The soft/hard debate

Choosing your flooring is undoubtedly one of the most important elements of a self-build – but should you go for for carpet or hard flooring? Selfbuilder & Homemaker’s Roseanne Field weighs up the pros and cons

Choosing the flooring for your project is an important decision. It makes a good starting point to build the rest of the decor from and is often the first thing people will notice upon entering your house.

But making such an important decision can be somewhat overwhelming, especially for the debut self-builder who might be new to the world of seemingly endless carpet choices and hard flooring varieties. Here are some pointers to consider as you decide which is best for your dream home.

The soft sell

Carpet used to be hugely popular but some view it as ‘old-fashioned’. In Europe in particular carpet has fallen out of favour, with many opting for hard flooring, for a variety of reasons. However, as Geert Van den Bossche, marketing director of Crown Floors points out, “in the UK the carpet market will always hold up strongly as people continue to want a cosier feel both upstairs and in the living room.”

The warmth and comfort offered by good quality carpet is unrivalled. This makes it a popular choice for families with young children who tend to enjoy using the floor as their play space. The texture and density of carpet aids its sound absorption, making large rooms less echoey, and enables it to work as an extra layer of thermal insulation.

Recent research by Canesis has found that wool carpets “play a significant role in reducing the levels of common indoor air contaminants in buildings.” Studies have shown that levels of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde – pollutants introduced into homes by emissions from some building materials and appliances such as gas stoves – were ‘neutralised’ when exposed to wool carpet.

Despite these potential health benefits, there’s no getting away from the fact that carpet is much harder to keep clean than hard flooring. Spillages are likely to leave stains, and vacuuming will only lift a certain amount of dirt (it’s recommended that carpets are steam cleaned at least once a year). This in turn can lead to problems with those suffering from allergies as carpet fibres trap dust and other allergens. However, to negate this, Geert Van den Bossche advises choosing a shorter pile carpet.

Carpet is also more likely to need replacing before any hard flooring will, as it by nature wears out. How long it lasts, says Geert, will “depend on the residential wear warranty and the traffic the carpet will face.” He adds: “In theory, you could get up to 20 years of life, but you will likely need to replace before that in the hallway or on the stairs.”

Another common misconception with carpet is that ‘good quality’ means ‘expensive.’ In fact, manufacturing techniques are always evolving, meaning you don’t have to just focus on the top end of the market. “100 per cent wool will generally be the most expensive,” explains Geert. Carpet is also considered not to be as eco-friendly as hard flooring. However, while this will vary, generally carpet is developed to be friendly to the environment. Says Geert, “Many consider wool to be the most eco-friendly as a ‘natural’ option, but manmade fibres can also hold a percentage of renewable material.”

So where can and can’t you lay carpet? “In theory, carpet can be used everywhere except high moisture areas,” Geert explains. “Homeowners will tend to use it everywhere except the bathroom and kitchen. We recommend checking the residential wear warranty on a carpet before purchasing.”

The hard sell

The term ‘hard flooring’ covers many things – from tiles to timber and laminate to vinyl. Wooden flooring in particular is popular for its grandeur and classic style. It’s this timelessness combined with its durability that gives wood flooring a long lifespan – as well as being resilient, it is unlikely to go out of fashion.

One of hard flooring’s biggest drawbacks is that it can be cold underfoot, a particular downside on winter mornings. However this can be easily rectified with the use of underfloor heating. A misconception has existed that underfloor heating cannot be installed underneath wooden flooring, but this isn’t the case. Certain types of underfloor heating have been specifically developed for wood floors – it’s worth speaking to manufacturers to explore the options.

Easy cleaning is one of hard flooring’s biggest advantages. Stella Coyle, national retail manager of Karndean Designflooring says: “Floors do not harbour dust mites or bacteria and they’re practical and simple to keep clean. Our product designers even go so far as ensuring the embosses on our designs don’t trap or hold dirt, making them ideal for busy homes or playrooms.”

Hard flooring can be more expensive to lay in the first instance; however as Stella explains, “once fitted the floor can last a lifetime.” Its longevity is one of its biggest appeals to homeowners, with some hard flooring manufacturers offering lifetime guarantees.

For the safety-conscious, hard flooring may not seem the most practical option. However, many products now offer slip resistance, so the risk is low, although Stella advises “it’s always best to wipe up spillages as they happen.”

Hard flooring, much like carpet, can be laid anywhere. In fact, Stella explains that products such as Karndean’s “can be used in any area of the home including staircases.” It really comes down to personal choice – consider whether or not you want a hard floor in the more ‘comfortable’ rooms in your home.

Underlying trends

Carpet offers homeowners a wide choice when it comes to colour, pattern and texture, but trends are shifting. As Geert explains, “beiges and creams will always be staples, but over the last couple of years the balance has shifted slightly as homeowners are exploring greys and silvers. Equally, stripes (with coordinating plains) are doing extremely well.”

Geert predicts that 2017 will be “a big year for the shimmering effect of polyamide (nylon) carpets,” explaining that these carpets are now much more hardwearing than older nylon options. He also foresees “an increase in bold colour, with homeowners taking the plunge and going for more vibrant shades.”

Grey is also a popular choice, says Stella Coyle. “With spring and summer fast approaching, we’re seeing more light-toned hues and distressed grey wood and stone look floors.” Flooring tiles or planks are also being laid in unique patterns or including design features such as borders.

Ultimately, both carpet and hard flooring can have a place in a home – where one may not be so suitable, the other will. You will probably not want to lay a carpet in the bathroom, and equally you may not want hard flooring in the bedroom. Manufacturers are there to offer advice on the practicalities and help you make the right decision to fit your needs.