Choosing floor covering used to mean picking a colour of shag-pile carpet. Luckily, nowadays there is a huge range of options available to us lucky DIY-ers to choose from. But exactly what is available and what are the pro’s and con’s of each type? Here is a run-down of the most popular floor coverings, and although it is not definitive, should help you make a more informed choice.
Despite the huge increase in laminate or wood flooring, carpet is still the most popular floor covering (in the UK anyway). The majority of carpets are made from wool, synthetic materials or a mixture of the two. You can buy a huge range of colours, styles, and thicknesses. Carpet is comfortable to sit and stand on; it’s also warm and can help to deaden the echo in a room. Carpet is also relatively cheap and easy to lay and can be cut to fit even the most awkward room. The durability of carpet, especially in high traffic areas, depends on the quality and the type of weave used. Obviously the better the quality, the more expensive it will be. Think about colours when you choose carpet. A small room can be made to seem bigger with a light coloured carpet, whilst a large room can be made to feel cosier and warmer with a rich, dark colour.
As with carpet, linoleum (or lino) is available in a huge range of styles, colours and thicknesses, helping it shed the image of granny’s 1970’s kitchen floor the name tends to bring with it. Lino is made from a composition of resins, oils and gums and modern production techniques mean that it is highly durable whilst remaining easy to lay. It adds a certain amount of cushioning to the floor (perhaps saving some crockery disasters) and is easy to clean. However, if persistent damp manages to get underneath the lino, there is little you can do to stop it rotting.
Although not particularly nice to walk around on in bare feet, fibre mating, made from sisal or seagrass, is very hard wearing. It is therefore ideal for high traffic areas such as hallways. You can buy it in a range of colours and weave styles and it is fairly easy to fit. Fibre matting will hide stains and is easy to clean. You probably wouldn’t want it throughout the house, but in certain areas this material makes for a cost effective floor covering.
There has been a huge rise in the popularity of wooden floors, whether that means laminate or hardwood. Period houses all over the country have seen the carpets ripped up to expose the floorboards which would have once been a sign of less well-off households. If you are lucky enough to have floorboards in good condition, take advantage of it! Rip up that carpet, strip and clean the boards and treat them with a nice stain or varnish. You might even find a beautiful Parquet floor! If you plan to lay Laminate, make sure you first lay a protective underlay, which will both improve the life of the flooring and increase insulation. Laminate flooring is quite easy to mark and can be very slippery if polished.
Vinyl is a semi-hard floor covering that is easy to clean, waterproof and resistant to oils and fat. This makes it ideal for kitchens and this is exactly where you will most often find it. It is available in a wide range of colours and patterns (you can even get vinyl with quartz crystals embedded in it) and also as varying sized tiles. It is easy to cut and to fit, but once it is stuck down, can be very hard to remove. The comfort vinyl offers is dependant on the quality. Thick vinyl flooring will feel cushioned and warm under your feet, whilst thinner, cheaper grades will obviously feel harder and colder. It can also be burnt quite easily and will become very slippery when wet.
Cork tiles are most often seen in bathrooms where their absorbency helps stop the floor becoming slippery. They are very hardwearing and warm to the touch if you use a thicker grade. They are also very easy to cut and fairly easy to lay if the floor is flat and clean. This, however, highlights the first problem with cork tiles; they need to be laid on a very flat surface. The tiles will further highlight any unevenness in the floor. Another problem is that cork tiles are only available in a small range of colours, so unless you want a light brown floor, they are not really a great choice. In some cases, cork tiles will need to be coated with an acid catalyst sealer. This is pretty horrible stuff to use and requires a facemask to be worn at all times during application.
Ceramic tiles are hardwearing and look very good. You can buy them in a wide array of colours and styles, with prices ranging from cheap to incredibly expensive. Unglazed tiles will need regular washing and can absorb oils, but the glazed tiles will repel any dirt or moisture. Ceramic tiles needs to be laid on a very firm sub-floor and can take a bit of skill to lay properly, but the results can be fantastic. Can be cold to the touch in winter, but this is a blessing in the height of summer.
Slate is an incredibly hard wearing flooring material and laid correctly can last a lifetime. It suits period property better than new build, but that is not to say that you shouldn’t have it in your modern kitchen. Slate is available smooth or textured to suit. The only real drawback is that it can be very expensive to buy.
Rubber is a more expensive alternative to vinyl. It is usually only available in a small range of colours and textures, but is anti-slip and resistant to almost all spillages. Rubber flooring can be bought in sheets or tiles and is relatively simple to lay.
Environmentally Friendly Floor Coverings
If you are considering getting new floor coverings, it is worth remembering that there are many green options available. Traditional synthetic rubber-backed carpet is not very environmentally sound to produce and very hard to recycle. It can also last a very long time in landfill.
A growing number of DIY stores and timber merchants are offering bamboo floorboards for sale. Bamboo is a strong, durable and moisture-resistant material, and because it is a fast-growing grass, it is easily sustainable. Bamboo floorboards do not warp or bend as wood sometimes does, and it is free from knots and other irregularities. For a totally green option, make sure the bamboo boards do not contain synthetic glues or sealants.
Because cork flooring is produced by only stripping the bark of the cork tree, and because the tree then regenerates the bark over the next 9-10 years, cork is a easily sustainable material. The cultivation of cork trees requires neither fertilisers or pesticides for a successful crop. Cork flooring is very warm and adds a layer of insulation to the sub-floor. It can help reduce noise and will not collect dust. Go for non-pvc coated tiles for the completely green option.
Coir is made from the hairy outer husk of coconuts. This means that it can be harvested over and over again without killing the parent tree. Coir is very hard-wearing but can feel a little bit coarse so it is best suited for heavy traffic, non-living areas such as hallways and stairs.
Seagrass matting is made from several different types of seagrass woven tightly together. Seagrass is cultivated fairly easily and grows quickly naturally so it is a good sustainable material. Seagrass is naturally antistatic and resists stains well, however it is not ideal for rooms which get damp or high traffic areas as the naturally waxy fibres can become slippery.
Jute is woven from the fibres taken from the stalks of the jute or cochorus plant. The resulting material is soft and warm but also absorbent, so it is not always suitable for kitchens and bathrooms, or areas which might get damp. It is, however, perfect for bedrooms and other living areas of the house.
Sisal matting is naturally antistatic and even antibacterial. It is made from the tightly woven fibres of the Agave plant. Sisal flooring is durable and will last well if maintained properly. It is not suitable for kitchens and bathrooms as it marks and stains fairly easily.