Wood Works No. 5 – Choosing and using wood flooring

Which type of wood flooring is best? Well it depends. Here are some factors to consider when you come to choose your wood floor.

Solid or Engineered wood flooring

Solid flooring, as the name suggests, is manufactured from a solid section of softwood or hardwood (see Wood Works No. 2 for definition), whereas engineered flooring usually consists of a solid wear surface layer bonded onto a wood based panel substrate, such as plywood.

So, which is best for your project? Well, bear in mind…

engineered wood flooring and solid wood flooring
Engineered flooring (top) and solid wood flooring
  • Board width. If you prefer the wide board look, then engineered flooring is recommended, as any movement is likely to be more noticeable in wider, solid boards greater than 100mm – 125mm.
  • Service conditions, and how many times the flooring is likely to require sanding. In a commercial environment, such as an office or restaurant, the flooring will likely require more regular sanding and maintenance than a domestic situation, so a thicker wear layer or solid flooring would be an advantage.
  • Under floor heating? – Use engineered flooring due to its lower initial moisture content and smaller movement characteristics.

Environment

What kind of subfloor are you laying on to? Is it level and dry? If a new concrete floor, allow 1 day drying for each 1mm of thickness (1.5 days above 50mm thick) and carry out a hygrometer test to ensure it is less than 75% relative humidity. Make sure the floor is level to avoid ‘bounce’ in the finished floor.

To reduce the risk of excessive flooring movement, only introduce wood flooring into a building once all the wet trades are finished, the building is watertight, and the heating is operational. Ideally, allow boards to condition to the environment in which they are to be installed by loose laying and leaving them for a week or so if possible. In most cases this is probably unrealistic so a practical alternative would be to open the pack and re-stack, placing 1’’ battens across the boards with ends aligned to allow air to circulate around each board prior to fixing. This will enable them to attain a moisture content close to that which the flooring will attain in service.

Wood flooring is not well-suited to areas where it is likely to be subject to regular wetting or high levels of moisture, such as bathrooms and kitchens. As a woody it pains me to say it, but there are some quite impressive ‘wood print’ vinyl flooring products available now, which at first site can be hard to distinguish from the real thing and are better suited to wet areas.

Condition of the flooring

The importance of correct moisture content cannot be over-stated hence we’ve already written 2 blogs on the subject – see Wood Works No. 1 and Wood Works No. 4

Fixing wood flooring

There are many ways to install a floor, but broadly this involves either securing with fixings (screws, nails, staples, clips), adhesive or ‘floating’ the flooring over an underlay. There are as many methods of fixing as there are types of flooring, so worth discussing this with the supplier and ensuring their recommendations are followed.

Installation

top tips when installing wood flooring

When installing the flooring, the following should be borne in mind:

  • Provide expansion gaps around the flooring edge, at thresholds, and any upstands, such as radiators, hearths, fixed cabinets etc. The standard provision is 15mm around the perimeter of the flooring, but as we have covered in Wood Works No. 1, use of a moisture meter can inform the installer of the actual gap that is appropriate and whether extra provision needs to be made within the floor depending on the nature of the flooring being installed and the width of the floor.
  • Ensure flooring wedges, plaster or any other debris are removed from the gaps before covering with skirtings etc. or they will render the provision useless 😒
  • As laying progresses, stand up the next 6 boards or so against the wall. This allows the installer to select boards to match the colour and grain so that it ‘flows’ across the room and avoids the risk of mis-matching sections which could otherwise prove an eyesore.
  • Lay the boards with their joints in as random pattern as possible, ensuring that header joints are at least two board widths apart to avoid them apparing as an ‘H’ in the finished floor.
  • Where installing engineered flooring that features a dark coloured surface bonded to a light-coloured core, consider applying a dark stain to the light-coloured edges if it is to be laid in a room with ceiling spotlights. The flooring edges will then not be so noticeable through the gaps under the spotlights if the flooring experiences minor shrinkage.

Finished or unfinished?

Pre-finished flooring is very popular, especially for the DIY market, and provides for a high quality finish that has been applied under controlled conditions in the factory. However, many flooring systems are available in an unfinished condition allowing for a choice of lacquers or oil finishes to be applied.

Maintenance Tips

top tips to maintain wood flooring

To keep your wood flooring looking good:

stiletto damage to wood flooring
Take your shoes off! Stiletto heels are the enemy of wood flooring
  • Do not use a wet mop and avoid applying water or liquid cleaners directly to the flooring to avoid movement and staining. Instead, regularly sweep up debris that could otherwise scratch the floor and use only a slightly damp cloth to remove any marks, along with an appropriate wood floor cleaning product if necessary.
  • Apply felt pads to the feet of furniture and fittings to prevent scratches. When the floor does become scratched (which it will!) disguise the mark by rubbing it with a nut kernel; almonds and walnuts work a treat!
  • Oh, and do not even think about walking on your new floor with stiletto heels. These will permanently dent your flooring – not surprising when you realise that the force transmitted through a stiletto heel can be around 1500 psi (or 20 times more pressure than an elephant!)
stiletto damage worse than an elephant on wood flooring
It wasn’t me!

For further information:

BS EN 8201: 2011 Code of practice for installation of flooring of wood and wood-based panels (“BS 8201”). 
The Wood Shop Consultancy – www.timberconsultancy.co.uk

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Roger

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