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How to buy wood flooring

Types of wood flooring

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Types of wood flooring

This expert guide will help you to decide between all the different types of wood flooring, including laminate, engineered wood and solid wood.

From modern laminate to reclaimed hardwood, the warmth and texture of wooden floors – whether faux or the real deal – is a popular choice for homeowners. 

Read on for the lowdown on the different types of wooden flooring available, including the pros, cons and costs involved:

Laminate flooring 

What is it?

Laminate flooring is a compressed fibreboard plank, covered with a photographic image of wood with a protective overlay. 

How much does laminate flooring cost?

Prices start at £3 per square metre, but be aware that the cheapest kinds are smooth and don't look particularly realistic.

Bevelled edges, a more varied set of images and embossed features, such as knots, will give a more natural look and texture, but they will cost more. Brands such as QuickStep (about £13-£32 per sqm) and Pergo (about £18-£49 per sqm) offer more premium options.

Where to lay laminate flooring? 

High traffic areas that will need frequent cleaning, such as living rooms, studies and playrooms. Some products include a waterproof core, which manufacturers claim are suitable for bathrooms and kitchens. If you're thinking of tackling these rooms, see our guides to planning a kitchen and planning a bathroom

If you do intend to lay laminate flooring in these rooms, check the guarantee carefully before buying to ensure you won’t invalidate it.

Pros of laminate flooring 

  • Cheap and hard wearing
  • Click-lock designs are simple to install
  • Wide range of imitations of natural materials available

Cons of laminate flooring 

  • Even the best laminates won't look or feel exactly like the real thing
  • The joins wear over time and laminate is easily swollen by moisture. Once the surface is damaged it's hard to fix
  • Poorly laid laminate can put off homebuyers

Engineered wood flooring 

What is it?

Each engineered wood floorboard consists of three or four layers of wood, glued together to create a plank around 14mm thick. It has a real-wood veneer of around 4mm thick on top, which means it can be sanded back and treated to restore the original finish if it becomes scuffed, worn or damaged.

It's sometimes available with a 'click-and-lock' installation, which doesn't require any adhesive. Tongue-and-groove versions will need to be glued into place.

How much does engineered wood flooring cost?

Prices range from about £19 per square metre, to more than £166 for expensive woods.

Where to lay engineered wood flooring?

Living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, kitchens. While it's more resistant to warping than solid wood, it's still best avoided in places that it will be exposed to a lot of humidity, such as a bathroom. It's also best avoided on stairs, where it is time-consuming and fiddly to lay. 

It can be tricky to achieve a good finish around corners, too – for instance, around sink pedestals.

Pros of engineered wood flooring

  • Due to its construction, engineered wood flooring is more stable than a piece of solid wood, and less prone to changes caused by a room’s temperature or humidity
  • Can be more attractive than laminate flooring
  • Cheaper than comparable solid-wood planks

Cons of engineered wood flooring

  • Tongue-and-groove planks are harder to install than click-lock ones
  • Can be a lot more expensive than laminate

Solid wood flooring 

What is it?

Each solid wood board is made from a single piece of wood, typically 18-20mm thick. It is usually fitted using tongue-and-groove. All types of wood have a hardness score, which indicates how easily they can be damaged, dented or worn by everyday wear and tear.

Solid wood flooring can be sanded back to restore the finish – the number of times you can do this is determined by how deep the tongue is set from the top of the board.

How much does solid wood flooring cost?

Prices vary, depending on the cost of raw wood, from £15 per square metre for the cheapest options to £82 per sq m for some tropical hardwoods.

Where to lay solid wood flooring?

Anywhere with a relatively consistent humidity. Particularly in hallways and living areas where you can show it off.

Pros of solid wood flooring

  • Has a classic look and feel
  • Appealing to buyers/tenants if you decide to sell or let your home

Cons of solid wood flooring

  • Solid wood flooring swells in damp conditions and shrinks in dry
  • It’s tough to install because it has to be glued or nailed down. Fitting the individual boards together can be difficult because they change shape after they’ve been manufactured
  • New solid wood flooring has a more expensive starting price than other wood flooring options
  • Solid wood floorboards can amplify sound, so rugs are a good option if you have boards upstairs

Reclaimed wood flooring 

What is it?

Reclaimed wood flooring is timber that has been used in another, older property and has been salvaged to be reused. 

If you live in an old property you might be lucky and discover perfectly preserved original floorboards under decades-old carpet. If not, you can source your own vintage planks. 

How much does reclaimed wood flooring cost?

Prices vary depending on where you buy. You might find someone giving them away for free, or cheaply, on sites like Gumtree and eBay, but at salvage yards boards tend to start from about £25 per square metre. This can rise to well over £100 per square metre depending on the condition, age, wood and width of boards.

Where to lay reclaimed wood flooring?

Reclaimed timber flooring can be installed anywhere, but it's best avoided in bathrooms where moisture may cause the timber to swell and crack. If you do lay reclaimed wood in bathrooms, wipe up spills quickly and keep the room well ventilated.

Pros of reclaimed wood flooring

  • Reusing existing wood is one of the more environmentally friendly flooring options
  • Vintage wood is aesthetically pleasing and will add overall value
  • Reclaimed wood can be painted, white-washed or stained any colour
  • Generally very durable

Cons of reclaimed wood flooring

  • Can often cost four or five times more than new floorboards
  • Woodworm. Look out for asymmetrical holes and wood that crumbles when touched
  • Can contain hidden dangers like protruding nails, unless you purchase it from a company that will process it for you
  • Solid wood floorboards can amplify sound, so rugs are a good option if you have boards upstairs

Parquet flooring 

What is it?

Easily recognisable, parquet flooring is formed of short wooden blocks or strips arranged into a geometric pattern; usually herringbone or basket weave.

How much does parquet flooring cost?

Parquet prices start from £25 per square metre and go well into the hundreds.

Where to lay parquet flooring?

Parquet flooring is suitable throughout a property but best avoided in humid areas like bathrooms.

Pros of parquet flooring

  • Can be used to create interesting patterns
  • Durable and can handle high levels of traffic

Cons of parquet flooring 

  • Expensive and fiddly to install
  • Can fade in direct sunlight and be damaged by moisture

Bamboo flooring 

What is it?

Technically a grass rather than a wood, bamboo forms its own unique grain pattern and can be worked into extremely hard-wearing floorboards that look and feel very similar to natural hardwood. 

Bamboo reaches maturity in a quarter of the time of hardwood trees, which means it's more sustainable to harvest. 

How much does bamboo flooring cost?

Prices vary, but start from about £20 per square metre.

Where to lay bamboo flooring?

Bamboo works well in most rooms. Although it's more water resistant than hardwood, it's not waterproof, so it's best avoided in bathrooms.

Pros of bamboo flooring

  • It's a sustainable resource. Bamboo grows quickly, replenishing every five or so years
  • Strand-woven bamboo is tougher than oak flooring, making it very durable
  • Good for allergies as bamboo is inhospitable to dust mites and repels dust and pollen
  • Bamboo is water resistant so less likely to develop mould and mildew
  • Easy to clean

Cons of bamboo flooring

  • In some bamboo, the adhesive used contains formaldehyde, a toxic substance that can release small amounts of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) over time
  • Water resistant but not waterproof – too much water can leave unsightly spots and cause flooring to warp
  • Darker bamboo has been through a carbonisation process, which weakens the material, making it softer and more prone to damage
  • Prone to scratching

Wood-effect tiles 

What are they?

Combining the beauty of natural wood with the durability of tiles, wood effect tiles are affordable and practical.

How much do wood-effect tiles cost?

From £12 per square metre to over £150 per square metre.

Where to lay wood-effect tiles?

Wood-effect tiles are waterproof and much more resistant to wear and tear compared with hardwood and laminate floors, so they're ideal in bathrooms, kitchens and high traffic areas like hallways. Some companies make matching indoor and outdoor tiles, so that you can continue your flooring out onto patios and porches.

Pros of wood-effect tiles

  • Suitable in any room, even the bathroom. They won't rot or warp when they get wet
  • Easy to maintain - wipe clean and stain resistant
  • A wide range of colours and styles to choose from

Cons of wood-effect tiles

  • Can be cold without underfloor heating
  • Don't absorb sound, so can be noisy to walk on
  • Tiles require grout, which can be a trap for dirt and debris

Cork flooring 

What is it?

Eco-friendly and sustainable, cork is actually the bark of the cork oak tree. Bark naturally splits periodically – around every 9-15 years – and can be safely harvested without harming the trees. The bark regrows and the cycle continues on for years and years. 

For flooring, cork is ground up, compressed and formed into sheets bonded with resins.

How much does cork flooring cost?

Prices vary, but start from about £20 per square metre for cork tiles.

Where to lay cork flooring?

Cork has a soft surface which can act as a slight cushion, so it can be a great choice for children's bedrooms or playrooms. Don't be afraid to use it in the bedroom either – cork retains warmth so feels cosy underfoot. It's a good choice for those with allergies too, as it doesn't absorb dust or mites.

Cork floor tiles are finished with an invisible varnish that gives protection against water stains and damage. However, if the seal isn't perfect and the room floods, the cork will probably warp and discolour. High humidity can also cause cork to curl, so it's best to avoid in bathrooms.

Pros of cork flooring

  • Cork is a good insulator, so it will absorb sound and keeps naturally warm all year round
  • Doesn't absorb dust or mites, making it good for those with allergies
  • Shock-absorbent and durable, so it can withstand plenty of foot traffic
  • Natural, quickly renewable cork is also biodegradable at the end of its life cycle, so it's an eco-friendly option
  • Naturally resistant to mould and mildew

Cons of cork flooring

  • Unlikely to last as long as hardwood floors
  • The subfloor must be properly prepared or you'll run the risk of causing problems down the line. It should be clean, dry and level
  • Because it's relatively soft, cork can be scratched and is susceptible to furniture damage
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