Timber and tile flooring buying guide

Choosing flooring is an important part of home building or renovation.
 
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  • Updated:8 Nov 2004
 

01 .What are your options?

Timber flooring

In brief

  • Timber and tiles are popular non-allergenic flooring options, but think about the use of the floor when deciding.
  • If you’re concerned about the logging of old-growth forests, choose a product certified as originating from sustainably managed plantations, or use recycled timber. See our 2010 sustainable flooring buying guide.
  • Floating timber floors are popular — what exactly are they?

When you’re building or renovating, elegant flooring that’s also practical can add substantial value to your home, in addition to looking and feeling great.

Because flooring has a major influence on the feel and mood of a room, it’s important to make the right choice.

You’ve also got to consider how much traffic it’ll get and factor in maintenance and durability, as well as appearance, comfort and cost.

To help guide you through the choices, we’ve surveyed what’s available in timber and tile flooring. We haven’t included carpet because the range of options is so large that it’s an article in itself.

Please note: this information was current as of November 2004 but is still a useful guide to today's market. .


Living areas

  • In rooms where family and friends gather, the aim is usually to combine good looks with practicality.
  • Timber or carpet tend to be the main options.

Kitchens and bathrooms

  • Kitchen floors, in particular, need to be both spill- and busy-proof — generally, hard flooring like tile, stone and timber is a good choice.
  • For bathrooms, though, tiles need to be non-slip and timber properly waterproofed.
  • Some softer floorings, such as cork, vinyl or even rubber, can work in these areas too. See Other options, for more on these.
 
 

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Pros and cons

Timber floors have very wide appeal, particularly in living areas — they’re also a strong home selling point.

Timber flooring is available in a wide variety of types, styles and wood species. You can choose between structural solid plank styles that slot together, parquetry designs and relatively new floating floors that can be overlaid on pre-existing solid floors.

Advantages of timber include:

  • High durability: well-sealed timber is spill, stain and chemical-resistant.
  • Comfort.
  • Easy care.
  • It’s relatively low-allergenic.
  • Timber and other solid floors like tile are recommended if a member of the family suffers from allergies or asthma.

On the downside:

  • Unsealed timber flooring can stain, dent and scratch easily — it’s not a very practical option for homes.
  • High traffic areas will need stripping and sanding every three to four years (not only to keep it looking good, but also to maintain its moisture resistance, which is important in preventing warping or other problems).

Structural timber floors

These are the traditional type of timber boards laid on bearers or joists.

Boards of structural flooring typically come in 100 and 150 mm widths and are generally available in various click-together tongue and groove designs.

Professional installation is generally recommended for structural floors, but it can be a time-consuming process — a period of up to two weeks may be required before laying so that the moisture content of the timber boards has time to acclimatise to the intended environment.

And it’s important to ensure there’s adequate subfloor ventilation to prevent warping of the timber.

Timber flooring varieties

Structural timber typically varies in cost depending on grade, thickness and species.

Generally, three grades are available:

  • The cheapest (around $40/m2) has more knots, grain and natural variation ...
  • … than ‘standard’ or mid-grade timber ($50–$70/m2).
  • The most expensive grade ($60–$100/m2) has the fewest defects.

Boards can be ordered up to 30 mm thick; 19 mm is a fairly standard thickness.
Popular species include brush box, blackbutt, spotted gum and jarrah, but there are at least 20 varieties to choose from. Read How to choose ‘good wood’ (below), for buying considerations.

Floating timber floors

Timber floating floor over tilesUnlike structural timber floors, floating floors aren’t nailed or otherwise attached to a subfloor system — they’re laid over the existing solid floor.

They can be fitted over tiles, concrete, timber floorboards, plywood, particle board and cork. They’re usually installed on underlay, which provides good noise insulation. This makes them ideal for use in multi-storey apartment buildings and homes.

Because floating floors aren’t nailed down like conventional floorboards, any movement in the boards is spread across the entire floor, which makes gaps less likely to appear.

Floating floors don’t even have to be real timber — laminated ‘faux’ timber finishes are widely available and are commonly referred to as laminate flooring. If you go for the cheaper faux look, make sure you’re happy with how closely (or otherwise) it resembles the real thing.

Typically, ‘real’ timber floating floors consist of a thin layer of softwood or hardwood bonded to a high-density fibreboard substrate. They’re often precoated to enhance their wearability (polyurethane is common), but it’s possible to coat after installation. Unlike laminate flooring, real timber floating floors can be sanded back and refurbished if necessary.

Floating floors vary in cost according to the thickness and species of the feature timber layer. Prices start from around $40/m2 up to $100/m2 (which may or may not include underlay — around $5–$10/m2).

Laminated ‘timber-look’ products are priced from around $25/m2.

Choosing a floating floor gives you the option of DIY installation — a significant advantage if you’re looking to save money.

To install a floating floor:

Ensure the floor it will cover is level enough. Some products have variation limits, so it’s important to check your floor suits the product.

  • Remove any pre-existing soft floor covering.
  • Some products require an acclimatisation period in the room where they’ll be installed (a day or two is common).
  • If the floor to be covered is concrete, lay plastic lining to moisture-proof it.
  • Lay underlay and allow it to settle. Measure, cut the boards to size and install.
  • Generally, installation during extreme weather conditions isn’t recommended and some products recommend installation by a professional. Typical professional installation costs are around $30–$40/m2, which includes underlay.

How to choose 'good wood'

Timber floorsWhile timber is generally regarded as a good environmental building material choice, the logging of native old-growth forests remains a subject of heated debate. See our 2010 sustainable flooring guide for more information.

 

Timber tips

To keep your timber floors looking good:
  • Avoid direct sunlight. Draw curtains and blinds if possible — new floors, in particular, can be vulnerable to fading in direct sunlight. Heat generated by too much sunlight exposure may also cause localised changes in moisture content, causing warping.
  • Keep your floors dry. Vacuuming or sweeping is best. Preferably don’t use detergent and use water sparingly. For stubborn spots use a mixture of one cup of methylated spirits in a bucket of water. Quickly wipe up spills to prevent moisture from getting beneath the boards, where it may lead to swelling or mould problems.
  • Put door mats at entry points or make your home a shoe-free zone. This will reduce scratches and scrapes from dragged-in dirt and will lengthen the period before you have to resand and seal or polish.
  • Use protective pads to stop furniture scratching the floor.

The Bamboo option

Bamboo floorBamboo is a renewable resource that grows faster than timber. It’s also a very hard-wearing and durable surface. For these reasons it’s becoming a popular flooring alternative to timber.

When our sister organisation in the US tested two samples of bamboo flooring in 2002, it found that while abrasion resistance was very high, UV colour stability wasn’t so good — it tended to darken. So the same advice applies to bamboo as timber — protect it from direct sunlight.

Bamboo costs around $90/m2 for either structural or floating-floor boards. Installation of structural boards will cost you around $50–60/m2.

Image: www.bamboofloors.com.au

03.Tiles and other options

 

Tiles

There’s a vast array of vinyl, ceramic, natural and man-made stone tiles in an huge range of designs and styles.

Porcelain tiles are a type of ceramic and are good for indoor and outdoor flooring — they’re more hard-wearing and easier to maintain than natural stone. They come in two types: glazed or vitrified (also known as full-bodied).

The difference is that vitrified tiles are the same colour all the way through, so unlike glazed tiles, if they’re chipped or in very heavy wear situations, they’ll retain their original colour.

Vitrified porcelain tiles come in a ‘natural’ (from around $50/m2) or polished finish (from around $90/m2).

Natural stone like travertine, shellstone, limestone and marble are also popular floor-tiling materials. They typically require regular sealing to protect them from water and wear, because natural stone tends to be porous.

Prices start from around $80/m2. Depending on your particular situation, installation of tiles will generally add around another $50/m2 to the cost.

Other options

Some examples of other flooring materials you may not have considered include:

  • Cork: Pros include hard-wearing aesthetic appeal and comfy, soft, warm feel underfoot. It’s also easy to clean when sealed and resists fading. On the downside, it has relatively poor water and stain resistance unless it’s well-sealed.
  • Rubber: Pros include softness underfoot, durability and fade-resistance. Cons include being relatively difficult to clean and poor resistance to marks/stains and indentations.
  • Vinyl: Pros include an almost inexhaustible range of styles, patterns and colours, easy maintenance, fairly soft underfoot and good fade-resistance. It’s also priced to suit a range of budgets and is easy to install, even DIY. Cons include poor resistance to scratching and indentations, and cheaper versions may be considered a relatively short-term flooring option.