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HomeHelp and adviceThe ins-and-outs of solid wood flooring

The ins-and-outs of solid wood flooring

Richard Aylen takes an in-depth look at how clients can have very different perceptions of the durability of solid hardwood floors.

THIS month I want to re-visit a topic I talked about early last year: how clients can have very different perceptions of the durability of solid hardwood floors.

I’m sure this is something that will relate to other types of floor finish too. A recognition of this can influence the way manufacturers communicate with their customers.

I’d been surprised many times how the same floor product could be seen either as a tough workhorse or a rather delicate high-tech surface depending on the type of building the floor had been installed in.

In the sports and leisure market for example there’s often a tendency to think the floor is more fragile that it really is.

Since then, we’ve been blighted by the pandemic and this has meant many buildings have been put into service as vaccination and test centres – purposes they weren’t originally intended for.

Many of these buildings contain our solid hardwood floors in buildings such as sports halls, community centres and public buildings. From the start of government’s testing and vaccination programmes I received many questions from clients who were concerned about the risk of damaging their floors.

Should they use protection? Did they need special cleaning processes? Could they use adhesive marking tape? … and more besides.

So this was a good test for the some of the ideas I discussed last time – that a solid hardwood floor is a very versatile and tough surface, long lasting and easily to repair if the undesirable should happen – and clients shouldn’t worry too much about putting the floor to work.

It meant many clients who thought their floors were rather fragile were probably horrified to be invaded by the queuing public awaiting their covid tests or vaccinations, and they weren’t all wearing clean non-marking trainers.

The quality of barrier matting might be variable and because of one-way systems for visitors, external fire exits would be used to gain temporary access or egress from the hall, which would have brought a lot of dirt, grit, and moisture onto the floor.

Adhesive tape and signs were stuck to the surface, temporary partitions and barriers were built with fixings into the floor – so how would the floor bear this?

Previously I compared two different sites: one, a sports hall and the other a shopping centre, both fitted with similar solid hardwood floors. It was clear the shopping centre floor was perceived as durable, hard-wearing, long-lasting, repairable – a beautiful but dependable ‘workhorse’ of a floor that can also be refurbished many times over.

The client knew that it would take any number of tables and chairs, any amount of foot traffic and stand up to the variety of footwear worn by the public.

A good example is the food court at the Trafford Centre Retail complex in Manchester. This floor is Junckers 20mm solid oak, it’s more than 20 and still going strong.

A sports or dance floor will also be seen as long lasting and durable, but this will ONLY be so when it’s used specifically for those activities, and the client may become quite nervous at the prospect of using it for anything else.

However, I suggested the floor is actually far more versatile than they assume… and experience in fact bears this out. School premises managers will often ask if their sports hall can have tables and chairs put on it.

They’re going to fill the hall with chairs, will it bear the load? Can they use the floor for an open day or fill the hall with diners? Often, they assume it’ll need protection for all activities other than sports, and will ask us what the manufacturer recommends for protection.

I know that if I can reassure them the floor will be OK for all those activities without using protection, they’ll avoid the cost of temporary covering material and finding somewhere to store it.

Some clients are keen to allow roller skaters and tap dancers on their hardwood sports floor, but fear the surface will be damaged. Both activities are usually fine on solid hardwood floors and manufacturers will often have some simple guidelines for users to follow. Perhaps the most diverse list of activities the floor will need to accommodate is to be found in community halls.

These buildings can be used for sports, fitness, dance classes and the like but also for social functions, dining, meetings and similar. Community hall committees often depend upon a full booking schedule to keep revenue flowing in.

They tend to give their floors a harder time by getting as much use out of the floor as they can, and still a solid hardwood floor will last for decades given proper care and maintenance. They really make their floors work hard, but that’s what a solid hardwood floor is designed to do.

Of course, the floor will show signs of use, the surface finish will wear, dents and scratches will appear, but solid hardwood floors are actually quite hard to destroy and can be refurbished many times over. In the medium-term the surface will be protected by maintenance coats of lacquer which see off the effects of minor damage and foot traffic for many years.

But why do owners of some dedicated sports facilities have such a cautious approach to using their floors for ‘non-sports’ activities?

Sports floors main selling points are their technical performance. If manufacturers talk about critical surface friction levels, special ‘sprung’ batten systems, laboratory testing and certification and the like, then we are perhaps inviting clients to think that a thoroughbred floor may not be suitable for the knockabout treatment that can happen with everyday multi-purpose use.

The limitations of other types of floorcovering may also lead customers to think that hardwood has similar shortcomings, eg, if a thick cushion vinyl floor needs to be covered up for some types of ‘non-sports’ use, then they may assume that the same will apply to all types of sports floors.

During the lockdown period in 2020, when vaccination and testing centres were being set up many building owners and other stakeholders wanted to know the limitations of their floor; would it be damaged, would they need surface protection or not, if so, what type?

They also asked how to clean the floor effectively and could they use disinfectants safely. It was clear in some cases the change of use had been imposed on unwilling building managers and they were looking for information from us to make a case against the decision. I’m afraid in most cases like that we weren’t a lot of help.

For some there was a real fear of using a dedicated sports or community hall with a solid hardwood floor for public access involving large numbers of visitors in outdoor shoes and sundry furniture and fittings.

As I mentioned earlier, the planned change of use wasn’t significantly different from a busy office reception, retail, or dining establishment so it was very much a known quantity for us.

We recommended temporary surface protection only for areas where the floor would routinely become wet – not a major requirement as it turned out. Where it was likely the floor would become scuffed and marked, and here I mean wear-and-tear rather than severe damage, the client was generally happy with the suggestion they’ve cleaned and sealed it with a maintenance coat of lacquer when the floor is put back to normal use.

We were asked many times for advice on disinfection of floors, anti-bacterial cleaners being ineffective against viruses, but the picture that emerged over time showed that this was probably an ‘ideal’ rather than mandatory, and therefore a continuing programme of conventional cleaning was satisfactory.

For a disinfectant to be effective it usually needs to be left on the surface for some time. This could cause slip resistance problems if the disinfectant wasn’t specifically intended for use on floors. We learned some disinfectants can be strongly alkaline and with repeated use may damage lacquered and synthetic surfaces.

Therefore, I believe many clients didn’t go down this route and I’m pleased to say I didn’t receive cries for help from customers who had damaged their floors. The fact is, a solid hardwood floor has a lot more to offer the client than simply being a technically advanced sports surface, and the lifespan will often be many times longer than say a synthetic or engineered wood floor.

A case in point is a 22mm Junckers Beech floor that we supplied in 1964 to a secondary school dance studio not far from our offices in Essex. It’s still giving good service, and we’re told it’s hired out annually for a local beer festival, so no kid gloves here.

You don’t have to treat a solid hardwood floor like a fragile or delicate surface. Just enjoy it, make it work for you. Be sensible, but don’t be over-sensitive.

It will take some hard treatment, it’s designed to, and when the battle scars appear you can refurbish it… time and time again. 
www.junckers.co.uk

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