Is it Safe to Install Softwood Flooring?

Hardwood floors have a classic look that gives your commercial or residential premises a timeless beauty. Given the wide variety of choices of wood species available, where do you draw the line between which wood is hard enough and fit for flooring purposes? After all, doesn’t everyone refurbishing or installing a new floor require durability from the chosen flooring option as a key feature? Before answering the two questions, we have to know how the flooring industry rates hard or softwood flooring. They rate wood hardness using the Janka Hardness scale, as discussed below.

Softwood Vs. Hardwood Flooring

There are many species of hardwood floors in the flooring industry. The flooring industry widely accepts the Janka Hardness Scale for measuring and comparing different hardwood species. The scale ranks hardwood flooring depending on its density. It measures the strength a 0.444-inch steel ball requires to go deep into a plank of wood up to half its diameter.

In the USA, oak flooring is the king of hardwood floors and the standard flooring rating system. Since oak is the benchmark, can one choose a softer wood than red oak? The table below compares 19 different wood species commonly used in the flooring industry. Patagonian rosewood, mesquite, pecan, hickory, hard maple, white oak, and ash are the hardest wood floors. Using the same scale, softwoods are black walnut, teak, black cherry, cedar, southern long-leaf yellow pine, spruce pine, southern short-leaf yellow pine, douglas fir, cypress, and hemlock.

Comparison of Hardwood and Softwood Flooring

Janka Hardness Scale


Wood Species

Softwood to Hardwood Rating

Softwood or Hardwood?







Douglas Fir



Southern Shortleaf Yellow Pine



Spruce Pine



Southern Longleaf Yellow Pine



Cedar (Eastern Red Cedar)



Black Cherry






Black Walnut



Red Oak






White Oak



Hard Maple












Patagonian Rosewood



Hardwood or Softwood as Flooring Option?

Basically, the harder the wood, the more durable it is. As such, the higher-rated woods on the Janka Scale are more resilient and can withstand scratches, dents, wear, tear and moisture. On the other hand, softwood floors have a lower number on the scale and have their unique advantages over hardwoods, as discussed below.

About Softwood Flooring

Pinewood is the most popular softwood flooring option in the USA. Other softwoods commonly used include spruce, cedar, cypress, douglas fir, and hemlock. Noteworthy, the wood’s popularity depends on availability, which depends largely on your geographical area.

Benefits of Softwood Flooring

There are many benefits to using softwood floors.

1. Softwoods are as Beautiful as tough Hardwoods

 Aesthetically, softwoods are as beautiful as hardwoods, and they also come with additional advantages. Whereas dents can be a sign of wear and tear, they can also signify distressed or old wood. This is a style preference for some homeowners because it displays a rugged and rough design. However, when the dents dig deep into the wood, the floor may call for replacement.

2. Softwood Floors are Cheaper

First, they are cheaper to buy than hardwood flooring species. Usually, the costs are quite varied, with some types like pine costing as much as half the cost of oak. Moreover, sometimes it is even cheaper than other common flooring options like vinyl flooring.

Apart from that, it is cheaper to install softwood than hardwood because it is easy to process. Also, the installation of softwood is less tedious and requires less effort and time. It is easier to saw, nail or drill softwood bringing down the installation time.

3. Softwoods are Renewable & Sustainable

Just like bamboo wood flooring, most softwoods are renewable. Softwoods are more sustainable in terms of farming and harvesting. They grow fast in comparison to hardwood. As such, they can be grown specifically for flooring functions.

Why are Softwood Floors are Not Popular?

Softwoods are used in other applications. A floor carries the weight of the items and persons in the room, and as such, it needs to be strong. On that note, the main disadvantage of softwoods is that they cannot withstand a lot of activity. Therefore, they are suitable for low traffic rooms and in homes without pets and children. They can be damaged by sharp objects like high heels or canned food falling on the floor. And that is why they are not a popular flooring option. Every contractor or homeowner puts durability as a priority during floor installation.

They are also not readily available because the demand is low in comparison to the durable hardwoods.

If you choose to install softwood floors, there are several measures you can take to increase the durability of the floor.

  • You should never install it in a high traffic area.
  • Secondly, you should not install it where there are pets and/or children.
  • Thirdly, you should avoid high heels and invest in soft slippers for softwood floors.
  • In addition to that, you can harden softwood through the application of finishes like polyurethane. 

About Hardwood Floors

Hardwoods are durable than softwoods. The materials are suitable for high traffic areas. They are ideal for homes with lots of activities on the floor, including homes with pets and children. For the hardest wood flooring options, you should consider exotic tree species. Hardwood trees take many decades to grow to maturity, some taking hundreds of years. As such, they come with higher cost implications because they are not readily available. In this regard, hardwood floors are more expensive than their counterpart.

In addition to that, they have higher processing and installation costs. It is more difficult to nail, drill and saw hardwood which reflects in higher installations costs. Hardwood installation also takes more effort and a longer time than softwood floor.

There is no debate on the best choice between hard and softwood flooring. Whereas it is safe to install hardwoods because of their durability features, softwoods are a big risk. No one would want to install a floor that will need regular replacement. 

Softwoods are less popular as flooring options because they are less resilient to dings, dents, scratches, wear and tear. Actually, when evaluating flooring tree species, it is hard to find softwood flooring options apart from pinewood. Although they are abundant in supply, they are used for other wood applications but not flooring functions.