Guide to wood flooring

Getting Started

guide to wood flooring at home

Replacing carpeted or tiled areas in your home with wooden floorboards can breathe new life not only into the room in question, but your whole house. As well as adding value to the price of your home, they may improve the health of your family, as nasty bugs and germs have nowhere to hide on wooden surfaces.

There are many different types of wood flooring you can install and it can be done to suit all price ranges.

If you have some DIY ability, it should also be possible to do the work yourself - which will save you money on installation costs. But there are plenty of companies out there willing to do the work for you and so, if you decide to go the professional route, you should be able to get a competitive price. Try your local Yellow Pages or ask a friend or neighbour who has had similar work done for a recommendation.

What does it involve?

For many years, installing hardwood flooring in your home meant a team of professionals arriving at your house with large strips of oak or maple, which would then become your floorboards. It would take a team of four or five people to install the flooring, which then needed to be sanded and varnished several times before it was ready to be used. During this process you would have to leave your home, as the varnish could not be walked on and could take several days to dry. The costs at the end of this laborious process would be huge.

Thankfully, now it is easy to buy good quality engineered-wood or laminate products (plastic that resembles wood) which remove most of the hassle of installing a wood floor. These products will arrive in your home stained and finished, and are usually quite painless to maintain.

Now the most difficult part of wood flooring is simply deciding on the right type of wood floor for your home. You will obviously want a floor that looks good and matches the style for your home but you also need to consider a material's durability, comfort, and ease of installation, as well as how easy it is to clean.

There is a wide range of wood flooring available, and each type of wood has its own individual plus and minus points. For example, real wood floors are a fantastic choice for an authentic look and feel - but they can hit your pocket hard. On the other hand, laminate wood flooring will work well in a contemporary family room but, at times, can look shiny or fake.

The best thing to do is to decide on the look that you want for the wood flooring and how much you have to spend on it. Don't worry if you have a small budget, as all wood floors come in a wide variety of different protective finishes and varnishes, which means you still have tons of choice for the finished result.

As with any major decision, however, you should always try to take samples of the wood home first, to see what would best match your furniture and walls.

What types of wood are there?

Real Wood Floors

Real wood is also known as solid hardwood and there is very little substitute for this traditional hardwood style of flooring. If money and time were no object then real wood flooring would win hands down every time.

Real wood flooring is available in a range of wood types, such as Oak, Cherry, Steamed Beech, Maple and Ash and many other more exotic alternatives.

If you choose real wood, your supplier will generally offer you wood in a range of different thicknesses and width. These are most likely planks ranging from approximately 9mm to 20mm thick and 90mm to 200mm wide. What thickness you like or how wide you want your planks to be depends very much on your own personal taste.

That said, if you choose real wood planks, the main thing to remember is real wood flooring hates moisture, so you should NEVER lay it in any areas where a lot of humidity is present. This is because the planks are a completely natural product, thus the wood tends to swell and contract depending on the moisture in the air. In winter, the lack of humidity can cause solid wood floors to contract, leaving unsightly gaps between each plank, but in summer, when the humidity is higher, the wood planks could expand and cause bulging in parts of your floor.

Basements, cellars or parts of the floor which have concrete below are particularly susceptible to humidity, so examine your home carefully before splashing out. Do remember that, if you are laying your real wood floor yourself, all rooms in the house will need a small gap alongside all the walls for some small natural swelling and contraction. Your local B&Q or Homebase will have a range of real wood flooring in a selection of styles. A cheaper option can be to buy directly from a timber yard. If should you wish to follow this route then the Yellow Pages or Yell.com will give you the details of timber yards or real wood flooring specialists in your area. Just make sure you have the correct measurements and always haggle over the price!

Engineered Wood Floors

Engineered wood flooring consists of a plank that is made up of several layers of different woods, which are topped off by a veneer top layer of your selected wood type such as Oak, Ash etc.

The top veneer of an engineered wood plank can be any wood you like - which means you can get an expensive wood finish for a competitive price. It’s environmentally friendly too, as it doesn’t require as much of a particular tree to be cut down. Engineered wood floors are just as durable as real wood, which makes them a popular - and cheaper - alternative.

Although they do not have the 'feel' of real wood, another bonus is the fact that engineered wood planks are treated specially so that they do not swell and contract like real wood. This means you can lay engineered wood almost anywhere in your home.

Longstrip or 'Floating' Engineered Wood Floors

It might sound like a magic trick, but 'floating' wood floors are simply engineered wood that sits in a raised position above the sub-floor beneath. These planks are known as longstrip wood and are safely glued or stapled down in your home.

Longstip flooring 'floats' by being placed over an underlay grid which lifts them off the sub-floor below. The fact that the wood is 'floating' above the sub-floor means your floor is not susceptible to damp or moisture coming from below. This means you can install them above any surface, in any room, no matter how high the moisture levels may be.

Another main difference with longstrip planks is that they usually have the effect of a board that is three narrow planks wide and several planks long. Each longstrip plank looks like an entire section that has already been pre-assembled for you but, to the casual observer, your floor will appear to be made up of individual planks – an optical illusion!

Longstrip wood floors tend to be cheaper, even though they are constructed in much the same way as engineered wood floors and are usually available in the same numbers of finishes.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring has become increasing popular in recent years. This is mainly because the technology surround laminate floors has improved, meaning better quality, durability and a low-cost, easy installation process.

Laminate flooring looks just like traditional wood flooring but is, in fact, a thin layer of decor paper placed under a tough-as-nails protective film. Decor paper is actually a photographic image of a certain type of wood. This picture is then glued and pressed to a high-density backing board. Despite appearances there is no real wood in a laminate board at all!

The main benefits of laminate flooring are its lasting durability and the ease of installation. Some laminate flooring is simply glued down to the sub-floor, but others sit on top of an underlay grid which lifts them off the surface beneath. Planks of laminate flooring simply click together, which enables the floor to be fitted fast, with no real mess, and you can walk on your floor straightaway. You don’t have to compromise on style either, as laminate flooring comes in a massive array of different wood effects and finishes.

Laminate flooring has got bad press in the past for being cheap or naff but, in recent years, the quality of laminate flooring has improved so much that it can be almost impossible to tell from a first glance whether it is a hardwood or laminate flooring!

Cost

The cost of installing wood flooring in your home varies massively depending on how big the area is, what particular style of wood you go for, whether or not you install it yourself and what type of finish or varnish you choose.

Your local B&Q or Homebase will sell packets of laminate flooring starting from approximately £16.50 per 1.25m2, and engineered wood from approximately £25 for 1m2 of flooring.

These prices are at the budget end of the scale, however, so it’s worth being aware that that costs can go as high as more then £200 pounds for the same size packet, depending on what kind of wood you choose.

Installation

The nature of the installation process is contingent on the type of wood you select. All good hardware stores will sell a range of self-assembly laminate flooring, engineered wood flooring and longstrip flooring. These self-assembly packs will contain manufacturers’ guidelines that will provide step-by-step instructions on how to install the wood flooring in your home.

Most hardware stores will also sell a range of real wood packages, though this may be a difficult DIY job. If you choose real wood flooring, you can ask at the store for advice on installation, or another option is to use a nationwide flooring company such as Timberland, who have a huge selection of real wood flooring, online style guides and will carry out all the work from site surveying to installation.

Looking after your new floor

One of the main selling points of wood flooring is its longevity. Unlike carpet, it will not easily stain, or pick up smells, or even develop nasty mould or mildew. If you look after your wood floor well then you can add years to the look and lifespan of the interior of your home.

Dos and Don’ts

Don't Mop with a Wet Mop

Real wooden floors hate water, so don’t mop with a wet mop. If you want to clean your wood then use the manufacturer's recommended cleaning products on your hardwood floor.

Vacuum Regularly

Little things like gravel, mud and small stones can scratch or scuff your wood and ruin the quality and appearance of your floor. Make sure to vacuum the areas regularly so loose grit doesn’t scratch or even become embedded in the wood. Also remember when vacuuming to use a soft bristle brush attachment.

Another simple tip to prevent scratching is to make sure you have appropriate doormats at the front and back entrances to your house. This will lessen the chance of stones and gravel coming into your home in the first place.

Make Sure Chairs Don’t Scratch Surface

Any furniture that rests directly on top of a hardwood floor should have felt protectors, or furniture coasters under all its feet, as wheels, sharp wooden legs and metal furniture legs can easily scratch and dent hardwood floors. If you have extremely heavy objects, such as pianos or clocks, in your home then you should use wide, non-staining, rubber protectors.

Clean Any Spills Immediately

If you spill any liquids on your wood floor then immediately clean the area with a damp cloth or paper towel. Red wine, in particular, can seep into the grain of the wood, which can result in a permanent stain. Most spills won’t be permanent if you clean them straightaway but, if your wood has become stained, always refer to the manufacturer's recommended cleaning guidelines.

Use the Right Products for Your Floor

Only use the wood manufacturers recommended products when cleaning your hardwood floors. Many of the over-the-counter oil-based soaps and waxes may result in damaging or dulling the colour of your wood, lessening its impact and reducing the overall value of your home. As such, make sure to keep your instructions when purchasing the wood!

Now you have everything you need to know to transform your home into a wooden paradise and keep it that way!

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