Learn the Basics of Flooring

Each type of flooring has its pros and cons, so consider these tips and how the space will be used when deciding on the right floor for your space.

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Everything In This Slideshow

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    Before You Begin

    Here are three oft-forgotten floor-shopping considerations:

    1. Sheet, plank, or tile? The type of installation is important if you're doing it yourself. But it's also a question of aesthetics. Determine where -- or if -- you want to see seams or grout lines.

    2. How do you clean it? There is no such thing as a maintenance-free floor. Carpet requires vacuuming and periodic deep cleaning. Wood floors need dusting, waxing, and occasional refinishing. Even hard-wearing ceramic tiles must be grout-sealed and mopped.

    3. How does it feel? Make sure you know how your flooring choices feel -- and sound -- underfoot. Moisture-hardy tile in the bath, for example, might be too cold for some bare feet.

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    Think Green

    Bamboo and cork floors are made of renewable resources. Both are visually warm, and cork tiles (shown) come in a variety of patterns. Carpet made of preconsumer, postindustrial recycled content is also available; some manufacturers are even working toward postconsumer recycled precuts. Linoleumlike products that feature linseed oil are mostly organic and naturally antimicrobial.

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    Compare Apples to Apples

    When you're working out your floor budget, be prepared to use some basic math and geometry muscles. Regardless of whether you're comparing sheet, plank, tile products, or carpet, reduce everything to a price per square foot. Make sure to add the costs of any required substrates, which provide structure and support, and underlayments, which provide vapor protection, padding, and/or acoustical control.

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    Form a Solid Foundation

    Sometimes a new floor can be installed on top of an existing floor. If needed, a liquid leveling product can be applied to even out seams, cracks, or texturing. An additional substrate of 1/4 inch or more thickness will ensure stability. (Some products, such as laminates, feature an integrated substrate.)

    Warning: Multiple layers of flooring may require the altering or repositioning of cabinets, door frames, toilets, molding, and more.

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    Get the Look for Less

    Ever-improving embossing techniques allow sheet-vinyl products to mimic the look of tile, wood, and other textured surfaces. Laminate floors (shown), which are a photographic image protected by hard-wearing surface, can replicate the look -- and feel -- of tiles, stones, and exotic woods.

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    Manage Moisture

    Some flooring types are particularly susceptible to moisture. Laminate, wood, and other floating floors expand and contract with changing humidity levels. Follow manufacturer recommendations on whether a product should be used in kitchens, baths, or below-grade applications such as basements. Ceramic tile (shown) or vinyl products may be better options.

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    Breathe Easy

    Adhesives used in the manufacture and installation of flooring may off-gas, release odors that can irritate people with allergies or chemical sensitivities. Placing flooring products in a well-ventilated and temperature-conditioned area for a few days before installation can help diminish harmful odors. For wood-backed products, this also helps equalize any moisture that may have been picked up from being stored outside the home.

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    Feel the Heat

    Radiant heating systems warm a room via water pipes or electrical wires installed beneath a finished floor. The systems are considered more efficient than forced-air heating systems and offer the advantage of not circulating dust and allergens among rooms. Ceramic tiles and concrete floors are ideal for radiant heating. Wood and other hard-surface floors are also good candidates.

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    Consider Finishes

    Solid-wood floors can be sanded and refinished in any stain color. Engineered hardwood floors can be similarly refreshed a limited number of times. However, prefinished products often preclude refinishing.

    Tip: If you have an existing wood floor, here's a quick test to determine the condition of its finish: Pour a tablespoon of water on a well-trafficked area. If the water beads and doesn't leave a trace when wiped away, the finish is good. If the water doesn't soak in but leaves a spot when wiped away, the floor will need to be refinished soon. If the water disappears and leaves a dark spot, refinish the floor right away.

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    Pros and Cons

    When choosing flooring material, consider where the flooring will be located and the personality of the flooring. The following slides explain the pros and cons of the most popular flooring choices.

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    Carpet

    For warmth and softness underfoot, capet is the ideal choice. This is why carpet covers almost 70 percent of the flooring in the United States.

    Pros:

    -- Comfortable underfoot

    -- Can be budget-friendly

    -- Carpet tiles can be easy to install

    Cons:

    -- Absorbs moisture

    -- Stain removal can be difficult

    -- Usually requires professional installation

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    Ceramic Tile

    Ceramic tile is durable, low-maintenance, and great for moisture-prone, heavy-traffic areas such as bathrooms, mudrooms, entryways, and kitchens.

    Pros:

    -- Durable and good for high traffic areas

    -- Glazed tiles resist moisture and stains

    -- Easy do-it-yourself project

    Cons:

    -- Grout lines must be resealed periodically

    -- Cold and hard underfoot

    -- Does not reduce noise

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    Hardwood

    Hardwood is a popular choice because it lasts longer than other flooring options and can be refinished several times or restained to change appearance.

    Pros:

    -- Resists spills, scratches, and wear, if sealed properly

    -- Large selection of woods, plank sizes, and stain colors

    -- Adds value to a home

    Cons:

    -- Soft woods tend to dent or scratch easily

    -- May require periodic refinishing

    -- Does not reduce noise

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    Laminate

    Laminate floors feature decorative images printed over paper or other fibrous material. Laminate is a popular choice because it truely looks like wood or stone, comes in a range of colors and patters, and is durable enough for kitchen and family room use.

    Pros:

    -- Easy to clean and maintain

    -- Virtually stainproof and fade-resistant

    -- New products more closely imitate real wood

    Cons:

    -- Can warp from water damage

    -- Appearance isn't identical to wood

    -- Cannot be refinished

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    Vinyl

    Vinyl flooring is durable and suitable for any room in the house.

    Pros:

    -- Easy to clean and maintain

    -- Soft and quiet underfoot

    -- Vinyl tiles can be a do-it-yourself option

    Cons:

    -- Low-quality grades may show wear and tear

    -- Repairing damaged vinyl can be difficult

    -- Doesn't add much value to a home

  • Next Slideshow Editor's Picks: Gorgeous "Green" Carpets

    Editor's Picks: Gorgeous "Green" Carpets

    Rugs and carpets withstand a lot of wear and tear, especially in high-traffic rooms. Try sustainable flooring in these rooms. It won't harm the earth, and the natural fibers last longer than the synthetic variety.
    Begin Slideshow »
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