How to choose the right floor coverings to suit your home

Staff and wire reportsSeptember 27, 2013 

  • Compare the costs:

    Wood flooring ranges from $8 to $15 per square foot installed, depending on the specific material used. Brazilian cherry or Australian cypress will be higher than more readily available species, such as oak or American cherry.

    Laminate flooring ranges from about $2 to $4.50 per square foot and has an expected lifetime of 15 to 20 years. Laminate comes in a variety of looks, with hardwood the most popular.

    Cork flooring prices average about $4 per square foot, plus about $1 per square foot for installation. Expected to last 20 or more years, cork floors likely will need to be refinished professionally once or twice during their lifespan.

    Tile costs can be as low as 50 cents per square foot or upwards of $15, depending on material and style. Ceramic tiles are typically less expensive than marble or other types of natural stone flooring. Professional installation charges range from about $4 to $8 per square foot.

    Carpet prices vary widely, from an average of $2 to $4 per square foot to $12 or more for certain luxury brands. Add another $1.50 per square foot for quality padding and $2-$3 per square foot for a professional installation job.

    Sources: ehow.com; homeflooringpros.com; lowes.com.

Thinking about replacing your floor covering? If so, you probably know there are many good choices on the market today.

Type of decor, style of your home and the durability level you are looking for are some factors to consider when selecting new flooring.

To help make the decision a tad easier, here is a roundup of some of the more popular floor-covering options.

Wood flooring is very popular and it will give your home a classic look that goes with a variety of decorating styles.

Wood colors run the gamut, from light and airy maple, to medium oak, to dark walnut or cherry. Some also have distinctive grain patterns or visible knots that add their own design element. Don’t be afraid to try something different, especially if your house has a modern or eclectic feel.

Current top trends in hardwood flooring include exotic woods such as teak and Brazilian cherry; hand-scraped lumber, milled to have the look of previous wear; and old-fashioned wide wood planks, according to homeflooringpros.com.

Wood can be used in any room of the house, even in a kitchen – as long as you get one that doesn’t absorb liquid. There are always spills in the kitchen, even with the most careful cook. Precautions to take include covering the subfloor with an asphalt felt moisture barrier and topping the flooring with a coat of polyurethane sealant.

Hardwood may be purchased in narrow strips that are 2 inches or smaller in width or wide boards that measure 6 to 8 inches across.

Laminate flooring is another solid choice that can be especially appropriate for areas where hardwood is not recommended, such as a below-ground level room or in areas lacking a subfloor.

Surfaces on laminate flooring closely resemble wood, stone or other materials, but are made from layers of high-density fiberboard that may be affixed to a moisture barrier. The better laminates have a top layer, known as the wear layer , that is at least 8 mm thick.

Another advantage of laminate is the cost. Typically, it is half the price of real hardwood and requires less installation time.

Cork is an increasingly popular flooring material with a lot to recommend it. It offers a finish that is similar to laminate, yet offers some “bounce.”

The decorating website Houzz.com cites flexibility as among the strongest attributes of cork, especially in the kitchen, where dropped dishes are less likely to break than those that hit a tile or hardwood surface.

Cork is also an eco-friendly material that holds warmth and absorbs sound. It’s virtually nonabsorbent and moisture-proof, and it won’t burn easily.

Keeping cork floors clean through regular sweeping or vacuuming is a must, however, as cork floors may scratch when there’s dirt underfoot. Most cork floors also need resealing regularly with polyurethane or wax.

Tile remains a popular choice for many reasons. It is easy to clean, other than the grout. Using a darker grout color is an easy way to avoid the stains that can mar lighter colors.

Tile or marble is often used in bathrooms because of the high humidity and chance of water spills from sinks, tubs or toilet overflows.

If you decide to go with tile in the kitchen, take into consideration necessary clearance for the refrigerator or other under-counter appliances. Tile raises the floor – a little or a lot, depending on the tile – so there will be a height difference. You could end up with a refrigerator that doesn’t fit because overhead cabinets are in the way or a dishwasher that doesn’t fit back under the counter top. Be sure to measure first.

Tile can be simple or sophisticated. It can be a lower-priced option that still lends itself to customization because of standard sizing and potential DIY installation.

Take into consideration that tiles may crack if floors settle. And they can be cold – and slippery when wet. An under-floor tile-heating system, installed before the tile goes down, is a relatively inexpensive way to make a tiled floor feel more comfortable and cozy, especially in the winter.

Carpeting is a choice that, for many, just feels right. A plush carpet can feel great, looks luxurious and is relatively easy to clean, especially in low-traffic areas such as the bedroom.

However, anyone with mobility issues or unstable footing should take care to choose a dense, low-pile carpet to avoid any potential tripping hazards.

For couples who can’t agree, installing carpet in bedrooms and hardwood floors in other parts of the house may be a good compromise. Scatter rugs or oriental carpets can be added atop hardwoods to soften the feel.

Like any type of flooring, deciding on the right kind of carpeting for your house is about evaluating your lifestyle.

Carpeting in homes with young children, pets or frequent gatherings may require more maintenance than households that are a bit smaller, with less traffic. Making these distinctions will help you decide which kind of carpet is right for you.

Rosemary Sadez Friedmann, interior designer and author of “Mystery of Color,” contributed to this report.

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