WOODEN FLOORING: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE
Confused by the countless varieties and finishes on offer? We have all of the answers you need, from what to choose and why, to how to fit it
Hardwood or softwood? Hardwoods, such as oak, walnut and teak, often have a more defined grain than softwoods like pine, beech and birch. ‘But there are technical differences too,’ says Robert Walsh, founder of wood floor specialist, Ted Todd (tedtodd.co.uk). ‘Hardwoods are deciduous, while softwoods are coniferous – this means that they have a different cell structure. Timber from deciduous trees is more durable and stable, making it ideal for flooring. Which species? ‘Oak is by far the most common and versatile wood for flooring,’ says Walsh. Of the softwoods, harder species such as Douglas fir are preferable. Lesser-known varieties of hardwood, like tropical Morado, are also becoming more popular. ‘ When buying wood, check that it has an FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification,’ says Jeandré du Toit, sales director at Ecora (ecora.co.uk). ‘This will ensure that it has been sourced and manufactured responsibly.’ New or reclaimed wood? For an authentic, aged, characterful grain that may be tricky to replicate in new timber, reclaimed wood is a good and environmentally sound option for flooring. ‘Reclaimed timber is also substantially harder than virgin wood as it often comes from old-growth trees rather than first-generation forests,’ says du Toit. However, it can also be a more expensive option, because it may need to be re-sanded, finished or treated.
Engineered or solid wood? Engineered flooring is constructed of layers of ply that have been bonded together and finished with a top layer of solid wood. The thicker the top layer, the more like a real solid wood floor it will appear, once fitted. Engineered wood floors are less affected by temperature and humidity, which can cause solid wood floors to expand and contract, making them a trusty option. For this same reason, solid wood should not be laid above under-floor heating. How do I fit it? ‘This process should always be carried out by a professional,’ recommends Walsh. They will plan the layout, taking the natural variations of the timber into consideration. Professional fitters (search ratedpeople.com) can also assess the sub-floor to ensure that it is properly prepared. Before calling in help, ensure you leave your floorboards to acclimatise to your home – a solid floor should be left on site for one to two weeks; engineered floors require under a week. What about colour and finish? There are myriad ways in which wood can be treated, from smoking (ammonia fumes are applied to the wood, oxidising it and producing a darker colour) or thermo-treating ( boards are heated to a high temperature to darken them) to applying lacquer or wax. Pre-finished floors allow you to select the exact look you want. Undecided? Picking an unfinished floor lets you test out treatments in situ, but this flexibility can mean higher costs.