Our floors take up quite a bit of square footage, so we should take great care when we consider what floors we are laying down. Many factors go into consideration, and the ultimate decision will likely stick with you for years and years. The choices are seemingly endless and confusing and costly. Let's not take this investment lightly.
What is your style? You’ll need to look at such factors as color, pattern, and texture. Not to mention, your current décor. What are your daily needs? If your floors must withstand the test of tough doggy nails and rough children, then you should probably lean towards the more durable material. And, in the end, what is your budget? In addition to the cost of the flooring, you might have the cost of underlayment and installation. Don’t forget about your old floor – removing and disposing of it may not be free.
But what did we really come here to talk about? Floors!!
I don’t know about you, but when I think of hardwood floors, I think of classic beauties that withstand the test of time, never lose their charm, and age gracefully.
Many choices come with hardwood floors. For example, you must decide on your board width. A slimmer board (less than three inches wide) is more traditional and gives the illusion of more space. A wider plank, which has become more popular, can impart a modern or rustic look, depending on the finish.
Wood species are a daunting decision to make. Different species will vary in durability, grain pattern, and color. Oak, maple, hickory, and cherry are among the most common due to their hardness. However, many consumers seek the exotic look of woods like mahogany and Brazilian cherry, despite that they are not as durable.
Other major decisions include the stain, or finish. Also, you must choose the texture of the wood (smooth, hand-scraped, wire-brushed, and distressed… just to name a few).
Solid vs. Engineered
But perhaps the hardest and most confusing decision is whether to choose solid or engineered. Here are the highlights… only you can decide.
- Solid hardwood is milled from a single piece of wood. For this reason, it can be sanded and repaired repeatedly, making it last for decades.
- As a natural material, solid hardwood is susceptible to temperature and humidity changes and cannot be installed below grade or in damp spaces.
- Solid hardwood must be nailed or stapled to a wooden subfloor.
- Engineered hardwood is created by bonding layers of hardwood together in a cross-grain construction, giving it greater stability.
- Because engineered hardwood can withstand higher levels of humidity, it is an option for half bathrooms and basements, as well as over concrete floors.
- Engineered hardwood can be stapled, glued, or “floated.”
Do not quickly discount vinyl flooring, assuming it is a "cheap" option. Quite the contrary! Budget-friendly? Yes. But, vinyl floors today come with more depth, texture, and options than they did years ago. Options include the look of stone, tile, and even planks that resemble hardwoods.
You might assume that vinyl floors are twelve-foot wide sheets, best suited for bathrooms or laundry rooms. Although sheet vinyl is still an option, rigid vinyl is the growing trend. What makes it so irresistible? One word… waterproof!! In fact, it is the hardwood-like planks that are pulling consumers in. They’re thick, durable, and, yes, waterproof.
What gives vinyl floor such a versatile look? How can it look like, well, just about anything? Under several protective coats, the high-definition printed coat is applied. It is the same technology used to produce laminate floors that took the flooring industry by storm. Happily, many manufacturers are moving towards greener practices, such as utilizing low-VOC inks.
I could go on, so I will. Here is an overwhelming list of positives about vinyl floors:
- Often, vinyl floors are imbued with antimicrobial protection to resist bacteria, mold, and mildew.
- Because it does not easily scratch or dent (and it’s waterproof!), it is ideal for areas that get high traffic.
- This material is warmer and more comfortable to stand on.
- Versatility is the word. Although vinyl was once reserved for the heavy-traffic rooms, the high-end styles are making their way into living spaces as well.
- Is it pet friendly? Meow! Or, should I say, “Extremely!” Quality vinyl floors stand up to pets’ nails and messes better than many surfaces, and they’re comfortable for our furry friends.
- With proper preparation, you can install vinyl over virtually any flat, dry, clean surface. In most cases, a plywood (or, preferably, OSB) subfloor is recommended for the best results. Underlayment is also ideal.
- Many vinyl floors allow for radiant heating underneath. Check the specifications before installing.
I must throw in a reality check. Even the best vinyl is unlikely to be mistaken for the material it is imitating. And, even though you purchased vinyl that looks like stone, it is not. Sharp objects can damage your vinyl floors.
If you love the idea of solid hardwood floors, but you want to be friendly to Mother Earth, then bamboo flooring is the ticket. Bamboo is a grass, so it grows much faster than trees. A mature grass for bamboo flooring is only six years!
This product is not new to the market. Many of us are familiar with the material, but we may not be fully informed. Let's break it down by Color and Construction.
Natural - With no staining or carbonization, natural bamboo is blonde.
Stained - Bamboo can be stained any color, like hardwoods.
Carbonization - During production, carbon is added to dye the bamboo throughout rather than just the surface, which does decrease the strength.
Horizontal - Strips are layered and pressed together. The "knuckles" from the stalk appear in the graining, which shows off the authentic look of the grass.
Vertical - Strips are turned and laid side-by-side before gluing. Although this is less durable, it offers a cleaner, more contemporary grain
Woven or Strained - Shredded strands of bamboo are compressed with resin to produce a hard surface like hardwood. This is the most durable and results in an exotic look.
Before You Buy
Not all bamboo floors are created equally, and different manufacturers come with quite different specifications. Some companies are very exact in the way they expect your contractor to install their bamboo floors. The slightest deviation will void the warranty. Of course, such guidelines do ensure a long-lasting floor.
Humidity and bamboo do not go hand in hand. Does this knock bamboo out of the running if you live in a humid environment? Not at all! Acclimation time is imperative and providing enough space for expansion and contraction is crucial. Use an educated contractor, like Harris Renovations.
Ask the right questions before you invest in bamboo floors.
- What species was used? Moso bamboo is the best choice for bamboo flooring. Other species can be soft and dull.
- When was it harvested? Bamboo takes around six years to mature. Premature harvesting results in soft floors that dent or warp. Furthermore, harvesting too soon will damage the plant and harm the environment.
- How hard is it on the Janka scale? The Janka rating of bamboo is perhaps one of its most impressive characteristics. While hardwoods are scoring under 2000, some quality bamboo is coming in over 4000. What the heck am I talking about? The Janka ball test is a hardness scale that measures the force requires to push a half-inch steel ball halfway into a piece of wood. When produced properly, bamboo is substantially harder than oak, maple, and even hickory.
No flooring list is complete without the mention of tile floors! They are versatile, durable, and elegant. No room in the house is off limits when it comes to tile.
Tile can come in a variety of material, even recycled content, but the top tile picks are as follows:
Ceramic – This material is crafted from a mix of clay and is considered quite porous. To counteract its porosity, it is finished with a protective glaze. Ceramic tile is slightly more prone to wear, cracking, and chipping than porcelain tile.
Porcelain – Finely ground clays and minerals are fired at extremely high temperatures to produce porcelain, resulting in a product harder and denser than ceramic. Porcelain is better at resisting water and stains, and it won’t crack in cold temperatures.
Natural Stone – Most popular among the natural stone tile are travertine, limestone, marble, granite, and slate. Stone is highly durable, but heavy on the wallet.
Options are endless with tile. Seriously. Have you perused a tile shop or website? Your head will spin.
Sizes and shapes are two considerations that can take you days on which to decide! Larger tile means fewer grout lines for a less busy appearance. This is great for a small living space, making it appear larger. However, a small powder room really benefits from tiny tiles.
Grout and accents are even more options you’ll have to think about. Not only must you pick your grout color, you must also choose the thickness of your grout line. And, when it comes to tile accents, the sky is the limit. Borders, medallions, and mosaics can make a floor pop!
Classes of Tile
There are three major classes in which tile is rated. Knowing these and where your tile stands is important.
Durability – The Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) has established a rating system to designate tile durability. The least durable is a Class 1, suitable for walls, and ranges up to Class 5, which can handle high traffic.
Scratch Resistance – The MOH’s rating score is an industry test that determines a tile’s ability to withstand visible scratches. The scale ranges from one to ten, one is the most susceptible to scratches. Talc is the softest at one and diamonds the hardest at ten. Most porcelain tiles rate at least a seven, making them more than suitable for floors.
Porosity – How porous a tile is will indicate its water resistance. Non-vitreous and semi-vitreous tiles are more porous and for indoor use only. They are also not ideal for bathrooms unless proper measures are taken – discuss with your well-informed contractor. Vitreous tiles are for outdoor use except in freeze-thaw conditions where cracking could occur. Impervious tiles are frost-proof and can be used outdoors in any climate – they are positively waterproof.
Take the following factors into consideration:
- Tile is cold but very ideal for radiant heating. It’s not as budget-breaking as one would think.
- Spills can stain grout. Seal your grout regularly. Also, invest in a higher-quality grout, such as Fusion Pro, which does not require sealing and is stain-resistant.
- Tile is very pet-friendly, in that it resists scratches and cleans easily. However, you’ll want to provide soft beds or mats for your four-legged buddy, since tile is not the softest.
- Tile must be installed on a subfloor that is smooth, flat, rigid, and clean. Depending on the existing subfloor, a cement backer board may be necessary.
All Day I Dream of Floors
Now that I’ve told you all about the best of the best in flooring, I’m drooling for the day I get my dream floors. I do have it all planned, down to the last detail. Top of the line bamboo in my living, dining, and bedrooms. Large-format tile in my kitchen. Porcelain for the big bathrooms. Black and white, tiny, hexagon tile for the half bath. Merola pattern tile for the laundry (just to drive my husband crazy). And, to top it off, Versailles tile for my outdoors.
Now it’s your turn! What floors will you choose?