Guide to wood flooring
Wood flooring is a popular choice and widely featured in bespoke new build residential properties and in commercial constructions.
Individuals who contemplate wood flooring often find themselves overwhelmed by the technical jargon that vendors have been known to use. Terms such as solid, engineered, laminate wood, wood effect and other terms seem to complicate what is really a simple flooring solution. In this guide we aim to explain your options so when your interior designer, project architect or professional builders recommends a certain variant of wood flooring, you will know why.
What Is Real Wood Flooring?
If you decide to fit real wood flooring, you must first understand what counts as real wood and what is made to merely resemble wood. In essence there are only two types of real wood flooring, which are ‘solid’ wood flooring and ‘engineered’ wood flooring. All others are really imitations of wood, which often look artificial or lack the durability that real wood enjoys.
Solid Wood Flooring
As the descriptive name implies, each plank of wood is made from 100% hardwood. It is the most widely recognisable form of wood flooring and can be seen to date in new as well as in period properties (a testimonial to their durability).
Engineered Wood Flooring – The term ‘engineered’ is used due to the method in which the planks are machine created. Each plank is made from layer upon layer of material, in which the top layer is solid wood. Below this layer you may find 4 or 5 additional layers of Plywood, MDF and Softwood. The use of solid wood on top means it is considered real wood flooring.
There are cases where wood isn’t a feasible solution. For example, when the project’s budget does not suffice or low cost temporary flooring is required. In such cases, laminate wood and wood effect vinyl maybe suitable alternatives. The two do not contain wood, but rather plastic, high-density fibre or wood particles, hard colour and other man-made material designed to resemble wood flooring. High-end examples will do a sufficient job in mimicking wood, while budget examples may come across dull or even ‘fake’ looking.
Solid or Engineered Wood Flooring?
The decision between the two is really based on the circumstances of the project. Solid wood will suit a limited number of circumstances, while engineered wood is far more versatile, but carries a slightly shorter lifespan. It is easier to explain based on the area in the project.
Where Underfloor Heating Is Fitted
Wood has a natural tendency to expand in the face of hot temperatures. It means that fitting solid wood over underfloor heating will cause the floorboard to ‘lift’ thereby exposing gaps between the floorboards. On the other hand, engineered wood flooring due to its Softwood, Plywood and MDF backing will remain stable over underfloor heating.
High Foot Traffic Area
Foot traffic is a contributing factor in the wear and tear of the floor. In areas that high foot traffic is projected, solid wood will offer lengthier service life over engineered. Solid wood can exceed 50 years of normal service, while you can expect 25 years of service in the case of engineered wood.
Wet, Humid or Damp Areas
Such conditions are ripe in the kitchen, bathroom, basement and even in certain extensions. In these conditions solid wood may contract (from cold) and then expand back, leading to expedite wear. On the other hand, engineered wood with a suitable lacquered based coating can be made waterproof and therefore perfectly suitable in such circumstances.
If the above restrictions do not apply, you can safely entertain the idea of fitting either of the two. In such case, it is normally down to sourcing a suitable deal.
Solid and Engineered Wood Grade
Natural wood comes in levels of grade, which can explain the presence and density of visual elements such as sapwood, knots and colour variations. High-end grades will feature higher density of wood with minimal colour variations, while lower grades will feature frequent sapwood and knots. Grade does not equal quality it is merely a visual preference on your part. The four common grades are:
Prime and Select
These are the two premium grades in which the presence of sapwood and knots is limited. The colours of the various planks will match, which is useful in interiors where a uniform look it desired. Higher grades will also carry a higher cost.
Natural and Rustic
These are the two most popular grades. Sapwood, knots and colour variation is to be expected. The cost of these grades is significantly lower than prime and select grades.
Therefore when you come across options such as ‘solid rustic wood flooring’, ‘engineered select wood flooring’ etc. it is the combination of type and grade that the product name includes.
This post was written for CAPD Complete Build Solutions by Jonathan Sapir who is the MD of Wood and Beyond. London based timber seller offering wood flooring, decking and solid worktops.