional flooring contractor can tell you, a floor's durability is ultimately the result of its finish, and applying generous coats of polyurethane will therefore guarantee your floor withstands the test of time... and feet.


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