• Flooring Guide

    There are lots of flooring styles to choose from. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. You can choose a hard floor of stone, tile, brick, wood, or synthetic material. Or you can choose a soft floor of carpet. Here is a brief description of some of those choices along with suggestions about the pros and cons.

    Wood

    Wood floors look great and they last a long time. They are easy to clean with a broom and a damp cloth. However, they can scratch and dent, so they need to be cleaned frequently. They can be damaged by water, so they need occasional polishing and sealing. They can be stained different colors, but that limits you to non-abrasive cleaning options. Wood floors don't retain dust, pollen, or other allergens. They are warmer than stone, brick, or tile, but cooler than carpeted flooring.

    The plank style is the classic look of long boards, 3 to 4 1/2 inches wide. These are more expensive, but usually don't require a subfloor; so you may save money there.

    Strip flooring involves long, narrow boards, about 2 1/4 inches wide. Most strip flooring will require a subfloor to prevent buckling. Both plank and strip flooring can be found in pre-constructed, large sheets that are fit together by tongue and groove.

    Parquet flooring involves square boards, usually 12 inches on a side, and usually composed of smaller pieces of wood that give it a pattern such as herringbone or basket weave. One advantage to this construction is that individual squares may be replaced when damaged. That's good, because this style is also a little easier to damage. The squares are thin, so they can easily be refinished. Parquet flooring usually requires a subfloor to prevent buckling and unevenness.

    Synthetic Wood

    Synthetics can give you the look and feel of wood without some of wood's drawbacks. Most synthetic wood is a pressure treated laminate. The surface is virtually impenetrable, making it safe against moisture, and heavy traffic. Synthetics do not require additional sealing or finishing. Some synthetics are also resistant to burning, fading, denting, and/or stains. Some brands to consider are Pergo, Congoleum, and Wilsonart.

    Stone

    Stone floors last a long time and don't require a lot of maintenance. They're easy to clean with a broom and a mop, and they can look stunning. On the down side, stone floors can be quite expensive. The flooring material itself is costly, and they usually require a reinforced subfloor. Stone floors can also be cold to the touch, so you may end up spending extra on under-floor heating as well. However, once they do warm up, they retain warmth well. Lastly, stone floors can be noisy to walk on and will reflect (echo) other noises in the home. They are available in synthetics as well.

    Slate floors are available in sheets and tiles, generally in dark colors without much color pattern. They come in natural grain and honed finishes. The surface is slightly rough and uneven which can make them fussier to clean.

    Granite and marble floors are available in block, sheet, or tile. They are more expensive and can be slippery when polished, but the glossy look can be quite attractive.

    Brick

    Brick flooring can be had in natural or synthetic varieties. The natural bricks need to be sealed periodically and well so that they don't allow in any moisture. You can buy prefinished bricks that are moisture proof. This will cut down on staining as well. Synthetic bricks are also treated with moisture proofing and stain resistance in mind.

    Whether synthetic or natural, bricks are generally cool to walk on-cooler than wood but not as cold as stone. In general, bricks will need a subfloor. The heavier the brick, the stronger the subfloor that will be needed. Bricks can be arranged in interesting patterns such as a standard brick wall pattern, a basket weave, or a herringbone. Brick flooring is easy to clean with a damp mop. It can be a bit noisy to walk on and will reflect ambient noises, though not as much as stone.

    Tile

    Tile flooring can provide a lovely Mediterranean look to your home. The tiles can be glazed and sealed, making them very resistant to moisture and stains. You'll often see these kinds of tiles around swimming pools, which should give you an idea of how well they deal with moisture. Unsealed tiles, on the other hand, will absorb moisture easily and stain easily as well. Darker tile will make stains less visible. The tiles are held together by grout which can require a bit of cleaning if you need to have it gleam. Tiles can be arranged in numerous designs depending upon the type and size of the tiles.

    Ceramic tiles are the most waterproof and are the kind you generally see around pools. They can be used to simulate the look and feel of stone tiling. They are easy to install and can have different finishes-glazed, matte, textured (to prevent slipping), or even embossed.

    Terra cotta tiles are generally reddish brown or orange and come in numerous shapes and sizes. They can be purchased in pre-treated forms that give them better resistance to wear and tear, moisture, and stains.

    Ceramic and terra cotta tiles are often about 12 inches square. Mosaic tiles are much smaller, less than an inch on a side. Mosaic tiles can be put together to form a picture or design with lots of different colors and even textures.

    Carpet

    Carpeting is the warmest type of flooring and the softest. It absorbs noise nicely and it doesn't get scratch. It doesn't last as long as the hard flooring choices and it is more difficult to clean and to keep clean. It can gather dust, pollens, and other allergens. Synthetic fibers can be selected that have been treated to be stain and dirt resistant to cut down on some of these problems.

    Loop pile carpet such as Berber can be low in height, making it easy to vacuum and reducing the amount of trapped dirt. Cut pile carpet is softer underfoot but also easier to get dirty and harder to get clean. Twist pile has the same difficulties but can be even softer. Shag carpet has even longer fibers with more dirt trapping capabilities, which may account for shag's descent in popularity over the years. You can even get "carpet tiles" if you like. These are squares of carpet that are laid together like tiles. This gives you the advantage that if a portion of the carpet becomes stained or damaged, you can replace only the tiles that have been affected.