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How to Choose Flooring

We all have our opinions on the best things in life—the best books, the best vacation spots, the best way to cook a hamburger on the grill.  Not many people, however, have direct experience with flooring, meaning that the prospect of ripping up and installing an entirely new set of floors for a kitchen or bathroom or bedroom represents a daunting task.  The good news is that there’s almost always a best-choice option for specific room sizes, functions, and budgets.  Here’s how to make the best decisions possible as you install new floors in your Lowcountry home that you want to last a lifetime.

Know What You Want

Why do you want new flooring in the first place?  Perhaps it’s aesthetics: the old tile was laid down in the 1960s, or it has cracks, or it is uneven, or a thousand other issues.  Prioritize, first and foremost, what you want the end result of a flooring project to look like, perhaps comparing it with a friend’s beautiful kitchen floor or getting inspiration from home décor magazines.  Think about how different styles of flooring, from hardwood to granite to carpet, will match the style of the room and the house.  Finally, think about how this floor will be used: the flooring you want to install for a family of young kids running across it daily will certainly be different from the flooring you want for a vacation home or a quiet breakfast nook.

Think About Tradeoffs

Tile is harder to stand on for an extended period of time than carpet, but far easier to clean.  Hardwood provides a long-term investment that has unparalleled good looks, but is a higher risk for termites, water damage, and scratches.  Carpet is inexpensive and comfortable, but stains easily and can trap allergens.  Factors like kids, pets, weather, and lifestyle may make one material more practical than the other.  If you have a particular desire for a type of flooring that has particular drawbacks, don’t worry, it’s common—it’s your house and the entire point of a flooring project is to make your home a place where everyday life reaches its highest quality. You might need to keep doing more research.

Money Matters

In a perfect world, we could all live in a home with marble countertops, leather furniture, oak trim….and a maid or two to keep them all clean.  However, we don’t live in a perfect world. Your personal budget may be the most important factor when choosing flooring materials and installation supplies.  Calculate the square feet you need (with a few extra for wiggle room) and compare prices of your favorite materials, shopping around to make certain that you can find the most affordable options.  Remember that ‘installation pricing’ isn’t just the cost of the tiles and the grout, but also the delivery, the installation, and the removal of the previous flooring.

Types of Flooring

Hardwood: the first preference for many homeowners due to its strength and aesthetic appeal, hardwood is designed to take a beating while looking smooth and homey.  Oak is a popular hardwood choice and typically the least expensive; other species, like cherry or walnut, provide unique colors without sacrificing durability, but often at higher cost.  Hardwood is most practical for dining rooms and living rooms: places where there’s lots of foot traffic, but not much time spent standing in one place.

Tile: when in doubt, tile is often the best choice, because it checks most of the boxes: durable, easy to clean, and aesthetically pleasing.  Many people dream of having tile floors of granite, porcelain, or even marble, and while the cost may rise as high as $20 per square foot for more exotic materials, lower-cost ceramics are less than half that figure.  It’s a favorite choice for bathrooms especially, because the material will not be harmed by the moisture.

Laminate: the option for many homeowners who can’t budget more than about $2 per square foot, laminate checks the boxes on cost and ease of installation.  These layered wooden boards look as good as real hardwood to a casual glance and are designed to feel like the real thing.  Laminate is a great choice for most rooms in a home, especially for large-scale projects where an owner wants the least commitment of time and money.

Vinyl: the cheapest option on the list, vinyl flooring can be purchased for as little as fifty cents per square foot.  Softer than true tile, often easier to clean, and all but immune to moisture, vinyl is an excellent choice for family rooms, laundry rooms, pet rooms, and any other place that gets a lot of traffic and produces a lot of messes.  Thicker vinyl layers will raise the cost, but also boost the amount of punishment the floor can take.

Bamboo: one of the most popular new aesthetics of the 21st century, bamboo flooring provides bright, vibrant colors that have the same tensile strength as steel.  A major advantage of bamboo is that the material can swell with heat or humidity without cracking or warping.  It also has the added bonus of being good for the planet: bamboo takes just a few years to reach maturity, while a hardwood tree may take a full century.  Bamboo is a more expensive material (although not necessarily as expensive as certain hardwoods), and its price fluctuates based on proximity to suppliers because it is not as readily available as other high-demand flooring options.

Cork: much like bamboo, cork may not be the first thing you think of when you think of flooring.  Yet it too has taken off in popularity, and no person will ever forget the sensation of walking on a cork floor.  This type of flooring has a different structure, giving it a springy consistency that may feel more like a yoga mat than a floor.  This structure also absorbs sound with greater efficiency, meaning it is hard to make a lot of noise on a cork floor, and prevents slipping.  A fantastic choice for a kitchen where someone has to be on their feet, cork is nevertheless expensive and subject to a wide price variance, including prices as high as $10 per square foot.

Linoleum: one of the hardest and most durable materials on this list, linoleum is often used in places like hospitals, where it needs to last a long, long time before it shows any sign of damage.  It’s moderately expensive, usually about $3 to $6 per square foot, but it has a lot of benefits besides its aesthetic: because it is manufactured with a unique topography, bacteria cannot reproduce on it, making it a great choice for a household with small kids or persons with health concerns.  It’s also by far the easiest material to clean and the least damaging to the environment, since it uses synthetic materials instead of wood or rock.

As you can see, when choosing flooring options it is important to work with a professional flooring contractor so you make the right choice for your needs and situation.

-Written by the team at Dodgson Floor & Window Coverings