Most wood floors fall into one of two categories - engineered or solid. And, of all the design types, engineered oak flooring is by far the most popular.
Today, the ‘purist’ who seeks a solid oak floor is becoming rarer and is somewhat misguided as to it being a better choice of floor. With real authenticity comes a fair few cons. (The only solid oak flooring that we now offer is a genuine reclaimed oak floor, which is solid because it is reclaimed.
So why has engineered oak flooring become the design of choice - and what advantages does it offer? It has a lot to do with the fact that wood is a hygroscopic material, which means it absorbs moisture from the air. It is also anisotropic, i.e. it has different properties in different directions. Engineered oak flooring comprises multiple layers of wood, which are laid at 90° angles to each other to create stability. In contrast, a solid floor is made of one thick piece of timber, which is more prone to natural movement and associated gapping and splitting.
Stable and eco-friendly
Engineered oak flooring is less prone to cupping (when the sides are higher than the centre, across the width of the plank) and bowing (when the centre is higher than the sides, along the length of the plank). Cupping occurs when moisture content is greater in the bottom of the board. As the floor dries, the moisture is pulled down and telltale cupping occurs. In contrast, crowning is the result of greater moisture in the top of the floor, which causes it to swell up. Because engineered oak flooring is made up of layers of wood, it provides a more stable surface that is far less likely to be affected by moisture. It also works really well with underfloor heating, because it is able to withstand the stress of temperature change.
For the savvy green shopper, engineered oak flooring also offers environmental benefits. Engineered constructions only use hardwood in the top layer; fast growing wood is then used below the floor’s joint, to form the core and base layers. This means that nature’s resources are used more sensibly and the floor can still be renovated (if necessary), as any construction can only ever be sanded to a certain level above the joint. If you go below this, the floor (be it solid or engineered) will fall apart!
Timber grades and floor formats
Oak is a very versatile and hardwearing timber, and it comes in a multitude of species and grades – from very clean wood, to rustic grades with lots of knots and colour variation. Our own range of engineered oak flooring includes Prime, Nature, Rustic A, Rustic B and Character grades.
Engineered oak flooring also comes with different surface layer thicknesses and in different lengths. Chinese-manufactured floors tend to be shorter, whilst European designs are generally longer and more desirable. Tongue and groove joints are commonplace (but check for quality!) and floors are offered with a wide choice of prefinishes and treatments. Once again, quality is key, as a good oil or lacquer prefinish will be more resistant to wear and tear, and staining.
Indigenous engineered oak flooring
Most of our engineered oak flooring has an overall thickness of 21mm. This is made up of a substantial 6mm surface layer and a 15mm multi-ply birch plywood below the joint. Birch is a preferable core material; there are other options but they are generally considered to be not as good. You can buy thinner boards (generally around 13mm and 16mm) if price is a key consideration and if there are height issues.
As mentioned earlier, engineered oak flooring can be sanded if need be, but very rarely do people do this; a quality wood floor should last generations without any need to. Indeed, you’re unlikely to sand it any more times than you would a solid floor – and you have 6mm of above-joint wood to work with, which is generally thicker than a solid.
Installing your floor
Engineered oak flooring can be laid pretty much anywhere, as long as the subfloor is dry and sound. Some designs are laid floating, where the boards are joined together but not fixed to the actual subfloor. We recommend a bonded installation, which provides even greater stability and acoustic benefits, including reduced foot noise.
In bathrooms, you need to think carefully. Engineered oak flooring is very stable but no wood product will tolerate water saturation. For this reason, spills will need to be mopped up quickly, largely to stop moisture seeping into the floor between the joints.
A quick recap
So, to summarise, when you’re buying engineered oak flooring, we recommend a design with: A quality surface layer - preferably measuring 6mm. A quality birch plywood core and base layer. And a hardwearing prefinish.
To find out more about our engineered oak flooring collections contact us, join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Or pop into our Burford showroom to talk through some interior ideas over a coffee!