For many reasons, timber has become the most popular choice in flooring for home renovators and builders. Out of fashion during the seventies and eighties, timber flooring has made a comeback with today’s homeowners because of its durability, aesthetic appeal and relative ease of maintenance.
While many homeowners are choosing timber flooring for every room of the house — with the exception of wet areas — some are opting for timber for the main living areas and carpet for the bedrooms.Timber is a good choice for young families as it’s hardwearing, allows flexibility in design and furnishings, and with modern insulation methods can absorb both noise and moisture.When deciding on a timber floor you’ll need to know the types of timber flooring you desire, the grade you require, the species you like and the finish that best suits your home
Types of timber flooring
Below are the three main types of timber flooring. Each has its pros and cons depending on where and how you intend to use it, the type of wear and tear it will be expected to withstand, your budget and your taste.
These floors are, as the name suggests, made of solid timber. Solid timber floors are generally 19mm thick and can be made from either softwoods, such as cypress pine, or hardwoods, such as bluegum. Solid timber floors come in a huge variety of colours and are permanent fixtures in the home.Delivered unfinished, a solid timber floor will then be installed, sanded and polished on-site. The floorboards are cut with a tongue and groove and are suitable for laying over bearers, joists and concrete. They are available in standard widths of 60mm, 80mm and 130mm and may be cut wider depending on the timber.Most solid timber floorboards will be either secret-nailed, meaning the nails are hidden, or top-nailed, meaning the nails run through the top of the board and are therefore visible. Any solid timber floorboard with a width greater than 120mm will need to be both top-nailed and secret-nailed due to the thickness-to-width ratio and to avoid a cupping effect.
Solid timber overlay
A relatively new invention, solid timber overlay floors are much thinner than solid timber floors — generally about 12mm thick, compared with a solid timber floor which is about 19mm thick — and can be laid directly over concrete slabs or existing floors. Their thickness (or thinness) is the reason they are not suited to use over battens or joists.Solid timber overlay floors are cheaper than solid timber floors and easier to lay as they usually feature a joining mechanism. The boards are available only in 85mm width.Solid timber overlay floors are extremely useful when two flooring surfaces (of differing heights) are to be used throughout the home, as they can generally be tailored to your requirements and allow you to achieve an even, level floor throughout. A solid timber overlay floor can be sanded just like a regular timber floor.Parquetry flooring, which is about 18mm thick and comprises individual timber blocks laid in pattern, is also suitable for adhering directly to concrete or plywood.
Floating timber floors
Floating timber floors are becoming more popular with today’s renovators as they are generally cheaper and easier to install while still offering a natural look and feel. Floating floors are glued or ‘click’ together. Floating timber floors are made with a timber veneer (usually a hardwood), which is adhered to plywood and then attached to the floor surface. The actual timber veneer is only 3-4mm thick. As with both solid timber and solid timber overlays, floating floors come in a wide variety of colours. Floating timber floors are pre-finished (which cannot be altered or changed) and generally require no sanding or polishing.
Grades of timber
The grade refers to the level of visible natural features. These features either occur naturally or are caused by insects, fires or exposure to the sun. Depending on your personal taste and the style of your home, you will choose from three main grades of timber used in timber flooring.
The building and renovation market as a whole tends to prefer select grade timber, which is generally the most expensive grade, depending on the species of timber chosen.
Depending on the species of timber, standard grade (also known as medium feature grade) usually works out around 20-25 per cent cheaper than select grade. Although standard grade floorboards have more visible features than select grade, it’s still possible to achieve a contemporary look with their use, as most boards will have just one or two features per length.
Rustic grade offers homeowners a natural look. The boards are heavily featured and are best used in homes where a more country or rustic feel is desired. Rustic grade timber flooring is usually around 30-40 per cent cheaper than select grade.
There’s a huge variety of timber species available for use in timber flooring. It’s important to be aware of the environmental issues that may influence your choice of timber. Generally speaking, a timber that comes from a renewable or plantation source (such as bamboo, cypress pine or blackbutt) is an environmentally sound choice.Choosing your species is like selecting from a colour palette. There are three main colour groups of timbers and each of these groups features several species.
Honey and blond shades
Honey or blond shades of timber offer a cool, contemporary look. They are best suited to more modern homes with a minimalist feel. These lighter shades work well with a pale or neutral colour palette throughout the rest of the home. A blond or honey shade of timber can open up a room and give a feeling of space. Examples of honey or blond timbers are bamboo, Australian beech, blackbutt, alpine ash and Tasmanian oak.
Earthy browns and brunettes
Earthy browns, brunettes and golds offer a warm yet modern feel to a room. Brown absorbs light, so a room may appear cosier or even smaller using a timber from this colour palette. These timbers are most suited to homes where the decor is less contemporary and sleek, and more comfortable and warm. A colour palette of earthy tones throughout the rest of the home would suit timbers in this category. Examples of brown, brunette and gold timbers are tallowwood, Sydney bluegum, spotted gum, brushbox and turpentine.
Timeless, elegant and luxuriously rich, red timbers ooze warmth and give a room a cosy, traditional feeling. Because they are darker than their blond or brown counterparts, they tend to close in a room slightly. The most commonly used timber for flooring is jarrah, which is also one of the most durable and hardwearing.
Choosing a finish
To some degree, your choice of species, grade and type of flooring will determine your finish, but there are three main finishes to choose from. Although they have differing lifespans, each of these finishes can generally be recoated by cleaning, lightly sanding and reapplying.
Tung oil or other oil finishes create a semi-gloss look on timber flooring. Tung oil is quick drying and leaves behind a soft film. When applied, it’s absorbed into the surface of the timber and allows natural shrinkage and expansion to occur without accentuating the gaps between the boards. For this reason, tung oil is recommended for all tongue-and-groove and overlay timber flooring products less than three years old. Oil finishes can be recoated to restore their appearance or maintained with acrylic polishes. Tung oil and other oil finishes last around three years before they need recoating. These finishes can yellow with age.
Modern polyurethane finishes (one- or two-part), provide a smooth, hard, glossy surface. A semi-gloss finish is also available. Because these finishes flow into the tongue-and-groove joint and glue the boards together, when natural shrinkage occurs, floorboards can clump together at irregular spacings and splitting can occur. This finish is produced when a chemical reaction occurs between the polyurethane and the moisture in its immediate area: if too much moisture is present the finish will cure externally but not throughout the timber; if too little moisture is present the finish will not cure at all. This product is not recommended on tongue-and-groove and overlay timber flooring products less than three years old as it won’t allow the floorboards to move with changes in moisture. It is recommended for use on all parquetry flooring.
Water-borne or acrylic polyurethane is a quick-drying finish. Usually this finish is hardwearing but flexible. It’s prone to reducing the natural features and colour of the timber and will require several coats to achieve the same look as an oil-based finish. Water-based finishes are slightly more expensive than other finishes and usually need recoating every three to five years.