A hardwood floor adds warmth to a room and is easy to decorate around while reducing allergens, such as dust mites. Many hardwood options are available -- among them previously hard-to-get exotic species that are now farmed and milled especially for the flooring market. Oak is a domestic stand-by that remains among the most-used hardwood flooring varieties; its lasting popularity aided by the development of finishes that produce colors that complement modern homes well. Ash is also popular because of its lightness and durability. Their main distinguishing features are color and grain pattern.
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Oak can add warmth to a home and ease of decorating as it tends to blend rather than dominate. All varieties of oak can take color well, giving the buyer a multitude of finishes to choose from. Oak takes stain well, and many people choose darker tones to complement the rest of their home decor. Ash also takes color well, but this floor is often selected because of its natural light tones. It can be nearly white or cream to a light tan, which can make a small room look larger.
Many people prefer red oak to white oak because of the former's attractive pinkish tones. White oak is harder than red oak, however, and is almost impermeable to water and other liquids, making it an excellent choice for bathrooms and kitchens where spills are more likely to happen. Both varieties of oak are dense and stiff, but provide enough shock absorption to withstand dropped pots and pans. Both have a high concentration of tannic acids as well, making them resistant to fungus and insects.
Ash falls between red and white oak on the hardness scale. It has been used in making baseball bats because of its excellent shock absorption. An ash floor holds up well in high traffic areas and playrooms, as it can take a lot of abuse.
Oak and ash floors are comparable in costs. Because of its availability and range of durability (red oaks being softer than the whites), buyers may find cheaper options in oak.
Both ash and oak woods offer quarter-sawn wood options. This can cost more, but comes with benefits over traditionally cut wood floors. The grain is less pronounced in quarter-sawn wood, giving it a smoother look. Finish colors take more evenly on quarter-sawn wood. There is also less shrinking, bending or twisting of the wood during installation and after.
Ash is one of the easiest woods to work with, and can be installed easily by screwing, nailing or gluing. Oak floors are similarly easy to install. It can be tricky for the novice to set the planks close enough together before securing them and may require a professional wood floor installer, which can be expensive.
All wood floors need regular maintenance of sweeping, vacuuming and mopping with a damp mop. Grit and water are enemies of a wood floor. While both white oak and ash are hard woods and almost impervious to water, spills should be cleaned up quickly as to not soak into the wood.
Oak floors will darken and change color over time. Ash floors appear to retain their lightness if finished with a clear coat.