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Hitting the Ground Running: What Floors Work

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by Allison Gunkel

If you found yourself caught in a discussion concerning wear and tear on your home, what would you argue was the feature that took the most abuse?

flooring samples and color swatches

Mothers of multiple children will swear their laundry machines and mudrooms are surely the toughest of all. What, with all the sports gear, muddy shoes, stained clothes of every shape and size – it just has to be! The family chef probably ascertains that the kitchen counters take the most gruff. Cooking a healthy, complete breakfast while preparing multiple lunches, combined with the constant stress of drinks, snacks, and multiple course dinners, certainly their kitchen counters are stronger than one could even imagine! How about all that gym equipment ... oh wait. Worn out? That equipment is lucky to get some exercise!

There is one prominent component in all homes that is often forgotten during the great debate of wear and tear. Of all the items used daily, did your flooring ever cross you mind? Most likely not if your floors are in good shape. Quality flooring can last for decades and disguise most wear, despite what extremes any family can throw at it. Now the question remains – what kind of flooring is of that high quality?

To find the answer, first you must consider what an average day is like in your home. Is it typically quiet and serene allowing you to read your book and sip your coffee curled up on the couch? Or is it full of video game tournaments, team meetings and sleepovers by the dozen? Your daily activity will unveil what kind of flooring best fits your lifestyle.

Keep these questions in mind when looking at purchasing new flooring:

  • What goes on in each room? What does that room need? (work/play, easy cleaning, prone to high traffic/spills, extra comfort, moisture exposure, etc)

  • Are you willing to maintain special care surfaces/What do you consider requiring too much care? (Vacuuming? Waxing? Shampooing?)

  • Does your family have small children, elderly, or pets?

  • What is the base of your flooring? (Many floors can be applied to concrete slabs with a moisture protection base applied, but not all floors can be applied to all bases.)

  • Do you desire special features such as heated floors?

  • What is your budget and decorating schematic?

Kitchen with wood Flooring

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Now that you have decided what your home flooring will require, you can look at your options and find the best fit for your home.

Vinyl

Vinyl is a great option for family homes that get exposed to varieties of manhandling. It is tough and durable while also appealing to the eyes. Vinyl has an incorrect reputation of being unattractive or out-dated, however today's options come in plentiful colors and patterns that look quite trendy when worked into a decorating scheme. It is an immensely cost-efficient option that does not sacrifice a quality lifespan. Kitchens, mudrooms, and laundry rooms also contain perfect conditions for vinyl flooring.

Carpet

Carpet was once the gold standard for home flooring. While it has slipped in popularity as more flooring options have become home accessible, carpeting has certainly not slipped in functionality or style; it provides some of the most versatile and comfortable home flooring. Typically wall-to-wall, carpet flooring provides security to small children testing out their motor skills on a crash friendly surface, as well as to elderly who also desire a non-slip surface. Carpet retains warm air in cold weather and cooler air during heat spells, constantly providing a comfortable surface for all your daily interaction and even working as a noise reducer. Despite some protest by those with an aversion to cleaning, maintenance is considered low key with regular vacuuming and annual professional cleaning.

Carpeting comes both in synthetic and natural fibers:

Carpet Home Flooring

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Synthetic

  • Nylon – strongest, never becomes dreaded "threadbare," good in all areas

  • Polyester – weaker but better stain resistance and many color choices, good in low traffic areas

  • Olefin – weakest, best dirt concealer, good in high traffic area.


Natural (Sustainable)

  • Wool – soft but resilient, naturally stain resistant, requires high maintenance and high cost

  • Coir/Sisal – repels dirt, low maintenance, made from coconuts and Mexican agave plants, respectfully (best for area rugs)

  • Sea grass – strong, durable, naturally colored due to an impermeability to dyes (many weaves used for area rugs)

And also in many styles:

  • Plush – smooth, soft, and dense, made of light twists. Plush carpeting shows footprints and vacuum lines.

  • Saxony – packed even more densely than plush, it is very soft and the most common of home carpets, also shows footprints and vacuum lines.

  • Berber – looped twists are very durable and popular as they are made of thicker, multicolored yarn. It is not impervious to dirt, but can mask it acceptably in low traffic areas.

  • Frieze – tight twists make the surface heavy and rough so it shows less footprints, dirt, and vacuum lines. Good for heavy traffic areas.

  • Cut and Loop – economic choice with a unique texture as loops of various lengths are cut differently creating a distinct pattern while hiding dirt and wear and tear.

  • Level Loop – casual look and even texture are brought on by short dense loops of the same length unlike the cut & loop carpet.

Style is completely up to the homeowner and is more about the look than the functionality.

Laminate

Another affordable flooring option is laminate. Laminate is a durable, attractive material with the appearance of hardwood. It is also considered environmentally friendly as no solid wood is used. Instead, a laminate surface is adhered to a dense wood core made of leftover wood fibers and a synthetic backing material. These layered boards are scratch and fade resistant; however, keep in mind that pet owners will be subject to some scratch damage as pets' claws are often too much for many floors to withstand. Laminate flooring is considered low maintenance, requiring only lightly damp or dry mopping – no treatments or seals required.

In addition to being affordable and durable, laminate is good for the do-it-yourself enthusiast. Before installing your laminate floor, it is necessary to acclimate the boards to the room's environment for 48 hours prior to installation. Laminate boards tend to swell in the presence of moisture, so two to three days in the room where they are to be installed will prevent the boards from buckling after they are laid. Installation is typically a series of different joining systems that may require tapping, snapping or locking the boards into place. Reading the directions carefully and asking for clarification and an in-store demonstration will ensure that your floors look professional at a fraction of the cost.

Laminate flooring can be installed in any room, above or below grade (ground level), over wood subfloors or even concrete. However, it is best to consider another material for locations that may be subjected to a significant amount of moisture, such as the bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, or enclosed porches. If you would like to install laminate in such locations, be sure and specify that to the merchandiser so they can recommend an appropriate subfloor material or seal.

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Hardwood

Hardwood floors have recently had a surge in popularity as homeowners are looking for subtle beauty that makes a statement. The type of wood used in hardwood floors combined with a particular finish can dramatically change the look of a room whether you desire an antique look or modern streamlining. This feature alone causes many homeowners to lust after hardwood floors throughout their home without considering a few key facts.

While hardwood floors are exceptionally beautiful and long lasting, they are also quite expensive. In addition to the cost of material, professional installation is required. If a hardwood floor is not installed properly it can cost twice as much to repair. Also, like laminate, hardwood floors are not recommended for pet owners as scratches are imminent and do take away from the unique beauty of the hardwood.

Hardwood floors can be installed either pre-finished or unfinished. Pre-finished floors are already refined with 10 coats of a protective aluminum oxide finish prior to installation, while unfinished floors are finished onsite. The latter option typically infers additional noise, dust, time, and only two to three coats of the protective aluminum oxide. However, it also ensures a uniform look as it is all completed onsite and allows for more options in color or plank sizing for the homeowner. The price is comparable for either.

Whether choosing pre-finished or unfinished hardwood floors, the boards will need to be acclimated for five to seven days in the rooms of installation to avoid the buckling or cracking that comes from excess moisture exposure. Harder species should be considered for high traffic areas. Hardwood flooring should not be installed in rooms with high moisture exposure and cannot be installed below grade. Maintenance is simply sweeping, dust mopping, or vacuuming.

Tile and Marble

Tile is a great option for high traffic areas or rooms that are exposed to moisture or dirt on a regular basis in elevated amounts. Kitchens, laundry rooms, and foyers are easy to maintain when outfitted with some of the following options:

  • Ceramic – Ceramic tile comes in an expansive variety of colors, shapes, sizes and patterns that are extremely durable with very little give, making them ideal for areas of utility. While being cold to the touch, synonymous with discomfort for some, tile is wonderful in hot climates and can be heated from below for colder climates. Tile does tend to be slippery when wet but can be installed with high slip coefficients (rougher to the touch, grooved). Higher clip coefficients do make the tile harder to clean, so speak with a professional about what will best suit your needs.

  • Mosaic – Mosaic is a good source of tiling for those concerned about the slip factor of wet tile. The extra grout worked between the tiny pieces creates a web of increased stability and grip. However, mosaics are almost fine art, and you will find them to be just as expensive as ceramic tile and very time consuming to install.

  • Marble – Marble is another pricey alternative for rooms that find themselves in need of material that can withstand moisture. It is a beautiful option that has no additional maintenance past the initial industrial polish all marble receives. It is a durable material, however is not resistant to some household stains like orange juice or nail polish remover, so be cautious. Your marble may need professional cleaning every 9 to 12 months for a kitchen and annually if used in a foyer.

Sustainable Flooring

The newest option on the market is sustainable flooring. Terrazzo, bamboo, cork, and recycled rubber are all new materials that are being tested and used in new homes as the market is continually searching for new, eco-friendly home building materials. Although these materials are not yet in widespread use, they are a viable flooring option that is not secluded to specific regions or home plans.

Once your options are laid before you, you may have in mind what will suit your home perfectly. Talk to the professionals about the abuse your floors withstand, and in no time you will find yourself surrounded by subtle beauty and functionality, well informed to take on the great wear and tear debate.

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