I have really struggled with choosing a floor material that has the right balance of affordability, durability, and sustainability. There are so many options! When I started exploring them online, I quickly recognized the differences in cost, durability, and environmental impact are astonishing. There is a lot to consider.
Most websites make you enter your details before you can see the price. I’d rather know up front if a certain type of flooring is out of my budget. Savvy marketing teams can make even the most questionable materials sound “eco-friendly”. First and foremost, it is important to understand from what sources what different types of flooring are made. From there, we can start to assess the trade-offs between materials, manufacturing processes, installation, durability, and budget.
Engineered Wood: £30 to £100 per sqm; installation £20 to £60 per sqm
Engineered wood flooring can be a sustainable choice if it is sourced responsibly. Engineered wood maximizes the use of natural, renewable timber resources and reduces waste. Look for options certified by organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This certification ensures that the wood comes from responsibly managed forests. Opt for hardwoods that are native to the UK, such as oak, beech, or ash. This reduces transportation-related emissions. Reclaimed or salvaged hardwood repurposes existing materials, reducing the need for new resources, but it can be more expensive than buying new (annoyingly).
Engineered wood flooring was first introduced to the UK in the 1980s and has grown dramatically in popularity ever since. It is less likely to warp, cup, or expand as compared to solid wood, but that doesn’t make it impervious to the elements. Because it is manufactured in layers, it can separate over time. We’ve had personal experience with the top layer of engineered wood starting to lift up from the rest of the board over a five to ten year time horizon. It is easy enough to glue it back down, but it never really goes back to its original state once the layers start to separate.
Engineered wood flooring is not considered suitable for use with underfloor heating, as the wood can warp over time as a result of exposure to heat. When choosing engineered wood, remember to budget for underlay, adhesives, and finishing materials.
Solid Hardwood Flooring: £60 to £300 per sqm; installation £20 to £70 per sqm
Like Engineered wood, hardwood flooring can be a sustainable choice if it is sourced responsibly. Choose hardwood flooring certified by organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Opt for hardwoods that are native to the UK, such as oak, beech, or ash. This reduces transportation-related emissions. Reclaimed or salvaged hardwood repurposes existing materials, reducing the need for new resources. It can be harder to find sellers and installers of reclaimed timber flooring, and it can be more expensive than buying new.
Hardwood flooring has been a popular choice in the UK for many years due to its classic beauty and timeless appeal. Remember to budget for underlay, adhesives, and finishing materials. Hardwood flooring is not considered suitable for use with underfloor heating, as the wood can warp over time as a result of exposure to heat.
Laminate Flooring: £10 to £100 per sqm; installation £10 to £20 per sqm
Laminate flooring is known for its affordability and ease of maintenance. Most laminates are made of a base layer of wood, sometimes infused with plastic, topped with a decorative layer and a layer of petrochemical-based plastic. Many laminates include formaldehyde, which can be released over the life of the product. On balance, laminate is generally more sustainable than most Vinyl options because many laminates have a core wood base with plastic layer on top; whereas, traditional Vinyl is made from petrochemical based plastics throughout.
A number of new types of laminate are coming on to the market that use recycled materials and are free from harsh chemicals, like formaldehyde. Do your research, though, as a number of companies call themselves “eco-friendly” simply because of the internal wood layer. Look for companies with third-party certification of their products. And be aware that more eco-friendly options often come with a higher price tag. The cheapest eco-friendly laminate I can find retails at just under £30.
Some laminates are suitable for use with underfloor heating, but not all, so check the specification by product. Most laminates state they are suitable for kitchens and bathrooms, but many builders do not agree. The top layer of a laminate is waterproof, so they are fine for spills or small exposure to water. However, the core middle layer of laminate is made of wood, and therefore would be permanently damaged by a large exposure to water, like a leaky washing machine or flooding.
Vinyl: £20 to £50 per sqm; installation £10 to £20 per sqm
Vinyl flooring is made from petrochemical based materials throughout, making it waterproof but also materially less sustainable (pun intended). Vinyl is short for polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a petrochemical typically derived from petroleum-based vinyl chloride monomers. PVC is often enhanced with limestone fillers, plasticizers, and stabilizers. This is overlaid with a decorative layer and a wear layer made of urethane or clear PVC. Vinyl is similar in construction to laminate, but less environmentally friendly as the core layer is petrochemical-based rather than made from wood.
Vinyl flooring is usually considered to be a superior choice for kitchens and bathrooms because it is impervious to water. One construction supplier of both Vinyl and Laminate flooring suggested to us that if a Vinyl floor was flooded, you could lift the boards, let them dry out, and relay them. Some would argue this is a win for sustainability because of the longevity of life Vinyl provides. Theoretically, durable vinyl can be lifted and relaid, making it recyclable at the end of its life. I do not have evidence, though, this is carried out very often in practice.
Ceramic or porcelain tiles: £20 to £200 per sqm; installation £20 to £40 per sqm
Ceramic and porcelain tiles are typically made from natural clay and minerals, which are generally abundant renewable resources. Clay is often sourced locally, reducing the environmental impact of transportation. Porcelain is a type of ceramic tile made from a more refined clay that is fired at higher temperatures. This results in a denser and less porous tile.
The manufacturing of clay-based tiles involves firing the clay in kilns, which can be energy-intensive. Sustainable practices in production, such as the use of energy-efficient kilns and the recycling of excess heat can reduce the environmental impact.
Ceramic tiles are known for their durability and longevity. When properly installed and maintained, they can last for decades, reducing the need for frequent replacements and conserving resources in the long term. Installation costs of ceramic tiles can be higher than other floor types, though, and they require adhesives and grout for proper installation.
Ceramic tiles are non-toxic and do not emit harmful VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), contributing to better indoor air quality. Choosing locally sourced ceramic tiles can reduce the carbon footprint associated with transportation. Smaller tile sizes and intricate installation methods can lead to more waste. Selecting larger tiles and efficient installation practices can minimize material wastage. While both ceramic and porcelain tiles are versatile and offer a variety of design options, porcelain tiles are generally considered more durable, less porous, and suitable for a broader range of applications. The choice between the two often depends on factors such as the specific use, budget, and aesthetic preferences.
Carpet: £5 to £100 per sqm; installation £5 to £20 per sqm
You can buy really cheap carpet, which is budget-friendly. However, it is worth being aware that cheap carpet is usually made of plastics like polypropylene, polyester, and nylon. In my experience, the cheap stuff doesn’t last. When I was young and on a tight budget, we put down he cheapest carpet we could get. Within two years it was discolored and flat. You can get higher quality, longer-lasting synthetic carpets as well, but I feel like if I’m going to spend £30 per square meter, I might as well get carpet made with natural fibers. I have had wool carpets for over a decade, now, and they are still holding up well – springing back to shape and decent at repelling stains.
One thing to watch – you can get wool carpets with plastic backing, or you can get wool carpets with more natural backing, like jute, and natural underlay for the same cost. I recently found a great end-of-life option at Flooring by Nature for wool carpet at £21 per square meter. The trade off is that jute may not be as water resistant as the plastic backing, but this is generally fine when used in well ventilated bedrooms. It is not advisable to carpet a bathroom or kitchen with natural wool and jute. I mean, let’s be honest, it is not advisable to carpet a bathroom or a kitchen for a whole lotta reasons — it’s got nothing to do with choice of carpet backing.
Natural Linoleum Flooring: £35 to £100 per sqm; installation £20 to £80 per sqm
Linoleum is a durable and sustainable option for residential flooring, but be careful as many suppliers these days call Vinyl tiles “Lino”, when they aren’t made from the same thing. Traditional linoleum is made from natural materials such as linseed oil, wood flour, and cork dust (that was news to me! I thought it was made from petrochemicals).
Linoleum flooring can last for many years, reducing the need for frequent replacements. The biggest trouble I have had with trying to understand Lino options is in determining whether or not a “Lino” is actually linoleum or instead made from plastic, or in finding a supplier that will supply domestic. Forbo seems like a great product, but it is only available commercially or to tradespersons.
Resin flooring: £60 to £300 per sqm; installation £20 to £40 per sqm
The sustainability associated with resin flooring depends a great deal on the type of resin. Most epoxy resin floors are petrochemical based. However, there are some new types of resin flooring coming to market that are bio-based and/or have lower chemical inputs. These tend to be very expensive, however, as compared to traditional flooring options. Resin flooring is not recyclable at the end of its life.
Polished Concrete: £30 to £150 per sqm
We evaluated polished concrete as a way to save on materials. Our builder is intending to screed over our underfloor heating (screed is just a type of concrete used as a standard subfloor material – it is standard for use with underfloor heating). So, we thought, if we are going to pour concrete for the subfloor, why not just polish and be done with the floor altogether – avoiding the need for any sort of plastic or wood floor above it.
Our builder advised us, though, that polished concrete is not as hard-wearing as it might sound. In fact, the polish marks and scratches quite easily. He was concerned the building team would not be able to keep the polish in good condition while they decorated the interior of the house. At that point, I decided this was not the sort of floor that suits a family of four and a dog.
Cork Flooring: £20 to £50 per sqm; installation £20 to £80 per sqm
Cork flooring is made from the bark of cork oak trees. Cork is a renewable resource harvested from trees without cutting them down. The manufacturing process for cork flooring is relatively low in energy consumption. Cork provides natural insulation, reducing heating and cooling costs in your home. However, proper sealing and regular maintenance are crucial for preserving the durability of cork flooring. Cork should be sealed with a water-based polyurethane or a specialized cork sealer to protect it from moisture and stains. It will need to be re-sealed every two to seven years. The chemicals in sealants are typically derived from fossil fuels.
Cork also comes inside laminate flooring as an alternative to pure cork flooring. In these products, the middle layer of the laminate is made with cork, and the top layers are made from plastic as with most other laminates. Routine cleaning and avoiding harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaning methods will help maintain its longevity. It is not considered suitable for kitchens and bathrooms.
Bamboo Flooring: £20 to £50 per sqm; installation £20 to £70 per sqm
Bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource and has gained popularity for its sustainability. Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants, making it an eco-friendly choice. The production process for bamboo flooring typically produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to other materials. Bamboo seems, in theory, like a great choice. My greatest skepticism comes simply from the fact that I don’t know anyone who has had a bamboo floor, so I can’t say with confidence that it will last. I also wouldn’t be able to say with confidence that flooring suppliers have great experience installing it.
In the UK, there are lots of flooring options to choose from. Within each option, there are varying levels of sustainability amongst products. The choice isn’t so much about wood, carpet, or laminate as it is the materials and the methods within each product that can determine which options are more or less sustainable. It’s essential to consider factors such as the sourcing of materials, the production process, and the longevity of the flooring when making your decision.
Of course, as with any decision, there will be environmental factors to consider, health factors to consider, and budget. I hope this information will help you make the right decision for you!