No home’s decor is complete until the right flooring has been placed underfoot. Options abound to fit all taste levels and budgets but should be carefully chosen, taking lifestyle factors and each room’s utility into account. The lush, wall-to-wall wool carpeting that softens the steps of an empty-nester may not fit the bill for an active family of five that owns three pets. If you’re thinking about your flooring needs, check out these pros and cons before you buy.
Hardwood – The glow of rich, hardwood floors can enhance any living room, dining room or den with timeless beauty and elegance and is adaptable to a variety of personal styles. Both domestic and imported hardwood can get expensive at around $12 a square foot plus installation, and it is easily water damaged, so it’s not recommended for bathroom or kitchen use. It can also absorb odors readily, so it is not a great choice for enclosed, unventilated areas where heavy smoking or cooking takes place. If you have pets that are less-than-perfectly house trained, small children or clumsy friends, make sure you keep a mop at the ready and also be prepared to shell out for waxing one or two times a year.
Laminate hardwood – A less expensive alternative, laminate hardwood beautifully creates the illusion of being the real thing at as little as $2 a square foot plus installation fees. The potential for water damage is the same as that of its more rarefied twin, however, so the same rules apply for kitchen and bathroom use. Laminate hardwood is not constructed to withstand the millennia, but it is a great flooring choice for active families looking for an affordable flooring choice in a starter home or condo.
Engineered wood – Comparably priced to hardwood floors, engineered wood is comprised of a top layer of real wood and multiple under-layers of plywood. More durable and less susceptible to water damage or humidity, engineered wood can often be purchased in a self-locking format that requires no glue or nails to install, making it a great option for the DIYer.
Bamboo – Often mistaken for wood flooring, bamboo is a natural grass glued together into easily-installable strips or planks and is available at about the same cost. Natural and pleasing to the eye, bamboo is known for its strength and durability and is able to withstand heavy use, making it perfect for well-trafficked areas.
Linoleum – Known for its bright colors and ability to repel stains and the grime from foot traffic, linoleum is comprised of biodegradable materials, such as cork and linseed oil. Perfect for kitchens, finished basements and other family-friendly living spaces, linoleum is budget-friendly at around $5 per square foot plus the cost of installation.
Vinyl-resilient flooring – Before you groan, check out today’s vinyl flooring options. Vinyl has come a long way since your parents said “I do,” and it can not only enhance living spaces such as the kitchen and bathroom, but, as a relatively soft surface, it is easy on the feet and low maintenance. A man-made product, vinyl flooring is known to off-gas small amounts of a chemical called phthalates, which concerns some families. While the research on phthalates in small concentrations is less than conclusive, if you are planning a pregnancy or have young children, a natural flooring alternative may have more appeal for you.
Ceramic tile – Made from a mixture of clay and shale, ceramic tile can be glazed or unglazed and varies dramatically not only in look but in price, ranging from $1 to $100 a square foot. Able to infuse any room with drama and flair, ceramic tile can be hard on the feet. It can also get slippery so may not provide a great option for families with small, frisky children or elderly people unless you opt for tiles treated with an anti-slip finish. Highly durable and requiring virtually no maintenance, glazed ceramic tile provides a great flooring option for outdoor living spaces.
Carpet – Carpet can range in materials, design and cost, but typically provides an indulgent softness and versatility perfect for bedrooms and living rooms as well as a wide range of colors, textures and styles. The quality of the carpet is measured in fiber density, with more fibers equaling greater durability and wear-resistance. Carpet’s ability to withstand the daily grind is numerically rated and labelled from one to five, with five being the most durable. Cost reflects durability and other qualities and can go from $2 to $12 per square foot. Of course, even the least expensive acrylic or polyester carpeting will suffer from pet accidents or food spills, so keep that in mind when you weigh your need for cozy warmth against sturdiness. Carpet absorbs noise, making it a great choice for apartment dwellers, but also locks in odors readily and can take a beating from foot traffic and grime, not to mention the nicotine-haze generated by your chain-smoking uncle or the garlic-infused recipes your spouse loves to cook. Have an active household but can’t surrender the opulence of carpet? Opt for a short shag or tweed design in wool, nylon or polyester.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.