Flooring. It’s something we all need, in some capacity, and its seemingly endless variations offer unique combinations of functionality, style, cost-efficiency, and environmental friendliness. Depending upon the room it’s designed to serve, the typical lifestyle of those who inhabit the abode, and individual aesthetic preferences, there are countless factors to consider when choosing the type of flooring best suited to the situation in question.
Tile flooring is touted for its ability to mimic nearly any surface by virtue of its wide array of styles, colors and patterns, all the while remaining water-resistant and low-maintenance. Most often found in kitchens and bathrooms, some of the more unique variations are now turning up in living spaces and outdoor areas as well.
Popular options include slate, which holds up well despite having a slightly softer texture; marble, a more expensive choice, but one that provides a sleek, polished façade and is renowned for its clean-cut features; granite, available in solid or crystalline, which requires resealing every five years or so to maintain its quality; travertine, boasting a more modern, unconventional look, usually found in large, boxy formats; ceramic, clay finished with a glaze, known for its resistance to water and germs; porcelain, similar to ceramic, but able to mimic a variety of surfaces; and terracotta, often used in outdoor spaces due to its built-in resistance to weathering and its rustic appeal.
Engineered wood flooring is manufactured by layering thin slabs of plywood—in increments of three, five or seven—with high-density fiberboard, and then gluing these to a solid hardwood veneer, providing a strong substitute for standard wood options. By refurbishing components of older pieces, these are made suitable to serve as the core; the top layer is typically comprised of an authentic hardwood like maple or oak. Trims can be grain-rich or smooth, adding versatility to this unique style.
Engineered wood can be installed fairly simply via glue, staples, nails, or clicked together with tongues and grooves. In certain instances, it can also be “floated” over an existing surface for a more modern look. As it can withstand the effects of humidity, many find it an ideal material for basements and kitchens, although it is not recommended for bathrooms, as the excessive moisture may cause damage. Most engineered wood comes prefinished, and with proper maintenance, can last for 25 years or more.
Vinyl flooring is available in both sheet and tile formats, and comes in an array of colors and patterns, which can mimic everything from wood to stone, as well as a host of additional styles. Composed of several layers—base, fiberglass, cushion, pattern, wear and top coat—vinyl is a sturdy option that is resistant to spills and holds up well under high traffic. This makes it the ideal choice for kitchens and bathrooms, which are prone to moisture, as well as areas such as basements, entryways, and utility rooms that may sustain damage.
While vinyl sheets—available in 6- or 12-foot-wide rolls—are a bit more complex to install and should ideally be left to the expertise of a professional, tiles and planks can be easily glued or joined at the edges to float, making for a fairly simple DIY project. Woven vinyl, another variation, contains strands of fiberglass interlaced into soft textured sheets, providing a slightly different spin on the style. Maintenance is typically limited to light sweeping or vacuuming, and occasional mopping. In the case of gloss finish, the floor can be polished as needed, taking care to avoid harsh chemicals like bleach and ammonia.
Wood flooring is perhaps the most popular choice for homeowners, as much for its aesthetic versatility as its low upkeep. Options range from color to finish to cut, making this traditional standby ideal for locations including kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms, and bedrooms.
Oak is available in a wide range of colors, and can be refinished and sanded to ensure its exceptional quality stands the test of time. Mahogany, known for its rich appearance, is a bit more expensive, but provides an incomparable level of class to any room it graces. Maple, more cost-efficient than oak, can similarly be refinished to enhance its color, as well as polished to remove any slight imperfections. Walnut is an exceptionally unique grain, boasting a higher level of hardness and an ability to withstand exposure to water. Pine, a softer variety of wood, is more susceptible to scratches, however the reclaimed version is highly praised for its eco-friendly sustainability. Bamboo, while technically a type of grass, can be woven into a fiber reminiscent of wood, serving as perhaps the most environmentally friendly option of all. Cork, one of the least expensive options, is spongy and durable, ideal for sustaining normal wear and tear.
It might be noted that one consistent factor in each type of flooring is the importance of durability, a style’s ability to hold up under high foot traffic, damage sustained from children and pets, environmental factors, and regular maintenance practices. Wood, in particular, is renowned for its longevity and its tendency to withstand normal wear and tear.
Some of the best options within the wood category include bamboo, cork, hardwood and laminate. The quality of bamboo planks can be verified by conducting a “fingernail scratch test” on the finish to determine their viability. Cork, though a softer type, can be maintained by applying a wax finish or protective coat of polyurethane every few years. Hardwood, the most naturally durable, is well served by re-sanding and refinishing periodically, as well as avoiding exposure to direct sunlight. Laminate, while an “imitation” option, is nearly indestructible, and presents a great alternative due to its resistance to both sunlight and moisture.
Another, slightly less-conventional option is reclaimed wood, which has surged in popularity in recent years. Available in both hard and softwood varieties, this aesthetic throwback embodies a worn, lived-in look that is both eco-friendly and cost-effective. Sourced from old buildings and structures which use old-growth timber, reclaimed wood can typically be obtained for 50 percent less than new materials.
Hardwood types include oak, pine, elm, and chestnut, which can be refinished to evoke a weathered or more elegant feel. As the precise grade may be difficult to match, it is imperative to allow for about 10 percent waste during installation. Softwood, usually pine or spruce, is generally less expensive due to its lower demand, as it can be reclaimed from fences and smaller structures. As these types can be dented or scratched fairly easily, they are not recommended for high-traffic locations.