A Buyer’s Guide to Floor Fin­ishes

What’s on trend when it comes to floor fin­ishes? And which make the best sense for your project? Mark Brink­ley ex­plores the pros and cons of the main op­tions avail­able to the self-builder and ren­o­va­tor to­day

Homebuilding & Renovating - - Contents -

ON THE COVER There are many fac­tors which im­pact on your choice of floor­ing in your new home. From car­pet to wood floor­ing, Mark Brink­ley ex­plores the pros and cons of the main op­tions avail­able

A ni­mal, veg­etable or min­eral was once a very pop­u­lar word game — it’s also a good place to start think­ing about your floor fin­ish. An­i­mal mat­ter, usu­ally wool, is used for and car­pet; stone, whether tim­ber is nat­u­ral classed or as man-made, a veg­etable, is clearly a min­eral. But which should you use? Un­for­tu­nately, the choice is not quite so straight­for­ward. Many car­pets are now made of sisal, sea­grass, coir or jute, in other words veg­eta­bles. And the floor­ing stores are cur­rently full of porce­lain tiles (min­eral) with a tim­ber-like fin­ish. Or take a peek at the LVT (lux­ury vinyl tile) cat­a­logues and see man­u­fac­tur­ers’ con­vinc­ing ranges of stone and wood-ef­fect tiles. Then ponder on whether vinyl is a min­eral or a veg­etable. All op­tions come with a wide spread of prices. You can pur­chase lam­i­nate floor­ing for less than £5/m2, while it’s not hard to find floor­ing op­tions cost­ing over £100/m2. With a typ­i­cal self-build in­ter­nal floor area of 150m2, your choice of floor fin­ish will have a ma­jor ef­fect on your over­all bud­get. A £5/m2 floor is not as pleas­ing to look at as an ex­pen­sive one and, as a self-builder, you will have to live with the floor long af­ter in­stal­la­tion costs are for­got­ten. As a gen­eral rule, tim­ber is gor­geous to look at when laid, but it re­quires on­go­ing main­te­nance to con­tinue look­ing good and is prob­a­bly best avoided in kitchens and bath­rooms. Nat­u­ral stone looks bet­ter (slightly) than man-made al­ter­na­tives but like tim­ber, can re­quire more care when lay­ing as well as on-go­ing main­te­nance. Car­pet is still pop­u­lar but is rarely used out­side bed­rooms. And tiles? Rub­ber, cork, vinyl and linoleum are all still widely used, mostly in bath­rooms and util­ity ar­eas.

The Im­pact of Un­der­floor Heat­ing

If you spec­ify un­der­floor heat­ing, you need to con­sider the ef­fect it has on your floor above. It works on the prin­ci­ple of us­ing the en­tire floor sur­face as a heater and it can be laid in a wet screed or it can be clipped un­der a tim­ber floor. Its re­sul­tant per­for­mance is rather dif­fer­ent. A heavy screed works like a stor­age heater, tak­ing a long time to heat up and cool down. It there­fore tends to work best with ei­ther thin vinyl tiles or thicker stone or porce­lain tiles which ab­sorb the heat. In con­trast, tim­ber and thick car­pet are mod­er­ately good in­su­la­tors and so they make the un­der­floor heat­ing work harder to get the same ef­fect. When laid un­der these floor fin­ishes, the un­der­floor heat­ing acts like a con­ven­tional ra­di­a­tor sys­tem, in that the room heats up and cools down quickly.

Lay­ing Floor Fin­ishes Over a Screed

If you are us­ing a wet screed on your ground floor – most peo­ple do – great care must be taken to en­sure that your screed has fully dried out be­fore you lay any cover over it. Any water sit­ting in the screed will find a way out even­tu­ally and, in do­ing so, it may ruin a floor cover, es­pe­cially a tim­ber one. Con­ven­tional wis­dom states that you should al­low a day’s dry­ing for ev­ery mil­lime­tre of screed, which trans­lates to around two months for a 65mm screed. Un­der­floor heat­ing can be used to speed the process up, but even here it must be used with cau­tion. Heed the ad­vice of your floor­ing con­trac­tor — don’t rush the floor fin­ish. Most floor­ing con­trac­tors rec­om­mend that if you want a tim­ber floor over un­der­floor heat­ing, you should fit an en­gi­neered tim­ber floor rather than solid floor­ing, as it is more sta­ble and less prone to move­ment. And if you fit a stone or porce­lain floor, you should use an anti-frac­ture mem­brane un­der­neath to re­duce the pos­si­ble risk of ther­mal crack­ing.

On Trend

Pol­ished con­crete can produce a won­der­ful look­ing floor and is avail­able in a wide range of colours. It’s a job done al­most ex­clu­sively by spe­cial­ists and the costs are in ex­cess of £100/m2, which puts it firmly at the up­per end of the cost spectrum. How­ever, it is a

“As a self-builder you will have to live with the floor long af­ter in­stal­la­tion costs are for­got­ten”

one-step process which does away with the need for a screed. Many ap­par­ently well­priced stone or porce­lain floor op­tions end up cost­ing just as much, once screed and lay­ing costs have been fac­tored in. Pol­ished con­crete re­quires a lot of prepa­ra­tion and it’s not some­thing to be jumped into lightly. Con­sider it from the out­set of your project.

Wood-ef­fect Porce­lain

Ital­ian porce­lain man­u­fac­tur­ers have been per­fect­ing tech­niques for photo-etch­ing the sur­face of their tiles and we are now see­ing ranges of porce­lain floor tiles which are con­vinc­ing copies of nat­u­ral floor sur­faces, no­tably tim­ber. How­ever, with some priced at over £50/m2, more than tim­ber floors, why not fit the real thing? The an­swer lies in its main­te­nance-free qual­i­ties, which makes porce­lain a very pop­u­lar choice for self-builders and ren­o­va­tors.

Nat­u­ral Stone Tiles

Stone tiles, as op­posed to ce­ramic or porce­lain, are quar­ried from the ground and not man­u­fac­tured. Each quarry is dif­fer­ent; in­deed each seam is dif­fer­ent, so you have a lit­tle bit of nat­u­ral his­tory in your home — es­pe­cially if you se­lect a lime­stone in which fos­sils are vis­i­ble. How­ever, stone floors take a lot of look­ing af­ter, both in the lay­ing and af­ter­care. Gen­er­ally, big­ger rooms look best with larger tiles and the costs of stone tile floors in­crease as the tile size in­creases. Stone also tends to get worked into dif­fer­ent fin­ishes, such as pol­ished, tum­bled or honed.


The big de­bate on tim­ber floors is whether to go for a nat­u­ral wood plank, or to opt for an en­gi­neered tim­ber floor which is, typ­i­cally, a 3mm ve­neer (ide­ally more if you want to sand it back in the fu­ture) of a spe­cific tim­ber laid on top of a 12mm ply­wood base. Prices are sim­i­lar: the en­gi­neered tim­ber uses less ex­pen­sive wood but takes time to pre­pare. Many self-builders are at­tracted to nat­u­ral wood, for the same rea­son they like nat­u­ral stone, but both can be tem­per­a­men­tal to lay and to look af­ter. The en­gi­neered ver­sion is there­fore be­com­ing more pop­u­lar, es­pe­cially when laid over un­der­floor heat­ing.

Floor­ing Choices Ul­ti­mate Ex­pres­sions cush­ion vinyl in Goldie, from Av­enue Floors, £12.60/m2 ( right); Raj Beige lime­stone from Beswick Stone, is suit­able for in­te­rior floor­ing as well as ex­te­rior pa­tios and paths, £29/ m2 ( be­low).

Bath­room Op­tion Rub­ber floor­ing ( shown left) is still widely used, mostly in bath­rooms and util­ity ar­eas. The rub­ber stud tile from Har­vey Maria in Fos­sil Grey is avail­able at £49.95/m2.

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