Flooring types & properties:
This article provides information about all types of flooring and floor coverings used in buildings. This article series provides the properties of different flooring types, flooring defects, inspection, troubleshooting, installation or flooring repairs. Asbestos, mold or other flooring hazards are described as well as how to identify types of flooring or to guess building age or flooring age.
Here we provide a list of building flooring articles that guide in identifying different kinds of flooring materials in buildings and we include articles on individual flooring type inspection, diagnosis, & repair. At the end of this article you will find the master index to articles about floors and flooring. Also try searching for specific flooring information at InspectApedia by using the page top or page bottom search boxes.
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Details begin at these articles useful to identify asbestos-containing floor tiles or sheet flooring
Asphalt floor tiles are most often 9" square tiles which used asphalt as the main binding material. Asphalt and asphalt asbestos flooring was produced and sold in a range of sizes including 6x6", 9x9", 12x12" and also in strips or decorative insets.
The original asphalt tiles were produced only in dark colors because asphalt was a main ingredient. Asphalt based floor tiles usually contain asbestos as both a powder filler (very small asbestos particles) and as a fiber for strength and are often referred to as asphalt-asbestos floor tiles. However later lighter-colored vinyl-based floor tiles may also contain asbestos.
The black tiles shown at left were not dated and could be a newer product, but in general, if you find dark colored or very old black floor tiles or floor tiles that are black in their core materials they are probably an asphalt-asbestos product.
Rosato indicates that the first publicized asphalt tile installation was in 1920 in New York City's Western Union office. The product was very successful and by 1936 over four million square yards of asphalt floor tiles were being sold annually.
In 1920 asphalt roofing manufacturers, who had been using asphalt and fiber binders to make asphalt roofing shingles for some time, tried to develop a rigid product that could be a substitute for (more costly) slate roofing. The material did not perform acceptably as a roof covering, but it led to the development of asphalt floor tiles.
By 1940, 5% of floor coverings sold in the U.S. were asphalt tile. -- Rosato Through the 1950's and 1960's most floor tiles sold in North America and parts of the U.K., Europe, Australia, New Zealand, parts of India and other countries were asphalt asbestos flooring, shifting to vinyl based tiles and vinyl-asbestos floor tiles and sheet flooring that were widely sold into the early 1980's in most locales.
At AGE of a BUILDING - how to determine in our section titled Flooring Materials we discuss the eras during which various flooring materials were first used in modern buildings and how to use these to help identify the age of a building.
Asphalt-asbestos floor tiles were produced at first in dark colors using a heavy asphalt binder combined with a very high percentage of asbestos filler fibers. It would be uncommon to find these floors still in use today, but if you encounter black or very dark asphalt floor tiles they are probably very high in asbestos fibers. We discuss floor tiles as an asbestos fiber source in buildings in more detail
at ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION where we elaborate the concerns about asbestos used in the manufacture of asphalt-based floor tiles.
That does not mean we should panic nor undertake an expensive and dangerous asbestos removal project.
Asbestos is safe and legal to remain in homes or public buildings as long as the asbestos materials are in good condition and the asbestos can not be released into the air.
Generally the safest approach is to leave such flooring alone and to cover it over with a coating or with another layer of flooring.
Asphalt -asbestos tiles manufactured early in their life (1920's) were either black, near black, brown, or a gray-brown tone. Brown asphalt-asbestos tiles were made by substituting gilsonite as a binder. In both cases the tiles were hardened by evaporating a solvent used in the fabrication process, or by cooling of hot asphalt used in the mixture.
Gilsonite could be used to produce a wider range of mixtures, but required some asphalt as a softener. Dark vinyl-asbestos tiles used, for example, a mixture of 40 parts asphalt or gilsonite, 60 parts asbestos floats, 30 parts powdered limestone, and pigments (parts by weight). Another typical mixture cited by Rosato contained 70% asbestos fiber.
See these articles on asphalt and vinyl-asbestos floor tile identification:
Carpet may be synthetic or natural fibers like wool. Synthetic carpeting is the most common
and is a good choice in areas where the carpeting may become wet.
Common wall to wall carpeting materials include polypropylene, nylon and acrylic. Where the backing material is not moisture resistant, synthetic carpet will be quickly damaged if wet. Jute-backed carpets, for example, should be kept dry.
Many types of synthetic carpet can be cleaned more easily than wool carpets.
Synthetic carpeting is available in a wide variety of colors, weights and weaves.
Wool is an expensive material favored for its look, feel and durability. As synthetic products have improved and remain less expensive, wool is becoming rare. It is sometimes blended with a synthetic material. Wool is a natural product and is less resistant to water damage than synthetics. It also has less resistance to stains than some synthetics.
The quality of a carpeted floor depends upon the type, weight and construction of carpeting, the type of underpad, and the installation work. - Citation: Carson Dunlop Associates, Home Reference Book, quoted with permission.
See these detailed articles about carpeting:
See these articles about diagnosing stains, mold, and allergens in carpeting
Concrete floor finishes are typically only used in basements and garages. The floor should slope down to a floor drain in basements and other areas where water may accumulate.
In modern construction, a four to six inch gravel base below the 3-inch thick floor slab allows water below the slab to drain away. Moisture barriers (plastic sheets) may also be provided under the slab, and in energy efficient construction or slab-on-grade construction, rigid insulation may be used below the floor. In older construction, concrete floor slabs were as thin as 1/2 inch. These are prone to impact damage, heaving and break-up.
This is a cosmetic issue and may be a trip hazard. Most concrete floors are not part of the structure. Basement floors are typically installed after the home is completed, and their main function is to keep our feet out of the mud.
Concrete basement floors can be overlaid with finished flooring. Since almost every house with a basement has water on the basement floor at some point, water-resistant floors make sense. In slab-on-grade construction, the concrete floors provide a substrate for floor finishes. - Citation: Carson Dunlop Associates, Home Reference Book , quoted with permission.
Details about cork flooring are at these articles
Asphalt floor tiles, asphalt-saturated asbestos felt, carpeting, cork floor tiles & planks, laminate flooring (modern), linoleum (sheet flooring) & earlier painted fabric floor coverings, vinyl-asbestos tile floors, wood flooring.
In recent years, laminate flooring has become very popular, especially among do-it-yourselfers. Laminate floor planks (or tiles) have several layers. The top layer is generally a clear laminate that is bonded to a decorative layer below, often creating the look of a wood floor. These layers are bonded to a wood- or fiber-based core. The bottom layer may be a paper or melamine backing. The product is similar to resilient countertops. A complete floor is created by either snapping planks together with specially-designed fasteners along the edges, or by gluing planks together along traditional tongue and groove edges.
Laminate flooring is not secured to the subfloor beneath it. Instead, it is installed as a floating floor, allowing it to expand and contract. A sheet of cushioning foam is installed between the laminate flooring and the subfloor. There may also be a sheet of plastic below the foam to act as a moisture barrier and to allow the floor to slide as it expands. A gap is required between the flooring and the walls to allow for expansion. This gap is covered by trim. Laminate flooring cannot be sanded, stained, or otherwise refinished, although damaged planks can be replaced.
Laminate flooring is resistant to small amounts of water, such as quickly wiped-up spills, but precautions should be taken in kitchens or bathrooms including applying a sealant around the perimeter. This is not visible during a home inspection. Laminate flooring should not be installed in damp basement areas. - Citation: Carson Dunlop Associates, Home Reference Book , quoted with permission.
The laminate wood flooring shown at above left was buckled and destroyed by flooding caused by a leaky heating pipe. As we discussed with traditional wood flooring above, severe flooding or installation errors can lead to total loss of the finish floor system.
Contemporary snap-together flooring products that resemble wood or other surfaces, but are made of plastic, and other pre-finished and ready-to-assemble wood flooring products are a much more modern product.
Pergo (TM) laminate flooring, for example, was developed by Pergo AB, a Swedish company founded around 1890 as a vinegar manufacturer. Product development for Pergo laminate flooring began in 1977 and was first brought to the market in 1984. Pergo laminate flooring was first sold in the U.S. in 1994.
It's safe to say that if you see a Pergo product in building in U.S. the flooring was installed no longer ago than 1994. But because this product is has been widely used as a renovation material installed atop older pre-existing finish floor surfaces, one should not presume that the product age is the same as the building age unless the floor was installed as original material - that is, unless it was not installed over an older floor covering.
Just seeing Pergo™ laminate flooring over a plywood subfloor is not sufficient data to conclude the age of a home. Older carpeting may have been removed to expose a plywood subfloor over which the laminate flooring was then installed.
See these detailed articles on laminate floor materials:
Shown at below, Congoleum sheet flooring
Non-resilient floor coverings used in buildings that can assist in determining the age of a structure include bamboo, brick, concrete, stone, and a wide variety of wood products.
Resilient floor coverings include vinyl-asbestos, solid vinyl, vinyl faced, rubber, cork, asphalt and linoleum. It is installed in sheets or tiles. More expensive products include a cushioned backing material and a no-wax surface.
Above left: vinyl asbestos flooring in a cork pattern - this is considered a resilient flooring material.
Above right: cork floor tiles (actual cork) - this is considered a resilient flooring material too.
In modern construction, resilient floor covering materials are typically applied over a 1/4 inch plywood
underlayment. These thin, flexible materials will show through any irregularities in the floor surface. - Citation: Carson Dunlop Associates, Home Reference Book
Sheet flooring is a term refering to floor coverings (other than carpeting) that are installed in large sheets rather than as individual tiles or strips; sheet flooring may be either adhered or non-adhered. Sheet flooring products can help determine the age of a building, and vice versa: if we know when a building was constructed we can guess at the earliest probable age of its floor coverings, excepting that some antique materials such as solid wood planks may be re-used in newer buildings.
Just above is a photograph of an early (pre-vinyl) continuous floor covering, ca 1900, in an 1840 historic Vermont house.
Note the fabric backing of the flooring material. This article explains various common flooring materials (rough wood, finished wood, parquet, carpeting, linocrusta, sheet vinyl, and other items as they assist in determining the age of a house or other building.
Details about sheet flooring are at
At LINOLEUM & SHEET FLOORING we describe the history and properties of linoleum sheet flooring using the Congoleum-Nairn corporation history to obtain some useful dates on when different sheet flooring products were produced.
The resilient flooring product shown at left was made in the late 1990's and is not an asbestos concern, though in this case the flooring was damaged by water and movement of a cabinet.
According to Rosato, "The original resilient floor coverings were developed during the latter part of the Nineteenth Century by Frederick Walton.
The original covering was linoleum for use as a floor decking on British naval ships." The composition of the original products included asphaltic binders to which an asbestos filler was added by mixing on a rubber mill.
Details are at
These are natural materials cut into flooring tiles. Terrazzo is made of marble chips set in concrete, usually laid in squares defined by lead beading. The surface is polished to give a smooth floor. Terrazzo is more common in commercial buildings, hospitals and schools than in homes.
Stone and terrazzo are good flooring materials because of their strength, appearance and durability. Installation considerations are similar to ceramic and quarry tile, in that the weight of the material itself may deflect conventional flooring systems. Joints on stone floors are grouted. - Citation: Carson Dunlop Associates, Home Reference Book
Generally considered high quality, ceramic or quarry tiles are hard, fired-clay products that may be glazed or unglazed. These materials stand up well to heat, water and normal wear and tear, and have good resistance to stains and cuts. These brittle floor systems will crack if not well supported.
A conventional wood flooring system often has too much flex to support ceramic or quarry tile. Better installations include a concrete base for the tile, typically one to five inches thick.
Ceramic tiles may be pressed into the concrete while it is setting. Joints are then grouted. Tiles are typically 1/16-inch to 1-inch thick and are commonly from one inch by one inch to 24 inches by 24 inches. Many shapes, colors, patterns and finishes are available.
In modern construction, a thin mortar base or adhesive is used over a thick subfloor. If well installed, this can be satisfactory. Again, joints have to be appropriately grouted. It is common for ceramic or quarry tile floors to be cracked where floor joists deflect, or in heavy traffic patterns. Tiles can be damaged by dropping tools, pots, pans or other heavy objects.
Traditionally, ceramic tile floors were used in bathrooms and vestibules, because of their natural resistance to moisture. Ceramic or quarry tile floors are used in kitchens, for the same reason, although they are unforgiving if one drops glass on them, and they are also more tiring to stand on because of their hard surface. Wet floors can be slippery. - Citation: Carson Dunlop Associates, Home Reference Book
See details about ceramic tiles at
Cracked floor tiles like this can be diagnosed in order to decide if the cracking shows a serious structural problem, inadequate floor support, mechanical damage, or as in this case, damage from a loose, rocky toilet.
More Places to Look for Hidden Mold in buildingsincludes a discussion of how even a slight slope in a tile bathroom floor leads to bath leaks under and behind bathroom vanity cabinets and floor trim, and we discuss how to prevent this problem
Vinyl floor tiles, including vinyl-asbestos floor tiles and homogenous vinyl floor tiles (non-asbestos product) are almost as old as asphalt floor tiles. By the early 1950's in the U.S. vinyl tile floor products were more popular than asphalt-based flooring. The reason is pretty obvious.
Asphalt-based flooring as it was originally produced used heavy asphalt products which meant that the floor tiles could be made in dark colors only. Soon after asphalt-asbestos floor tiles were marketed manufacturers heard from their buyers that consumers wanted lighter floor tiles and tiles of varying color and pattern.
Organic resin vinyl increased in popularity for this reason, but slowly. By 1952, the production of vinyl plastic floor tile sales in the U.S. was about half the volume of asphalt floor tiles, selling 35 million square yards.
We discuss vinyl-asbestos floor tiles as an asbestos fiber source in buildings in more detail
at ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION where we elaborate the concerns about asbestos used in the manufacture of vinyl based floor tiles that used high levels of asbestos fibers as a filler material and to provide other properties to that product. More photos of vinyl asbestos floor tiles, including microphotographs of vinyl-asbestos floor tiles can be seen at that article.
See these articles on asphalt and vinyl-asbestos floor tile identification:
Hardwood floors are traditionally oak, although other woods such as cherry, walnut, birch, beech, mahogany, elm and maple, are also used. Bamboo is not technically wood, but is also used as flooring. Hardwood flooring may be in the form of strips or parquet, which often consist of six inch squares with each square made up of six one-inch strips. The squares are laid with the grain in adjoining squares at right angles, giving a checkerboard effect. Parquet flooring may be nailed or glued down. There are several different types and installation techniques. Parquet flooring can also be made up of a combination of rectangles, triangles and lozenges and can be very decorative and very expensive.
Strip flooring is typically tongue and groove, secured with nails driven diagonally through the tongues into the subfloor. Hardwood flooring in modern construction is typically 3/8 inch to 3/4 inch thick and may be pre-finished or finished on site. Hardwood flooring is a high quality and durable floor system. It can be mechanically damaged, attacked by termites, rot and fire, or damaged by water.
Wood flooring is not ideally suited to kitchen and bathroom areas, since it is susceptible to water damage. Nonetheless, hardwood flooring is regularly found in kitchens. Individual boards can be replaced, but matching can be tricky. Worn 3/8 inch thick hardwood flooring can be sanded once to provide a new wood surface. 3/4 inch hardwood flooring can be sanded several times before the tongues are exposed. Wood flooring can be covered with carpeting or other flooring materials. - Citation: Carson Dunlop Associates, Home Reference Book , quoted with permission.
Wood flooring, one of the most warm and beautiful materials that can be placed in a home (OPINION-DF) needs to be installed following proper practices. The gaps that appeared in the wood floor shown at above left were caused by installation of the floor in a new home, over radiant heat tubing, and without allowing the flooring to reach a proper moisture level before it was nailed in place.
Extreme buckling can cause an upwards explosion of a wood floor when flooring is exposed to flooding or prolonged leaks.
This severe buckling wood floor damage can occur even at much smaller increases in interior moist sure if a tongue and groove wood floor is improperly installed - leaving inadequate free space margin around the floor perimeter.
See Wood Floor Types for a catalog of types and ages of wood flooring.
See WOOD FLOOR DAMAGE REPAIR for details of types of damage to wood flooring and for a description of wood floor repair approaches.
Non-resilient floor coverings used in buildings that can assist in determining the age of a structure include bamboo, brick, concrete, stone, slate, and a wide variety of wood products.
"Non-resilient" flooring is defined as hard surfaced flooring material such as stone, brick, slate, or ceramic tile.
"Resilient flooring" is defined as materials softer than the non-resilient materials we just listed (stone, slate, brick, ceramic tile), and includes organic types of flooring: asphalt based floor tiles, cork floor tiles, cork floor planks, linoleum sheet flooring (antique & modern), plastic floor tiles, rubber floor tiles, vinyl-asbestos floor tiles.
So what's "wood flooring" ? After all, it is organic too. Is a wood floor non-resilient, resilient, or just "wood"?
See Asphalt & Vinyl Floor Tile History - history, dates, and description of the production process and ingredients in asphalt floor tiles, asphalt-asbestos floor tiles, & vinyl-asbestos floor tiles.
Cork floor tiles were considered a warm, quiet, but less durable resilient floor covering than some of its competitors. It was sold often for use in residential dens, family rooms, or other warm, low-traffic areas, and it may have been popular (research needed) for use in areas where workers had to spend long periods standing - where it would have competed with rubber floor coverings. In 1952 cork flooring sales made up 2% of total floor tile sales. -- Rosato p88.
Details about cork flooring are at CORK FLOORING & FLOOR TILES
and also at FLOORING COMPANIES (see Armstrong Corporation).
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(Nov 28, 2012) Ann said:
my parents house was built in 1962. (Single dwelling concrete block)We recently pulled up the carpet after 25 years and there is a tile of some sort that I am trying to identify. it doesnt look like its grouted and its doesn't feel like vinyl. Can you help me identify it?
Ann you can send us a photo for comment using the page bottom CONTACT link to find my email, or you can yourself see ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION - home
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