Flooring Buying Guide

  • Getting Started

  • When choosing flooring, consider the amount of traffic on the surface and the style of the room. Also, take into consideration the ambiance to be created by the material used and the color chosen.

  • Wood & Engineered Wood Flooring

  • Hardwood Flooring adds an aesthetic desired by many homeowners and adds value to a house. Depending upon the space and location in which it is installed will determine which type of wood flooring should be used. While hardwood flooring can be used almost anywhere, moisture levels of the room may require additional consideration during installation. Solid wood will expand and contract with changes of temperature and moisture — always bring the flooring into the room three days prior to installation so the planks can acclimate to the room’s environment.

    All hardwood floors require a finish to protect the surface against daily wear. Finishes can be done after installation in the building, or in the factory prior to installation. Choose to finish it on site if trying to match an existing floor or if a specific color is to be achieved. Factory finished flooring takes less time to install as it is ready for traffic immediately.

    Hardwood floors come in a variety of species and range in thicknesses of ¾-inch to 5/16-inch. Wood can be installed above or on grade. And can be sanded and refinished several times during its lifetime. Wood floors are installed over a subfloor. Above grade usually calls for plywood subflooring while below grade and basements will have concrete. But a moisture barrier may be necessary over concrete.  Always check manufacturer’s warranty.

    Hardwood planks will range in widths, which create specialized designs in the room. The wider the width, the more of the wood graining is visible.  Hardwood flooring is also the most expensive and will vary due to species, plank style and width, and installation methods.

    Wood species vary from domestic to exotic. Choosing the species will be determined by taste, design required, and budget. Several domestic woods range in color, such as yellow oak or red oak, and the grain in the plank will be determined by the cut at the mill. Exotic woods may deepen in color as exposed to sunlight in the room. And surface texture may be smooth, distressed, scraped or wirebrushed. Consider all of the above when choosing the plank prior to installation.

    Engineered Wood is manufactured from wood veneers that are varied in grain directions to provide more stability and strength. The same wood species may be used throughout, or several species may be incorporated into the plank.  Since this is more stable, engineered wood can be used below grade on concrete without significant expansion or contraction. Finished in the factory, Engineered Wood Flooring may be sanded and refinished — depending upon the thickness of the top veneer. Check the manufacturer’s directions.

    Engineered Wood flooring is less expensive than solid wood due to its construction — less of the wood species — and will vary in cost depending upon the species in the top wood layer.

  • Laminate Flooring

  • Laminate Flooring provides a less expensive and very durable alternative to real wood. While it may look like natural wood and even have a texture of graining, laminate flooring actually provides a picture of wood, marble, stone, tile, etc, protected by a layer of a durable clear top sheet, on top of a high density fiberboard (HDF) core, and melamine base layer to provide stability. Because of its strength and durability, and look and feel of the real material it is imitating, laminate flooring is popular in rooms where the actual material may not be appropriate due to moisture or cost.                                        

    Manufacturers have developed beautiful photography of real exotic woods, with a variety of graining, or stones such as marble and granite. The top aluminum oxide layer can be smooth, grained, embossed, pebbled or high gloss.  Installed as a “floating” system, the laminate planks, squares or tiles lock into each other and not onto a subfloor. An underlayment may be used to soften the feeling of the flooring, or reduce noise from one room to another next door or below. If installing over concrete, a moisture barrier may be required. Laminate Flooring is easy to install, and to change. Just pick it up, and even move it into another room…

  • Vinyl Flooring

  • Vinyl Flooring is known as Resilient Flooring, to distinguish it from the vinyl flooring of 50 years ago. Using advanced technologies, vinyl flooring is an affordable option for use in high traffic areas where durability and moisture resistance are important. It can be installed over existing floors. Available in a range of prices, vinyl flooring is manufactured as Printed Vinyl — a paper picture of the materials to be imitated is placed over a vinyl layer and topped by several protective layers of vinyl or urethane; or as Inlaid Vinyl — color and design is achieved by placing vinyl pieces on a backing, and pushing them up into the wear surface. Inlaid Vinyl is a more durable material, thicker, with the color all the way through the material, reducing scratches and chips from being seen.

    Vinyl is sold as sheets, planks or tiles:

        •  Full Vinyl Sheet is laid down and cut to room size, around cabinets and closets, etc. If the sheet does not completely cover the width or length of the room, a seam may be required. By displacing the air under the vinyl flooring, it lies loosely on top of the subfloor or existing floor. Easy to install, it requires no glue or adhesive. The fiberglass backing on the sheet provides durability and moisture resistance, so it is an affordable option in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, etc.

        • Luxury Vinyl Tiles (LVT) are prepared with a photograph sandwiched between layers of vinyl and clear urethane. Manufactured in a variety of sizes and styles, these tiles/planks will mimic wood or stone. Glued to a subfloor or existing, clean floor — except over ceramic tiles. They may come pre-glued or require a glue basecoat over the subfloor. Tiles mimicking stone may be grouted to provide a more authentic look.

        • Planks will come in a variety of widths and lengths.

  • Tile Flooring

  • Tile flooring usually is sold in squares of 12” by 12” or larger and is set with grout to a subflooring. Tiles can be fired, as in ceramic or porcelain, glazed or unglazed, or natural stones cut to shape for setting on the floor. Tile flooring is rated for strength — so it will not chip or crack — for use in wet areas and for slip resistance. ANSI standards are met by most manufacturers, but check with manufacturers test labels for proper usage before purchasing tiles for flooring. Slip-resistance, water absorption, strength, and amount of traffic will affect the choice of tile.

        • Ceramic tiles are made from natural clays and minerals mined from the earth. Before firing, the material is formed, shaped and colored. Unglazed, such as terra cotta, will have the natural color all the way through. Glazed tiles can be created with a variety of colors and designs over a natural red or white body.

        • Porcelain tiles are made from soft paste clays mixed with minerals and fired at higher temperatures. Making the paste, which holds its shape more consistently,  provides a material that is less porous, denser, and better at moisture resistance. Because porcelain is denser than ceramic, it is more difficult to cut, but these factors make it more versatile for usage indoors and outdoors.

        • Glazed porcelain tiles are even better at resisting moisture and staining. The microscopic pores are filled and sealed by the glaze. Unglazed porcelain tiles are consistently colored throughout making chips and cracks are less visible. Also, unglazed porcelain has a better slip-resistance.

        • Stone tiles are created by cutting natural stones—marble, granite, slate, limestone, onyx, etc— into shapes, such as 12” by 12” inches or even larger. These tiles retain the natural beauty of the stone but will show variations in color in the stone. 

  • Carpet

  • Carpet flooring offers benefits not found in other flooring materials. Softer, it adds cushioning to footsteps. Due to its construction, it has a comfort level not found elsewhere; carpet also provides insulation and noise softening between the floors and rooms of a structure. Because carpets require a cushion and adhesive in construction and installation, the Carpet and Rug Institute tests the materials for indoor air quality. The Green Label Plus is a test for Volatile Organic Compounds and their level of emissions in use.

    Maintenance:  Regular vacuuming, immediate stain removal, and periodic shampooing will retain most carpet fibers for years if not decades.  When choosing carpeting, consider:

        •  Room foot traffic

        •  Amount of sunlight that will reach the carpet

        •  Style of the room and color

        •  Life of the carpet

        •  Size of room and amount of carpet required

        •  Padding and installation costs

        •  Budget   

    Terms to understand:
        •  Fiber is the material used to create the carpet. Several different fibers may be twisted together and then woven into the backing.

        •  Pile is the height of the fiber when cut or woven.

        •  Twist is the number of times the fibers are turned in a 1-inch height of pile.

        •  Textures are the style of weaving, whether loop, cut, or twisted.

        •  Density is the closeness of the fibers to each other in the woven pattern. The higher the density, the more durable and expensive the carpet.

        •  Face weight records the ounces of surface fiber in one yard of carpet. The higher the number, the higher the quality. Total weight includes the backing and adhesive weight.

    Construction methods are important to the life and quality of carpeting. Many carpets are created by punching the fiber through a backing, which then is finished by gluing another backing to the finished product. Backings are usually webs or plastic weaves; foam rubber backings may be found on indoor/outdoor carpeting or inexpensive kitchen carpets.  Weaving fibers on a loom with a jute backing, but these are the most expensive options and used mainly for wool.

        •  Nylon is sold based on its strength, resiliency, long life, and ability to hold colors. Use in high traffic areas as it retains its pile and is easy to clean. Nylon is the most expensive of the synthetic fibers.

        • Soft Nylon refers to the gauge of the fiber — thinner, providing a softer feel — so more fibers are woven into the backing. Due to the amount of fibers needed, these soft nylon products are more expensive. Due to the softer fiber, footprints and vacuum marks may be more visible. Also, some manufacturers require specific vacuums be used.

       • Polyester now is made of PET — recycled plastic containers — and performs better than the former polyester product. Stain resistant, and a higher abrasion resistance, PET fiber has about 50 percent of the residential carpet market. The fibers hold their twist better, produce a face weight of 40 ounces or more and have a higher melting point.  Less expensive than nylon or soft nylon.

       • Triexta is a polyester version, although it contains corn glucose so it is considered more environmentally friendly.  Softer than nylon and polyester due to its chemical make-up, it holds its shape, even in shag pile.

        • Olefin (Polypropylene) is the most color-fast synthetic, and stain resistant, but does not have a good record of holding its pile, except when cut exceedingly short. Great used for indoor/outdoor carpet. Considered a less expensive fiber.

        •  Wool makes an excellent and expensive carpet. Providing a soft look with its superior tuft, wool is naturally soil, stain, static, and fire resistant. It holds its pile well and is long lasting.

        •  Cut and Loop pile provides a pattern in the fibers by cutting some and leaving others looped. This pattern disguises footprint
    and vacuuming patterns and provides a sculpture appearance.

        • Cut pile can be accomplished in a smooth finish or textured. The height of the cut and the density of the fiber will determine the appearance and style. Velvet or Plush are denser weaves with a lower profile. These should not be used in high traffic areas as they will show footprints. Textured Plush is a dense weave with a patterned cut, which hides footprints so it is used in heavy traffic areas. Friezé produces a textured surface as the fibers consist of a high twist, minimizes footprints. Saxony fibers have a soft twist and may be straight cut or at an angle. The classic pile, it works well in most rooms, but can be considered to have less “personality” than other piles. Shag pile with its longer cut and lower twist in the fibers is realizing a resurgence.

        • Loop pile is the original form of the woven carpet. The height of the loops provides the pattern, either and creates the look of the carpet. Berber is the most popular form of this pile, which is often used in high traffic areas, such as family rooms. Consider the height of the loop, though, as toys, furniture, and mechanicals can snag loops. This pile hides foot traffic the best.

  • Carpet Padding and Cushioning

  • When buying carpeting, the padding is an important component and must considered in the purchase and installation costs. Padding protects the carpet backing from rubbing on the subfloor and deteriorating. Also, the fibers will bounce back into shape more quickly with padding, extending the life of the carpet. Maintenance of the carpet is enhanced by the padding, permitting dirt that settles into the pile to be lifted out more easily with air circulation under the carpet.

    Thicker is not always better. Manufacturers will provide recommendations for choosing the thickness of the padding.

    Padding Materials to Consider:
        •  Bonded polyurethane foam is a recycled material created by glueing  and pressure bonding chopped or shredded pieces of foam into one solid piece. While this is an environmentally friendly product — it can be recycled — it can produce air pockets or hard spots underneath the carpet.

        •  Prime polyurethane foam is a type of cushioning created from two liquid chemicals combined to form a solid foam that is sliced into sheets of padding. Since it is a solid piece of foam, it is less porous, more moisture resistant, devoid of hard spots. This is a more expensive option to bonded polyurethane foam.

        •  Waffle Rubber Cushion produces a soft product of molded and heat cured natural or synthetic rubber. While it is hypoallergenic and mold/mildew resistant, it will lose its resilience with age.

        •  Flat Sponge Rubber has a dense, firmer and flat surface that creates a solid base. It has a long life and provides good support for carpet so it can be thinner than foam. It is one of the most expensive pads.

        •  Felt padding is created from virgin and recycled fibers such as animal hair or jute, or from synthetic fibers — nylon, polyester, polypropylene and acrylics. Felt padding frequently is used over radiant heat or in commercial areas because it is hypoallergenic, odorless, and mold/mildew resistant.