What Is a Finish Floor or Floor Covering?

Hardwood finished flooring with bench, bag with green woven fabric and houseplant

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Usually, floor covering is a more precise term than finish floor , since the flooring tends to cover another, structural layer of flooring. Also, finish floor can be confused with the finish of a floor, such as stains and lacquers.

What Is a Finish Floor or Floor Covering?

A finish floor (also known as floor covering) is the top layer of flooring. In other words, it is the layer that you walk on, and it is typically quite decorative layer compared to the layers of flooring beneath it. Floor coverings can include carpets, laminate, tile, rugs, and vinyl.

Examples of Finish Floors or Floor Coverings

Hardwood Floor

Solid hardwood flooring of the past in lengths able to span joists is becoming more of a rare thing. Commodity flooring in a variety of lengths, some as short as 6 or 8 inches, is more the norm.

Hardwood flooring with side table and chess set by houseplant

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring can cover other, existing floor coverings, as long as the total height of the flooring does not interfere with other functions. As a floating floor, laminate flooring is easy to remove and replace with new laminate flooring.

Laminate flooring with cushion, houseplant, woven basket with pillows and white stool

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Engineered Wood Flooring

Engineered wood flooring is a hybrid that brings the best of solid hardwood with the functionality of dimensionally stable plywood. Hardwood veneer comprises the very top layer of engineered wood flooring.

Engineered wood flooring with houseplant and side table with books

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Sheet Vinyl Flooring

Sheet vinyl flooring stretches from end to end of a room, often as one continuous sheet.

Sheet vinyl flooring with wooden stool and white folded towel

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Vinyl Tile Flooring

Vinyl tile flooring is a floor covering that depends on an ultra-smooth underlayment so that bumps and imperfections from below do not telegraph to the top of the flooring.

Vinyl tile flooring with wooden stand and bathroom items above folded white towels

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring

Luxury vinyl plank flooring clicks and locks together (though thinner types are joined by adhesive).

Luxury vinyl plank flooring with sandals and wooden bench with beach items next to houseplant

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Tile Flooring

Ceramic or porcelain flooring is a floor covering that tends to be more permanent than other floor coverings, as removing old tile can be a cumbersome project.

White tile flooring with wooden and white stand with houseplant next to hamper

The Spruce / Margot Cavin


Carpeting is the very definition of a floor covering. In no sense can it ever be thought of as a single, homogeneous flooring element. Carpeting, too, is easy to remove and replace.

The following are often-necessary flooring components, but they are not finish floors or floor coverings:

  • Subfloor
  • Underlayment
  • Plywood
  • Foam
  • Felt
  • Rosin paper
  • Cement board
  • Joists
  • Beams
  • Baseboards
Carpet flooring with with wool shoes next to bed and woven hamper, in front of nightstand

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

How the Concept of Finish Floors and Floor Coverings Evolved

Only those who have purchased truly old homes that are still in mint condition will have a first-hand view of the evolution of flooring. If you were to strip away the solid hardwood flooring in that old home, you might find only one element: joists. Joists are the structural beams that run horizontally under floors to support the floors.

Alternatively, after taking off that hardwood flooring, you might find a lower layer of long, narrow rough boards underneath the hardwood flooring that provide a rigidity and a nailing surface.

In any case, the decorative flooring and the structural flooring are parts of the same thing. If you ever needed to demolish the decorative flooring, perhaps in the event of flooding, you are also demolishing the structural flooring.

As building science improved, the idea of creating flooring out of multiple layers took hold. Lower layers could provide the bulk of the structural support, while the topmost layer could be a decorative yet durable traffic layer.

Commercialization also helped drive this shift. Armstrong and other floor covering companies of the early 20th century began to sell a prime example of floor covering that is not at all structural: linoleum.

Even though linoleum was first developed in 1863, it would be decades before flooring companies had developed a product that the general populace would adopt. Linoleum was close to being a miracle product for its time. It was colorfast, it did not collect static, it was relatively soft. But best of all, linoleum could, with a bit of effort, be removed and replaced. Except for area rugs, few other floors previous to this could claim this status.

Flooring could be switched out when it wore down or simply when the homeowner decided on a different style. Flooring truly had become a covering.

Linoleum evolved into other types of resilient flooring such as sheet vinyl, tile vinyl, and luxury vinyl plank. Laminate flooring is rigid, but it too is a floor covering. As a floating floor, laminate flooring is not attached to the subfloor or underlayment at all; its sheer size and weight keep it in place and stabilized.