Changes to Flooring in Historic Places of Worship

Historic places of worship may have floor surfaces which make a significant contribution to the general character and aesthetic qualities of the interior. These often have historic interest where they contain memorial stones and brasses or reflect past alterations to the building. In these cases, we recommend that you keep them and do not cover them with carpet or other flooring.

Carpets and mats

If you are thinking about carpeting an area of your place of worship, please see some issues to consider below:

  • We don't encourage wall-to-wall carpeting of the interior of a place of worship. This tends to create a domestic character at odds with the interior of an historic public building.
  • Laying fitted carpets on stone, tiles or unventilated timber floors can trap moisture, preventing evaporation and causing damage and decay. This is particularly true of rubber-backed carpets and underlays, which we do not recommend.
  • If you are using carpet, natural materials like wool will allow moisture to evaporate and are much less likely to cause damage. We recommend that you consider getting a good-quality carpet or commissioning one with a design relevant to the building or the location within the building to enhance the interior.
  • Mats or carpets that you can move or turn easily are more satisfactory in most circumstances and do not detract as much from the character of the interior. You need to take care, however, that these do not become a trip hazard.

Historic tiles

If your place of worship still has historic tiles, see our page on maintenance and how to clean them without damaging them.

This advice is not suitable for fragile or porous medieval or Delft tiles.

New flooring

When planning a new floor, it is most appropriate to design one which, like most historic floors, reflects the different uses of the interior and any architectural divisions. Use of a single undifferentiated material throughout can create a sterile effect which detracts from the character of an historic interior.

The use of lime rather than cement based screed is less likely to lead to problems with damp. For the same reason a ventilation gap should be left around the perimeter and around column bases.

When planning a new floor surface it's important that the building’s character is reflected in not only the choice of materials, but also the use of coursing and jointing, and the delineating or reinforcing of vital features such as the nave aisle.

If you have recently had fixed seating removed, you will also need to carefully plan the new flooring to work with the surrounding historic flooring, the overall design and the use of the space.

For information on underfloor heating, see our heating page.