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Floor Coverings: Natural or Synthetic?

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 30 Mar 2011 | comments*Discuss
 
Natural Floors Synthetic Floors Natural

With the endless number of options available these days, choosing a floor covering can be a daunting exercise. One of the main decisions most people make is deciding on a natural or synthetic material. Both have their pros and cons and it is a matter of analysing your needs, lifestyle, aesthetic preferences and even your ethical attitudes towards environmental issues, in order to make a decision.

Natural Floors

For looks and appeal, it can often be hard to beat Mother Nature. Solid wood floors, for example, have a beauty and feel of quality that even the best-designed laminates struggle to match. They are also one of the few products which actually improve with age and if well-maintained, will last for a lifetime. In fact, solid wood floors instantly add to the value of a property and provide a great advantage when marketing and selling property. Natural wood also comes in a ready range of beautiful colours that are naturally soothing and pleasing to the eye, matching easily to many décor schemes.

Similarly, carpets made from natural fibres have a warmth and luxury that is not easily matched by synthetic fibres such as nylon and polyester. Like hardwood, Wool Carpets age well, retaining vibrancy and resilience over time compared to nylon fibres which may matt or become crushed, i.e. they look good for longer. They are also more static-resistant than synthetic fibres and have very low flammability.

The other reason to choose natural materials is for their eco-friendly properties. Provided that they are harvested from Sustainable Resources, they do not harm the health of our planet unlike synthetic products which are usually the result of the petroleum-based industry with its associated problems of pollution, energy consumption and toxicity. Natural floors also create a living environment that is healthier for our bodies. Synthetic carpets, for example, are made from petrochemical products which can release toxins into the atmosphere, taking years to dissipate. Synthetic products will also often have other components, such as chemical bonding agents, which may be carcinogenic and add further threats to our health. In addition, natural products can often have a less allergenic effect.

The one thing you often cannot expect from natural floors – particularly wooden floors - is uniformity of appearance or exact selection of colour, so if this is an important issue then a synthetic choice might be better. However, many people actually delight in the flaws and inconsistencies inherent in natural products, feeling that this gives them more “character”. Natural products are also susceptible to damage due to the properties and vulnerabilities of their materials – for example, hardwood floors can warp, discolour or crack if they are exposed for prolonged periods to extremes of temperature, light or moisture (wet or dry). They can also be prone to gouges and scratches, despite the finishing. Similarly, natural wool carpets may be prone to shrinkage and damage from “scrubbing” or hard scoring.

Synthetic Floors

The main advantage of synthetic floors is usually the lower cost, although nowadays, advanced design and improved manufacturing technology means that they often match natural products in the other departments too, such as durability and comfort. Laminate Flooring, for example, are increasingly popular as a cheaper alternative to solid wood or ceramic tile floors – they can provide the appearance of much more expensive flooring for just a fraction of the price. Furthermore, vinyl and laminates are incredibly durable and easy to maintain. Synthetic floors tend to be more stain-resistant and water-resistant and can be treated with soil guards and other repellent coverings. Synthetic flooring is also popular for areas of high traffic as not only do they cope well with the higher wear and tear but they are also cheaper to replace, an exercise that will inevitably occur more often in such areas.

Aside from affordability, the other great advantage of synthetic floors is their unlimited variety in terms of styles and colours – and also in providing a consistency of appearance, which may not always be available with natural flooring options. But most of all, synthetic floors offer greater versatility to the homeowner and interior designer: for example, many have desired the look and feel of hardwood floors in the bathroom and kitchen but the high moisture levels in these areas have often meant that this was hard to achieve – now with laminate flooring which has greater moisture resistance, the same look can be achieved without any risk. Another example is the wish to recreate the look of a stone or ceramic tile floor – which can be done with good quality vinyl; this means that the flooring remains warm to touch and you will not need to suffer cold feet for the sake of aesthetics!

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