Jeandre du Toit, sales director of London flooring specialists ‘Ecora’ outlines the key points to consider when selecting natural wood floors.
In the UK wood floors are an essential element in any good quality construction or renovation project. Combining practicality with aesthetics, natural timber flooring can give a new home instant character and a feeling of warmth. A popular flooring choice for both period style and contemporary builds, natural wood floors can outlive and out-perform other materials. The benefits of specifying natural wood are numerous and sustainably sourced timber will also add to a property’s eco credentials, making it more desirable to environmentally conscious buyers.
Before specifying your flooring, it is important to get a better understanding of the varied options available as the style, species, size, grade, durability and price each play an important part in the end result.
Structure – solid or engineered?
The quickest way to establish what product best fits your project is by determining the structure of wood which best suits your property. As a rule of thumb, if this is an apartment with neighbours above or below or if you are installing underfloor heating, the best option would be an engineered board. Engineered boards are more stable than solid wood planks and can be fitted over a sound reducing acoustic underlay and also a radiant heat supply.
Unlike solid hardwood floors, which are cut out of a tree as one unit, engineered floors are composed of several layers of wood (usual three or more) bonded together using cross-grain lamination. The top layer, also called a ‘Wear Layer’, is typically 4 – 6mm thick and is the part that is visible when the floor is installed. The additional layers are usually constructed from hardwood like Birch or softwood like Pine. The way engineered planks are constructed dramatically increases the stability of the planks and reduces the natural tendency to expand, contract, warp, or cup due to changing room temperature or moisture in the air or subfloor. Engineered wood can be installed using the ‘floating’ installation method reducing installation times and providing more cost-effective ways of soundproofing.
Solid wood flooring is still an option, however, and offers a greater choice in a wider variety of species making it an option for high-end or luxury interiors which require a more opulent style finish. Exotic varieties such as Jatoba, Jarah, East Indian Walnut or Ipe are more readily available in a solid format alongside classic hardwood variants such as oak, maple and walnut. The latter are popular for restoration projects or listed properties requiring a more authentic or rustic look.
Look and feel
While most property developers and housebuilders do not approach product selection by choosing a species, it does in fact play a part in sustainability, manufacturing, and ultimately the appearance and longevity of a floor. Think about the space and its dimensions, imagine how it will interact with a dark or light, plain or featured floor. Consider the amount of natural light and whether the selected tone compliments the architectural style of the building. Light floors can make a space appear larger and airy, while darker flooring could make a room seem smaller. A good standard choice for most housing projects is a basic light natural oak with a white oiled finish which works well in both modern properties and period renovation projects. A light toned engineered oak also compliments most kitchen designs and looks particularly good in open-plan living environments such as loft developments and contemporary apartments.
The grade of a wood floor typically refers to the amount and size of visible knots, colouration and other natural marks, yet does not impact on the quality of the product. Cleaner, less knotty grades are usually more expensive than the knottier grades as a typical tree will produce a smaller percentage of this timber. For more contemporary or minimalistic looks opt for the higher grade flooring. Knottier grades offer a more natural and rustic look at an affordable price making them a favourite for family homes such as cottages, farmhouses and barn conversions.
Plank size depends on the type and species of flooring selected. Oak will provide the largest size diversity as it is typically available in small parquet blocks right up to 4m long planks and most sizes and shapes in between. The basic rule-of-thumb is, the higher the ceilings, the wider the boards. For luxury builds, wide planks give a more dramatic look. 180mm – 220mm wide boards are typically a good width for most property types and can be supplied with contemporary or more traditional finishes.
Wooden flooring today comes in many varied finishes as manufacturing techniques have vastly improved in recent years. In addition to protective coatings like lacquer and wax oils, manufacturers now use a wide variety of methods to bring out the beauty of the natural grain.
Unfinished flooring can go through processes like Brushing, which creates a textured surface using roller brushes or Distressing, a process of tumbling wood planks in large tanks with metal objects to provide random dents and scrapes, making the planks appear old and used. Other processes like staining or enhancing methods such as oxidation are used to change the colour and appearance, mainly in Oak. By combining several of these methods manufacturers can produce unique surfaces that are long lasting and easy to maintain.
Nowadays, it is easier to find manufacturers and suppliers of non FSC flooring products who offer environmentally-sound solutions to developers and housebuilders. Purchase timber products that are independently certified as coming from well-managed forests by organisations such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). The FSC and PEFC operate by running global forest certification system with two key components; Forest Management and Chain of Custody Certification. This allows consumers to identify, purchase and use timber and forest products produced from well managed forests.
Installing your floor requires skill and precision and should be performed by an experienced floor fitter. As it is the responsibility of the fitter to determine the suitability of the floor to the site, it is important that all conditions on site are thoroughly examined by the fitter prior to any flooring purchase. It is also recommended, where possible, to use the same company for both supply and fit as it potentially reduces any risk of misunderstandings between supplier and fitter.