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Alternatives to Hardwood Flooring

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 31 Mar 2011 | comments*Discuss
 
Wood Floor Alternatives Bamboo Flooring

Like many people you might think that nothing can quite match the beauty, feel and sense of quality that solid wood floors give to an interior, whether it is a residential home or a commercial outlet. They can, however, be expensive, difficult to install and maintain and if not from sustainable forests, a drain on the environment. So if – whether for budget or practical reasons – hardwood is not suitable, don’t panic – there are several good alternatives.

Laminate

Laminate Floors are composed from multiple layers of processed wood (or even plastic) and topped by a photographic image of wood, this is the most popular substitute for solid wood floors. In fact, with modern design and manufacturing technology, laminate is becoming a desirable floor option in its own right. They are especially popular for high traffic areas and for homes which suffer the brunt of children and pets. The new generation laminates not only provide the look of traditional wooden floors for a fraction of the price but they also offer greater durability than ever before, with even better scratch and dent resistance than that of hardwood and Vinyl Floors.

In addition, they are more stain-resistant than traditional Solid Wood Floors, with the surface of flooring segments being pre-finished with a stain-resistant wear coat. They are also fade-resistant, unlike solid wood floors which are notorious for fading over time in bright sunlight. Perhaps most importantly, laminate flooring is moisture-resistant so it can be used in areas like bathrooms and kitchens, which habamve high humidity and moisture levels. In the past, hardwood has been avoided in these areas because of the tendency to warp, gap or cup due to wood expansion and contraction. Now, laminate flooring means that the look of traditional wood floors can be achieved in these rooms, without any of the risks involved.

Laminate also offers far more variety in colour, design and style than traditional wood floors while at the same time, requiring very simple Cleaning and Maintenance: a regular vacuum and wiping with damp mop or cloth is all that is usually necessary. Any minor damage (such as scratching from sand and grit) can be easily repaired and major damage can be dealt with simply by replacing the section of the floor that is marked.

For the DIY enthusiast, laminate floors – being a floating floor system designed to adjust to fluctuating temperature and moisture levels in the interior environment – can be installed over an existing floor or even concrete. And the latest brands feature a simple, glue-less snap-and-lock installation, which allows the sections to just click together.

Cork

A naturally occurring material that is actually the bark of the cork oak tree, cork has a unique structure which makes it strong, durable, flexible and waterproof. It is also naturally anti-microbial, which means that it is resistant to rot, and repels insects as well. Furthermore, it is fire-resistant and does not shed irritant fibres. Because it is resistant to dust and soiling, it is very easy to clean.

One of cork’s huge advantages over hardwood is its acoustic properties, i.e. it’s very quiet! The natural air pockets within the cellular structure provide effective insulation, making this the original “silent flooring”. This makes it a fantastic choice for apartments and other intensive building projects where it dampens the sound of heavy footsteps from above. In some cases, it is actually laid underneath floating floor systems, to act as a muffler and give the floors a more natural sound.

Its inherent air pockets also makes cork very warm, with better insulating r-values than many carpets! This means that cork floors will help you reduce heating costs, as well as being comfortable to walk on. The comfort also comes from the fact that cork is actually soft to touch and has a cushioning effect, depressing under pressure, then springing readily back to its original shape. For anyone with expensive china and glassware, cork is a good choice since dropped items will rarely break!

One of the reasons people often choose cork is for its eco-friendly properties, since cork grows continuously and is therefore a renewable resource. Unfortunately, like hardwood, cork is susceptible to sun exposure and will fade over time, so it may not be the best choice for areas in direct sunlight. Also, note that cork has a slight odour but this is not generally considered offensive.

Bamboo

A material that has been gaining recognition and popularity in recent years, bamboo is actually the most environmentally-friendly flooring you can install. It is a completely renewable resource as it is actually a grass, not a tree, and is one of the fastest growing plants on earth. Even when harvested, the plant will continue to grow by sending out new shoots. The tensile strength of bamboo is legendary – in fact, it exceeds that of several grades of steel - and yet it does not have the same expansion and contraction issue as hardwood, meaning that it can be installed in a high moisture environment with less worry. It also copes better with temperature fluctuations and in total, shows less warping, cupping and bulging.

While the naturally available colours can be a bit limited, they are nevertheless beautiful and come in a range of shades, from the natural light tan to darker caramel hues, produced from a smoking process during production. Of course, it is possible to opt for pre-stained bamboo, which comes in a larger range of shades and colours. In general, bamboo flooring provides a unique appearance which makes an impact in any design scheme.

Beware though that manufacturing quality can vary so always check the finish and the adhesives used – be careful of formaldehyde emissions. Unfortunately as a relatively new and “exotic” flooring option, bamboo can be expensive but the environmental benefits can still make it a worthwhile choice.

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