Naturally beautiful, wood floors are also durable and hard-wearing. Choosing the right one is crucial – this is an investment you'll be living with for a long time.
There are four key considerations when buying wood flooring: your budget, the room in which you'll be laying the floor, the type of subfloor, and whether you also want to install underfloor heating. However, your budget will be the decisive factor. Solid wood flooring (usually about 20mm thick) is more expensive than engineered boards (4-6mm of wood on top of approximately 14mm of plywood). Solid wood flooring costs between £50 to £300 or more per sqm. Good-quality engineered boards cost about £50 per sqm, but prices start at about £20 per sqm. The quality and appearance of engineered boards has improved markedly over the past few years and it's sometimes difficult to tell the difference between solid wood and engineered products. Most engineered boards can be sanded and refinished. Good-quality versions will last 20 years or more, but solid wood will last a lifetime. Laminate (which isn't wood at all but a photograph of wood lacquered on to MDF) is cheapest of all (from less than £10 per sqm) but can't be sanded, won't feel like wood underfoot and is much less durable.
Types and grades of wood
Your personal taste, as well as budget, will influence the type of wood you buy. Oak is by far the most popular, accounting for 70 per cent of floors laid in Britain. Widely available, it can also be economical, with prices starting at £25 per sqm. More exotic woods are expensive (as much as three times the price of oak). Finishes – lacquers, waxes and other protective coats – and special requests, such as oversized boards, will increment the cost. Wood grades measure how many imperfections – knots or piths – it has. There are three key grades: clean (or prime), natural and rustic. There is no difference in quality between them (they can come from the same tree) but rustic grades show more imperfections while clean grades are more expensive because they are rarer. In Britain, natural grade is the most popular, but for a contemporary aesthetic you may prefer the clean grade.
Where to lay wood
In theory, wood floors can be laid in any room in the house, but in the past general advice has been to avoid bathrooms and utility rooms because some wood flooring does not respond well to being wet. If you're set on having wood floors in the bathroom, there are top-end manufacturers that guarantee their floors for damp environments.
You can lay wood on to most subfloors. According to Junckers' technical services manager Steve Maltby, wood floors are nailed to joists, glued directly to the substrate, or float on a thin underlay. Joists or battens are a good option if your subfloor is uneven or if you are building from scratch; glue requires an even floor and is not recommended in apartments as the noise will transmit to neighbours below; while floating floors, on the other hand, can help reduce noise. Planks and boards can be fixed using any method but parquet can only be glued to the substrate.
Oak may be perennially popular but very dark woods (wenge and walnut) and very light woods (such as light ash) are currently in fashion. Oversized and super-wide boards are popular at the moment, too: think extra-large herringbone patterns or boards at least 300mm wide (Ebony & Co even offer a 560mm wide oak board). Bear in mind that you'll live with your choice for many years, so it's worth choosing a style that will not feel dated quickly. Colour is one way to experiment. The new Reflection collection by Junckers has bright metallic finishes that are right on trend, but if you get bored you can simply sand the floors back and change the colour.
For many years, heating was a no-no under wood floors. That's now changing, with many brands offering specific products. But there are caveats: 'Solid wood floors have to be cut and dried in a certain way before they can be used with underfloor heating,' says Ebony & Co UK sales and marketing manager Martin Rowell. Steve Williams, partner at UK Wood Floors, agrees: 'In general, engineered boards are a safer bet with underfloor heating,' he says. See ukwoodfloors.co.uk for more detailed information. Always check with the manufacturer before you buy, and try to get a written guarantee that the product is designed to be used with underfloor heating.
Oiled finishes are becoming more popular than lacquer finishes – in part because oiled finishes offer a softer, more natural appearance and also because they are easier to maintain. Simply oil the heavy traffic areas once a year to bring the floor back to life. Lacquer finishes need to be sanded and reapplied if they are damaged. Note that although you can sand a lacquer floor and then oil it, the reverse doesn't apply – once wood is oiled, lacquers can't be applied.
Words: Trish Lorenz