Choosing wood flooring for your home

Choosing wood flooring for your home

Wood floors have many advantages – they're easy to keep clean, don’t harbour dust and mites, are hard-wearing, long-lasting, natural, biodegradable and, of course, they look fantastic. But with so many products on the market, what type of wood is best? Kay Hill investigates

Wood floors are pretty hard to beat on aesthetic and environmental grounds. Pictured above: European oak engineered boards from Turgon Flooring. Oak is the most widely used timber for flooring and it can be finished in many ways and in many shades from white to charcoal to rich browns. Reclaimed wood is a good eco option, but avoid tropical hardwoods unless the planks are reclaimed.

And to help you find the right hardwood for your home, you may find this online tool from Macwoods helpful: www.macwoods.com/species-selector/

Few things make a home look as classy as a wooden floor, and if you're interested in environmental issues it can be a great choice. All types of wooden floor have the huge eco advantage of a natural origin – as we all know, trees capture CO2 as they grow, helping to maintain the earth’s atmosphere. Once felled, wood is strong and long-lasting, but will eventually biodegrade completely naturally; so there is no waste issue to worry about as there might be with mixed fibre carpets, vinyl or tiles.
 
Assuming the right choice of glues and varnishes (more of which later), wood is also a healthy choice as there are no artificial ingredients to off-gas and cause chemical sensitivities. And wooden floor can be swiftly swept or vacuumed to avoid the aggravating and allergy-causing dust mites that can take up residence in carpets.
 
Property developer and TV presenter Sarah Beeny is a big fan: 'Wood floors are often associated with elegance, style, richness and a certain kind of old-fashioned warmth. Wood is durable; with a little loving care it can last a lifetime. It’s also easy to clean, doesn’t absorb smells (and the smell of a freshly polished wooden floor is wonderful) and is great for people with allergies. Wood floors are timeless – they don’t date or go out of style, and they’re relatively neutral - which means you can decorate your house in any colour or style.'
Urbane Living offers hand distressed engineered oak flooring, PEFC-certified, £165m2, urbaneliving.co.uk
Smoky mountain oak engineered boards from Romanian government controlled forests, £82m2 from The Natural Wood Floor Company. www.naturalwoodfloor.co.uk
Fired Earth's Woodland oak floor, solid or engineered, PEFC-cert, from £69.95. firedearth.com
Junckers' solid oak wide boards, FSC/PEFC-cert, £84m2, www.junckers.co.uk
Siberian Floors' Russian white oak engineered boards, Tudor finish, rustic grade, POA. www.siberianfloors.com
Kahrs' Roja floor is made from roble wood, FSC-cert and Fairtrade, £55m2, www.kahrs.co.uk
If considering laying wooden floors in your home, you should get to grips with the terminology so you don't buy the wrong thing:
 
Engineered wood – engineered wood boards are made from three to eight layers of real wood, glued together at right angles to create a solid plank. The top layer is usually around 4mm thick, so it can be sanded and restored several times if it becomes damaged or worn. Engineered wood clicks together in the same way as laminate, and is also vulnerable to water damage, but it is more stable in changing temperatures than solid wood, and works well with underfloor heating.
 
The price of engineered wood ranges from £20 to over £150 per m2, depending on the number of layers and the thickness and quality of the top layer. Companies selling sustainable engineered wood include:
Fired Earth
Quick-Step
The Natural Wood Floor Company
Siberian Floors
Urbane Living
Element7
Ecora
Turgon Flooring
 
Solid wood – exactly what it says, solid wood planks are made from a single layer of a particular wood, which can be sanded down repeatedly if damaged. Solid wood can move easily when exposed to dampness or temperature fluctuations, but will last a lifetime or two. The price depends on the type of wood and thickness of the planks, but starts at around £50 per m2.
 
Interestingly solid wood is often cheaper than engineered boards of a similar timber, but be aware that fitting costs will be higher. Laying solid wood is definitely not a DIY job, as it requires nailing or glueing down, even if it comes with tongues and grooves, and space must be allowed for movement. Companies selling sustainable solid wood include Dinesen (high end expensive wide boards); Fired Earth, and Junckers.
 
PEFC-cert Castello Noble Walnut engineered boards, £96m2, www.quick-step.co.uk
Turgon Flooring based in south London uses a lot of Ukrainian oak and offers a host of colours/finishes. turgonflooring.co.uk
Engineered boards in parquet style, Element7. POA
Junckers' white oiled single stave solid oak blocks in basket weave, FSC/PEFC cert, £56m2,
Hand sanded Victorian pine floor, from £65m2, www.reclaimedflooringco.com
Junckers' solid wood black oak wide  boards, FSC/PEFC cert, £96m2
Laminate – laminate flooring isn’t really wood, but some now look good enough to risk confusion, so it’s worth a mention. Laminate is a compressed fibreboard plank, topped with a photographic image of wood and covered with a protective overlay. Cheap, unrealistic looking laminate starts from just £3 per m2, but for something that looks like real wood and perhaps has some texture to it, expect to pay £20-£50 per m2. Laminate is easy to lay as it just clicks into place, but is very vulnerable to water damage. If you do buy it, look for a fibreboard from a sustainable source that has low VOCs.
 
While wood has excellent intrinsic environmental properties, there are other things to consider – no one who cares about the environment wants to walk across their lounge floor knowing that the boards beneath their feet were illegally logged from a tropical rainforest or have contributed to wildlife destruction elsewhere in the world, so provenance is absolutely vital.
 
What you might see on the label…
 
FSC/PEFC - Many timbers come with FSC or PEFC accreditation – these are respected international schemes that aim to put a stop to illegal logging, uphold the rights of indigenous people and protect the environment. Although it is argued by some environmentalists that even fully legal logging in some parts of the world is destructive to habitats and ethnic people, nonetheless, it does offer some guarantees, especially if you are buying more unusual wood species.
 
National schemes – Many countries have their own forestry standards in place which aim to ensure that woodland is managed in a sustainable fashion. In the UK that is the Forestry Commission’s UK Forestry Standards, while in the States, the American Hardwood Export Council is one of the organisations which aims to promote forestry that is not damaging to the environment.
 

 

Danish company Dinesen is know for its stunning wide oak planks. POA.
Pale and interesting..PEFC-cert Palazzo engineered pale boards, £65, quick-step.co.uk
Paris Ceramics' Briccole Venetian flooring is made from recycled Venetian mooring posts, from £720m2. parisceramics.com
Kahrs' Arctic oak engineered boards from Unity Collection has Eco core of recycled materials, £40m2
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Plantation-grown – often used for timber, it means that the wood has come from woods planted specifically to be used as timber, rather than from natural forests. This means that no ancient forests are being destroyed, but there are still a few issues. In Europe and Scandinavia, plantations are not good wildlife habits as they are an unnatural monoculture. In tropical countries the 'plantation' often replaces natural forest that has been felled, potentially encouraging destruction of existing trees to make way for more profitable plantations.

Sustainable” – sustainable is a looser term, but generally refers to plantation grown forests, or well-managed natural forests, where trees are planted to make way for those which are felled, ensuring a continuing supply of wood. It’s worth finding out exactly where the “sustainable” timber is coming from as you may feel that regulations could be interpreted more strictly and are open to more scrutiny in Norway, for example, than they might be in, say, Kazakhstan.

Reclaimed – reclaimed wood is always going to be a green choice, although it will need extra care to lay and can end up costing more than new wood distressed to look old. Reclaimed strip flooring, boards and parquet are all available, and some companies, such as Havwoods (havwoods.co.uk) will also turn reclaimed wood into engineered boards to make it easier to lay and maintain.

Be careful to note the difference between 'reclaimed wood' and 'reclaiming flooring' – the latter is an actual original floor, complete with patina, which has been lifted and can be re-layed, while the former can be old railway sleepers, barn timbers etc, cut into planks (see our feature on reclaimed flooring). 'With reclaimed flooring you get the satisfying feeling of recycling and giving a new home to something beautiful, with a rich sense of history that someone else has previously used but let go,' says Lee Thornley, co-founder of reclaimed flooring company Bert & May (bertandmay.com). 

According to Steve Maltby, MD at solid wood flooring company Junckers: 'More people now ask for information on environmental or sustainable sources. In reality, most of the flooring made by the main Scandinavian companies will be from well-managed sources from the temperate forests in that area. This is because some of them, like Junckers, were set up by foresters many years ago to actually help encourage the growth and management of the existing forests.

'Re-planting is essential, not just to maintain the forests but also to extend them.  For instance, it is usual practice that for every tree felled, two to three saplings are planted. Regulation such as FSC and PEFC exist to guide consumers, but most reputable producers of hardwood flooring operate self-regulation from the forest owner to the manufacturer as it is in both their long term commercial interests to keep the forests healthy and in good shape.'

If you are after the greenest floor, be aware that glues and varnishes will have a significant effect on the overall eco-friendliness of a floor. Engineered boards, for example, can have up to eight layers of wood that are glued together, plus a woodstain and top-coat, while solid wood is also likely to have had stain, varnish or wax put onto it. Where possible look for formaldehyde and solvent-free glues and finishes with zero or low VOCs (Auro, auro.co.uk, Nutshell, nutshellpaints.co.uk, Blanchon, agwoodcare.co.uk and Granwax Nature, granwax.com all offer environmentally friendly varnishes and waxes).

Although reclaimed wood from a reputable salvage yard or flooring company is likely to have been checked for safety, be aware that painted wood from before 1978 may contain lead – particularly dangerous if it is 'shabby chic'flaky, and old barn wood could contain dangerous creosote and other chemicals. If in doubt, have it tested before putting it in your home.

Reasons to avoid wood floors

Excessive moisture is a no-no, so don’t put real wood in bathrooms, shower rooms and wet rooms, and lay it in kitchens only if you're confident you will speedily mop up any spills! And while wood is not as cold underfoot as tiles or stone, unless you have underfloor heating (which is not impossible with engineered boards), consider if it is really what your bare feet want to encounter first thing in the morning? 'Hardwood is beautiful to many people, but is cold and hard to others when used in a bedroom,' warns About.Com’s flooring expert Joseph Lewiti.

For the rest of the home, go for it. 'Hardwood flooring is an iconic architectural feature that allows designers to bring the beauty of the natural world into interior spaces,' writes Lewiti. 'With a unique personality and distinct characteristics found in each plank, hardwood flooring has the power to add a depth of visual interest to a space that few other materials can achieve.'

 
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