Part 1: How To Choose The Right Flooring
In part one of this article, we will discuss factors affecting the choices you make for your flooring needs. Factors such as which rooms will be floored, your family’s lifestyle, allergies and/or sensitivities, as well as how you will prioritize ascetics and maintenance of your floors.
As an example, the kitchen is a room that sees a lot of traffic and it’s prone to food and water spills. A floor surface that’s durable (will stand up to traffic, dirt, grit, scratching, etc.) and easy to clean is a good choice here. By the same token, a bathroom floor experiences a lot of moisture, so flooring choices that can stand up to this type of environment long-term are the best choice. Laminate probably wouldn’t be the best option given its seams and the susceptibility of it’s backing material to damage from moisture.
Get answers. Get expert advice. Call or write and connect with a trained professional today.
Choosing the Right Flooring for Your Home
Flooring choices for your home are as plentiful as counter-top options. There’s something to suit everyone’s taste and purpose… and then some. To choose the right material for your floor, you’ll need to consider a few things ahead of time. First, consider how the room is typically used along with your family’s lifestyle. Then, think about your priorities and whether you prefer ease of maintenance over aesthetics. Floors take up a lot of visible space, and it’s only natural to want them to look great. You just need to remember the practical aspects when making a decision. The right blend of fashion and prudence should result in the right product for your home. Take some time considering your needs, and then prioritize what’s really important to you. This will help you narrow your focus to a short list of good flooring options. Don’t be afraid to think a bit “unconventionally” either. For example, it’s easy to default to wood flooring, because wood floors make a great surface and wood has been around for centuries. But there can be advantages to other materials like cork or laminate too. Take your time, think about how you live, and choose flooring that’ll meet your criteria for both performance and aesthetics.
What should I know before choosing a floor?
Choosing the right floor relies on assessing your wants and needs. The “wants” part of the equation is usually easier since you’ve probably seen different floor materials that really appeal to you. However, don’t forego the “needs” analysis. The practical considerations are also important factors in making the right flooring decision. Each type of surface comes with its own individual advantages and disadvantages. Consider the following points and questions to help narrow your focus. You may already have a preconceived idea of the type of flooring you want, but not all materials are suitable for every application.
Which room or rooms are you flooring?
The function and location of the room will have some bearing on the best surfacing to use. For example, you don’t want carpet in the kitchen or dining room due to the propensity for spilled foods and liquids. In contrast, solid wood floors are not suitable for basements due to the moisture issues associated with below-grade (below ground level) rooms. Also, rooms or spaces that adjoin entry doors from the outside are more prone to seeing a lot more dirt and grit than an upstairs bedroom. No floor will last forever if the grit isn’t regularly swept up, but some materials do better than others in this situation. Either decide on a floor that is easy to maintain, or commit to the upkeep required to maintain more delicate surfaces in these situations. Don’t forget about the garage either – it’s a room too. There’s even specialized surfacing for the garage to help dress it up and help make it a more inviting space than just a place to park your car. The bottom line here is to choose a surface that’s suitable for the function and location of the room. See the Flooring Types – Pros and Cons page for more information on room suitability.
Consider your family and lifestyle when choosing a floor.
Do you have children, elderly or disabled family members? Do you have pets? How you and your family live makes a difference in choosing a floor type. Children usually cause more wear and tear from spills, running around, and banging and playing with toys. Some of the laminate products might be better in this scenario than site-finished solid wood flooring due to the optimal wear characteristics of laminate. These products have factory-applied coatings that are designed to be very durable and scratch-resistant. The surface finish of a site-finished wood floor (one that’s sanded and top-coated in your home) doesn’t have the same durability characteristics as those factory-finishes. That being said, a lot of the engineered wood floors (wood flooring that’s pre-finished at the factory) are made with very durable surface coatings, similar to laminate. For the elderly or family members with wheeled walkers or wheelchairs, grout seams associated with tile flooring may be an annoyance or even a hindrance. The wheels could catch or “clunk” as they pass over the grout, especially wider grout lines. Pets, like cats and particularly larger dogs have claws and shed. Hard surfaces work well for cleanup from pets that shed whereas carpeting might retain pet hair and dander. On the other hand, claws can also scratch wood floors. If you have big dogs with big claws, tile or wood/laminate flooring with the most durable surface finishes (like aluminum oxide) may be your best bet.
Does anyone in the home suffer from asthma or respiratory allergies, or have sensitivities to chemicals that aggravate these conditions?
Carpeting can harbor or hold allergens that are more easily cleaned up from harder surfaces. Carpet and other floor materials can contain higher VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that might contribute to adverse health effects, particularly with those who are more sensitive to airborne allergens and contaminants. In these situations, look for products that have lower VOC emissions. As an example, Armstrong® products that meet criteria for low-VOC emissions carry their FloorScore™ certification. The Carpet and Rug Institute identifies low VOC products with their Green Label designation.
How much care and maintenance are you willing to put into the floor?
Some materials have higher maintenance needs than others, especially if you want them to last and maintain their aesthetic appeal. Wood floors should be swept or vacuumed often to avoid the dulling and scratching that comes with ground-in dirt. Stone or tile is fairly durable, although their finish will eventually succumb to a lack of regular sweeping. Standing water is better handled by vinyl or tile floor, in comparison to wood flooring. Think of mudrooms and bathrooms in this case. Melted snow from boots and shoes can go unnoticed for a while, and you don’t want to have to constantly check the mudroom to mop up any water.
How important is your floor from a style and aesthetics perspective? Do you want a high-end expensive surface, or will a more economical choice do?
If you like the look of Brazilian Cherry but don’t need to have real solid wood to make you happy, compare laminate with wood floors. You might be surprised to find a laminate that’s a close match to real wood but for less money. If you’re remodeling or building a new home you can apply the savings to something that provides greater service and satisfaction in the long term… such as upgraded appliances or cabinets.
Get out and test drive a short list of your flooring choices.
If at all possible, visit several showrooms or building supply outlets that sell the types of materials you’re interested in. Looking at pictures, websites, and brochures is one thing, but actually seeing them and standing on them in person can help solidify your flooring decision. This is particularly true with laminate floors, where you can really see if the appearance is close enough to the real thing for you or not. Take some carpet or floor samples home with you (the kind you don’t have to return) and subject them to your own trials. See if they meet your standards for things like stain resistance, denting, and scratching. Drop things on them and check the results. Snap together a couple of pieces of laminate and then let some water sit on the seam for a while. How does it hold up?
You may already have an idea of the floor that you want, but take the time to consider the aesthetics, durability, and maintenance of your proposed flooring choice. Also, consider children, disabled family members, pets, and potential sensitivities. Finally, put your flooring choices to the test.
Part 2: Pros and Cons of Flooring Types
Carpeting offers a warmth and softness not found in other surfacing options, but it’s obviously not for all applications. Carpeting not only comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns, but in many different textures as well, making it a versatile style option. There’s plenty of choices too, from established brands like Karastan®, Shaw®, Mohawk® and others. There’s even carpets for kids.
New synthetic fiber technology gives you better alternatives for stain resistance, greater resiliency and even “green” carpeting choices. If natural fibers appeal to you, wool carpeting is still the measure that all synthetic carpets try to emulate, with natural resilience, durability and softness.
- Comfortable material from a tactile and visual perspective
- Endless variety of styles, colors, patterns and textures to choose from in addition to several different fiber types
- Quiet – acts as a good sound insulator
- Softer surface offers greater cushion and may prevent injury from falls (particularly with infants and elderly)
- Easy to replace (more so than wood and tile)
- Acts as a good insulator although it can be used with radiant heat provided it’s matched with a low-insulating cushion
- Hides some irregularities in subfloor that wouldn’t be possible with a tile floor (without correction)
- Not as effective as other surfaces for radiant heat systems (due to the insulating qualities of the carpet and pad), though it is possible with lower-insulating cushions
- Stains more readily and spills are harder to clean up as opposed to hard surfaces
- Harbors allergens and dust unless regularly vacuumed and cleaned (dirt and allergens can also be ground into the carpet over time making them harder to extract)
- Potential source of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) contributing to poorer indoor air quality
- Susceptible to damage from water/moisture that can initiate mold growth
Flooring Types: What's The Difference?
The information below is a breakdown on your various flooring options plus the pros and cons of each. Don’t necessarily use the pros/cons as ‘absolutes’ but as points to consider in deciding what’s the best fit for you.
Vinyl is still a mainstay of floor covering material. Its easy-to-clean surface and wide range of available colors and patterns make it versatile, economical, and low maintenance. There are a lot of vinyl choices that incorporate new technologies in texturing and durability for a more modern and realistic look.
Vinyl Flooring Pros
- Easy to maintain
- Resilient (provides “give” and cushion underfoot)
- Wide range of colors/patterns available, including new textures
- Good sound absorbing qualities
- Can be laid without seams depending on the size and shape of the room
Vinyl Flooring Cons
- Not as eco-friendly or made with sustainable materials as other choices
- Susceptible to cuts and tears (i.e. – moving heavy objects over it such as refrigerators)
- Not a renewable surface like wood flooring
- Not heat tolerant and can be scorched or burned
- Seamed/tiled vinyl offers paths for spilled liquids to get to the backing and subfloor
- Susceptible to permanent dents (i.e. – tables, furniture legs, & even pointed-heeled shoes)
- Edges and seams may be visible and interrupt the decorative pattern depending on the quality of installation
Laminate Flooring mimics the look of other floor materials by employing a picture of real wood, stone, or tile covered with a wear-protective layer. Some laminates are virtually indistinguishable from the real material, while costing a lot less. There are plenty of brands and products to choose from such as Armstrong laminate, Quick-Step, Shaw, and Mannington to name a few. Care of laminate flooring is relatively easy, armed with a sweeper and a little knowledge on how to take care of it.
Laminate Flooring Pros
- Durable – some use advanced coatings designed to stand up to heavy traffic
- Less costly than wood, particularly for higher end exotic woods
- Can be applied over existing floors
- ‘Glueless’ laminate is portable – Can be removed and reinstalled elsewhere (though some warranties become void if the floor is disassembled more than 3 times)
- Many style options both in wood and stone patterns
- Installation process is simple enough for someone with do-it-yourself skills
Laminate Flooring Cons
- Requires full replacement when worn out – no refinishing possible
- Seams between planks and edges present a path for spills/water intrusion which can cause edge-swell
- Floating-floor characteristic results in a hollow sound if no acoustical underlayment is used
The beauty and natural variability of real wood flooring is hard to beat. There’s a whole realm of choices available with wood floors starting with species like maple, oak, hickory, and birch… all the way to the exotic woods like Merbau, Jatoba, and Teak.
If those choices don’t resonate with you, how about floors made from old growth Douglas Fir, antique wide plank heart pine, or even extinct American Chestnut? Reclaimed wood flooring offers these options using wood salvaged from sunken logs, old structures, and other similar sources. There’s a bonus too in that it’s an eco-friendly choice since no new trees are consumed.
You also have a choice on whether to use solid wood or engineered wood. Solid wood is just what the name implies – solid from top to bottom. Engineered wood consists of a top layer of real wood bonded to several other layers of wood beneath it, similar to plywood. Solid wood can be purchased prefinished or it can be finished on-site using unfinished hardwood stock. Engineered wood is usually purchased prefinished. Solid wood and some engineered wood floors are capable of being refinished several times.
Wood Flooring Pros
- Durable and long-lasting, particularly when well maintained
- Renewable – can be refinished several times
- Wide diversity of style choices available from stain color to type of wood species
- Provides a warmer feel than stone, tile, or concrete
- Economical choice over the long term due to it’s renewability
- Pre-finished wood does not require on-site finishing and its associated inconveniences
Wood Flooring Cons
- Susceptible to scratches and wear from grit and dirt
- Susceptible to damage from moisture and liquids (not recommended for the bathroom)
- Can develop squeaks and creaks over time due to loosening between the wood and nails that fasten the planks to the subfloor
- Susceptible to gaps or “cupping” (curving of the wood surface) even with normal humidity changes if improperly installed
- Floors finished in-place require room(s) to be vacant for several days to allow sanding, staining, and finishing (not necessary with pre-finished wood however)
Linoleum is an all-natural product, made up of linseed oil, wood or cork flour, mineral fillers, and pigments that are combined and applied to a jute or canvas backing. It’s sometimes confused with vinyl, but it’s natural ingredients provide a more environmentally friendly material than vinyl. It’s resilient like vinyl, which makes it more comfortable to stand and walk on.
Linoleum Flooring Pros
- A more environmentally friendly product – made from natural materials
- Contains natural anti-bacterial properties due to its linseed oil content
- Available in click-tiles (floating floor) for easier do-it-yourself capability (as opposed to trickier glue-down sheet and tiles)
- Color goes through the material which helps to hide chips and scratches
- Naturally anti-static – helps prevent the attraction of dust
- Good durability and wear properties (linseed oil oxidizes as it ages, imparting strength over time)
- Won’t melt (like vinyl) if a burning match or hot object is dropped on it
- Lots of rich colors are available (many more than when your great-grandmother had linoleum floors)
Linoleum Flooring Cons
- May not be suitable for wet environments (like bathrooms) due to its porosity, unless it’s sealed (recommendations vary with manufacturer however)
- Retains a distinctive (but temporary) scent from the linseed oil content when new
- Glue-down installation may require professionals for proper results and seaming
Tile provides almost infinite style and decorating variety. There’s practically an endless range of styles available, and the ability to combine them within a floor plan offers even wider design options. Tile is durable, long-lasting and works well with in-floor radiant heating systems.
Tile Flooring Pros
- Endless variety of styles, textures, and colors
- Durable surface that can last for years
- Flexibility in where it can be used – above, at, or below grade
- Low maintenance requirements (sweeping and damp mopping)
- Works well with radiant floor heating systems
- Resistant to stains and wear, and won’t fade, burn, or melt
- More easily repaired than other floor types (individual tiles can be replaced)
- Cost effective (life-cycle vs. cost)
- Has good “thermal mass” properties that help with heating and cooling
- Won’t dent or scratch like wood can or develop impressions like resilient flooring
Tile Flooring Cons
- Grout lines can trap dirt and/or stain and can be a hindrance to wheelchairs and wheeled walkers
Hard surface can break dropped items and be uncomfortable to stand on for long periods of time (non-resilient)
- Can be a cold surface during cooler periods of the year if not used in conjunction with an underfloor radiant heat or passive (solar) heating system
- Glossy and smooth tile surfaces (as opposed to matte finishes) are slippery either wet or dry and present a slipping hazard
Need More Resources?
If you would like more information, you can always give us a call, email us, or come in to the store. We’re always available to answer any questions you might have. You can browse all of our carpet & flooring in the store, as well as take home samples. We also do free in-home estimates.