06 Mar 2014

Flooring: The evolution of wooden flooring

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Quality wood floors not only provide a wealth of options in terms of style; they also score in terms of sound eco-choice and performance, as well as providing a raft of healthy living benefits. In this article, Harvey Booth, Country Manager at Kährs, looks at the eco-credentials of using wooden flooring.

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During recent years, the wood floor has evolved. Once rarely seen outside of the contemporary or historic home environment, it is now widely specified. Both trade and consumer customers recognise its numerous benefits and, as products go, there are a lot.

This increase in popularity has seen the humble wooden floor transform from an almost structural component, to a key design element - and leading manufacturers have responded by developing a new breed of designer products to fulfil customer demand. But, rather than setting out to re-invent the wheel, the new wood floors use cutting-edge techniques to reinforce their natural look and to create a designer edge without compromising beauty.

New stained lacquers, oils and finishing treatments are being used to emphasise the grain and texture of a real wood floor – and traditional solvent-based varnishes have been replaced with eco-friendly treatments. Even floor joints are playing their part, as most manufacturers turn to glueless locking methods.

Multi-layered construction

Beyond the myriad of product designs and finishes, the modern multi-layered or engineered construction has also played a huge part in the evolution of wood flooring. Unlike a solid wood floor, which is made from one solid piece of timber, a multi-layered construction comprises layers of timber, laid at right angles to each other. There are many advantages to this method. As sustainable hardwood is only used in the surface layer, five times the amount of flooring can be produced with the same hardwood yield, whilst fast growing pine or spruce is used in the core layers.

The construction also makes the floor more stable. All wood species swell in a warm, humid environment and shrink in the cool and dry. In a solid construction, this natural movement can cause gaps to occur between boards or for flooring boards to become concave or convex. With a quality engineered board, which is constructed in layers, the floor expands and contracts as a complete surface, making it up to 75% more stable. Combined with a quality joint, this eliminates the risk of any gaps or problems associated with humidity from occurring – and makes it an ideal partner to underfloor heating. Floors can also be refurbished, the same as a solid product – for example, down to the joint – so they offer comparable benefits in terms of longevity too.

Eco-savvy designs

In today’s competitive market, producers are also working in more imaginative ways to specifically fulfil the demands of eco-savvy customers. Kährs has also taken this one step further, by developing a world-first range of sustainable tropical floors. Produced as part of the first FSC and Fairtrade certified timber small-scale forestry project, in Chile’s Curacautin Valley, the new floors are made using a combination of sustainable native Rauli and Roble hardwood timber. The hardwood is used in the surface layer only, whilst FSC Mix certified wood is used for the core layers, combining eco and performance benefits once again. The new range supports not only the restoration of biodiversity in the forest, but also reduction of poverty and restoration of forest rights to the indigenous Mapuche and descendants of pioneer family foresters.

As well as offering sustainable species and certified products, eco-focused manufacturers are making huge strides behind the scenes, in terms of ensuring their whole production is more eco-friendly. For example, at Kährs plant in Sweden local timber sourcing cuts down on transportation and wood waste is converted to provide a variety of products - from biofuel energy to rich ash-based forest fertiliser.

A new breed of floor

Today’s new breed of wooden flooring certainly has a lot to offer, in terms of design, performance and eco credentials. It’s a product that has been loved by builders for centuries. It has proved the versatility to evolve, whilst still retaining its original charm and benefits. It looks like the enduring popularity of wood is set to grow still further.

With more than 150 years in the business, Kährs is one of the oldest manufacturers of wood floors in the world. The company was born in 1857 in the town of Nybro, deep in the heart of a Swedish forest, exactly where it is still located today. The wood knowledge accumulated over the years has been passed down from generation to generation.

The company are constantly discussing new ideas of how to improve wood floors. All floors throughout Kährs Artisan Collection feature the multi-layered construction method discussed earlier, which uses sustainable oak down to the joint only, with a combination of fast-growing spruce, pine and poplar below.

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