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The most commonly used materials for flooring are carpet, hardwood, laminate, vinyl, and ceramic tile. There are also some less commonly used alternatives. The look, quality and performance of each material differs greatly.
Carpet remains a popular choice for new homes. Carpet flooring is composed of two layers: the top layer called the face pile, and the bottom layer called the backing. Keep in mind, the heavier the weight of the face pile the more durable and expensive the carpet will be. There are several advantages to carpet. Carpet is comfortable, warm and often the least expensive of all flooring options. There are also disadvantages. Carpeting can absorb moisture, stains easily, and collects dirt, hair and dander.
Hardwood floors, once covered by carpet in the early 1900's, have made a strong comeback. Wood flooring can now be found throughout the home and can provide added benefits and appreciation. Hardwood floors have a long life, and can be refinished or stained several times. There are several types of wood flooring available. The first is the original solid wood floor. These floors are generally 3/4" thick and can be purchased raw or pre-finished. The other style of wood flooring which is becoming much more popular are engineered wood floors. This flooring has two or more layers with the top layer, called the "wear layer", being 1/8" thick. The wear layer is generally made of oak, maple, or cherry. These engineered wood floors are gaining in popularity because in many applications they will be more stable, cost less, and can be refinished just like a solid wood floor. Both varieties of hardwood flooring have advantages over other flooring types. Hardwood floors are both elegant and durable. Stains can be applied to match any decorating style. The one disadvantage is a hardwood floor may require periodic refinishing.
Laminated floors are becoming increasingly popular. Laminate flooring is often referred to as "Pergo" flooring, one of the first manufacturers of laminate. The surface is actually a plastic composition that is applied to the core using heat and pressure. The core is usually made of high-density fiber or particleboard, and the backing can be a paper, or another layer of laminate. Laminate flooring can look like natural materials such as wood, stone, and tile. Plastic laminate floors are extremely durable. However, they cannot be refinished or recoated once they are scratched or worn. Another down side to laminate flooring is that the pattern is mechanically printed -- meaning many or all of the boards are identical, giving a somewhat unnatural appearance.
Vinyl is another flooring option. Vinyl flooring can come in rolled sheets or as one-foot-square tiles. Both are available in two categories: rotogravure vinyl and inlaid vinyl. Rotogravure vinyl has a knobby texture with patterns and colors printed on the finished side only. Inlaid vinyl has the pattern and color throughout the entire material. This allows inlaid vinyl to be more durable and easier to clean. Vinyl comes in a vast variety of colors and styles. Vinyl is easy to maintain, and is relatively inexpensive. There are several disadvantages to vinyl as well. Vinyl may show wear after only a few years. Vinyl can easily tear, dent, or come unglued. Many people also dislike the fake-looking patterns and commercial look often associated with vinyl.
Ceramic tile is the final common flooring choice. Ceramic tile is a natural product made of clay, minerals and water designed and formed into shapes. The tile's strength is determined by the body's thickness and structure. Today's manufacturers are able to produce a wide selection of colors, shapes, sizes and textures. Larger tiles, strips and borders are being used more frequently. Ceramic tile floors can take a tremendous physical beating while maintaining an elegant and stylish look. Durability, ease of cleaning, and a great assortment of colors and styles are a few of the advantages of selecting tile. However, grout lines can be easily stained by juice and food. Scratches can occur on the surface of the tile. Furniture footing can be affected by the unevenness of a tile floor. Tile is also relatively expensive, noisy, cold and hard underfoot.
Alternative flooring materials such as concrete, cork, and bamboo are becoming more widely used throughout new homes. Concrete slab floors usually used in basement and garage are making their way into other rooms of the house. Durability is obviously the key, and new colors make great alternatives to the standard gray. Cork is another great alternative as a floor covering. Cork tiles are environmentally friendly, made from natural products, and produced from a renewable resource. Cork is also inexpensive, soft, and quiet. Cork, however, is susceptible to water damage and is limited in colors and styles. Bamboo is a new flooring option just beginning to grow in popularity. Bamboo is a nice alternative to hardwood floors, adding beauty and elegance. Bamboo is very strong and stable, even more so than many hardwoods, yet it is less likely to swell or shrink due to its ability to handle extreme or fluctuating temperatures and humidity. Made from a natural and highly renewable material, bamboo is also a great choice for those home builders interested in helping the environment.
Most homes today use a variety of flooring options. Each room serves a different function, so the flooring material you choose should match each room's function and style. Keep in mind these factors when selecting the flooring for each room: cleaning ability, durability, longevity, moisture resistance, and allergens.
As you select your flooring it is helpful to understand which materials will accommodate each room's function, as well as knowing your personal preferences. The decision process takes time. Understanding your options will help you make good functional and decorative choices for every room in the house.