These days, choosing flooring is almost as complicated as buying a car. The old standbys such as solid wood, tile and linoleum have been joined by hundreds of ingenious hybrids, from snap-toghether laminates that mimics wood or tiles to bamboo planks to prefinished maple the color of plums.
To make them together, floor finishes may include ceramics, aluminium oxides or titanium.
Basically, you should try to choose flooring that’s right for the room. Some factors to consider:
The revolution that produced engineered lumber has also transformed wood flooring. In addition to solid-wood strips and planks, there are laminated flooring, some which can be sanded and refinished several times. There’s also wide range of prefinished flooring.
Is solid wood, top to bottom (T&G) strip flooring, typically ¾ in. thick by 2 ¼ in. wide, although it’s also available in by 2 ½ in. thick stripe and widths that range from 1 ½ in. to 3 ¼ in. Hardwood planks flooring is most often installed as boards of varying widths (3in. to 8 in.) random lengths, and thicknesses of ¾ in. to ¾ in. Parquet flooring comes in standard 1/3 in. by 6-in. by 6- in. squares, though some specialty patterns range up to 36- in. squares.
Because red and white oak are attractive and durable, they account for roughly 90% of hardwood installation. Ash, maple, cherry and walnut also are handsome and durable, if somewhat more expensive than oak. In older homes softwood strip flooring is most often fir and wide-planks are usually pine. If you know where to search you can find virtually any wood- old or new- which is a boon if you’re restoring an older home and want to maintain a certain look. On the internet you can find specialty mills that carry recycled wood that’s often rare or extinct, such as chestnut salvaged from barns or pecky cypress pulled from lakes. There’s also new lumber made to look old. It’s not surprising that wood flooring is a sentimental favorite. It’s beautifully figured, warm hued, easy to work and durable.
Disadvantages: Wood scratches, dents, stains and expands and contracts as relative humidity varies.
And, when exposed to water for sustained periods it swells, splits and eventually rots. Thus wood flooring needs a fair amount of maintenance, especially in high-use areas. In general, solid wood is a poor choice for rooms that tend to be chronically damp or occasionally wet.
Engineered wood flooring is basically an upscale plywood with a top layer of solid hardwood laminated to a three- to five-layer plywood base. Most types are prefinished, with tongue and groove edges and ends. This flooring is typically sold in cartons containing 20 sq. ft. of 2 ½ -in. to 7-in. widths and assprted lengths.
Engineered wood flooring can be stapled to a plywood subfloor, glued to a concrete slab or floated above various substrates. There are also gluesless, snap-togheter systems. More dimensionally stable that solid wood, engineered wood flooring can be suited for some areas where humidity fluctuates such basements rooms.
There are many price points and quality levels of engineered wood flooring and you get what you pay for. Better quality flooring has a thicker wear layer (the top veneer layer), which can be sanded. Wear layers range from 3/32 in. to ¼ in. thick. In general, a wear layer that was dry sawn has grain patterns more like solid-wood flooring.
Disadvantages: The wear layer of engineered wood flooring is relatively thin. Although manufacturers contend that a wear layer of 5/32 in. thick can be refinished two or three times, that seems optimistic given the conditions of the most sanding equipment.
Prefinished wood flooring is stained and sealed with at least four coats at the factory, where is possible to apply finishes so precisely to all sides of wood, that manufacturers routinely offer 15 to 25 year warranties on selected finishes. Finishes are typically polyurethane, acrylic or resin based with additives that help flooring resist abrasion, moisture and UV rays. Another big selling pint is that these floors can be used as soon as they’re installed. There is no need to sand them or wait days for noxious coatings to dry.
As tough as prefinished floors are, however, manufacturers have very specific requirements for installing and maintaining them, so read their warranties closely. In many cases you must use proprietary cleaners to clean the floor and preserve the finish.
The materials in this group, bamboo, coconut palm and cork are engineered to make them easy to install and durable and their beauty is 100% natural.
Bamboo flooring sounds implausible to people who visualize a floor as bumpy as corduroy.
However, bamboo flooring is perfectly smooth. It is first milled into strips and then reassembled as multi-ply, tongue-in-groove boards. Available in the same widths and lengths as conventional hardwood, bamboo bards are commonly 3/8 in. to 5/8 in. thick. Bamboo flooring can be nailed or glued to the subfloor.
Bamboo flooring comes prefinished or unfinished and can be sanded and refinished as often as hardwood floors. It’s a warm, beautiful surface with distinctive peppered patterns where shoots were attached. Bamboo is hard and durable with roughly the same maintenance profile as any natural wood product so you must vacuum or mop it regularly to reduce abrasion. Avoid installing it in very moist areas.
Coconut palm flooring like bamboo is plentiful and can be sustainably harvested. Its texture is fine pored, reminiscent of mahogany. Because coconut palm is a dark wood, its color range is limited from a rich mahogany red to a deep brown.
Cork flooring is on the soft end of the hard-soft continuum. Soft underfoot, sound deadening, nonallergenic and long lasting, cork is the ultimate “green” building material. Cork is the bark of the cork oak, which can be harvested every 10 to 12 years without harming the tree.
Traditionally sold as 3/16 in. by 12 in. by 12 in. tiles, which are glued to a substrate, cork flooring now includes colorfully stained and prefinished squares and planks that interlock for less visible seams. Cork flexes, so many manufacturers use a flexible coating such as UV-cured acrylic to protect the surfaces and edges from water. Cork’s resilience comes from its 100 million air-filled cells per cu in., so it’s a naturally thirsty material. Wipe up spills immediately and avoid soaking the cork floor when mopping it: use a damp mop instead and periodically refresh its finish.
Disadvantages: avoid dragging heavy or sharp-edged objects across it because it will abrade. Chair and table legs can leave permanent depressions.
Typically, engineered cork flooring has a three-ply, tongue-in-groove configuration. The surface layer is high-density cork, middle layer is high-density fiberboard with precut edges that snap together, and the underlayment layer is low-density cork that cushions footsteps and absorbs sound. First developed in Europe, snap-together panels float above the substrate, so owners can easily replace damaged planks.
Many snap-together floors are glueless, but floors requiring glue usually need it to bond planks together, not to glue them to a substrate.
Here, the term “laminate” refers not to fusing thin wood layers but to a group of floorings whose surface layers are usually photographic images covered and protected by a clear melamine layer. The images often show wood grain, tile or stone. Although plastic-laminate “wood” flooring may be hard to sell to traditionalists, the stuff wears well and every year captures a larger share of residential flooring. Moreover, as this category increases in popularity, manufacturers offer more and more colors and textures, including many that don’t mimic natural materials and are quite handsome on their own.
Developed and first adopted in Europe, laminate flooring most commonly consists of snap-together planks that float above a substrate, speeding installation, repairs and removal. Of all flooring materials, laminate is probably the most affordable, and as noted, it’s almost indestructible. It’s also colorfast, dimensionally stable and easy to clean.
Disadvantages: Laminate flooring dents, exposing a fiberboard core; you can’t refinish it, although damaged planks can be replaced; you shouldn’t install it in high-humidity areas because it tends to delaminate.