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Flooring Thoughts

I've been asked a lot of questions about flooring lately, so I decided to put together some thoughts on the flooring materials.

Carpeting:

  • Carpeting stinks. But it feels nice to bare feet.
  • Really, it does smell, especially if you own a dog or two. Get down with your nose on the carpet and breathe deeply. Smell nice?
  • Carpeting is great for wildlifeÖ dust mites, pollen, animal dander, dirt, etc. All sorts of allergens live in carpeting.
  • If you use chemicals on your lawn, you will soon have them embedded deep in your carpet. Carpeting is a sponge, and who knows what it's soaking up.
  • Carpeting wears down way too fast. Only commercial-grade thin-pile carpeting will last any decent length of time, from my experience.
  • Carpeting is a big environmental waste. In 10 or 15 years, or less, your new carpeting is going to be hauled off to the county dump. You may get as few as 2-5 years out of new carpet before it starts to show signs of wear.
  • Carpeting stretches as you move your office chair over it.
  • Carpeting gets stained.
  • Small children don't get hurt bad when they fall on carpet.

 

Vinyl:

  • They are all man-made and may reflect a current style trend that may not look good in just a few years.
  • Low-priced vinyl is junk.
  • Better grades, like Congoleum at $30 a square yard, last a long time.
  • I have never seen a vinyl tile flooring product that I would describe as truly durable. The edges always seem to peel up.
  • With vinyl you get what you pay for. Buy as high a grade as you can afford, and avoid trendy styles, patterns or colors.

 

Ceramic Tile:

  • Durable.
  • Feet, legs and back may get tired from standing on a hard floor for a long time.
  • When you drop a glass on a tile floor, breakage is guaranteed.
  • Ceramic tiles are man-made and may reflect a current style trend that may not look good in just a few years.
  • Cold feeling, but that can be overcome with an electric floor-warming system.

 

Natural Stone:

  • Same benefits as ceramic tile without the man-made look.
  • Expensive.
  • Timeless beauty.
  • Will almost certainly add value to the home.
  • Financially one of the best decisions, because it should never need replacing. There is no further expense beyond simple sealing every 10 to 15 years.
  • Many natural stone products are porous and will absorb some stains, such as red wine or grape juice. But sealing the floor should minimize this problem.
  • Natural stone may be brittle. Iím always afraid of dropping a hammer on the marble floor I installed last year. But if you buy a little extra, a broken tile can be replaced.

 

Real Hardwood:

  • Expensive, about $3.50 to $4.00 a square foot for material here in Northern Michigan. Installed cost is about $8 to $9 a square foot here.
  • Feels slightly cool to bare feet, but not objectionable.
  • Modern premium finishes (such as so-called "Swedish Floor Finishes") are very scratch resistant.
  • There are "No-Sand" types of hardwood flooring. These have a small bevel around the perimeter of each board so your feet donít snag any raised edges. This might be a good choice for an existing house where the sanding dust would create a problem.
  • Hardwood can be dented or gouged, but these can be repaired.
  • Hardwood floors last forever. When they become scratched badly, you just have to rent a sander and grind off the top layer and refinish. Iíve seen houses built 50 to 100 years ago that still have their original hardwood floors. This fact alone speaks volumes about wise flooring material choices.

 

Simulated Hardwood / Plastic Laminate

  • Sounds appealingÖ you can have a new floor in a few hours with no sanding and no odor from oil-based finishes.
  • The finish layer is essentially countertop material, and very thin.
  • Iím afraid that a few small flaws in installation might leave gaps that water could enter. Since there is no finish applied over the entire surface, as with real hardwood, any small gap will let water behind the protective surface, which will affect the substrate wood in some way. Avoid any flooring with particle board backing.
  • I have been in several houses and businesses with laminate flooring, and I can detect them by the time Iíve taken my first step onto the floor. They have a thin, hollow sound, especially when installed as a "floating" floor with no staples. I personally donít like that tinny sound. It sounds cheap to me.
  • While Pergo claims to have been around for 25 yearsÖ Iíve been around longer, and Iím skeptical.
  • 25 years is a blink of an eye in the building materials industry. I put my faith in products that have stood the test of centuries. Iíve seen laminate countertops that have worn through in less than a decade. When I have seen several laminate floors that are more than 20 years old, and holding up very well, THEN I will be convinced.

 


Flooring takes a beating. Americans wear their shoes in the houseÖ and who blames them? I donít want to spend half my day tying shoe laces. I donít remember where it was, but once I got some spiral steel shavings stuck in the treads of my shoes. It made a lot of tiny slices in the vinyl kitchen floor of my first house. It is so easy to get small stones stuck in your shoesÖ and then you are dragging rocks (or razor blades, as I once did) all through your house.

Iíll tell you what I would do with my own house. If the house was below average in price and I was on a low budget, I would install good quality vinyl flooring (not vinyl peel-and-stick tiles) in the "wet and wear" areasÖ kitchen, bath, entry, and hallways. I would do good neutral carpeting (no pattern or texture), as dark a color as I could tolerate, in the other areas.

But what I would prefer, and what I would recommend to anybody who owns a house that is above-average in value, is natural stone (marble, slate, granite) in the "wet and wear" areas and real hardwood in the living room, dining room, and bedrooms. And then buy some nice oriental rugs. Youíll pay more up front but will probably get the money back when you sell (flooring finishes are often reported on appraisals, Iím told). And if you stay for a long time, you wonít have any major expense of flooring replacement. You might be farther ahead financially to borrow the money for good flooring (assuming it doesnít out-class the rest of the house) and pay it back over 5 to 10 years.

Marble floor tile in a bathroom I am absolutely IN LOVE with the Turkish marble floor I installed last year in two bathrooms. The tiles cost $6 a square foot at Menardís (a mid-western chain) and the floor warming cables were about $3-4 a square foot. I have no idea what installation would cost, it should be the same as ceramic tile. 

 

White oak hardwood flooring. Similarly, I absolutely ADORE the white oak hardwood flooring I installed two years ago in one bedroom. It took a day to install with a rented pneumatic flooring stapler (donít think of staples, think of 2-legged nails, 2" long). It took a day to sand with a rented drum sander, and it was hard work! 

It took a few hours over 3 days to apply 3 coats of Varathane floor urethane, which is not exactly a premium finish. 

The flooring has had no movement, no serious gaps, and in spite of sometimes having 5 dogs laying, running and playing on it, there are surprisingly few scratches in the finish. Iíve left the window open and had puddles of rain water to mop up, but no damage at all. Iím skeptical if Pergo could beat that. Iíll admit I have a bias for natural products that have proved themselves.

Iíve noticed that whenever someone buys a fixer-upper house and sells it right away, they always install cheap carpet and cheap vinyl, because the person paying for the materials isnít the one who has to live with the consequences.

 

Bruce W. Maki, Editor

 

 

 

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Compiled June 12, 2001