Updating an old flooring solution during an interior design project is extremely common. By design, flooring is made to withstand years of extensive use, which after a while will start taking its toll on the visual appearance of the floor. If you are pondering suitable materials as the basis for the new floor, you might come across natural wood during your research. In this article we aim to explain your options and share some of the considerations your interior designer has to take into account when evaluating the suitability of natural wood in your project.
Practical Considerations – Type Of Floorboard
Natural wood flooring is available in two slightly different types. One type that answers to the name ‘solid wood flooring’ is the more commonly fitted option, while a close alternative is found under the name ‘engineered wood flooring’. Both options look 100% identical and both cost about the same. The difference between the two takes a more practical path, which is easily explained.
Solid Wood Flooring – Each floorboard is made from complete natural wood. The wood may come from homegrown species such as European Oak and Walnut or even as far as the other side of the world from the tropics. The use of complete wood has given this type the descriptive name, real wood floor.
Engineered Wood Flooring – Each floorboard ALSO contains the same natural wood as featured above, however this time around only as a top layer (as opposed to whole in the case of solid). The rest of the floorboard is made from MDF, Plywood and even softwood.
Practical Considerations – Solid or Engineered
In the overwhelming number of projects, either solid or engineered can be considered. It is in the more unusual circumstances where your decision to fit solid over engineered or the other way around becomes imperative.
Under Floor Heating Areas – Natural wood will expand when faced with high temperatures, causing the wood to ‘rise’. Fitting solid wood flooring over a heating element such as under floor heating will cause the floorboard to rise and contract, leading to expedited wear. On the other hand, engineered wood flooring due to its core of natural wood and artificial materials is perfectly at home in such conditions and will not react to temperature changes.
Intense Foot Traffic Areas – Solid wood flooring can exceed 100 years of service life (just take a look at period homes where solid wood is frequently used) compared to 25 years in the case of engineered wood flooring. It means that of the two, solid is stronger and can cope with more foot traffic. This becomes important in commercial settings, but also within residential properties in high traffic areas such as the entrance, the hall etc.
Bathroom, Kitchen and Basement Areas – These areas may pose a problem for natural wood flooring due to the presence of wet and humid conditions. These conditions can also lead to expansion and contractions as discussed in the case of under floor heating. Of the two types, engineered wood flooring is better suited to tackle these conditions, PROVIDED the floor has been covered with a thick watertight finish. The finish will need to be maintained over the years to help keep the water at bay.
Visual Considerations – Grade Of Wood
The appearance of wood floor is determined by the finish and by the grade of wood. The grade is a visual representation of natural wood elements such as sapwood, knots and colour variations. Higher grades will include more of these natural elements, while lower grades will include less of these elements throughout. Referring to high vs. low grade does not equal quality, merely a visual appearance factor. The most common grades are:
Prime Grade – This is the highest (and dearest) grade in which the presence of sapwood and knots makes way for a uniform look. The floorboards will closely match in terms of colours.
Select Grade – Also a type of dear grade, you will start to notice some knots, which may be up to 20mm in size and some sapwood (in this case, up to 10% of the plank).
Natural Grade – The presence of sapwood and knots becomes more apparent in the natural grade. Knots of up to 30mm in size are to be expected and it contains random sapwood.
Rustic / Country Grade – Despite the industry use of the term ‘low grade’, rustic is the most popular grade because the floorboard is full of character and cannot be mistaken for anything but real wood. Knots of up to 35mm in size are to be expected, it contains random sapwood and colour variation between the floorboards will naturally be presented.
Visual Considerations – Finish Of Wood
The last consideration is the finish of choice. The finish is a transparent chemical layer that is applied during the fitting process or at the factory. It serves to minimise damage by introducing an additional layer between the wood and items placed on the floor. The hardest wearing finish is oil based which also serves to give the floor a matt finish. Another popular option is based on lacquered which serves to give the floor a satin or even glossy finish.