The right floor for a bathroom looks great, is durable and feels fabulous underfoot.
The bathroom, with its wet surfaces, high temperatures and even higher humidity, demands a lot from a floor. While most people are drawn to a material based on looks, it's important to choose flooring for its ability to weather the room's harsh conditions. If your bathroom's remodel calls for new floors, here are five options to consider.
"Ceramic tile is the product we use the most of in bathrooms," says Sara Ann Busby, president-elect of the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) and owner of Sara Busby Designs in Elk Rapids, Mich. There are reasons it's the frontrunner when it comes to bathroom floors. In terms of water-resistance, ceramic leads the pack. It's available in a range of prices and can be arranged in a plethora of patterns, which adds to a bathroom's customized look. Even objections to ceramic like it's cold underfoot, slippery when wet and difficult to maintain are easily overcome.
For example, in-floor heat can put a permanent end to cold feet. Electric in-floor heating, also known as radiant heat, is most commonly used in bathroom remodels. A thin mat is installed on the sub floor, which is then covered in self-leveling cement. "What's neat with the electric system is you don't have to do the whole bathroom. You can do the area right in front of the vanity where you stand in the morning or right in front of the shower," Sara Ann says. Tiles with a textured surface help keep floors from being slippery underfoot, and grout can be sealed for ease of cleaning.
Other tiles like porcelain, glass, granite and travertine, are more expensive than ceramic, but can also be arranged in an infinite number of patterns. Porcelain and stone have color that goes all the way through the tile, so chips are less obvious. However, granite can be extremely slippery when wet, so Busby recommends combining the material with limestone tiles or a wood inlay for added safety.
Hardwood flooring, with its visual warmth and comfort underfoot, can be a wonderful option for a bath, so long as it's cared for properly. Once a wood surface is sealed with a water-based poly finish, it's impervious to the occasional splash and drip; however, water that sits on the floor for any length of time can do serious damage. Wet towels must be kept off the floor, and Sara Ann suggests running a warm waterline to the toilet and insulating the fixture to prevent it from sweating on the floors.
Bamboo and cork, both "green" flooring options for the bathroom, are very similar to wood in terms of care. Bamboo flooring provides the look of wood, although it is made from bamboo grass, a rapid-renewable resource. If bamboo is selected for its eco-friendly qualities, make sure the factory finish is formaldehyde-free. In a room filled with hard surfaces, cork can provide wonderful sound control; it's something to consider if the goal of the remodel is to create a quiet retreat.
If homeowners like the look of wood but want a floor that can withstand the onslaught of damp towels, laminate treated with water repellent is the way to go. Laminate is factory-finished, and it can be put in over an existing floor, making installation a snap. While laminate can look uncannily like real wood, it lacks the warmth typically associated natural wood, and some people may find it noisy.
For a budget bathroom remodel, sheet vinyl is a good bet. It's easy to install and is available in a wide array of colors and patterns. One of the drawbacks to vinyl floors is that the edges can curl, and peel-and-stick vinyl tiles aren't recommended for the baths because water may seep between the tiles and damage the sub-floor.
Sara Ann Busby
NKBA President-Elect, 2007
Sara Busby Design
Elk Rapids, Mich.