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    Floor coverings

    The vast selection of floor coverings on the market means you can create a totally new look for a room, simply by changing the floor covering material. However, each type of covering will have advantages and disadvantages.

    Self-levelling compound

    Before we look at the different types of floor covering available it is worth mentioning self-levelling compound. Floor coverings for concrete floors need to be laid on a flat, level surface. If you have an uneven concrete floor the best way to produce a level surface is to apply a self-levelling compound. This is supplied as a powder which needs to mixed with water as per the manufacturer's instructions.

    Vinyl tiles

    Available in many colours and patterns vinyl tiles are generally found in kitchens and bathrooms. Vinyl tiles also come in imitation wood, stone and ceramic designs. Cushion-backed tiles make for a warmer, quieter floor covering. Vinyl tiles are easy to clean but remember smooth vinyl is very slippery when wet. If water penetrates the joints the tiles can lift.

    Sheet vinyl

    As with tiles there is a staggering choice of colours and patterns. Sheet vinyl is easy to clean making it an ideal hygienic floor covering for kitchens and bathrooms. Before washing a sheet vinyl floor, use a vacuum cleaner to remove any grit as this can scratch the surface. When walking over smooth sheet vinyl care must be taken as it can be very slippery. Scuff marks can be removed by gently rubbing them with fine steel wool lubricated with white spirit, but care must be taken not to rub too hard to avoid going through the decorative vinyl surface.


    Linoleum was once commonplace but then fell from favour. Recently it has begun to make a comeback and is more durable than vinyl. It is also available in an extensive range of colours and patterns but it is more difficult to lay than vinyl.

    Cork tiles

    A natural and warmer material than vinyl, cork tiles come in various finishes such as natural wax. Cork tiles can be varnished or coated with PVC at the factory, which makes them easier to clean. Cork tiles in areas that experience heavy traffic can become worn, but PVC coated tiles are less likely to suffer from this problem. When cleaning cork tiles use a mild detergent, but do not saturate with water or use an abrasive cleaner.

    Ceramic tiles

    Ceramic floor tiles can be square or rectangular and last for a very long time. An excellent choice of colours and patterns are available. Although they can be slippery, ceramic tiles can come with an anti-slip finish. For kitchens and bathrooms avoid unglazed tiles as they tend to be porous. When washing the floor avoid using too much water to prevent it seeping into the joints. The disadvantages include the tiles being expensive; timber sub-floors may need strengthening; and they are cold to walk on in bare feet.

    Terracotta and quarry tiles

    Providing a far more rustic appearance than ceramic flooring, terracotta and quarry tiles have become very popular. Quarry tiles are less expensive and porous than terracotta tiles, but lack the understated shades found in terracotta. However, terracotta tiles require more preparation and maintenance. Firstly, terracotta tiles require sealing with a branded sealant before being laid to prevent being stained during the grouting process. To maintain an attractive surface finish the floor will also need to be waxed or have the sealant applied every few months. If laying terracotta or quarry tiles on a timber floor, sheets of plywood 13mm (½ in) thick needs to be laid first.


    Easily the most popular form of floor covering. Available as carpet squares, carpet tiles, stair carpets and fitted carpets, the range of colours and designs, variations in wool and synthetic fibres and the thickness of tufted or woven pile is too vast a subject to even begin to attempt a description here. Suffice to say that the popularity of carpet is based on the comfortable, warm environment it creates. Carpets are graded to inform the customer how much use they are designed to take: heavy, medium or light. Good quality carpet can be expensive and permanent staining can be a problem depending on the nature of the spillage. When laying carpet other materials will be needed:

    • Underlay
    • Gripper strips
    • Double-sided tape
    • Metal threshold strips
    • Stair rods


    Before laying a hessian backed carpet a felt or foam underlay needs to be laid on the floor to protect the fibres of the carpet.

    Gripper strips

    Gripper strips are wooden or metal strips with fine teeth use to grip the fibres of Hessian backed carpets. They are nailed to the floor around the room about 6mm (¼ in) from the skirting board with the teeth facing the wall.

    Angled grippers

    These are used when laying stair carpet with a hessian backed underlay and are fixed at the junction between the stair tread and riser. This is a quicker method than cutting two lengths of standard gripper strip and fixing them at a right-angle in the junction of the stair tread and riser.

    Double-sided tape

    A tape with adhesive on both sides used for securing the edges of rubber or foam-backed carpet in place around the perimeter of the room.

    Metal threshold strips

    Short metal strips with fine teeth used for fixing carpet in place in the threshold of doorways. These can be either single or double depending on whether the carpet ends at the threshold e.g. at a door that opens into a kitchen; or meets another carpet at the threshold from an adjoining room.

    Stair rods

    Stair rods are used when laying a stair carpet narrower than the stairs on a straight staircase. Although sufficient to keep the carpet in place on this type of staircase the underlay will still need to be tacked to the stairs. On curved staircases the stair rods will be fitted at the curve but only for appearance as the carpet is held in place at this point by tacks.

    Laminate wood floors

    Laminate flooring consists of a thin veneer of tough hardwood fixed to high-density fibreboard (HDF). It is available in many finishes including ash, distressed oak and dark chestnut. Supplied in planks it is easy to install as the planks lock together and do not require glue. Wood laminate floors can be walked on immediately after it has been laid. This type of flooring is not recommended for bathrooms.

    Natural fibres

    Floor coverings made from woven natural fibres such as coir, jute, sea grass and sisal vary in durability depending on the material used and the amount of traffic. But coir and sisal are generally regarded as the most durable. The weave is attached to a latex backing to prevent the fibre from fraying when it is cut.

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