Real Wood Flooring: What to Use & Where
Before I started writing content for a flooring website on a regular basis, I didn’t even know that there was a difference between real wood and laminate flooring. I thought they were two different names for the same thing, like ‘hoover’ and ‘vacuum cleaner’. In fairness, I didn’t have a lot of experience to draw upon; my Year 8 resistant materials project exposed an astounding lack of DIY talent on my part, and I spent the rest of high school with my fingers crossed for a home improvement-free lifespan.
But to write about floors, you need to know about floors, and I’ve learned a lot about DIY and decorating since I started working for Floormaker. Not only can I now name several different types of flooring, I’m even capable of explaining their respective pros and cons and making recommendations based on a customer’s requirements.
One big trend that I’ve noticed since I (ostensibly) became a flooring expert is the popularity of real wood flooring. The benefits of wooden floors are well-documented, especially where property value is concerned, and they seem to be something of a status symbol even if the owner has no intention of vacating the property in the near future.
But is real wood flooring a good choice for every room of your house? The answer is ‘probably not’. Different rooms have different requirements, and your choice of floor ought to depend on which room you’re renovating. If you’re wondering how to approach the task of installing a real wood floor in your house, this handy room-by-room guide might help…
Let’s start with an easy one. Wood flooring is pretty well-suited to life in the lounge; it’s a nice, relaxed area that’s reasonably low on both moisture and foot traffic. Most solid wood floors will be more than capable of coping with your living room, and since you don’t need a particular finish, you’re free to choose more or less anything you fancy! A light-coloured wood like pine will make your room feel bright and spacious, while darker, richer products (walnut flooring, for example) are good for a warmer, more traditional look.
The hallway is your home’s main thoroughfare, and as such, it’s likely to see a little more traffic than the living room floor. Fortunately, a lot of solid wood flooring products come pre-finished, meaning that your wood will have an extra bit of resistance right off the bat. Oiled wooden floors are especially adept at coping with high foot traffic. An ‘unfinished’ solid wood floor is fine too, but you’ll have to add some oil, varnish or lacquer yourself to protect the floor’s appearance. Double check with your supplier if you’re in any doubt.
We’re moving into slightly more problematic territory now. The dining area shouldn’t be too dangerous, and as long as you’re quick to wipe up any spilled food, a dark, elegant oak floor can be just the thing for adding a bit of class here.
The kitchen, however, is more treacherous; given all of the excess moisture that’s likely to get splashed around, you may want to consider using a hard-wearing wood effect laminate floor in lieu of the real deal. The difference, as I learned not so long ago, is this: a solid wood floor is made entirely of whatever wood it claims to be, while a laminate floor is actually just a photograph of that wood that’s been topped with a resistant wear layer. This creates a far more durable product that’s better for bathrooms and kitchens and the like. Still, if you’re determined to use real wooden flooring, go for a lacquered finish, as this will be the most water-resistant.
Like living rooms, bedrooms aren’t especially susceptible to heavy foot traffic or excess moisture, and so solid wood flooring could well be the perfect choice here. Again, the design you opt for will depend on your tastes; I personally prefer the more minimal look, at least for the bedroom, so I would go for a wide plank floor that’s easy on the eye and simple to install (hint: the bigger the board, the fewer you’ll have to lay). Still, everybody’s got a different idea of what looks good, and if you’d prefer a slightly busier look, there are plenty of narrow board wood floors that might be more your kind of thing.
Bad news: generally speaking, solid wood floors aren’t suitable for the bathroom. All that moisture in the air will play havoc with the wood, and you’ll struggle to avoid splashing the floor with water from the bath, shower, and sink. The good news is that solid wood flooring isn’t your only option. Engineered flooring is made by bonding together several layers of plywood and topping it off with a layer of genuine, all-natural wood. The sturdy construction is fairly well-equipped to cope with water (certainly more so than solid wood), and a protective finish (again, lacquer is best for wet conditions) will help to protect the wood from above. Some engineered flooring designs are even lovelier than solid wood, but they can be quite expensive; if you’re on a tight budget, both vinyl and cork are affordable, resilient flooring options that don’t need too much looking after when placed in the bathroom.
It’s not hard to see why somebody might want to cover their house with wood flooring. Aside from the whole ‘add value to your home’ game, a natural wooden floor is the perfect antidote to that stuffy, unpleasant atmosphere that carpets can create, and it’s not as difficult as some people might have you believe. Remember, installation methods vary between wooden flooring products (some will use a glueless tongue-and-groove system, while others will need to be fixed down using nails or adhesive), so check with your supplier when you purchase the floor. Other than that, look after your floor, and may you get many years of enjoyment from it!
This article was written by Joel Dear, who will soon be moving house and, inevitably, having a crack at redecorating. Joel writes and blogs for Floormaker, the UK’s top supplier of wood flooring and other flooring products. For more great DIY and decorating articles, follow Floormaker on Twitter.