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Sat 16 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

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On solid ground

CW explores the latest trends in flooring solutions available on the market.

On solid ground
On solid ground
Tiles remain the most popular choice of flooring material in the Middle East.

CW explores the latest trends in flooring solutions available on the market.

When it comes to flooring, innovation sells. The changing trends in materials and the introduction of new adhesives and coatings are contributing to better designs and more sustainable finished products.

This year, the launch of new flooring solutions is set to gather pace. The construction industry can expect products that are more suitable to the GCC climate, abrasion resistant floor coatings and fire resistant materials, to name just a few new inventions heading for the market.

But who are the key players in this industry providing the solutions that can make a dramatic difference to both interiors and landscaping?

Alomi is a manufacturer and distributor of wooden flooring and claims to be the largest stockist, wholesaler and distributor in the Middle East, with over 300 containers of stock in Dubai.

“Alomi is constantly evaluating changing trends, fashions and price points,” says CEO Albert Douglas.

“The biggest demand, in terms of volume, is the Alomi British-style laminated flooring range. This is an 8.5mm-thick heavy-duty, fire resistant, water resistant product with a 20-year warranty.”

Wood has not always been the preferred material when it comes to flooring in the Middle East, or any form of construction in the region, for that matter. However, contractors are now demanding this natural resource more and more.

“Developers are increasingly ordering this product as an alternative to such products as ceramic tiles which were previously installed pretty much everywhere,” adds Douglas.

And Mapei, supplier of adhesives and ancillary materials for flooring, agrees: “The Middle East remains traditionally a tiled flooring market, with ceramic and porcelain being the most popular followed by marble and stone,” says business development manager Laith Haboubi.

“However, a number of new materials are now being used such as wooden flooring and also artificial stone.”

Douglas is expecting orders in 2010 to increase: “The growth in external natural wood flooring was quite amazing in 2009. Alomi has no reason to doubt, from current orders and enquiries, that 2010 will dramatically out-perform 2009 in value and volume.”

Alomi’s exotic tropical collection of unique species of hardwood floors is also in high demand with the projected sales value to exceed US $30 million (AED110 million) in 2010.

“This is aimed at the high-end market for discerning clients who will only settle for the very best quality,” explains Douglas.

In terms of combating local conditions, Alomi offers Black Walnut – a multi-layer engineered board. This is the company’s current best seller.

“Interior designers are increasingly using this very dark hardwood flooring in conjunction with white walls and furniture.”

Marble, however, is also highly valued in this region due to its strength and resistance to fire and erosion.

Stone Gallery, a UAE-based supplier, believes marble is also a more aesthetically valuable material.

“For many years we have been supplying marbles, granites, sandstones and slates, which are always being used for residential and commercial projects,” says Stone Gallery director Vishal Lakhani.

“We always have new and fresh series of wall claddings, pebbles, mosaic tiles and stones from different origins. For instance, we have a new range of limestone products which come in different colours and finishes.”Marble is an ideal material for the Middle East climate, thanks to its ‘cool’ quality, but is it sustainable? According to Lakhani, natural stone has varying degrees of porosity depending on the type of stone. And, if left unsealed, spills and everyday messes can easily penetrate the surface.

“The best way to prevent stains is to treat the surface with a protective sealer. This sealer fills in the pores and repels spills on the surface, allowing you time to wipe it away thus avoiding the dull marks on the stones,” he explains.

When it comes to products that ensure a quality floor finish, Mapei provides ‘screeding’ services (levelling out the top layer of a poured material, such as concrete) and self-levellers.

“Our range of Topcem screeds and Ultraplan self-levellers are in high demand as subsequent finishes can typically be laid from 24 hours after application,” states Haboubi.

Self-levelling underlays are an integral part of the floor and will need to be thicker in areas, which will experience heavy loads, such as hospitals and warehouses.

Mapei also supplies adhesives for several types of material, including tiles, carpet, PVC and wooden flooring, offering waterproofing products that are compatible with adhesives and substrate preparation materials.

“Mapelastic and Mapelastic Smart are two highly flexible, liquid applied waterproofing products which have received a huge amount of interest from the market, with many designers interested in sourcing as a ‘package’ which keeps liabilities contained,” Haboubi adds.

For 2010, Haboubi believes the next big thing for the flooring sector will be sound insulation products.

“These are typically provided as a sheet membrane of cork, rubber or a combination of both ranging from 2mm to 4mm thick.”

In addition, Mapei aims to introduce Ultratop in the UAE flooring market this year. This is a decorative, cementitious, self-levelling product, which is applied in thicknesses of 5mm to 40mm and provides an abrasion resistant floor topping.

New trends are exciting, but correct installation is critical and sites must be prepared before flooring is applied. According to some flooring manufactures and suppliers, companies can get this very wrong.

“In recent years there had been such a rush to complete projects that many developers installed their flooring with cheap unprofessional installers,” observes Douglas.

“The second most common mistake was to install a floor without the wood acclimatising and, very often, without the air conditioning being fully operational. This is a recipe for disaster.”

Mapei provides technical advice when it comes to installation. “Unfortunately many developers and designers do not focus enough on the substrates required for the flooring they select. In many cases these are considered to be the contractor’s problem,” says Haboubi.

“We have faced a number of issues onsite where, say, insufficient thicknesses of screed are being allowed for in order to correctly support the subsequent finishes. Standards such as EN 13813 are explicit in their recommendations and should be adhered to in order to ensure the durability and sustainability of the floor.”

Standards such as GSO:ISO 13007 provide a benchmark for classifying adhesives for the installation of tiles. This year, there will be a lot of changes in the flooring sector, but what does this mean for prices?

The value of flooring products depends on the cost of raw materials, but for now, prices remain stable.

“I don’t think there will be any major price fluctuation in our products unless there are huge fluctuations in currency,” says Lakhani.

However, Douglas is expecting an increase in prices throughout the year: “Alomi is constantly price checking raw materials costs and has seen a steady increase, which will continue throughout the first half of 2010.”