Flooring choices for the home are about as plentiful as countertop options. There’s something to suit everyone’s taste and purpose and then some.
To choose the right material you’ll need to consider a few things ahead of time, such as how the room is typically used along with your family’s lifestyle. Also think about your priorities and whether you prefer ease of maintenance over aesthetics.
Taking a few moments to contemplate these considerations and prioritizing what’s really important to you will help you narrow down your focus to a short list of good candidates.
Floors take up a lot of visible space and it’s only natural to want them to look great. Just don’t forget the practical aspects when making your choice. The right blend of fashion and prudence should result in the right product for your home.
Don’t be afraid to think a bit “unconventionally” either — in other words, it’s easy to default to a wood floor for example, because wood is a great surface and has been around for centuries. But there are advantages to other materials like cork or laminate too. Take your time, think about how you live and match a floor that’ll meet your criteria for performance and aesthetics.
Choosing the right floor relies on your making a wants and needs assessment. The “wants” part of the equation is usually easier since you’ve probably seen some materials that really appeal to you. However don’t forego the “needs” analysis because the practical considerations are important determinants in making the right decision.
Each type of surface comes with its own individual advantages and disadvantages. Consider the following points and questions to help narrow your focus. You may already have a preconceived idea of the type of surface you want, but not all materials are suitable for every application.
Which room or rooms are you considering?
The function and location of the room will have some bearing on the best surfacing to use.
An obvious example for illustrative purposes is that you don’t want carpet in the kitchen or dining room due to the propensity for spilled foods and liquids. In contrast, a more subtle fact is that solid wood isn’t suitable for basements due to the moisture issues associated with below-grade (below ground level) rooms.
Rooms and spaces that adjoin entry doors from the outside are prone to seeing a lot more dirt and grit than an upstairs bedroom. No floor will last forever if the grit isn’t regularly swept up but some materials do better than others in this situation. Either decide on a suitable material or commit to the upkeep required to maintain more delicate surfaces in these situations.
Don’t forget about the garage either – it’s a room too. There’s even specialized surfacing for the garage to help dress it up and help make it a more inviting space than just a place to park your car.
The bottom line here is to choose a surface that’s suitable for the function and location of the room. See the Pros And Cons table for more information on room suitability.
Consider your family status and lifestyle — do you have children, elderly or disabled family members? Do you have any pets?
How you and your family live makes a difference in choosing a floor type. Children usually mean more wear and tear from running, banging and playing with toys.
Some of the laminate products might be better in this scenario than site-finished solid wood due to the optimal wear characteristics of laminate. These products have factory-applied coatings that are designed to be very durable and scratch-resistant. The surface finish of a site-finished wood floor (one that’s sanded and top-coated in your home) doesn’t have the same durability characteristics as those factory-finishes.
That being said however, a lot of the engineered wood floors (wood flooring that’s pre-finished at the factory) are made with very durable surface coatings, similar to laminate.
Pets like cats and particularly larger dogs have claws and shed. Hard surfaces work well for cleanup from pets that shed whereas carpeting might retain pet hair and dander. On the other hand claws can also scratch a wood floor. If you have big dogs with big claws, tile or wood/laminate flooring with the most durable surface finishes (like aluminum oxide) may be your best bet.
Does anyone in the home suffer from asthma or respiratory allergies or have sensitivities to chemicals that aggravate these conditions?
Carpeting can harbor allergens that are more easily cleaned up from hard surfaces. Carpet and other floor materials can contain higher VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that might contribute to ill health effects, particularly with those who are more sensitive to airborne allergens and contaminants.
In these situations look for products that have lower VOC emissions. As an example, Armstrong® products that meet criteria for low-VOC emissions carry their FloorScore™ certification. The Carpet and Rug Institute identifies low VOC products with their Green Label designation.
How much care and maintenance are you willing to put into the floor?
Some materials have higher maintenance needs than others if you want them to last and maintain their aesthetic appeal. Wood should be swept or vacuumed often to avoid the dulling and scratching that comes with ground-in dirt. Stone or tile is durable although their finish will eventually succumb to a lack of regular sweeping.
Standing water is better handled by vinyl or tile in comparison to wood. Think of mudrooms and bathrooms in this case. Melted snow from boots and shoes can go unnoticed for a while and you don’t want to have to constantly check the mudroom to mop up any water.
If you like the look of Brazilian Cherry but don’t need to have real solid wood to make you happy, compare laminate with wood. You might be surprised to find a laminate that’s a close match to real wood but for less money. If you’re remodeling or building a new home you can apply the savings to something that provides greater service and satisfaction in the long term such as upgraded appliances or cabinets.
Get out and test drive your short list of choices.
If at all possible, visit several showrooms or building supply outlets that sell the types of materials you’re interested in. Looking at pictures and reading about them is one thing but actually seeing them in person and standing on them can help solidify your decision on which product is right for you. This is particularly true with laminate floors, where you can really see if the appearance is close enough to the real thing or not.
Take some samples home with you (the kind you don’t have to return) and subject them to your own trials to see if they meet your standards for things like stain resistance, denting and scratching. Drop things on them and and check the results. Snap together a couple of pieces of laminate and then let some water sit on the seam for a while. How does it hold up?
Good luck and happy hunting!