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Exploring Flooring Options

Flooring With an abundance of floor covering options, choosing the right floor covering for your home can be challenging. After considering all of the different choices available and weighing the pros and cons of each product, you'll be able to pick a covering that works best for each room in your home. Since each room in your home serves a different function, your floor covering should compliment each room's function and style.

The first decision you'll need to make is whether you want particular areas or rooms in your home to have a soft surface such as carpeting or a hard surface such as hardwood, laminate or ceramic. Next, you'll need to consider these factors — durability, longevity, cleaning ability and moisture resistance. To help you decide, here's a list of today's most popular surfaces:

Hard Surfaces

There are endless possibilities when it comes to hardwood, ceramic, laminate and vinyl . Since they are generally considered permanent floor coverings — you'll want to consider durability, maintenance and noise levels.

Hardwood Floors
If you want to give your home the look of natural beauty, wood is definitely something you should consider. With its many species and variety in color and grain, you should easily find a wood that fits your décor. Feeling exotic — then check out the wide range of exotic woods like Brazilian walnut and eucalyptus, Australian cypress or bamboo from China. Then there's the species native to North America like maple, red and white oak, cherry, birch, beech, ash and pecan. If you're looking to create a one-of-a-kind floor (and you have the time), you can find reclaimed hardwood flooring from historic warehouses and barns in species that are no longer available like heart pine, yellow pine and chestnut.

Generally all of these solid wood floors can be purchased unfinished or pre-finished and are 3/4 inch thick. Thanks to newer finishing technology (using aluminum oxide) pre-finished hardwood floors are actually more durable and retain its "natural" beauty better than the sand-and-finish variety. It will be hard to find an installer that will be able to apply a better finish on-site than what a manufacturer can put on your pre-finished hardwood floor.

If you really want the look of solid wood, but not the weighty price tag, you should look into engineered wood floors, which consists of two or more layers and a top layer (called the wear layer) which is 1/8 inch thick and generally made of oak, maple or cherry, but can be stained to match your décor.

Other economical alternatives are wood laminates which are plywood based with a layer of veneer on top. Keep in mind that these floor aren't nearly as thick as the real thing and can only be sanded and refinished several times — after that you'll need to have it replaced. It's no wonder manufacturers only warranty the finish for five years. It's hard to beat the look of wood, but it does have its drawbacks — it requires periodic refinishing, it can be scratched and gouged and it doesn't resist water well. These floors tend to be noisy, so you might want to consider using area rugs to muff some of the sound.

Finishing Your Floor
After you chosen your wood species, now it's time to finish it off. There's no limit to the unique looks you can create using stains, glazes, paints and finishes. You can get really creative by having your floor faux painted, distressed or stenciled. Be sure no matter what finish you choose that it is well protected by a sealer and multiple coats of polyurethane — how much shine is up to you.

The average range for hardwood floors is $6 to $12 per square foot.

Laminated Floors
The surface of a laminate floor is actually a plastic composition that is applied to the core using heat and pressure. The core is usually made of high-density fiber or particleboard, and the backing can be paper, or another layer of laminate. Laminate flooring comes in a variety of styles that try to mimic the natural look of wood, stone, and tile. Some types are glued together, while others have a mechanical locking system where you just snap the pieces together. The wear layer is made of zinc oxide, which makes it almost impervious to scratches and very durable, making them an ideal choice for high traffic areas. Picture this: If you look closely at the pattern you'll notice each pattern is identical — that's because it's actually a picture of the real thing. You can't sand or refinish these floors so when they wear out (ten years or so) you need to replace them.

Ceramic Tile
Ceramic tile is a natural product made of clay, minerals and water that are designed and formed into a multitude of shapes, sizes, colors and textures. They are very durable and easy to clean, but beware the grout lines and scratching. Most ceramic floor tiles have either a glazed, or unglazed surface. The glazed tiles have a special ceramic coating that is applied to the body of the tile and then fired under tremendous heat so that the glazing becomes hard and non-porous. The benefits of glazing is that it creates a floor that is resistant to stains, scratches, slippage and fire. An unglazed tile is simply one that retains the same color on its face as it does its back. The most popular unglazed tiles are red quarry tiles or porcelain. The benefits of not glazing is that dirt and other effects of daily living don't show up as vibrantly as they do on a glazed tile. The price for a decent tile starts around $6.50 a square foot, but can escalate quickly.

Vinyl is a very versatile choice for floor covering and is most commonly used in kitchens, bath and laundry rooms. It comes in rolled sheets or one-foot-square tiles and is available as an inlaid vinyl (pattern and color throughout the entire material) or rotogravure vinyl (knobby texture with colors and patterns printed only on the finished surface). There are many designs and patterns to choose from in each category, but they all have the same drawback — they can dent, tear or become unglued. The average price for vinyl is $12 per square yard.


Carpet comes in a wide variety of styles and constructions to fit almost any décor from formal to casual. From berbers, saxonies, textures, friezes and patterned cut/uncut styles, you'll have lots to choose from!

Berbers are made-up of a loop pile construction that are available with a pattern or without, and patterns can range from small graphic designs such as diamonds or squares to larger, more intricate patterns that resemble floral motifs.

Cut pile style carpets range from velvety saxonies, which are very formal and elegant, to more popular textured styles, which are more casual in appearance. A characteristic of a saxony is that it shows a natural shading of light and dark streaks — the kind made by footprints and vacuum cleaners. Some people are fond of this natural shading, because it adds a rich lushness to the overall appearance. There are a lot of casual styles on the market which minimize these characteristics if you're not fond of seeing these marks.

One is a textured cut pile, which at first glance has a two-tone appearance to the yarns, but what you're actually seeing is the reflection and absorption of light on the tips of the yarns. The results is you see less tracking and vacuum marks. For even less shading, you might want to check out a frieze style of carpeting. Frieze means "coarse, shaggy, woolen," and is characterized by tall, thin yarns that are curled. It has a very casual, textured look, which minimizes the tracking marks. This is a great texture for high traffic rooms, because it's very durable and full of twists (the term used for what makes a carpet resilient). As for style, frieze range from solid colors to jewel tone multi-colors, as well as "cut berbers," which are generally offered in off whites with earth-toned flecks.

Fiber Facts
Before you make your final decision, you'll need to understand some fiber facts. The most widely used fiber is nylon because of its durability and resilience. The drawback to fiber is that it can fade if exposed to direct sunlight and it's not naturally stain resistant. Most nylons are treated with a topical stain to help resist stains, but overtime it will wear off. Brand name fibers such as Anso, Wear-Dated and Dupont have a line of carpets that have added soil protection.

Olefin is very stain and fade resistant and a good choice if you have children or pets. The disadvantage to this yarn is that it's not a very resilient fiber and will pack down quicker. For longer durability, pick one with a loop construction.

Polyester has a built in, permanent stain and fade resistance. It comes in variety of colors and has a soft feel. However, the drawbacks are it's not very resilient and it's the most oil absorbent fiber, which means it's difficult to clean. If you opt for polyester make sure it's been treated with Scotchguard or a similar treatment for soil protection — otherwise plan on having your carpet cleaned regularly.

The top fiber is wool because it is the most resilient (not to mention soft to the touch and luxurious) and the only fiber that ages well. Because wool naturally has low absorption, spills generally stay on the top — making cleanup a breeze.

The cost of carpet averages around $18 a square yard, but varies depending on the manufacturer and construction.