How to choose .... flooring

Flooring is a major design element in any space

 

Flooring is a major design element in any space and it’s worth investing time, thought and finances to ensure key considerations are covered. Gwen Kenny of Divine Design advises prioritising durability, slip resistance, low maintenance and installing a recessed mat well inside the front door.

Neutral colours will work with various colour schemes and inexpensive paper underlay should be used in old houses so dust doesn’t get through floorboards, especially if carpet is being fitted, Kenny says.

While everything from rubber to leather solutions are available, Irish homeowners tend to be fairly grounded in their flooring decisions. Here are the main options:

Carpet The go-to solution for many rooms for its toastiness and textures, carpet adds opulence and minimises sound. However, it can stain, smell and aggravate allergy symptoms. “Wool is an indicator of a luxury product. It’s eco friendly, biodegradable and renewable,” says Brendan Cumiskey of TC Matthews Carpets. Many synthetic carpets, he says, are bleach cleanable, making them ideal for elderly people, children and pets. They’re also colourfast and recyclable. “However, a good quality wool carpet will outperform a synthetic version, retaining its look longer.”

Companies such as Brintons and Stark are leading the charge in innovation and design, with creative use of colour, design and pattern, says Cumiskey. Twist, the most robust plain carpet, is highly popular with velvet on the luxe list, and textured products also appealing.

Laminate

Ideal for those on tight budgets seeking a hardwearing floor requiring little or no maintenance. Quality laminate can almost give the look of a solid wooden floor, thanks to manufacturing advances, Kenny says. Underlay should always be used although it may not eliminate noise completely, says Jason Stewart of Restore-ur -Floor.

“Laminate is a picture of wood over a centre core of high density fibre board, a harder version of MDF. When wet, it can swell and react in a similar way to Weetabix, and the surface picture can blister,” says Stewart. “Wear and tear can’t be repaired in the way real wood can. Buy quality, as it can be a case of buy cheap, buy twice.”

Wood

Demand for wood is falling, due to high cost, excessive use of hardwoods and a reputation for possible trouble after installation, Stewart says. In its favour, wood is a good insulator and should last a lifetime.

A massive range of hardwood and softwood flooring is available, varying in colour, grain shape and durability. Hardwood flooring comes in blocks, strips and planks, with finishes including oil or lacquer. Durable hard hardwoods include oak, maple, and teak. Good soft hardwoods, Stewart says, are cherry, walnut and birch. Hard softwoods include pitch pine and larch. Red deal and French pine are soft softwoods.

Wood is a renewable sustainable product if from a managed forest, with durable bamboo the most sustainable, says Stewart. Softwood floors, he advises, should be avoided over underfloor heating as they are inclined to shrink.

Cherry, walnut and teak are the most suitable hardwoods whereas beech, birch and maple should not be used with underfloor heating, Stewart advises. Homeowners should remember that wood can’t cope with drastic climate changes, he says.

Semi-solid and engineered floors

Comprising a layer of hardwood with thicknesses from 2mm to 8mm, depending on product quality and price, semi-solid and engineered floors are bonded to a softwood core or base. The process results in a very stable hardwood floor, less likely to be affected by moisture, and more suitable for underfloor heating, Stewart says. “It can still be sanded and refinished and is more sustainable as it reduces the amount of hardwood required in favour of softwood.”

Many see engineered floors as a good all-round alternative to natural wood, says Stewart. “They’re more stable and less likely to cause trouble. They can also be cheaper than a solid floor,” he says. “Engineered floors are often impossible to distinguish from a solid floor when fitted properly. They’re suitable for use with underfloor heating – check for certification. They can also be sanded and refinished.” However, the thickness of the wood layer dictates the number of times it can be sanded.

Vinyl

Offering an array of design possibilities, including digitally printed looks and optical illusions, vinyl can be used throughout the house. “A low-maintenance, water-resistant product, vinyl is comfortable, inexpensive, and durable and you can get stain-resistant tiles and sheets. It’s easy to install and tiles can be replaced individually,” Kenny says.

However, vinyl can release volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) after installation and can cause ecological waste problems, she says. “Subfloor damage causes rips and tears over time and vinyl chemical stains can be a problem, with discolouration after contact with rubber,” she says. “Vinyl can be difficult to repair; there can be yellowing effects; and it may pose a toxic fire hazard.”

Seek sustainability credentials – Amtico’s high-end products are certified by independent bodies to be of the lowest level of VOC emissions for indoor air quality.

An alternative to conventional flooring materials is marmoleum, made from natural raw materials, available from companies such as Forbo. It’s durable, comfortable; hygienic; heat-resistant; and easy to clean. It comes in tile, sheet and click format, with a palette of colours and textures. Topshield 2 natural coating adds to durability as it can dent, scuff and stain.

Tiles

Tiles offer endless customisation possibilities, in different types, colours, sizes and finishes. They’re water-resistant, durable and easy to maintain with various pricepoints, says Kenny. She usually specifies matte tiles to reduce risk of slipping.

Porcelain represents the majority of tiles on sale, says Sean Kirk of National Tile. “Very little ceramic is being manufactured and there’s a real shift away from natural stone due to the quality of reproductions in porcelain,” says Kirk. Inkjet technology has had a major impact on tile and stone offerings, he says. Drawbacks include the chill factor when not used with underfloor heating.

Concrete

Durable and easy to maintain, concrete is versatile and longlasting, with numerous design possibilities in colour and texture, Kenny says. “However, its hardness can be a downside – it can be uncomfortable and cold. Moisture and damp can be a problem if not properly sealed. While concrete is a natural material, the manufacturing process isn’t environmentally friendly,” she says.

Seamus Redmond of Wexford-based Renobuild, specialists in polished concrete and overlays, says byproducts of the steel and coal industry, used instead of cement, reduce embodied carbon.