Oak flooring is extremely popular for several reasons. One of the chief ones is that it looks outstanding: warm, honey-coloured floors that can form the basis of any number of different styles of decoration. But flooring comes in many different forms – solid oak, engineered oak, laminate, parquet… and each of these has a different impact on the environment.
Solid oak flooring
The simplest and arguably the most popular option is solid oak flooring. This is exactly what it sounds like: planks of oak and nothing more. They will have been sawn from trees perhaps 200 or 300 years old, generally sourced from the UK and Europe (if you are based in the UK). It looks great and is regarded as ‘the real thing’. It also happens to have pretty good insulating properties, cutting down your energy bill in the winter and keeping the house cooler in the summer.
There are caveats, but if you do a little research you can make sure that the company has a good ethical approach. This will involve sourcing their wood from managed woodland, so that the trees are replaced and the overall ecosystem protected and maintained. Many companies will make sure they plant more trees than they fell; this is in their own interests, since it helps ensure the long-term viability of their business. There are also questions about when the logs are moved (winter is often a bad time) and the drying and curing process, which may be more or less energy intensive. Assuming they meet a few basic guidelines, though, solid oak flooring can be an extremely environmentally friendly option.
Engineered oak and other products
There are many other forms of oak flooring available, and some of these do have certain advantages over solid oak. Engineered oak is very popular at the moment. This consists of a layer of oak (typically 5 or 6 mm) bonded to a thicker layer of plywood. This uses around a quarter of the oak, but it looks much the same. It also has different physical properties. It is more stable, and tends to react less to changes in heat or humidity. It is generally the preferred option if the house has underfloor heating for this reason, or if it is in an area which experiences extremes of damp and dryness.
However, these advantages have to be balanced against other concerns. Despite its stability, engineered oak is considered inferior to the ‘real thing’, and this may be reflected in the value of the home if you sell. It is also more expensive to buy. Plus, the more processing a product requires, the worse it is for the environment. Plywood involves various chemicals and processes to produce. This problem gets worse when you start to look at more complex forms of laminate flooring.
The choice of whether to go for solid oak flooring or a variation on the theme will depend on a number of factors – cost, conditions in your home and the environment being some. Each have advantages and disadvantages. The main thing is to make sure the company is open and honest about their approach. In the 21st century, being ill-informed is no defence: if they aren’t up-front about their environmental policy, chances are it’s because they consider it too much trouble to think about.
This article was supplied by English oak flooring suppliers, Sutton Timber. Sutton Timber source hardwoods from privately owned woodlands and government forests across the UK and Europe.