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
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.
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.
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.