When it comes to floor coverings you have many options. Common choices include carpet, wood, vinyl, laminate, tiles, bamboo and cork. Flooring are made for both decorative and practical reasons. Following are some information about the most common flooring choices:
Ceramic Floor Tiles
Ceramic floor tiles have been around for thousands of years and are still widely used today. Ancient Chinese and Roman civilizations both used ceramic tiles. In Greek temples, churches, and mosques, early tile work on floors and walls was often stunningly beautiful and varied. Today, ceramic tiles can be used in any room of the house. Because of their strength and easy maintenance, they are often used in kitchens and bathrooms.
In a pared-down contemporary setting, ceramic floor tiles are likely to be consistent in color and shape. In traditional styles-from Spanish to Turkish-tiles of varying colors and shapes are used together to create pattern. The size of the tiles and the pattern should be proportional to the size of the room. It’s best to save the big patterns for bigger rooms.
Ceramic tiles are harder on the feet than resilient floor covering, such as vinyl, cork, or rubber, and objects dropped on the floor are likely to break. On the other hand, a ceramic tile floor can last forever. Tiles are cool in hot climates. In cold climates tiles can get chilly-but radiant heat coils under a tile floor can help. Ceramic tiles can be set on the square or the diagonal.
Terra-cotta tiles are made of fired clay that has a warm and earthy reddish-brown color. In Italian, “terra-cotta” means “baked earth”. Terra-cotta tiles are used around the world-from Italy to Mexico. They lend themselves to a country look, a rustic look, or to a Mediterranean look, and they are widely used in Southwestern and Spanish styles. The floor tiles can be bought finished or unfinished, meaning either pre-sealed or unsealed. The tiles have to be sealed to protect them from wear.
Buying them unsealed allows for more flexibility in choosing the gloss level and type of sealer but also makes for more labor-intensive installation. The tiles come in different sizes. The size of the tile should be proportional to the size of the room. Terra-cotta tiles are popular and for good reason. They are durable and have a wonderful, warm color. They work almost anywhere and can be used equally well in kitchens and hallways as well as in major rooms of a house. A terra-cotta tile floor lasts forever.
Concrete floors have an industrial look that has been gaining popularity in recent years. You are likely to see concrete floors in art galleries and lofts. Concrete has a pared-down look and can either be left bare or covered with area rugs. These floors can be colored a few different ways. Pigments can be added directly to the concrete, the floor can be stained, or the floor can be painted. It’s best to wait 60 to 90 days for the concrete to completely cure before painting. Etching the concrete will give the paint more surface to grab onto. A concrete floor should be sealed. There are many types of sealers, and which one you choose will depend on the location and intended use.
Concrete tends to crack or flake when there is any movement in the sub-floor or walls; therefore, it is a good idea to cut joints into the floor to ease pressure and prevent cracking and flaking, especially around doorways and other pressure points. Concrete is harder on the feet than a more resilient floor covering, such as vinyl tiles or cork, and anything you drop on it is likely to break. A poured concrete floor is heavy and some buildings may not be able to bear the weight-this is something to consult an architect or builder on before you call in the concrete mixer.
Laminate flooring has multiple layers including a digital image-of wood or stone for example-with a thick protective layer over it and a solid backing under it. It looks like wood or stone but it’s mostly synthetic. Laminate floors have been used for longer in Europe than in the United States. A laminate floor is relatively easy to install; it can either be glued down or “float”, which means that the strips of flooring lock into each other and don’t need to be affixed to the floor. It can be placed over some existing floor treatments, which is a plus if you’re on a tight budget as it means not necessarily having to rip up the existing floor. Laminate floors cannot be refinished, but if a section is damaged it can be replaced. Like many floor coverings, laminate can scratch and should be vacuumed and damp-mopped regularly.
Leather floor tiles come in a variety of colors and sizes. They can be very chic and work well to muffle sound. They are soft on the feet and have a luxurious texture. Leather changes over time as a patina forms. Wear will show and the tiles will not stay pristine. Leather is not the most economical floor covering, but it can be beautiful.
It is well suited to a library that is either traditional or more contemporary. It’s best not to use leather tiles in very dry climates or in rooms with lot a lot of moisture. Leather needs to be waxed a couple of times a year; check with manufacturers, distributors, or installers familiar with the product to find out what they recommend.
Mosaic is a design or figurative picture made from small pieces, or tesserae, of stone, glass, or clay. The Romans developed what we think of today as typical mosaic patterns-which were used on the floor and, later, on the walls. Byzantine churches are filled with wonderful and colorful examples of mosaics studded with gold. And, just to prove that great ideas never disappear, mosaic has been used frequently in contemporary design. These days, instead of creating mosaic tessera by tessera, you can buy strips with many tesserae already formed into patterns. There are traditional designs seen in places such as Pompeii, and modern treatments using one vivid color, in a bathroom, a kitchen, or a major room in the house.
Resilient floor covering is made from materials that have some give yet retain their shape. Resilient floor covering materials include cork, linoleum, rubber, and vinyl. They are softer than ceramic tiles, cement, stone, and even wood floors. This means they will be more comfortable to stand on for long periods of time. Resilient floors can also offer soundproofing and some insulation. Since they are softer, they will generally scratch more easily than harder floors and should be vacuumed and damp-mopped regularly. Resilient floors generally shrink and expand depending on the humidity and temperature. It’s a good idea to allow the materials to acclimate to the room where they will be installed for a day or two before gluing them down.
Cork floors are made with real cork, which come from the bark of the cork oak tree, found in the Mediterranean region- Portugal in particular. Cork is considered eco-friendly because the bark grows back and the tree isn’t cut down. Cork is often used in eco-conscious design projects. The color of cork is warm, and the natural pattern can add an interesting design element to a room. Cork floors are known to be soft on the feet and acoustically excellent. From a kitchen to a library, a cork floor can be great. Like a solid wood floor, cork can be finished with either wax or polyurethane. With wax, the more traditional finish, the floor develops a lustrous patina over many years but also requires waxing at least once a year.
A polyurethane finish is lower-maintenance and will be more durable in areas such as the kitchen. Because cork can be damaged by water, it’s important to clean up spills quickly and to avoid soaking the floor when cleaning. Cork is a natural material, so it can expand and contract considerably. There are also cork tiles made with vinyl.
Linoleum is a natural mixture made from liseed oil, which is oxidized and mixed with powdered wood, ground limestone, resins, dyeing agents, and pigments. This mixture is affixed to a natural or synthetic backing. The recipe for linoleum was patented in 1863 by an Englishman named Frederick Walton. Quite durable, the material was widely used in both commercial and residential spaces until vinyl flooring became readily available in the late 1940s. Vinyl, a synthetic, is much easier to maintain, and it significantly diminished the linoleum market. These days, people sometimes interchange the terms “linoleum” and “vinyl sheeting”, although the materials are entirely different. Linoleum comes in a variety of color choices and almost always in sheets. It’s possible to create a patterned floor using different colors of linoleum that are cut out and inlaid into a sheet of linoleum. Although you rarely see such inlay work today, it is an interesting design idea. Linoleum floor covering is at its best when it’s waxed regularly and stripped periodically to remove the wax build-up.
Rubber flooring has been used for centuries. It was originally made from real rubber, from the sap of the South American tree “Hevea brasiliensis” that was later widely grown in Asia. Now rubber flooring is made with synthetic and recycled rubber. Seen most often on the floors at airports and in commercial spaces, a rubber floor can also be great in a laundry room, kitchen, or playroom. Rubber floors can have an industrial look, but there are designs and colors being made specifically for residential use that have a contemporary and homey feel. It comes in a wide variety of colors with either a flat or a textured surface. It is easily washable, burn resistant, durable, slip, resistant, and absorbs noise. In bathrooms and kitchens it works well because it’s soft on the feet and can handle a spill. Some types of rubber will be damaged by oil, so be sure to ask about specific products.
Vinyl flooring is made using a synthetic material that was invented in the 1920s by Waldo Lonsbury Semon. Semon took polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, and created a process to make it flexible and useful for applications such as flooring. Vinyl flooring was not widely marketed until the late 1940s, and it became very popular at least in part because it is very easy to maintain. It is still widely used today.
Vinyl comes in tiles and sheeting in a wide variety of colors and patterns. There are wax and no-wax varieties; no-wax floors are particularly easy to maintain. Vinyl is a good solution for kitchens, laundry rooms, and bathrooms. An attractive use of vinyl tile is to alternate two solid colors set on the square or the diagonal. A kitchen can be spruced up by having a check-board of black-and-white tiles, for example. Since vinyl is thin and flexible, any variations or imperfections in the under-floors will eventually wear through and become visible on the vinyl surface. This makes it especially important to make sure the sub-floor is level and completely clean before installation. Vinyl is usually glued down but self-adhesive tiles are also available.