The choice of flooring materials and finishes is enormous, but read our expert guide and you’ll soon figure out what you want under your feet
The choice of flooring is one of the important factors in improving your home; it involves all sorts of factors from aesthetics to energy efficiency.
The main factor in material choice is of course type of use. You almost certainly will not want the same type of flooring in your living room, kitchen and bathroom, for instance.
Whether you are building a new home or refurbishing a period property, getting the right type of material usually comes first, and style, efficiency and budget will probably all be factors. Let’s look at some of the options.
(Image: 23 Henleaze Gardens by Pete Helme Photography, courtesy of Berkeley Place)
Stone flooring is of course very traditional, and has the main advantage of being hard-wearing, but can work equally well in modern or traditional homes. Costs can vary from around £20/sqm for slate, to £30/sqm for solid stone.
Tiling is available in thousands of designs and finishes, so you should be able to find a type that suits you perfectly. Ceramic types are the most economical, costing from around £10/sqm, with porcelain types more expensive at around £20/sqm. Both are hardwearing and easy to maintain.
See also: Brighten Up Your Living Space With Tiles
The common solution in period homes, particularly on upper floors, wooden flooring can be made to work in either classic or contemporary styles. Cost is from around £25-30/sqm.
An alternative to shard wood is bamboo, which is relatively cheap to produce yet durable. Though it doesn’t offer the same range of finishes as hardwood, it can be coloured darker by heating. Cost is around £20/sqm.
Engineered wood (laminated timber) is increasingly popular because it can look as good as solid timber, but offers better resistance to water and movement. The core board is made of compressed wood fibres, with the material then covered in a melamine wear layer, giving it considerable durability.
Laminate is often impressed with a printed image of a wood finish to make it look like solid wood, but is a lot easier to fit because it uses a tongue-and-groove system requiring no nails (though in some cases it needs to be glued to the existing floor). Costs varies enormously according to the quality of the laminate, from around £6/sqm to £25/sqm.
Vinyl or linoleum is no longer the cheap, poor quality option it used to be; durable, water-resistant and available in a huge range of designs, vinyl can also mimic wood or stone, giving you the best of both worlds at a cost of around £20/sqm. Vinyl can be supplied in a roll, or as planks or tiles, at a cost of around £30-40/sqm.
Carpet is popular for living rooms and bedrooms, as it’s warm, comfortable and quiet underfoot. Of course it’s not ideal for wet areas such as bathrooms and kitchens, and in heavy traffic areas such as hallways and landings you will need a very durable carpet to avoid rapid wear. A synthetic material carpet could cost around £20/sqm, while wool might cost £30/sqm. Other materials are available, such as jute, sisal, seagrass and coir, all sustainable, allergy-friendly and hard wearing.
Ideal for a smooth modern industrial look, concrete is extremely hardwearing, so it’s good value for money. It’s also less eco-unfriendly than you might think, as it’s usually made using recycled aggregates. However, it can be an expensive option, requiring specialist installation and polishing, coming to around £90/sqm.
Made from the bark of the cork oak tree, this is a sustainable and renewable option, comfortable underfoot and offering good soundproofing. However it does need special sealing treatment to keep it clean and dry. Cost is around £13/sqm.
Martin Roberts’ Tips
Some types of flooring are fairly easy to lay yourself – porcelain and ceramic tiles and engineered timber for instance. But fitting carpet, and laying natural wood or real stone flooring are jobs best left to professional fitters, so allow for the fitting costs when specifying your flooring.
What goes where?
There are some good general guidelines for what type of flooring should be used in each part of the house, but there’s no reason why you can’t mix and match – for instance a kitchen/dining room area could well have durable, wipe-clean tiles in the kitchen, and warmer, quieter laminate flooring in the dining area.
For the kitchen, it’s essential that the flooring should be stain resistant, easy to clean, durable and resistant to moisture.
Natural stone works well for so long as it is sealed to prevent staining. Riven finishes are perfect for classic styles, and smoother tiles ideal for a modern look. Grouting between kitchen tiles can be difficult to clean, so smoother tiles work better.
Polished concrete flooring also works well in kitchens, and is particularly good over underfloor heating. A poured resin coating can give concrete a lovely finish in a choice of colours and surface.
Porcelain or ceramic tiles can also work well in a kitchen, but be aware that ceramics can be easy to crack or chip. For the utility room, stone is a good choice for stain resistance, though it has to be well sealed. Porcelain or ceramic tiles may be a better choice, and linoleum, vinyl or rubber are good options.
Bathroom flooring needs to be extremely water and heat resistant, non-slip, and easy to clean. Either porcelain or ceramic tiles are fine, and will work with under-floor heating, but also consider luxury vinyl tile (LVT), which is available in a range of colours, patterns, and finishes that imitate stone, while being soft underfoot.
Stone is also an option for the bathroom, though types such as limestone need to be sealed before laying, after grouting, and at regular intervals afterwards. Slate and marble can be less work as they are less naturally porous.
Living room and bedroom
For comfort and warmth, carpet is the traditional choice in the living room and bedroom, though engineered wood floors can also be warm and comfortable, and are easier to keep clean if you have children, pets or allergies.
Carpet durability is determined by material and fibre density count. Wool is the standard, naturally moisture and stain resistant, but not as durable as nylon. Other synthetics include acrylic, polypropylene and polyester, but be aware that it is difficult to remove stains from polyester.
This feature was originally published in Property & Home with Martin Roberts, Winter 2020 issue – read more here.