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Buyers Guide to Wooden Flooring

Monday, 20th September 2010

Nothing beats the appeal of a timber floor - it's beautiful to look at, feels great to walk on, and ages gracefully over time. And while natural timber is the right choice for many, sometimes budget or environmental constraints mean that it's simply not an option. Don't fret - there are plenty of alternatives, including engineered timber and look-a-like laminates and vinyls that will give you a similar look for less, and which may be better suited to your living conditions.

Trends in hardwood floors
Rich colour and texture are huge in timber flooring right now - think very dark woods, such as mahogany or wenge, which provide a striking contrast against pale walls and age beautifully over time. Smokey grey-black hues and timbers with interesting textures and patterns, such as swirls, knots and stripes, are also gaining in popularity.
Look out for extra-wide boards, up to 160mm, which work best in large rooms.
Salvaged timber complete with all its distressed characteristics - scratches and dents - is another decorating favourite.

Where can you lay a new floor?
Over almost any subfloor, including concrete, tiles, or old boards, so long as it's flat, dry and in good condition. But if you live in an apartment or install it an upstairs room, make sure that you add proper acoustic insulation to prevent undue noise reaching the floor below. 
A properly-sealed solid timber floor can be laid in wet areas such as a kitchen or bathroom, but an engineered or vinyl floor will require less protection and will be easier to look after in a moist area.

Light or dark?
When you're deciding on the tone of your floor, keep in mind that it is one of the largest expanses of colour in your home, so whatever you choose will have a huge impact on the furnishings around it. Very pale timbers, such as ash or maple, will reflect the light and make the room feel brighter and larger. Very dark tones, such as mahogany or wenge, will look chic and modern, and provide a dramatic contrast to white walls and modern furnishings floors, but can make a room feel smaller.
For something in the middle that's warm but not overbearing, consider a mid-tone oak. It's easy to live with, ages well with time, and works with most colour schemes.
If you have a solid timber floor in a pale hue and find yourself hankering after darker timber, consider staining it a darker tone.

Are straight boards the only option?
Not at all. If you're tired of the look of straight boards, why not consider a block or parquet timber floor. These small blocks or strips of timber are laid in a herringbone or block layout and will give your floor an interesting, patterned appearance. But, they will require specialist installation.

Solid timber flooring will require professional installation, while many of the engineered floors are designed with a 'click-lock' system that means no special tools or skills are required, and can be laid by an enthusiastic DIY-er. 

Underlay is a must
If you live above the ground floor, acoustic-quality underlay is the key to reducing noise entering the level below. Speak to your flooring supplier about which one will provide the best sound insulation, and if you live in an apartment, always seek permission from your strata committee before laying a new floor.

The main types:

Solid timber floor
As the name implies, a solid timber floor is made up of solid wooden boards, mostly in hardwoods such as Tasmanian oak, spotted gum, blackbutt and ash. With proper care a solid timber floor will only improve over time and ultimately add to the value of your home, but it is expensive at the outset.
No two solid timber floors are alike, and any little scratch or dent only adds to its character. It can be re-sanded and resurfaced any number of times to bring it back to its original good looks, and can be re-stained or painted if you want to give it an entirely new appearance. However, solid timber is not the best choice for damp areas such as kitchen and bathroom, as excess moisture can cause the boards to warp, and most types are unsuitable for underfloor heating.

Engineered boards (or floating boards)
Engineered timber flooring has a multi-layered base that is topped with a thin, surface layer of hardwood veneer. It's less expensive than solid wood, and easy to install with a click-lock system. It doesn't have the natural 'move' of solid timber, is more water resistant, and is suitable for underfloor heating.

Reclaimed timber
As we embrace all things green, the trend for salvaged timber is only gaining in momentum. It is reclaimed from other sites, and can be sourced from salvage yards or demolition sites, and very often has a graceful patina earned from years of service in someone else's home. However, it's not pre-cut and may come in irregular sizes, making installation both challenging and expensive.

Bamboo flooring
Another 'green' option that's rapidly rising in popularity, bamboo flooring is actually made from a fast-growing grass, and is extremely strong and durable. It's more moisture-resistant than most hardwoods, but it doesn't come in the same range of tones as hardwood.

Vinyl flooring
If you want the look of timber in a wet area such as a bathroom or laundry, you might consider vinyl with a timber pattern. This synthetic material is far less expensive than solid timber, and it's moisture-resistant. It's easy tough and easy to clean - you simply need a rubber or a little white spirit to remove scuff marks.

Laminate flooring
Laminate is made by laminating a digitally-printed image onto a board backing, and gives you the option of having a remarkably realistic-looking timber floor at a fraction of the cost. You can find almost any timber you can imagine in laminate, but it's worth looking out for those with a textured finish or bevelled edges so that it's even more convincing. On the downside, it can't be sanded back in the same way as solid timber, but it's pretty tough in the first place and should give you years of service. Available in a waterproof version for wet rooms.


Georgia Madden

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