Many people acquire older properties that have hard floors and immediately cover them with modern floor coverings. Often this is a waste, as many types of hard flooring can be cleaned and renovated to produce a floor of great character. If there are areas of obvious damage consider whether these might be disguised by the clever use of rugs. Floors of tile, stone or slate are likely to have been laid when the building was constructed and as such with have a great architectural empathy within your home.
Most houses have some wooden floors. Wood is classified as a hard flooring but in most cases it is suspended rather than laying directly on a sub-floor. In older properties the ground floor is often solid and the suspended wooden floors start on the first floor level. Most recent buildings (from the Georgian period onwards) have suspended floors at ground level as well.
As you go up the levels of a house, the materials used to construct the suspended flooring become less robust. So the floorboards and joists in the attic will be thinner than those used at ground floor level. This is an important consideration if you choose to change the use of a room in the upper floors, by installing a bath for instance, as it's almost certain that joists and floorboards will require strengthening.
The floorboards, if they are old, are likely to be quite tatty and may have sustained unsightly damage or staining. In a utilitarian design this may be desirable, in other more self-conscious design schemes replacement may be the only option. However it might be worth lifting and flipping the boards over and refinishing the now-exposed underside. That means the floor retains its affinity to the age of the building whilst looking "nearly-new".
Many modern buildings are constructed with concrete floors at all levels. These are technically known as subfloors, as they are not suitable to be left uncovered. Although it is possible to simply paint concrete floors with special floor-paint, it would be an unsatisfactory finish in all but the most spartan or minimalist design schemes.
The main disadvantage of hard flooring (with the exception of wood) is its unrelenting inflexibility. In simple terms hard floors lack "bounce", making them hard on the feet and knees (this is why proper dance floors are specially sprung to prevent fatigue amongst the dancers). Non-wooden hard floors are usually naturally cold and don't lend themselves to the installation of underfloor heating. Hard floors (including wood) are efficient transmitters of sound so not really suitable for conversions (in fact many lease agreements will specify that carpets must be laid in most living areas).
Types of Hard Flooring
Ceramic Tiles - Made from earthenware or terracotta. Make sure the tiles you're specifying are intended explicitly for use on floors.
Clay Tiles - Typically have a natural colour and lend themselves well to country or rustic interiors. Generally require sealing.
Quarry Tiles - Mostly natural colours with a slightly textured surface although some other other colours are available, notably black and blue. Generally requires sealing, especially if laid in a kitchen.
Stone - Usually presents a natural neutral colour tone. Very hard wearing and stain resistant although some types might require sealing. Traditionally used in grand English entrances and hallways.
Marble - An expensive and luxurious choice, marble comes in a wide range of natural colourings. Marble is very hard and resistant to wear.
Slate - A beautiful and robust material that can range in colour from near-black to rich green. Can be polished or "riven". Riven slate is textured and less likely to be a slip hazard.
Brick - These give a rustic effect suitable for period buildings or use in modern conservatories. Bricks are generally porous to some degree and may need to be sealed.
Parquet - Essentially this is formed from blocks of wood laid on a concrete or wooden sub-floor. Typically parquet flooring will be arranged in a traditional herring-bone design.
Wooden Floors - There is a huge industry that has built up around the stripping and refinishing of existing wood floors. Although this can be taken on as a DIY task, it is noisy, dusty and generally unpleasant work.
Types of Hard-Wearing or Resilient, Semi-Permanent Flooring
Laminates - A cheaper alternative to hardwood this is made from cheaper materials and is generally faced with a veneer of an attractive wood. Check with the manufacturer to see how many times the floor can be sanded and re-finished before the veneer is worn through. The cheapest laminates are faced with an artificial veneer that can't be sanded and refinished.
Vinyl - Generally supplied as tiles, vinyl has revolutionised designer flooring by teaming up with modern printing techniques to produce the most startling visual effects. Normally quite rigid, vinyl can be produced with extra cushioning for more comfort and better sound and heat insulation.
Rubber - Warm underfoot, hard-wearing and quiet. Made in a myriad of colours and available with studded and grooved textures.
Cork - Made from the bark of the cork oak, this flooring has declined in popularity as it has a reputation that is stuck in the 1970's. Susceptible to damage and highly porous, so always requires sealing.
Linoleum - Another floorcovering that suffers from its rather naff image from the past. Originally made from natural materials it was revolutionary when introduced but has since been eclipsed by vinyl flooring.
Article by Melvyn Fickling
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