Beneath It All
Beneath all your beautiful furnishings in your new home is an often forgotten design element: flooring. Over the course of hundreds of years, architects, builders, and homeowners have chosen a variety of materials and finishes for home flooring. These choices are based in culture, tradition, locally available raw materials, preferences, fashion, climate and other geographical and environmental factors. With the world getting “smaller” via the exchange of cultures through mass media and improved international trade, the choices in flooring now seem endless around the world. However, to choose the best flooring for you, here are some considerations you may want to keep in mind.
The options are too many to list, but include wood, bamboo, marble, granite, ceramic tile, terra cotta, concrete, leather, carpet, glass, cork, and woven fabrics to name a few. Let’s consider a few of these options:
Tile and stone flooring can be stunning. The hard surfaces provide architectural elements that can only be achieved by tile and stone, while offering water-proof surfaces in bathrooms, kitchens, basements, etc.
If you’re building a dream house and select classic, timeless tile for your home, we recommend a mud-set (vs. Thinset) installation. A “mud job” requires troweling a cement mortar onto the walls and ceilings and then beating tiles into this cement base before the cement is cured. It truly requires a craftsman to do it correctly and should only be attempted by a professional. For that reason, it’s a bit more costly, but the end result is a longer-lasting, beautiful installation.
Another consideration for tile or stone flooring is climate and temperature. Tile floors are lovely in warm climates – they’re cool to the touch and help to keep you comfy in a desert or tropical heat. However, in places where you have cool nights and/or days, heating the floor is an option that is well-worth the price. Even if you don’t rely on your home’s heating through in-floor radiant heating systems, homeowners can get a relatively inexpensive electrical heating system installed beneath your beautiful tile floor (as well as other flooring materials). Of course, you’ll need to plan ahead and consult your architect, electrician, tiling professional, and/or HVAC contractor to have it done right. That’s where a Home-Build Concierge can help you to plan accordingly.
Ceramic tile has come a long way over the years. Artisans have come close in making ceramic tile look “natural” – resembling natural stones (marble, granite, slate, etc.). Cost-wise, ceramic tile tends to be less expensive than natural stone, but that has changed in recent years. With the ceramics looking more and more like natural stones and wood, the cost has gone up.
Of course, I prefer a natural stone wherever possible from an aesthetic perspective, but you should consult your flooring professional for more considerations. One thing you should be aware of when working with marble and granite is that you need to seal it! Not just once, but time and time again, it needs to be sealed to preserve its beauty and stain resistance. And (this is especially important in bathroom and shower installations), you should not use bleach cleaners on natural stones. Don’t use ammonia, vinegar, orange or lemon for cleaning. Although vinegar is a good cleaning agent and disinfectant for many surfaces, it is acidic, as are the other items mentioned, and they can cause corrosive etching on your marble.
Also, remember to ask your tile supplier and/or installer about grouts that come with mold and mildew inhibitors built-in. That will spare you from having to use harsh cleaners on your natural stone as well.
Wood floors (especially when finished on-site) provide a beautiful natural design element to your home. They are not as “cold” as tile and stone, and add a certain visual warmth to your space as well. There is a wide variety of wood flooring options available for homeowners to choose from now, but it’s important to note that wood floors (we’re not talking about laminates here, folks) are made of wood – a natural, once-living material. Being a natural material, wood has a tendency to (despite being properly acclimated to the home prior to installation) expand and contract and potentially warp or crack. Fluctuations in humidity and temperatures can wreak havoc on your wood floors, especially in the first few years of use. So, what can you do? Consider this:
If installed properly, your wood floors will be allowed an adjustment period in your new home prior to installation and will be spaced accordingly to allow for expansion in the humid months and contraction in the dry winter months. Don’t be surprised to see gaps between the planks of wood in the dry months as the wood loses moisture. That’s better than having floors expand, cup, and crack in humid months if the planks are too close to each other. Over time, this expansion and contraction diminishes, but you should be prepared and know what to expect.
If you live in a climate where you have vast seasonal fluctuations in temperature (and therefore humidity levels), plan to have a whole-house humidifier installed in your home by an HVAC professional. This is especially important in cold months if you have a large house full of hardwood floors, as the new wood floors will be thirsty for moisture and will shrink.
The texture and smell of leather is no longer just for cars, shoes, jackets, and sofas. Our featured vendor, EcoDomo, specializes in leather finishes for your home. Until we started using their products, leather flooring was only for fantasy in our minds. Once we started using them, we found leather floors to be not only super-fashionable and indulgent, but truly durable and stunning. The first collection of EcoDomo on the market consisted of recycled leather tiles. They are now experts with leather surfacing—recycled and hide leather applied to a variety of substrates and formats. They have also since expanded their lines to include a leather veneer, a collection of interlocking planks, decorative borders, as well as laminated leathers and extensive custom design options. The care and maintenance for EcoDomo leather products is very similar to the maintenance and requirements of interior wood finishes. (Care instructions can be found here).
Though I’m not personally a fan of wall-to-wall carpeting (for health and hygiene reasons), it does have some functional and cost advantages over other flooring options. Carpet can be “warmer”, softer to the touch, or quieter than hard surfaces in bedrooms, areas where toddlers play, or in condos, etc. Achieving these advantages does not require wall-to-wall carpeting though. Area rugs can provide many of the same benefits (except for cost savings).
As always, consider how you live in your home and what your needs are. Whatever you do, if you have carpets or rugs, invest in a good vacuum cleaner and use it frequently.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t skimp on the pad. You may be tempted to select the least expensive padding in order to cut costs, but this decision can potentially cost more in the long run while providing less than optimum satisfaction with your new carpet.
Carpet padding provides an insulating layer between flooring and carpet; it helps reduce moisture damage too. If you're carpeting over a hard surface, good quality padding is especially important to provide comfort, because it cushions your feet. Carpet padding also provides noise insulation.
In certain parts of the world, concrete floors have been used for hundreds of years (if not longer). They serve a function, especially in hot, dusty climates. The beauty of polished and colored concrete floors has grown dramatically in recent years, giving homeowners much more stylish options for their concrete floor selection.
One consideration for having concrete floors (especially beachside or in dessert climates where you might have more dust and sand in the house when windows are open), is to have drains in the floor. Why, you ask? Consider the convenience of being able to wet mop or even “hose-down” your floors occasionally and pushing the dirty water down the drain! This is not a new concept in those places around the world that have had concrete floors throughout history, but it’s a relatively new concept in the states where concrete floors are a fashion “trend”. Of course, it’s easier to plan for drains when designing a new home from scratch.
Flooring selection is one of many components of the home building to do list. At Home-Build Concierge, we know that you have many choices in building your custom home, and there’s no magic formula or right answer for every household. Your Home-Build Concierge will guide you through your options while keeping your needs and preferences in mind. I hope these flooring considerations help you in making the right choices for you.