The Secret To Choosing Spectacular Flooring
It is said that one “can’t judge a book by its cover.” However, nothing could be further from the truth than when it comes to flooring. It can make or break the interior appearance of a home and greatly influence the amount of time that you spend keeping house. It can even determine how much sneezing and wheezing goes on in your home. What’s under foot can be responsible for all of this you ask? The short answer; yes – and more!
Looks, durability, lasting quality, ease of maintenance and budget are the factors that most influence flooring choice. Few surfaces in a home can compare to the level of wear and tear to which flooring is subjected. Therefore, the quality of the goods and how well they are installed and maintained will determine how good they look and how long they last. As is the case with a new roof, flooring isn’t something that most people change often. Thus, it stands to reason that spending a little more up front for better quality materials can result in big savings over the long haul – irregardless of the type.
Where carpet and vinyl have been the standard flooring components in most American homes for the past several decades, the trend now is toward both varied and upscale finishes. The days of wall-to-wall carpet — save for the vinyl covered kitchen and bathroom – are steadily becoming a thing of the past as hardwood, tile and laminate materials pepper rooms in the modern American home. Even high-volume production homebuilders are opting for multiple styles that go beyond the vinyl/carpet “two trick pony.”
Prior to World War II, hardwood floor was standard equipment in all “living” areas throughout a home. The kitchen was almost always covered with tough linoleum and the bathroom floor consisted of linoleum or ceramic tile. That trend changed during the post World War II housing boom, when wall-to-wall carpet replaced hardwood, and sheet vinyl replaced tile as builders sought to cut costs to create affordable housing for the masses.
What comes around goes around! In a trend that developed in the ‘80s and is still going strong today, scores of Americans have an “in with the old and out with the new” attitude toward flooring. Once trendy “in your face” wall-to-wall carpet is being ripped out by the landfill load to reveal “buried treasure” – hardwood flooring that has for years been hidden. For the modest cost of a light refinishing, owners of these “renaissance” floors are enjoying a chic finish that others yearn for and pay big bucks to have installed.
Why is wood so popular? It’s a hard surface that is easy to keep clean and that, with periodic maintenance, can last indefinitely. Over time, however, the surface will grow dull and must be renewed with a new hard finish. Beyond that, frequent sweeping and regular cleaning with a slightly damp mop is all that’s required to keep the floor in tip top shape.
Wood floors are available in a host of species and can be stained or finished naturally. These days, wood floors are particularly popular in the kitchen, nook, dining room, entry hall and family room. Though wood flooring can be installed virtually anywhere, due to moisture, installing it in a bathroom can spell disaster – especially if you have children who like to slosh around in the tub.
When it comes to wood, there’s more than meets the eye. The last decade has produced an abundance of do-it-yourself-friendly “look alike” hardwood products that are factory finished, easy to install and less expensive than traditional hardwood flooring. “Engineered hardwood” has a plywood core and a wood veneer finish that looks and feels like the real McCoy. Laminate flooring, like laminate countertops, has a fiberboard core with a hard plastic finish that mimics the look of hardwood and tile.
The engineered hardwood and laminate flooring products are constructed with a tongue and groove for easy installation. They can be glued down to the substrate or “float” on top of a foam pad depending upon the style selected and installation specific conditions. Engineered, laminate and floating floors are a cost effective alternative to traditional hardwood flooring, however, they don’t come close to the durability, lasting quality or ability to repair of that of traditional hardwood. They are also a fraction of the price.
High quality sheet vinyl remains one of the best flooring values for a kitchen, bath, laundry or other “wet” area. Though vinyl is among the most maintenance-friendly finishes, it can fade with continuous exposure to ultraviolet rays, yellow or be marred by the rubber backing of some area rugs. Of all flooring choices, sheet vinyl is the least do-it-yourself friendly. In general, professionally installed vinyl looks better and lasts longer.
If you like the look (and price) of vinyl, but professional installation is a budget buster, consider vinyl tile. This product is available with a do-it-yourself-friendly peel-and-stick backing or can be installed using a trowel-in-place adhesive. Peel-and-stick vinyl tiles are a cost-effective alternative, but should be considered temporary at best. Vinyl tiles, on the other hand, are not as easy to install as meets the eye, but can take a beating and offer excellent decorating options.
Of all the choices, tile (ceramic, marble and granite) offers the most design flexibility and can be installed in virtually any space in a home. Though ceramic tile has traditionally been considered an upgrade finish for bathroom and kitchen floors, its use has increased dramatically much in part due to the fact that the trend in floor construction has in many parts of the country moved from wood to concrete. Thus, the time and expense of installing a mortar bed is not required as tile can be installed directly onto a concrete floor.
The biggest problem that most people have with tile is the grout joints. Grout can stain, crack, and must periodically be renewed and sealed. And even as durable as it is, tile and children often don’t mix. A dropped pot can result in a chipped or cracked tile that often can’t be replaced with a match. On the other hand, tile installation can be challenging and enjoyable, but is guaranteed to be lots of work. When purchasing tile (for do-it-yourself or professional installation), make sure to order extra for damage replacement down the road.
Cost versus value, carpet is still the best overall choice for bedrooms and general living spaces in a home. It has warmth and softness that can’t be duplicated by any other finish. It also has more levels of quality than any other flooring choice – that’s good and bad. It’s good to the extent that there is a lot to choose from and bad that there is a lot of poor quality material that will neither resist stains or wear well. Aside from the quality of the carpet, the means of installation and the quality and thickness of the pad will determine how good a carpet looks and how long it will last. When it comes to pad, more can be less – meaning that a pad that is too thick can make walking on the carpet difficult and hasten its wear.
If allergies are a concern, hard finishes such as tile, vinyl and hardwood are choices that can ease both wheezing and sneezing.