Design,  Floors,  Research & Resources

Floor covering options for Limecrete

Victorian terraced houses often have suspended wooden floors, sometimes with a solid floor in the rear scullery that later tends to have changed use to become the kitchen area. Replacing the floor in an older property should be done with care to avoid unintentional damage to the fabric of the property. Limecrete is a breathable, solid floor alternative to a poured concrete floor or a suspended wooden floor. But what exactly is it and what are your floor covering options to ensure the all-important vapour permeability is retained?

How is a limecrete solid floor created?

Limecrete is generally laid without a damp proof membrane, with foamed glass aggregate underneath which acts as insulation and a capillary break. It is suggested it can assist with alleviating damp problems in old, solid walled properties, whilst bringing them up to modern standards of floor insulation.

Ty Mawr’s Sublime system is the one I am leaning towards due to the simplicity of construction with only a single thick screed layer needed over the glapor.

It allows for a simple method of fixing underfloor heating pipes down and levelling to the cork edging board. The Glapor foamed glass insulation is a lot easier to walk on whilst installing than the previous system which used LECA (lightweight expanded clay aggregate) which looks like malteasers and rolls around in a similar fashion!

Why you cannot just use any floor covering…

One key consideration is what floor finish to use whilst ensuring that the vapour permeability of the slab is retained. Things like vinyl, some varnishes (on engineered flooring for example) or glazed tiles would seal the surface and negate the benefit of a ‘breathable’ slab that allow moisture to move freely in gas form in the way the design of old building requires.

Ty Mawr’s main suggestions are :

  • Natural stone (finished with a vapour permeable sealer such as Surfapore M)
  • Stone such as slate – but with wide grout lines
  • Wood (although will reduce underfloor heating performance substantially)
  • Carpet (with hessian or jute underlays)
  • Linoleum (the ‘real’ stuff – made from natural ingredients such linseed oil, pine rosin, cork etc – not plastic vinyl)

I have been debating the options and struggling to come to a final decision – which needs to be done because it could affect the height we need to lay the slab, to ensure the correct finished floor level.

On the one hand I like the idea of wood since it will definitely ‘fit’ visually with the property – however, the reduced underfloor heating performance isn’t very in keeping with my intentions to reduce the energy demands for space heating.

I think stone would be very expensive and also look a bit out of place in a victorian terrace… it is more in keeping with a cottage or country house!

Since there are plenty on site – what about bricks?

One option is a brick floor since we are likely to have a fair number left over from removing internal walls and rebuilding the back of the house after using some for the garden walls. These could presumeably be laid in lime mortar and the joints and indents on the surface filled with more lime, then possibly polished and sealed? However, the labour cost for this could be excessive, plus I feel it may be overbearing over the entire floor downstairs.

Linoleum… the eco option, but can it look good?

I’ve also been looking at linoleum/marmoleum options – the question is, would it be possible to avoid it having the dreaded soulless look of a hospital?

The patterns look really rather odd to my eyes! The ‘Striato’ texture is supposed to look a bit like wood, but I suspect it would look too fake and uninspiring…

Solid colour linoleum… statement or neutral?

I can see that given the right interior design – a bold use of a bright linoleum can actually work quite well…. but getting this right could be tough.

I then found the above image which demonstrates that a solid colour linoleum can work as a more understated look in a contemporary/traditional fusion. This is the most convincing image for me that something similar could work in my house for the ground floor. The main grey colour I could find available in the UK is Solid Walton Uni Cement 171 at £31.14 per m2.

Linoleum can also pretend to be encaustic tiles…

It turns out it is also possible to create designs with linoleum/marmoleum, which I could imagine might be a good idea in the hallway. The J. De Bruyn distributor of marmoleum offers a precision design cutting service on tiles from 50mm to 900mm which are arranged as panels for easier installation – with some great designs resembling traditional victorian hallway tiles, as shown in their brochure & below. This may be worthwhile, but I am guessing this might be a costlier option.

There is also a ‘click’ version of 30cm square linoleum tiles which do not need adhesive that work out around £50 per m2 which could be used to create the following look :

However, I feel this could be a very dominant and overpowering pattern across the entire downstairs area, and I feel it could seem ‘bitty’ if there are different floor finishes in separate sections.

But also… designs could be painted on to the linoleum!

Another option would be to consider having a simple solid colour linoleum, but then painting some stencilled areas to add interest :

So far the stencilled linoleum is my preferred option. It would allow quick and relatively easy installation to get a functional floor down rapidly, without a great labour cost, whilst still allowing the possibility of further customisation down the line. UK cost for marmoleum seems to be around £36 per m² (as of 28/11/2010).

Information about linoleum and suppliers

Forbo Marmoleum is manufactured from 97% natural raw materials, 62% renewable resources and 43% recycled and reused material and it produced using 100% renewable energy sources. Of particular importance to me is that it is 100% biodegradable. I am keen to use materials that will age well over time and either biodegrade at the end of their natural life or can be reused easily (one of many reasons to use lime mortar rather than cement on bricks!)

Other features I like about linoleum :

  • It is low VOC (volatile organic compounds) – something I appreciate as someone who has several chronic health conditions that may be compounded by VOCs. Indoor air quality is something that is thankfully becoming much more focused on nowadays.
  • It features continuous colour all the way through. So dents and scuffs are less noticeable because there is no veneer to wear through.

Other manufacturers include Tarkett Linoleum (their solid grey is called Etrusco Silver 003) which seems less widely distributed & Armstrong Flooring in the US.

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