The next choice is between laminate, engineered and solid wood. Beware cheap laminates; they are to this decade what swirly carpets were to the 1970s – a design disaster that will reduce the value of your home and will be instantly ripped out by new owners.
Laminate vs engineered vs solid: A laminate is a piece of plastic with a photographic image of wood grain, mounted on MDF. They cost as little as £5 a square metre and although scratch-resistant, once damaged are non-repairable. Engineered flooring has a veneer of real wood, usually 3-7mm thick, that can be sanded up to five times. It is particularly suitable for use over concrete floors and in kitchens. Solid wood is one piece of wood from top to bottom. As it needs to be nailed to a permanent floor, a concrete base is a problem. Some newer floors can be floated on underlay.
Fitting: Most laminates are sold as do-it-yourself click-together products. Laying engineered or solid wood requires a high level of DIY competence.
The grades: Most real woods are sold under “grades” describing its look rather than durability. “Rustic” tends to be cheapest as it has the most knots. Select or prime grade has the fewest defects and the highest price.
The strips: Engineered real wood is sold as one-strip, two-strip or three-strip, and in differing lengths. The main difference is the width of the wood; three strip is the narrowest. Single strip (or plank) is the most expensive. Longer lengths also go for higher prices.
Lacquered or oiled? Lacquered floors have an acrylic varnish which gives them a sheen and makes them relatively easy to clean. Oiled floors are becoming more popular, looking more “authentic” but need to be oiled twice a year, depending on the wear they receive. They also cost about £2-£3 more per square metre.
Do you need an “expansion” gap? Yes. A 10mm gap around the perimeter of the room must be left to allow the boards to expand and contract. If you don’t, it may buckle or leave gaps.
Bathroom floors: Most manufacturers caution about laying a real wood floor in a bathroom, particularly beech, which is more sensitive to moisture. If the room tends to get very wet and humid, solid wood is likely to be inappropriate. Laminate or lacquered engineered floors may be more suitable. Don’t leave wet bath mats and towels on the floor.
Kitchen appliances: You should install flooring under kitchen appliances, but be careful when you slide the appliances over the floor.
Toilets: It is not advisable to fix any object through a floating wood floor.
Guarantees: Most floors come with a minimum of a 10-year guarantee, although some are up to15 years.