Choosing Your Flooring

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August 1, 2014
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Many Options for Every Room

Flooring is usually the last part of a project to be installed, but it shouldn’t be the last feature to be considered in the design. The floor is an integral part of each room’s environment, and has a powerful effect on the room’s livability and its functionality. These are the major considerations:

• Beauty: natural or engineered; a blend of color, pattern, and texture
• Comfort: hard or soft, warm or cold, smooth or textured.
• Water resistance: absorbent or not, solid or seamed
• Durability: rock hard or easy to bruise
• Cleaning and maintenance: how easy and how often

People’s tastes vary widely, but there are a lot of options in flooring, from wood to tile to carpeting. And within each of these broad groups, there are natural products and man-made, or “engineered,” products such as ceramic tile, vinyl sheeting, and engineered wood flooring made up of a thin layer of natural wood over a substrate of plywood, particleboard, or synthetics. Suffice to say that good-looking products are available to suit every room and occupant.

Now let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each type of flooring

Solid Wood Flooring

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This is the most traditional type of flooring and continues to be extremely popular. Because it is not water resistant without special finishes, wood is not the best type of flooring for bathrooms and utility rooms and also needs careful consideration for use in kitchens. Elsewhere, they provide natural beauty and a sense of warmth, though they can be hard and cold to bare feet, particularly in the winter. Area rugs and runners help a lot.

Hardwood floors, properly finished, are very durable. Softer woods such as pine and even bamboo do not work as well in high traffic areas such as entryways and hallways, though a hard finish and runners can help extend the life of the surface.

Regular sweeping or vacuuming with soft brushes will extend the life of the surface by removing grit. Mop only with a damp pad to avoid soaking the wood. Eventually, hardwood floors need to be sanded and refinished, every five to 15 years depending on the hardness of the wood and the amount of traffic.

Engineered Wood Flooring

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These products share many of the features of natural wood flooring. Their major advantage is usually cost, because not as much natural wood is used. However, the thin top layer of real wood cannot be sanded and refinished without the risk of sanding though to the man-made layers. You’ll have to replace the flooring in high-use areas more frequently, while solid hardwood flooring can last for generations.

Stone and Ceramic Tile

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Hard tiles come in an amazing variety of colors, patterns, and textures. They are a great choice for entryways, bathrooms, and other high-use or damp areas of the home. They are hard and cold to the touch, but can be softened with area rugs and runners.

Glazed ceramic tile is naturally waterproof, while natural stone and unglazed tiles should be finished with a sealant when used in bathrooms, utility rooms, and kitchens. The grout between stones and tiles should also be sealed in wet areas, even if the tile itself is glazed. Using a hard, clear finish will help protect the surface in high-use areas such as entryways.

Stone and tile are more brittle than wood and can be cracked if the floor flexes at a joint or something heavy is dropped on them. However, individual tiles can be replaced, something more difficult with strip-laid wooden flooring, and next to impossible with sheet vinyl flooring and wall-to-wall carpets.

Regular sweeping or vacuuming to remove grit will keep the surface looking good, and sealed surfaces will need resealing every few years.

Vinyl Tiles and Sheets

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These are the most waterproof products, very suitable for bathrooms, utility rooms, and kitchens, though they can be used almost everywhere. They are relatively low in cost, easy to clean, and, as with ceramic tiles, there is a huge range of colors and patterns to choose from. They are also softer on the foot, though they can be cold in the winter.

Vinyl flooring is not as durable as hardwood flooring or stone and ceramic tile; however, it will last for years if it is kept clean. When the surface eventually dulls or yellows, it can sometimes be buffed and coated by a specialist, but you cannot expect “like-new” results, and the coatings are not necessarily “green.”

Vinyl tiles, and to a lesser extent sheets, can be installed more easily than other types of flooring, as long as the subfloor has been properly smoothed. Vinyl is more flexible and can flow with an old, sagging floor more readily than stiffer floor materials will. However, small gaps or raised edges in the subfloor will create bulges in the surface and eventually cause cracks.

Wall-to-Wall Carpeting

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High quality carpeting can be as expensive as some of the woods and tiles, though it is generally less expensive. Its major advantages are ease of installation and comfort – this is the one naturally soft and warm flooring. There are abundant choices in color, pattern, and texture to suit any taste. They can also be dolled up and made even softer on the feet by the addition of area rugs.

Modern synthetic/wool blends are very durable, though are not the best choices for entryways and heavily traveled hallways. Carpets designed for indoor use are completely unsuited to damp areas, while indoor/outdoor carpets are not as soft and have fewer design choices. Carpets are simply a bad idea for bathrooms.

Carpets are not an option for people with allergies to house dust. They can also be a problem with pets. They will stain much more easily than the other flooring types. Sometimes a bad stain or tear can be repaired by installing a patch; however, matching the color can be very difficult.

Carpets will hide a lot of dirt, but do not make it vanish entirely. In fact, over the years grit will sift down through the weave and backing to coat the subfloor underneath. To avoid this as much as possible, you will need to vacuum your carpets regularly. Carpets will also need to be shampooed at regular intervals – every year or two at least – which will entail renting the right equipment or hiring an expert.

Flooring is a room-to-room choice. Luckily, there are plenty of options available to suit taste, budget, and the environment of each and every room.

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