The cost of floor coverings can be a significant factor in a fit-out and the subsequent cleaning and maintenance regimes. Anthony Waterman of BRE looks at the whole-life costs

Specification options


Carpet offers warmth and good slip-resistance and help improve acoustics. On the downside, it can act as a sink for pollutants, toxins, mould and dust, which can lead to allergic reactions. Carpet also deteriorates quickly if it gets wet.

Life expectancy is about 10 years for natural fibres such as wool and cellulose, and 20 years for manmade fibres such as acrylic, polypropylene and nylon. This will vary depending on the grade of carpet, which are classified in BS EN 1307 according to duty. Lifespan is also very dependent on in-use conditions. With woven carpets, denser piles give greater durability. Flocked carpets can also give good performance in areas of heavy traffic.

Normal maintenance is by daily cleaning using a cleaner that has a rotary brush head to agitate the pile and remove dirt from the base of the carpet. Fibre-bonded carpet, often based on polypropylene or nylon, has the advantage of ease of cleaning and excellent abrasion resistance. Carpet should also be deep-cleaned periodically using hot-water extraction methods.


Flexible PVC flooring or vinyl has the advantages of costing less than other floor finishes and being available in a wide choice of colours. The PVC resins provide a degree of flexibility and durability. Seams can be welded, giving an almost unbroken surface.

Life expectancy is about 15 to 30 years for good quality PVC flooring, depending on intensity of traffic. Despite being a relatively soft material, resistance to indentation is good. Normally, wear resistance is between good and excellent. Cleaning is typically performed using water and neutral detergents.

Recently there has been much debate surrounding the environmental and health impacts related to the manufacture, use and disposal of PVC and the additives combined to make PVC products. Issues receiving attention include the production of toxic by-products during incineration and accidental fires and the use of additives, such as phthalate plasticisers and heavy metal stabilisers. The PVC industry has joined the debate and is actively demonstrating the environmental improvements that are taking place across the industry. The PVC industry across Europe agreed a joint voluntary commitment in 2001 to improve the sustainability of PVC products, which provides financial incentives to support the collection of PVC waste from the construction and demolition sectors.


In the 1950s linoleum was by far the most commonly used floor covering but lost market share to newer materials such as PVC. Today it is specified increasingly as it is made from natural and renewable materials. It is prepared by heating a mixture of linseed oil, resins, cork and wood flour. It is naturally anti-bacterial, anti-static, is resistant to fats and oils and shows good resistance to the effects of dilute acids and alkalis and most common chemicals. A disadvantage is that it can be slippery when wet and is susceptible to degradations in the presence of water.

The life expectancy of linoleum is 15-25 years depending on traffic. Standard linoleum may not be suitable for use in situations where there is a risk of impact loads from sharp objects and wheeled traffic. The preferred method of cleaning is infrequent washing with a wet mop and mild detergent. Thin layers of solvent or emulsion wax polish are beneficial but should not be allowed to build up.


Sheet rubber flooring has the aesthetic advantage of being available in a variety of colours, a large number of designs and with various surface profiles to enhance slip resistance. Rubber flooring offers good sound absorption and wear resistance is normally very good. However it is unsuitable for areas connected with cooking, washing or laundering or in spaces near entrance doors. The life expectancy of rubber normally reaches 10 years, after which it becomes brittle.

With regards to cleaning costs, research suggests that the cleaning costs are highly variable between contractors and vary greatly depending on project-specific circumstances.

Standards applicable to flexible floor coverings

  • BS EN 685:2005 Resilient, textile and laminate floor coverings. Classification
  • BS EN 1307:2005 Textile floor coverings. Classification of pile carpets
  • BS EN 649:1997 Resilient floor coverings. Homogeneous and heterogeneous polyvinyl chloride floor coverings
  • BS EN 548: 2004 Resilient floor coverings. Specification for plain and decorative linoleum
  • BS EN 1817:1998 Resilient floor coverings. Specification for homogeneous and heterogeneous smooth rubber floor coverings
  • BS 8203:2001. Code of practice for installation of resilient floor coverings
  • BS 5325: 2001 Installation of textile floor coverings
  • BS 6263: Part 2: 1991 Care and maintenance of floor surfaces. Code of practice for resilient sheet and tile floors.