Tell me about: Flooring

There is a bewildering array of different flooring types on the market and the choice can be intimidating. Here is some guidance to help you choose the right floor for you and to provide some additional information which should come in handy when talking to the trades about having a floor laid. As most people are familiar with carpet, below is some guidance to the other types of flooring available on the market.

The choice of flooring for your project can be daunting but it is important to get this right as it will affect the use and practicality of the space that you will be creating. You may well love the look of natural wood but if you have a young family and you are laying wood in a well trafficked area (like a hallway) you will be disappointed when a few years down the line it has been scuffed and scratched and looks a shadow of its former self.

When making a decision, it is best to first consider the performance that you want from a floor, and then reflect on the type of floor structure on which it is to be laid. Generally speaking, the more aggressive the environment, the more suitable ceramic or manmade flooring types will be.

I’m looking at floor choices for my bathrooms and kitchen...

These are areas with high humidity and where water spillages are likely to be common. In these areas, consider ceramic or porcelain tiles (good for underfloor heating), vinyl tiles (for a warm underfoot feel with radiator heating) or new, ultra-modern polished concrete (usually surprisingly expensive but nothing can come close to its raw appeal).

Unfortunately, wood or wood containing products are unsuitable for these areas.

I’ve got a young family and / or pets so I need my floor to be durable...

Consider vinyl tile or sheet flooring. We love this type of flooring as it is available in almost any finish and can be made to resemble most materials. It feels warm underfoot and is surprisingly strong and water resistant. The limiting factor with sheet vinyl is the width of the sheets; the sheets are welded together, and this forms a visible line between them. The weld material is also not as durable as the sheet and overtime this will fail. Vinyl tiles overcome this with multiple mechanical joins which forgo the need for a weld.

Natural stone looks fantastic and will last eons. However, it can be a tricky look to pull off unless you live in a rustic property.

Ceramic and porcelain tiles have good wear resistance, but ceramic tiles can be broken by impact, such as a hot lasagne dish being dropped from oven height. We favour porcelain tiles which are substantially stronger than the ceramic alternative and provide similar wear characteristics to stone. Porcelain options also offer the potential for using the same material both inside and outside which works beautifully with a living area which opens up via folding doors to a patio.

These choices are mid to high price range and should be laid by professional installers.

We are a mature/childless couple, we look after our home and have a healthy budget...

With a traditionally furnished older style home and a healthy budget you are well placed to consider timber flooring. You will need to take care of the floor and be conscious that high wear areas should be covered with loose rugs to protect the floor beneath, but nothing sets off a beautiful home quite like an attractive timber floor.

Much like a performance vehicle, you will need a high budget to purchase the flooring materials and only the best crafts persons should be employed to lay it. Consider what type of floor treatment you want: waxes hold great aesthetic appeal but will require regular reapplication and care, whilst a clear varnish finish offers a good balance between looks and durability whilst also allowing you to sand down and retreat the floor further down the line. Factory finished floors will look superb in the short to medium term but will be trickier to refinish in the long term.

If the floor is to be laid in a new extension with screed, allow a significant period of time for the screed to dry out (months not weeks) as any trapped moisture in the screed can destroy a timber floor and potentially require it to be relaid. A competent flooring contractor should talk about testing the floor screed for humidity content and should not be rushing to get it laid.

I've got a limited budget and I want to self lay...

In this situation you are looking at the purchase of laminate flooring. You will find a wide range of different floor colours to resemble anything from wood to marble and some of these will also be rated as suitable for wet areas. Please note that this rating is likely to mean spill resistant as opposed to the flooring being completely water impervious.

Most laminate flooring from DIY chains comes with detailed instructions for laying, but generally you will lay the flooring onto floorboards or screed and on top of a foam-like underlay. Sometimes the underlay will cost as much as the flooring itself so make sure you allow for this in your budget.

Like the timber floor option, laminate flooring needs an expansion gap around its edge. This means that you will need to allow for a 1cm or so gap between the edge of the flooring and the skirting board. This gap will be covered by a colour matched beam called a scotia trim which is nailed or glued to the skirting to finish off the floor. You will also need to allow for threshold strips in your budget. These strips sit at the bottom of each door opening and allow for transition between different surfaces and/or the concealing of the expansion gap. Choosing the right threshold strip can be tricky so get advice from the staff in store.

Installation methods...

The choice of flooring and type of structural deck will determine how the floor will be installed. These are the main types of installation:

Floating floor - In this type of installation the flooring is not fixed down and sits on top of the floor by merit of friction and its own weight. This type of installation is typical for laminate, interlocking engineered timber, vinyl tile and also carpet. For timber and laminate floating floors there will be an expansion gap around the edge that needs to be hidden. This can be done using a scotia bead or it can be hidden beneath the skirting boards. This is easy to achieve in new extensions, but will require the removal and refixing of the skirting in existing parts of the property. This may not be practicable in Victorian houses where the skirting boards are more substantial.

Fixed floor - Solid wood floor is typically fixed by nailing it down to the sub-floor. This is readily done on a level timber floor, however older floors in Victorian properties are likely to require preparation work to level them off. This is typically done by laying ply and hardboard onto the existing timber floorboards to create a level surface. Once the floor is level and the new flooring has been left in the property to acclimatise for a few days, it is then nailed or glued down to the sub base. The glue used for solid floors sets like chewing gum in order to allow for a degree of movement and shock absorption. This method is surprisingly expensive, so ensure that this has been allowed for in any quote that you receive. Even though the timber has been fixed down, an expansion gap is still required around the edge of the floor which can be hidden beneath the skirting or by using a scotia bead.

Tiled floor - Stone, ceramic and porcelain tiles are also fixed down to the floor using adhesive. The adhesives are rigid and brittle and require a completely solid sub base that will not deflect when it is loaded and unloaded. This means screeded or solid floors provide an effective base, however timber floors will need to be overlaid with cement backer boards and/or ply to ensure they provide a completely rigid surface. The tile adhesive allows for a degree of leveling to be achieved, but ideally the sub floor should be laid level before fixing the floor finish.

And finally...

Floor selection is tricky; not only must it match the visual aesthetic that you are trying to achieve but it must also offer the right balance of performance and cost. Vinyl planks and sheet flooring have come a long way in recent years and in our opinion offer a good balance of cost and performance. In addition they can also resemble almost any floor finish, so there will invariably be a colour match for any interior design scheme. For higher end finishes, we do love natural materials however please ensure that these are laid by professional installers with a track record of successful similar projects.