It’s been natural floor month in the Mud Home Facebook Group, with a number of members attacking their substrates and creating natural beauty by the spade-load. As luck would have it, all of them have chosen different flooring methods, which not only gives me fodder for a great post, but is filling my noodle with ideas. Because it’s just about floor time for my little stone cabanas in Spain. So which one of these five will I choose?
1. Earthen floor
Here’s a floor to salivate over if ever I saw one. Earthen floors can be absolutely stunning, though they require some know-how. As with most floors, earthen floors are usually laid upon compressed gravel or foam glass beds. Foam glass is popular because it adds insulation too. There is some disagreement as to whether a vapour membrane is necessary to stop moisture wicking up into the floor. If you’re in a dry climate, or with a house that’s high up a slope with plenty of drainage, you may well get away without one, if not probably best to hedge your bets. For the record Kim’s gorgeous floor (shown above) in her hobbit house in Scotland didn’t require one, and it was built to code*.
Earthen floors are basically a cob or earth plaster mixture poured, troweled and left to dry. After this they are coated a few times in an oil (most commonly linseed). Kim’s floor above has also been polished with beeswax.
You can learn more about how to make them on The Abundant Edge podcast with earthen floor expert Sukita Reay Crimmel. She is the co author of Earthen Floors book, which I can also recommend.
Pros: You can create gorgeous looks with an earthen floor. And if insulation is used, they are pretty snug too.
Cons: Earthen floors are probably the least hard-wearing of all the natural floor types listed here. If not properly protected, chair legs can gouge holes out.
You can feast your eyes on plenty more luscious photos of the Kim Siu's amazing straw bale Hobbit House here: Kim's lovely house was built by Hartwyn Natural Building.
For folk needing something more durable, limecrete is used all over the world as a flooring option (much like concrete). When restoring ancient homes in the UK, limecrete floors are pretty much always installed, because they are both breathable and can handle some damp.
Again limecrete floors are laid on compressed beds of loose aggregate.
For more information on creating your own limecrete look here. Always test on a small area (2 metres squared, for example) before mixing a whole batch, as everyone’s limecrete mixes vary according to the kind of lime used, the climate, and other strange mystical forces that inevitably evade meticulous calculations.
This nice post by Richard CL Pillinger shows how to lay a limecrete floor. And here's a video showing how.
Which kind of lime should you use for floors? If you’re new to lime you’ll want to check out the Mud Home guide to various lime types. For flooring, many tradespeople prefer NHL type limes because they are more cementitious, and set harder. There are plenty of diehards who use pure lime putty too, though.
In some countries like the UK and Australia, ready-made limecrete slabs are also available.
Pros: Limecrete breathes. Lime is a natural fungicide and insecticide too, so it’s great for wet climates.
Cons: Lime is trickier to work with than stones, bricks or wood. You need to get your mixture right, and allow it to cure slowly but thoroughly.
Don't forget lime is caustic. Read the Mud Home guide to using lime safely here.
3. Simple gravel bed with stones/bricks
I’m becoming a bit of a fan of this method. For outside spaces it’s a no-brainer. So easy. So low-impact. And you can create some very aesthetic results with gravel and slabs too.
All you have to do is throw down a bed of gravel or sand (hard core really creates a strong base), and then inlay bricks or slabs or stones into the gravel bed. Once you’ve achieved the pattern you love, fill in the gaps around the stones by throwing more gravel or sand over the top and brushing it into the gaps. This stops your bricks/stones from shifting around and wobbling.
Pros: Much more stable than you’d expect. Superb for drainage as it’s completely unsealed and any water simply seeps away. Easy and cheap to make.
Cons: Because it’s not sealed you may find grains of sand working their way out. I’m happy to sweep the floor every now and again, but clean freaks may not be. You’ll probably need to refill the sand in the gaps every year or so.
Learn more about laying a brick floor here:
For more inspiration look on my Pinterest page: UP THE GARDEN PATH
I love a wooden floor. Always have, always will. They smell and feel so good. No gravel bed needed with a wooden floor. Usually (at ground level) wooden floors are raised slightly off the ground to prevent damp rotting them. They’re actually pretty easy to make, even for newbie builders (I made mine in our roundhouse in Turkey with Celal, and although it wasn’t perfect, I loved it).
Pros: Warm on the feet, nice on the eyes, and they smell good too. Wood floors are very hard-wearing, give you a perfectly flat platform, and are relatively easy to make.
Cons: Not particularly sustainable in most cases (timber isn’t unless it’s reclaimed). Wood is also notoriously expensive, and will usually result in the greatest outlay in your build.
I'll be writing a full post on creating a wooden floor for a round house at a later date, because many folk ask how I did it.
5. Breathable tiles with lime mortar
Emma Winfield in our FB group created this gorgeous floor using buff-coloured quarry tiles laid into a lime mortar. The result, as you can see, is very professional. Lime mortar is essentially simple to make (usually somewhere in the region of 1 part lime to 3 parts sand) but you need to test you batch well first because everyone's ratios seem to be slightly different.
If you want to read more about lime plaster/mortar and crete, read The Mud Home post on it here
Pros: Very slick finish and even suitable for mainstream homes (or restoration projects).
Cons: You need to get your lime mortar mixture and application method right, otherwise the tiles may not stick.
Which Natural Floor Will I Choose?
I love to experiment, and it’s lucky I have three cabanas. Because I shall be using the gravel bed with stone slabs or bricks in one, an earthen floor in another, and probably wood in the big one. But hey, you know me. Time will tell. :)
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