In flooring, as with many things, we would all like the best things in life, but unfortunately, budgets and lifestyle demands often mean that this is not possible or practical.
However, with modern technology and the wealth of synthetic materials available, it is relatively easy these days to install a more affordable alternative which still gives the same look and function as the more expensive flooring option.
Laminate and Engineered Wood vs. Hardwood Flooring
Natural Hardwood Flooring is definitely one of the most beautiful and top grade flooring materials you can choose. However, it is also very expensive and often out of the budget range of many homeowners.
In many cases, it may not even be practical, especially if you have an active family with children and pets running around the house.
Solid wood floors require substantial maintenance to ensure their continuing good condition and longevity.
For floors that are going to suffer a lot of soiling and wear and tear, a synthetic alternative such laminate flooring might actually be a better choice.
Laminate Flooring is incredibly easy to clean and care for and is specifically designed for high traffic areas. It is composed of multiple layers of dense particle board, overlaid with a surface layer imprinted with a photographic image of wood.
It looks and feels remarkably like the real thing but costs a fraction of the price, as well as being far easier to Clean and Maintain.
It is resistant to scratching and denting as well as stains; even permanent marker can be removed with just a bit of nail polish remover. However, it will suffer from large spills (such as from a bucket of water) and it cannot be sanded or re-finished, although sections of it can be easily replaced.
In fact, its easy installation with the glueless snap-and-lock mechanism is one of key reasons for its popularity, especially in the DIY market.
A slightly more expensive alternative is engineered wood which is essentially a veneer of wood.
Engineered woods often come in a range of exotic woods and are nicer than laminate in that it is real wood, although it still cannot be refinished more than a few times as it is not solid.
Like laminate, it is easy to care for and to install, although it may not be as resistant to scratching and denting.
The cheapest alternative to solid wood is vinyl, which comes in a variety of ‘look-alike’ styles and, if high quality, can provide very convincing alternatives to real hardwood flooring.
Vinyl is very cheap and generally durable, although it can scratch easily and is certainly not a long-term investment in your home.
Acrylic vs. Wool Carpets
For many people, wool carpets are the gold standard with the best quality wool coming from New Zealand. It offers a premium in luxury, comfort and performance that is hard to match.
However, if your budget won’t stretch to pure wool, it is possible to get the same look and feel with acrylic, a synthetic fibre which is similar to wool in having a low static level. It is also moisture and mildew-resistant.
However, acrylic fibre can be prone to fuzzing and pilling and there is some dissatisfaction with its performance leading to many manufacturers preferring to use other synthetic fibres, such as nylon and polyester, despite their lesser resemblance to wool.
Another alternative is to choose a wool blend with a synthetic (e.g. nylon), which would give a more affordable option but still provide many of wool’s superior qualities and luxurious look.
Vinyl vs. Ceramic Tile
As a floor covering that has been used for hundreds of years, ceramic tile is popular for its variety of colour and styles as well as its durability and resistance to moisture and fire. It is also very easy to care for, resisting stains and grime, as well as odour.
However, a modern alternative offers a cheaper option with the same variety of colours and patterns: vinyl.
Due to advancements in modern technology, vinyl now offers an affordable alternative to ceramic tile, while still giving good durability and easy maintenance as well as offering the same look to match any decor theme; in fact, high quality vinyl can replicate the look of any type of tile very convincingly.
Vinyl is actually also softer underfoot, providing cushioning for both feet and anything dropped onto the floor; a situation in which ceramic tile can be very unforgiving.
Tile vs. Solid Sheet
In some cases, rather than choosing an alternative material, just opting for the same material to be supplied in a different form can radically reduce costs.
Carpet Tiles are a great alternative to broadloom carpet, particularly when considering flooring for children’s rooms and high activity areas, such as family living rooms and play rooms.
It is extremely durable and long-lasting, as well as being easy to clean and maintain. Installation is a breeze as, in most cases; you simply peel the self-adhesive backing and stick it down.
This also means that repair or replacement is much easier but exchanging just the worn, damaged or stained tile with a new tile. In many office settings, companies are actually opting for carpet tiles as carpet replacement is less disruptive, less costly and takes less time.
Carpet tiles also give you greater creativity in the combination of textures and colours to create specific patterns or designs, which is also useful in the commercial environment in the creation of logos and graphics.
Natural stone is popular because of its timeless beauty and high durability, usually lasting the lifetime of the building if installed properly.
Types include granite, marble, limestone and quarried slate. For a more affordable alternative, you could think about natural stone tiles as opposed to solid stone. Stone tiles are made of real stone aggregate which is suspended in a polymer binder.
It gives the same look as natural stone and comes in the same range of materials, for example, marble and granite for a more formal look and sandstone or limestone for a more casual appearance. The latter is also less costly although it can be more brittle.
Stone tiles are ideal for wet areas and will also retain solar heat well; they can also be re-used for other purposes (e.g. landscaping). Make sure that the stone tiles have a non-skid, stain-proof surface.
If the surface is not stain-proof, then ensure that it is sealed and resealed regularly for protection.