Flooring plays a defining visual and visceral role in a building, as we see it and touch it constantly. The homebuilder is faced with a wide range of options when making flooring choices, and these choices represent a substantial financial investment. They are not decisions that are easy or inexpensive to change.
Flooring obviously receives a great deal of wear and tear, and durability is of utmost importance. Patterns of wear, aesthetic preference and type of construction may all dictate that a home has more than one type of flooring, so the decision-making process may include multiple choices each of which suits a particular need in a particular part of the home.
Flooring considerations are actually twofold: the flooring material itself and the type of surface finish used to seal and protect it. In some cases, the two can be considered separately, with a single flooring product having several options for finishing. In other cases, the materials come pre-finished and the choice for material and finish must be made together. However, in many of the categories of comparison in this book, the flooring material and the finish may have very different ratings. We will attempt to clarify the choices and differences for each option discussed.
Building Science Basics for Flooring
Flooring choices will have few impacts on the performance of the building in the parameters examined by building science.
If an in-floor heating system is used, then the conductive properties of the flooring will have an impact on how quickly heat transfers from the source to the space (and the toes!) above it. Assuming proper insulation levels have been installed under the floor, the conductive properties of the floor will not affect the overall performance of the heating system, but it will have an effect on response-time and perceived sensation of heat in the floor. The greater the density of the flooring material, the better heat will transfer through it and the “warmer” it will feel to feet in contact with it. More dense types of flooring will also require longer periods of heat input to reach a set temperature and will cool down over a longer period of time, potentially resulting in less “cycling” of the heating system.
Concerns that wooden flooring is not suitable for in-floor heating systems are not fact-based. Wood does not shrink or swell to any problematic degree through temperature change; it is changes in moisture content that cause expansion and contraction issues in solid wood flooring. As long as humidity levels are relatively constant and changes in humidity do not occur rapidly, a solid wood floor (or any other flooring type examined in this chapter) over in-floor heating is not a problematic choice.
Some flooring choices can introduce a large amount of moisture into the building at the construction phase, and some will continue to do so for as long as a full year after occupation. Floors that are wet-poured, such as earthen and concrete slabs, bring high quantities of moisture into the building that will not have long-term implications but may affect humidity levels in the early stages of home occupation. Wood and stone floors will carry less moisture, but may contain enough to be noticeable after occupation.