Looking to update your flooring and don't know where to start? Wood flooring should be your first port of call. Why? Wood flooring creates a great backdrop to any contemporary interior, while functioning as a key aspect of a period home's historic character.
With everything from solid timber to reclaimed to wood lookalikes, it can be difficult to know where to start. Our comprehensive guide to choosing wood flooring is here to advise and inspire.
Main image (above): Goodrich Haze Oak from Woodpecker Flooring
Which wood colour is best for your room?
One of the many advantages of a timber floor is that the look of natural wood works well with many decorating styles, allowing versatility when you redecorate. But the wood flooring's colour choice should be based on more factors that just your decorative scheme.
White and pale grey wood floors are perfect for low-traffic rooms, and their light colour will enhance space in a small room brilliantly. Contemporary and light-reflecting, they will however show up dirt and dents pretty quickly.
Warm, honey-toned wood floors will disguise dirt and create a welcoming feel, ideal for a large, open-plan space that you want to feel cosier. Less contemporary than paler wood floor finishes, mid-toned wood is perfect for creating a relaxed, more traditional finish.
Dark wood floors will create a more formal, intimate feel in a room, but can also be used in industrial-style spaces for a smart, contemporary finish, especially if used as a backdrop to show off light-coloured furniture.
Which wooden flooring board width and length?
Should you choose narrow floorboards or broad ones? Small lengths – think parquet floors – or long ones? Narrower boards tend to look more traditional than broader ones, while parquet boards, once reserved for period properties, are a hot trend for contemporary spaces, too.
If you're considering board widths and lengths for a small room, wider, longer ones will make the space feel bigger because the floor itself will be simpler. In a large room, use thin, short strips for bags of texture, and wide, long boards for a fuss-free finish.
Which wood flooring is the most durable?
Hardwoods, such as oak, maple and cherry, are among the most durable species, making them ideal for long-lasting looks in a busy household. However, they also the more expensive wood flooring choices.
If you are on a budget, go for a softer species, such as pine. It will tend to show scratches more quickly, but can be refinished and painted every now and then to keep them looking as good as new.
Which wood flooring finish is best: paint, oil or varnish?
Most wood flooring will come factory pre-finished, which means its colour and lustre will be as you saw them in the showroom, and should be guaranteed to remain just so for some time. You can, however, buy unfinished boards for painting, varnishing or oiling yourself at home.
Painting, usually reserved for cheap, pine boards, gives you the freedom to create a colour scheme of your choice; opt for a mid-sheen over a gloss or matt finish, which will combine the right level of durability with an on-trend look.
Oil or varnish for a wooden floor? Both give a good level of protection, so it's really done to looks: arnish will give you a tough, but shinier finish, while oil will look more natural, but is more prone to scratching. The trick is to test out both finishes on a sample section of board to see which you prefer.
Which is best: solid wood or engineered wood flooring?
Solid wood flooring can be refinished repeatedly; engineered wood flooring can only be refinished a limited number of times, dependent on the thickness of the top veneer.
Both, however, are durable and will rarely need refinishing, particularly pre-finished engineered wood floors, which hold up well against moist conditions, too.
Choose the best solid wood floorboards
Solid wood boards are an authentic choice, and can be sanded and refinished whenever required. Hardwoods, like oak and walnut, will potentially last longer and won’t scratch as easily as softer options. Woods like pine and beech are cost effective, but are more likely to get damaged easily and show wear over time.
Natural wood flooring has many benefits, from providing longevity to changing the acoustics of a room, giving it a warm, rich sound. Real wood floors add value, appeal and a sense of luxury to the home and, despite common misconceptions, can usually be laid successfully over underfloor heating.
Busier spaces, such as the hallway, living and dining room will benefit from more expensive hardwoods, like walnut or oak. Solid wood can warp if exposed to lots of moisture, so it's best not to lay it in kitchens and bathrooms.
Pick the best engineered wood floorboards
Engineered flooring is usually made up of three or more layers of plywood laid at right angles to each other, with a durable top 'wear' layer of natural timber up to 6mm thick. As long as the wear layer is at least 4mm, many products can even be given a light sanding if damaged. It is very stable – more so than solid wood – so you're less likely to get movement between boards or warping caused by humidity. Expect engineered boards to have the same attractive, variable tones and knots as solid wood.
Suitable for most rooms, from hallways and living spaces to bedrooms, it's best avoided in shower rooms and family bathrooms.
To find out whether the boards can be used with underfloor heating, ask the manufacturer before buying, and also check that the wood has been sustainably sourced.
Opt for the best reclaimed floorboards
For true period authenticity, reclaimed or salvaged wood flooring is a ready-aged, characterful choice that can often be fitted over underfloor heating, due to being acclimatised over the centuries. Parquet blocks are particularly popular, but boards from all eras are available. Be guided by the age of your home, and buy from a supplier that adheres to the Salvo Code.
Find the best parquet wood flooring
Made up of smaller blocks laid in a pattern such as herringbone, parquet flooring has its roots in the 17th century homes of the aristocracy, and its popularity blossomed throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The pattern celebrates the grain of the wood and enhances the look of the timber, catching the light.
If you’re new to parquet, use it in the hallway to make a statement and avoid fitting it in rooms where the furniture will cover up the majority of it, such as bedrooms.
Get the best laminate wood lookalike flooring
Laminate flooring is made from compressed fibreboard planks covered by a photographic image beneath a protective overlay. More affordable than solid or engineered wood, the best designs are convincingly natural-looking and hardwearing.
Laminate is suitable for most rooms, but in the bathroom avoid designs with an expansion prone chipboard core; instead, pick a water- and humidity-resistant fibreboard-based laminate. For a realistic wood finish, look for planks with bevelled edges and knots.
On a budget? Pick a cost-effective vinyl wood lookalike
For a fuss-free option, vinyl planks are available in a wide range of authentic-looking finishes, usually requiring no specialist installation. More often than not, they are compatible with underfloor heating and can be used in wet areas.
Fitting wood flooring
Expensive solid and engineered boards are best fitted by a professional; cheaper boards and laminate can be tackled by experienced DIYers. Tongue-and-groove fitting requires glue or pins to hold it in place and is fixed to the sub-floor. The easier-to-fit, floating click-lock system requires little skill other than in the cutting of the boards. A damp-proof membrane will be needed over sand and cement or concrete floors. Check with the manufacturer if you need underlay to complement your floor choice, too.
If your wood flooring is being retro-fitted, ensure your installer trims the skirting to run the boards beneath it, rather than relying on beading to hide the untidy edges.
Torn between factory-finished or ready-to-finish flooring? However good a DIY job you can do, a factory finish will almost certainly last longer and be more durable, so you may feel it's worth paying extra.
Maintaining and cleaning wood floors
Cleaning wood flooring is pretty simple. Just wipe your floor with a soft, damp mop every week, avoiding soap or astringent cleaners, which leave residue or dull the finish. Re-lacquer or oil real wood as needed, following the manufacturer's recommendations.
The harder the wood, the less likely it is that it will get scratched and dented, especially if it has been factory oiled or lacquered. Engineered and solid wood, unlike laminate, can be sanded down and re-finished to look good as new every couple of years.
Installing underfloor heating under wooden floors
Solid wood doesn't conduct heat well and some softwoods create a thermal barrier, so choose thin (1.8cm) boards in a dense wood for a fast heat-up time. Be aware that solid wood can shrink or warp with underfloor heating (UFH). Engineered wood is much more tolerant of fluctuations in temperature; look for a glueless joint to eliminate the risk of gaping, and avoid hard maple and beech which are moisture-sensitive. Laminate also deals well with UFH. In all cases, check with the UFH manufacturer that you have the correct underlay.