The cheapest option is a low quality laminate floor. A thin, non water-resistant mounting board with no grooved edges is the cheapest to produce. It is an excellent option for those on the tightest of budgets, perhaps for a landlord refurbishing a rental property, or used as a quick and easy method to tidy up a shed or garage.
Moving up in price is where wood effect tiles have a distinct advantage. Engineered or solid timber flooring has a retail price corresponding to the manufacturing costs attendant to the species of wood in question. A rare species will command a much higher premium than common indigenous varieties. Walnut from Brazil or cypress from Australia will typically be at the higher end of the spectrum when compared to locally milled oak or birch.
A tile factory can replicate any of these woods, exotic or otherwise, without a movement in price. All the characteristics of real planks can be represented with incredible accuracy, but for a fraction of the cost of the genuine article. Add that to the fact that it costs no more to produce a wider plank in ceramic, compared to real wood, and the savings begin to mount up.
When it comes to cost, far more often than not, the best value can be found in floor tiles.
Many choices exist for timber flooring, but that number is a hundredfold greater for ceramic and porcelain wood effect tiles. The ranges available are limited only by the imagination of the tile designers. A local stockist might have four, five or even ten oaks to choose from, and they may all look similar.
By comparison, a tile manufacturer could produce, for example:
- a slightly darker version of oak which is simply not available in real wood
- a distressed look
- a reclaimed appearance
- a paint effect oak
- a non-slip finish
- a style with less blemishes
- a rustic effect replete with knots
- a purple finish to mimic dyed wood
- an inlaid effect
Practically anything can be designed, and all in the same price bracket. And like timber, there are a multitude of different sizes and plank lengths available. When it comes to styles, the world of tiles covers everything offered by nature, in addition to anything within the bounds of the designers’ imagination.
It is a testament to the technology available in the modern era, now that inkjet printing has replaced the older screen printing, that no design or pattern is beyond the reach of a factory’s creative team. While the print is astonishingly lifelike, so too is the texture achieved on the surface of the tile. It is now very difficult, if not impossible, to tell the difference between wood and wood effect tiles with the naked eye.
3. Installation Costs
Laminates lead the way in terms of cost efficiency. Not too challenging for the average DIY person, they usually sit on a foam underlay and click together. Orientated correctly, trimmed neatly at the walls, and finished with a narrow beading if necessary – the job is straightforward.
If tiling, then doing so on a concrete or screed floor is the simplest option, and therefore the cheapest form of tile installation. If the floor needs some preparatory work, such as levelling out, this work will be needed for both ceramic and wooden floors. However, one would expect a tiler to be significantly quicker than a carpenter thereafter. The wooden planks need to be glued down, and to each other, as well as being cut to shape. Laying a natural wood floor is usually more expensive than floor tiles.
When tiling over joists or old floor boards, it is recommended that a backing board is installed first. This is because if tiling over sheets of ply or the floor boards themselves, the initial shrinkage of the sheets plus regular expansion and contraction with fluctuations in heat will cause movement. Floor tiles will be secured to these surfaces, and are not designed to tolerate such movement.
When installing timber over existing floorboards, the installer must ensure that they are solid, and that the new floor lines up perpendicularly to the old floor. If this is not possible, then the installer must sheet the floor out first. Alternatively, batons must be fixed to the floor first, and then sheeted.
Another consideration which must to be taken into account is the climate. Floor tiles can be laid the day they arrive. With timber, there are recommended moisture parameters for both the substrate and the new planks themselves, which must be adhered to. It is highly recommended that new wood be stored in the room in which it is to be installed for one week prior to fitting, so that it can acclimatise to the ambient temperature of its surroundings.
After all preparation work is carried out, the bill at that point is roughly the same for timber or wood effect tiles. However, the final installation cost will be cheaper if floor tiles are chosen.
4. Wear, Tear, and Maintenance
Natural wood is often finished with a lacquer or oil on the surface. This will wear over time through everyday use. The higher the level of traffic, the quicker this happens. Unfortunately, it only occurs on the part of the floor where walking occurs, which makes the deterioration all the more obvious.
Moving furniture, dragged toys, the toenails of large dogs, high heels etc. will all dent or scrape the surface of wood. It can fade too, more so in the areas that are subject to the most sunlight, something that will not happen with tiles.
Engineered and solid woods can be refinished at this point, but if left too long, they will need to be sanded down first, and that is a large, complex job.
Laminate floors cannot be sanded. Although they can be tougher than their natural counterparts, once they have worn through, that is the end of them, and they will need to be replaced.
Wood effect floor tiles, once fitted, require no maintenance other than a quick mop. Unless there has been a catastrophic spillage of something significant, such as tar or oil, even grout is not likely to tarnish. And even if it does, there are many cheap, easy to apply, restorative cleaners available on the market, which will bring grout up as good as new.
5. Water Damage
With wood, a lot of damage can be caused by a small flood from a domestic appliance, or even incorrect mopping and cleaning. As a natural product, moisture can be absorbed from the atmosphere or from standing water. This will cause planks to expand and buckle under the ensuing pressure, or warp out of shape. Splitting, discolouration, and rot can result.
To clean a wooden floor, it is not recommended to dump a bucket of water out into the centre, and then spread it around to get the job done. The water will seep between the joints, and the timbers can sustain irreparable damage.
Some laminates are mounted on water-resistant boards, which are ideal for bathroom or shower areas instead of natural wood.
All wall and floor tiles, by comparison, are manufactured to handle water.
The reasons above explain the migration to ceramic or porcelain wood effect tiles from authentic woods. While there are lesser factors to consider, such as suitability to underfloor heating, the above are the five main driving forces.