Saturday, October 15, 2011: 05:44:15 PM

Cover Story

OF Floors and More

Sabiha Ghiasi explores the current status of the flooring industry in India, and explains the various nuances that make it truly unique

The Indian flooring industry has progressed in leaps and bounds in recent years, with the advent of innovation and technology in the sector. Manufacturers are continuously experimenting with new materials that are feasible for floors, apart from the use of traditional tiles. Currently, there is an array of products that serve as feasible flooring solutions—such as granite, marble, vinyl, laminated wood, solid wood, engineered flooring and vitrified flooring.

In today’s floor market, certain manufacturers have emerged as front-runners in terms of innovation and creativity in the sector. This story will explore the various aspects of the industry, the challenges and trends that a manufacturers face, and the various faces of floorings in today’s luxury households.

Innovative Challenges
Among the various manufacturers of laminate floorings in India today, Pergo’s range of laminated solutions comprises eight formats, while different ranges offer specialised ease of application. When asked about the application benefits of laminates, Naresh Maheshwari – CEO, Pergo India highlights that the company’s engineered wood floors—with the latest gluefree, click-joint technology-make installation easy, clean and quick as compared to standard floor fittings.

Laminate flooring, for one, is remarkably durable. However, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as an indestructible flooring material. Laminate flooring comes with its own maintenance caveats. It requires regular and proper care to keep it looking as good as new. In the Indian market, this flooring is the most successful as compared to traditional wooden flooring—provided it is installed by well-trained professionals.

Floorings other than tiles tend to be more feasible and practical since their installation takes comparatively less time. They are cleaner and more hygienic as compared to marble, can be maintained very easily and are slip-resistant. The biggest advantage of these types of flooring is their possible reuse. Further, they are slip-resistant and offer tremendous value for money—through the procurement, delivery and installation.

Their benefits notwithstanding, practical flooring solutions come with their own set of challenges. According to Abhishek Saraf – Director, Square Foot Classic Floorings & Interiors Pvt. Ltd, balancing creativity, cost and practicality of floorings is one of the major challenges that a manufacturer may face over time. He further adds that it is very difficult to balance all three of these equally important factors at the same time. Sometimes, a product or offering may be innovative in design but becomes too expensive—the marked up price tag serves as a deterrent for many buyers. At other times, designers conceive solutions that may be impractical and work only in theory, but not in terms of ground reality.

Speaking about the maintenance challenges for floorings, Mr Maheshwari notes, “While vacuuming suffices as far as regular cleaning is concerned, the floor can simply be mopped clean as required. Laminates are a perfect solution in terms of aesthetics and appeal as they are highly durable and require very little maintenance. They do not need polishing, lacquering or waxing, and retain the original finish for years together.”

Floored in Style
Mr Saraf highlights that for the longest time, wood was not considered to be an appropriate flooring solution. This was primarily for two reasons—the price was very steep and many buyers found it expensive. Further, wooden floors are more suited for regions with very low temperature and not sultry weather such as in India. Thus, the advent of laminated wood flooring overcame both these factors as the costs are one-third of conventional wood floors. Laminated wood flooring also emits less than 70 percent warmth as compared to conventional wood floors. Such floors are also more scratch-resistant. It comes as little surprise that the use of these floors is fast overtaking traditional wood flooring demand.

Natural wood flooring is extremely harmful to the environment, and has a direct impact on an individual’s or a household’s carbon footprint. Here are a few examples and uses of eco-friendly, naturally-available raw materials that are excellent when used as flooring. According to a recent study by Natural Geographic, granite as a raw material is one of the hardest construction stones—durable and resistant to abrasion. These properties make it good for recycling. Granite flooring may be heavy and thus requires careful handling during removal and reinstallation; but once it is in place, it will endure years of use.

Marble flooring has high durability, and hence can be easily recycled. Any colour variations will not wear away with its reuse, since these are present throughout the thickness of the stone. Another interesting flooring type is recycled cork flooring—this is a natural, renewable material harvested from the cork oak tree. Its properties include thermal insulation, resilience and sound absorption, making it an excellent product to use in cold climates. Cork manufacturing wastes are recycled into flooring tiles or sheets, thereby reducing the negative environmental impact of the manufacturing process.

Recycled rubber flooring is yet another flooring variant and mat product. It is one of the fastest-growing applications of rubber that has been recycled from old tires. This type of innovative flooring is shock-absorbent and has non-slip properties, making it suitable for kitchens, bathrooms and athletic environments. It is available in a variety of colours, so that it can be coordinated with various decorating schemes. Recycling tyres into products such as flooring reduces air and water pollution caused by tyre incineration, although there is some concern about the organic compounds released from the tyre material. Unfortunately, not many of these eco-friendly products and solutions are available in the country easily, but these make for excellent manufacturing ideas.

Airing his views about the latest trends in this sector, in India, Mr Maheshwari remarks, “Laminated and engineered wood flooring are fast-catching trends in India. Engineered wood has the luxurious look of solid hardwood. Not only is it less expensive than its solid wood counterpart, it also has an ecofriendly side.”

Engineered wood is a strikingly attractive flooring alternative from a design point-of-view. Laminate flooring that has been enhanced with technology to include features such as anti-static, anti-microbial, sound block etc. is an apt choice for high domestic-wear areas. The ongoing trend these days is to opt for wooden laminate flooring that not only helps to enhance the décor, but is also hassle-free and budget-friendly. The appearance of interiors in the flooring segment has changed extensively. The end-user now looks for a combination of durability, ease of use and aesthetic appeal when it comes to flooring options.

Eco-friendly flooring is another trend that is growing increasingly popular among manufacturers. The industry is leaning towards a blend of aesthetically innovative and green flooring alternatives, which, in turn, has spurred an increased demand for bamboo floorings—not only are these eco-conscious but are also easy to maintain and can be used in a variety of applications in any climate. Concrete floorings, on the other hand, can bear the brunt of stains from acid, soil, colour etc., and are apt for use in industrial areas. Last, but not the least, is engineered wood flooring, which speaks of understated luxury and elegance. Unlike solid wood floors, these are slightly more cost-effective.

Flooring India
“Today, there are many types of flooring solutions emerging in India. Two variants that have been received well so far are high-end heterogeneous vinyl and composite deck wood floors. Heterogeneous vinyl floorings are used in various public places such as libraries, museums, schools, play areas, etc. This segment is growing rapidly due to the availability of good products and intriguing styles from Europe. Currently, there is a strong demand for indoor styles that use tiles, marbles and laminated wooden flooring. Thus, people are open to new ideas and are ready to experiment if they receive true value for their money,” Mr Saraf explains.

Composite deck flooring is fast replacing traditional deck flooring in most applications. This is primarily due to the latest innovations in the industry, which make this flooring look more and more like real wood, minus the drawbacks associated with using real wood. Also, these have various advantages. For instance, composite deck flooring helps to reduce the reliance on real wood, especially on Brazilian Ipe wood flooring. Strong demand for this wood has led to a marked decline in forest cover in Brazil. With this in mind, composite deck flooring is now considered by many developers and consumers to be extremely eco-friendly in nature.

Such flooring also helps to reduce the requirement for real wood decking by more than 50 percent, while also helping to grow the industry manifold. Real bamboo composite decking is the only flooring to have a ribbed profile and a real wood finish. It is made of 70 percent wood, with the remainder composed of plastic composite. Bamboo is a sustainable alternative as it grows faster than other woods, which require at least 20–30 years to regenerate, once they have been cut. The use of such flooring eliminates the need for nails, and the product has a classy, flat finish. The product reduces the use of chemicals in flooring, since there is no need for polishing. The highlight of this kind of flooring is that it requires very low maintenance and is easy to clean.

The cost of laminated wood flooring for interiors starts at nearly `75 per sq. ft onwards, making decking an affordable way to add a touch of colour to a room’s interiors. Vinyl floorings are also a user-friendly and colourful alternative to the basic, homogenous vitrified tiles that are commonly used in India. Vinyl floorings find application in commercial buildings and cost anything between `12–25 per sq. ft. Wooden laminates are known for their easy maintenance, but their prices start at around `100 and can go up to `300 per sq. ft. The use of ceramic tiles for interiors or exteriors is area-specific. For example, if used in bathrooms, laminates are available in anti-skid finish, at a price range of `20–40 per sq. ft.

Flooring Ahead
Earlier, in the US as well as in India, a professionally-installed and finished hardwood floor was considered the hallmark of superior quality and customer satisfaction. This attitude has changed tremendously over the last few years. With the advent of technology and the increasing investment in R&D over the last decade, the quality of factory-finished flooring exceeds what a mechanic is capable of achieving at a given site. However, it is important to note that such flooring must be fitted only by well-trained professionals.

To keep abreast with the ever-evolving demands and the resultant advances in flooring solutions, manufacturers must pay utmost attention to their customers’ needs, while also staying updated with the latest trends and technological updates in the domestic and international industries. Also, in order to reduce costs, it is preferred that the distributor and the manufacturer have a certain level of under-standing with each other. Most market leaders will also assert that each and every product offered by a company must be well-researched, upbeat and well-scrutinised.

With inputs from Anvita Bansal

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