Don’t be a plank when it comes to choosing right floor for home

Kya deLongchamps reminds us that quality, materials, and even our heating choices should inform our choice in new flooring.

Flooring choices can be exciting. Follow our practical tip sheet to get your feet back on the ground and choose appropriate, hardworking flooring that will perform and endure.

Heating systems

Under-floor heating is the new standard for sustainable heat-pump-fed heating systems. It’s commonplace downstairs and in some one-off homes, used for part of all of upstairs requirements. Nearly energy zero houses may rarely deploy their heating system, but let’s assume we’re still using a backup for those colder months.

The inclusion of under-floor heating in say, an extension (where the invasive installation process is practical) should inform your flooring choices.

That decorative surface is the final heat-emitting layer of the slab. We don’t want to interfere with the heat output of the under-floor heating system or to wreck any flooring with the necessary temperatures. Most of us will want the room at about 21C.

To gently radiate heat back to the room, tile, stone and polished concrete over screed (the tile being under 20mm thick) are ideal. Tough and dense, all these materials act as a highly conductive heat store.

The heat-up time and output of an under-floor heating will suffer under inappropriate thick wood flooring or heavy, insulating tog carpet or even large rugs with low thermal conductivity. It’s important to choose carpeting that will allow the heat to penetrate through the material rather than trapping it against the floor. Look for a tog value of no more than 2.5, and (crucially) a dedicated under-floor heating underlay with high thermal conductivity.

Wood flooring is reactive to heat and humidity and should be suited to temperatures of at least 27C. As it is laid close to the subfloor, it’s very important the product is right for under-floor heating. If the house is inadequately insulated, the floor may be working hard to get the rooms to 21C, and the floor may become relatively hot.

Solid and engineered wood flooring has superb structural stability, but not every wood will work. Karhs for example, advises against some of its flooring due to potentially cupping and joint expansion problems due to the inevitable, standard moisture changes with wood flooring and under-floor heating (beech and hard maple parquets). There’s a wide spectrum in terms of price (€30-€300 per metre installed) but start with a great board of 14mm (D) or more.

Ensure you specify wood, carpeting and even larger rugs rated for under-floor heating (check with the heating engineer first), and have it professionally installed by someone who understands the under-floor heating system needs. For something different try quality vinyl including Kardean and Amtico, bamboo or even rubber flooring with a good 27C rating for under-floor heating and its dedicated subfloor materials.

Hard to soft

The sensation of what’s underfoot matters to most of us. Keep in mind with under-floor heating, that cold floor shock is over. Extensive carpeting though luxurious in a rich pile, is not the only snug choice for that one-off build, extension or renovation.

Concrete is an increasingly high design choice. Having seen the results in my house reviews for the Irish Examiner, I’ve been floored by its beauty, originality and performance. Poured concrete can be introduced during a build or retrofitted in a screed recipe.

It’s an exciting option that delivers a tough, bulletproof, seamless finish, and encases under-floor heating, working as a masonry heat store. With inclusions, polishing and even impressions to the drying floor the creative possibilities are limitless. Price per metre compares with a top class hardwood flooring (€75 plus) depending on the individual project.

With a warm, ever so slight surrender under-foot, the flexible, layered construction of vinyl adds a cushioned spring to the step and increases durability. It’s a perfect compromise for upstairs children’s rooms where it can be mopped off with ease and dressed in comfy rugs. Its installation should deliver a mirror flat, perfect finish.

Waterproof, and easy to clean, marmoleum is an environmentally friendly lino using linseed oil, rosins, wood and cork flour — all-natural ingredients that require little energy to harvest. Look up its 300 colours and subtle marbled patterns. From €40-€44m sub-floor preparation extra, forbo.ie.

Noise

Hard flooring upstairs or in an open-plan situation may be easy to whip over with a vacuum, but it can lead to high levels of internally generated noise and sound transfer, between the rooms and floors of your house and for anyone in a terrace of semi-D. Bald timber stairs can be horribly percussive with bounding teenagers, the impact and its vibration, truly maddening for those downstairs.

Your builder should address the complex issues surrounding acoustic insulation through regulation standard building materials and techniques starting in the joists. Beyond that, a noisy floor requires layers — preferable thick, high-tog carpeting (wall to wall or in runners and rugs) and underlay.

Anyone selling you carpet with experience and integrity will go on and on about underlay quality. Listen to them. There’s even a 100% natural underlay for wood flooring and carpeting. Silent wool, 20m x 1m lengths from €199, purchase.ie.

Durability

Any flooring is only as good as its material quality and the quality of the installation. In short, you get what you pay for in terms of the product and preparation. However, there are other caveats, pros and cons.

Starting with carpet. The best carpeting is 100% wool or a very high wood blend (80%/20%) largely delivered in a New Zealand wool. It’s durable, relatively expensive, but in a sensible colour will last for decades if well cared for. Cut pile is more resilient than looped carpeting. The longer the pile or the more ingredient of synthetic you go for, the more flattening you will endure between vacuums. Press your thumb into the sample. Expect it to feel dense with a little push back.

Seriously damaged carpet presents a problem as it’s delivered in large pieces. If you cannot move your furniture over a permanent stain, you’ll have to endure it.

Short high-quality piles or hard flooring protected by rugs in high-traffic areas are perfect. Good underlay takes the weight and damage out of footfalls. Don’t skimp. Synthetic carpet can be cleaned with a part bleach cleaning solution and, despite their economical finish, offer high stain resistance and durability from €10 per metre.

Where solid wood can be sanded repeatedly, modern, laminate flooring (compressed fibreboard plank) is also surprisingly durable at €10 - €60 per sq m.

Flooring measuring 12mm is weighty enough to handle heavy going in halls, kitchens and more, and as with all appropriately sited laminates abrasion from footfalls should not be a problem for up to 15 years of use with a good foam underlay. It will finally give at the joints and show irreparable damage to the top photographic print. Expect to pay in the area of 20 sq m ex-installation.

Stone and porcelain tiling are Clint Eastwood-tough. Tiling wipes the floor with wood for stains and water damage, so for hard-pressed high humidity areas, it’s a superb choice. Budget choice: ceramic tile with a convincing repeat pattern.

Just a word here about grout gap size. Having installed a popular rectified type tile (set edge to edge) I’ve discovered personally how difficult it is to regrout rectified tile or to replace a single damaged tile. Areas of ‘lippage’ over undulating substrate can lead to edge chips. Pay a pro.


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