Steve Grimwood of Osmo UK provides an insight into the various benefits of wood flooring, and why specifiers should choose natural finish options
Wooden flooring is a beautiful feature of any home, but it is important to understand that as an organic matter, it will continue to need nourishment to ensure it stays in the best possible condition, both aesthetically and structurally. My best advice to architects, specifiers and contractors is to make use of a high-quality finish, one that’s full of natural ingredients, to complement the wood’s properties. This will ensure that the wood continues to breathe and respond well to environmental conditions, removing any possibility of cracking and or blistering.
A desired result for many is the natural, rustic look. To maintain this, the finish applied needs to add durability to the wood surface, protecting it from every day wear-and-tear, stains and dirt. In this situation, a clear matt finish would be the answer. The finish will not detract from the overall beauty of the natural wood, but will make it more robust, adding to the longevity. Oil and wax finishes penetrate deeply into the wood to create a micro-porous finish. This allows the wood to breathe, moisture to evaporate and ensures a flawless finish both upon application and for many years to come.
After treatment the wood is strengthened from within, and retains its elasticity. It becomes water repellent, stain resistant and more hardwearing, because it meets the wood’s natural requirements, and does not crack, flake, peel or blister. This makes it an ideal choice for commercial projects where the wooden flooring needs to last, alongside remaining aesthetically pleasing.
Another feature of wooden finishes is the ability to apply colour to your flooring. Tired or dull rooms can quickly be converted to gain a vibrant and exciting appearance. Whether it is a simple tint to change the shade of the wood, or a complete overhaul to a refreshing bold colour tone – this can be a quick-fix way of improving the appearance of the room.
Products are available on the market that address these needs; they have been designed to combine creative design and perfect protection. Not only do they offer visual enhancement, but also a finish that maintains the natural characteristics of the wood.
A current trend within UK homes is for light-wash appearance flooring. Going for a pale finish can give an impression of increased space – essential when many people are investing more in improvements, over relocating. Additionally, a lighter finish can really open up the room – this is especially helpful when designing a space with limited natural light.
Depending on the location of the floor, safety needs to be considered when specifying the finish. Like any hard-flooring material, wood can become slippery when wet, resulting in a slip hazard. To rectify this issue, many anti-slip finishes have been introduced to the UK market. These products apply a clear anti-slip finish to the floor, which doesn’t compromise the overall appearance.
Prior to the application of finishes, it is essential to ensure the flooring is adequately prepared in order to achieve the best results. Whether it is a newly laid floor or an old renovation, sanding out uneven surfaces will enable the finish to achieve a better result. Without proper preparation and the removal of pre-existing treatments and varnishes, new finishes may appear uneven and will not saturate the surface sufficiently to perform the required job.
Natural finishes & wellness
For many years, finishes for hardwood floors have been criticised for the odours they produce and this has left clients complaining about the smell or having to leave their home during hardwood floor refinishing. This situation arises because most conventional oil-based hardwood finishes contain high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which produce gases that can be detrimental to health when breathed in. VOCs can be found in stains, lacquer and other finishes and when applied, the gases become airborne. Not only is this unpleasant to put up with, but it can be harmful.
The reason oil-based finishes are formulated with solvents (or VOCs) is to improve performance and durability. These benefits need to be balanced with the real cost. If the continuing use of this type of product comes at the price of customer satisfaction, as well as a long term detrimental effect on the environment, then their future use needs to be called into question. Thankfully, awareness is growing of the possible health risks associated with effects on air quality, and this concern has driven the demand for products with lower VOCs. Extensive research and development has bought about a situation where there are products available that are low in VOCs, which release minimal gas and are virtually odour-free during application.
My advice would be to pick eco-friendly oil/wax-based finishes that contain natural vegetable oils and natural vegetable waxes.
Steve Grimwood is managing director of Osmo UK