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Wall-to-Wall Wisdom: Learn More about Floors

Wondering whether to turn a carpeted living room into a formal hardwood great room, or whether there are better materials that could replace the vinyl in a kitchen or bathroom? Flooring comes in many types—with many price tags—and each flooring type carries different pros and cons when it comes to installation, maintenance, and cost. Here’s an overview of the different types of flooring and their strengths and weaknesses:

Hard surface flooring
Hard surface flooring includes surfaces such as granite, slate, tile, synthetic brick, concrete, and several types of tile, ranging from terra cotta tile to ceramic and mosaic tile. These flooring surfaces are often found in entryways, bathrooms, or small areas of larger rooms, but in some cases comprise an entire room’s floor surface. Hard-surfaced flooring will last a long time, is low-maintenance and easy to clean. However, many hard-surfaced floors need a reinforced sub-floor, can be cold to the touch, can reflect noise, and can be expensive to install. Floor tiles installed with pale-colored grouts may show dirt sooner than those installed with dark grout. Concrete, while solid, is a cold flooring surface and may require staining or sealing to prevent wear; staining concrete in decorator colors typically requires that contractors use specialty chemicals. Hard surface flooring generally requires little more than sweeping and vacuuming or mopping. Chipped tiles, however, need to be replaced periodically to prevent water damage, especially in a bathroom or kitchen environment. Tile flooring costs $8 to $15 per square foot installed, according to Consumer Reports.

Wood flooring
Wood flooring is present in many older homes, but the condition, arrangement of flooring pieces, and grain of wood can all impact the value of this form of flooring. In general, wood floors are long-lasting, don’t entrap dust, are warm on bare feet, meld with many different styles of décor, and can also be stained or refinished in different colors. Wood floors, however, do require careful care: Polishing, waxing, and cleaning with a wood soap or water and vinegar solution may be required (though avoid the latter if the floor has been recently waxed). Wood floors aren’t all “hardwoods” – indeed, some floors, such as fir, are “soft wood.” Both hard wood floors (such as oak) and soft wood floors are susceptible to damage from standing water, scratches (from pet claws, for instance), and divots or dents from heavy furniture. Wood floors may be more expensive than synthetic flooring but less expensive than hard surface flooring. Laminate flooring resembling wood (from manufacturers such as Pergo, Congoleum, or Wilsonart) is an interesting alternative to real wood flooring, as it can be installed atop existing flooring, doesn’t require waxing or laquer, and may even be sun and stain-resistant. Wood flooring costs $7 to $12 per square foot installed and engineered wood flooring costs from $5 to $10 per square foot installed, according to Consumer Reports.

Plastic laminate, vinyl, and linoleum floor surfaces
These flooring surfaces are very durable, sun resistant, and offer easy installation. Linoleum, sold in sheet form as well as in tiles, comes in an ever-increasing array of designer colors. Laminate floors cannot be refinished, and can become damaged by major spills or standing water. Vinyl often has a sheen or comes in patterns that make it look like a fake version of stone or natural materials. Linoleum and vinyl are both available in an array of styles with varying durability, however; some consumers opt to buy commercial vinyl tiles (the sort used in retail stores or high-traffic areas such as restaurant) for busy areas of the home such as a family room or kitchen. These floors are easy to clean, with sweeping and mopping all that’s required and no refinishing necessary. Plastic laminate costs $4 to $8 per square foot installed, vinyl flooring costs $3 to $7 per square foot installed, and linoleum costs $4 to $9 per square foot, according to Consumer Reports.