Flooring Materials Buying Guide

Flooring materials you can choose -- what they are, what they cost, and what each can add to the overall feel and look of a remodeling project. These seven flooring materials are popular for a reason. Compare and contrast top-rated designs to find your match.

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    Know Your Flooring Options

    To help you compare the most popular types of flooring, we've compiled descriptions, style pointers, and prices of 7 types of flooring materials. Price ranges include the average material cost, but installation expense varies considerably so check with an installer for an accurate total cost.

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    Cork Flooring

    What it is
    A natural material consisting of the ground bark of the cork oak tree, cork is molded, baked, cut, and varnished to create tiles and planks.The airy structure of cork flooring causes it to naturally reduce sound, retain heat, and absorb shock from extended standing time, such as when you're at the range while cooking.

    Style pointers
    Cork flooring goes beyond basic tan speckles. Decorative patterns include wine cork flooring, with cross sections of wine bottle corks; mosaic cork flooring that features pieces in an array of shapes and colors; and burled cork, a mottled pattern similar to burled wood.

    What it costs
    Cork flooring generally ranges in price from $3 to $6 per square foot. The more complex patterns fall on the high end, while the basic flecked variety runs about $3 per square foot, making it an economical flooring option for the kitchen.

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    Laminate Flooring

    What it is
    Laminate features an image of a material, such as wood or stone, layered between a clear protective coating on top and a dense fiberboard on the bottom. It typically has a "floating" installation in which pieces fit together in grooves and do not need to be nailed together.

    Style pointers
    Product advances include the reduction of noticeable seams between laminate planks. Other visual enhancements are wood-grain and stone-texture embossing and beveled edges between wood "planks" within a laminate board. Choose laminate patterns without obvious repeats to play up the realism.

    What it costs
    Cost varies depending on the quality of the pattern. Basic wood laminate can retail for about $1.45 per square foot, while embossed laminates run closer to $3.99 per square foot. Often there is a discount for large quantities.

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    Installing Laminate Flooring

    Learn how to install laminate flooring in your home with this helpful how-to video.

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    Linoleum Flooring

    What it is
    Linoleum products contain wood or cork powder, resins, pigments, and other materials combined with linseed oil. This mixture is pressed onto a jute backing. The material cures for two to three weeks before it can be shipped for installation.

    Style pointers
    This flooring consists of natural materials with limitless color and pattern options. New linoleum floors can match the muted colors and traditional marble patterns of existing flooring in older homes. Or create an eye-catching modern design in vibrant, saturated colors. Designs won't fade, because the pattern and color permeate the entire sheet of flooring.

    What it costs
    Linoleum is affordable, with basic patterns ranging from $2 to $4 per square foot. Intricate patterns that include multiple colors, borders, and other details run more and can cost up to $10 or more per square foot.

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    Vinyl Flooring

    What it is
    Often called resilient flooring because of its softness, vinyl consists of a protective top coat over a printed layer of vinyl on a backing. There are two types of vinyl: common felt-back vinyl or fiberglass vinyl, which installs without adhesive.

    Style pointers
    Fool-the-eye photographic images make vinyl a flooring chameleon. Like laminate flooring, some vinyl flooring features surface texture that increases the look and feel of the simulated materials. This durable material makes installing complex "tile" patterns effortless because it rolls into place and doesn't need adhesive if it's fiber-backed.

    What it costs
    Thickness and design quality vary greatly in vinyl flooring options. This means the price can range anywhere from 50 cents to $5 per square foot. As with all flooring, you also need to add the installation when calculating costs.

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    Hardwood Flooring

    What it is
    Solid hardwood flooring includes varieties from standard oak to exotic tigerwood. Plank widths are 2 1/4 to 5 inches, and thickness can be up to 3/4 inch. Solid hardwood can be sanded and refinished multiple times and often adds to a home's value.

    Style pointers
    When choosing a hardwood floor, consider the amount of wear and tear it will get. Some hand-sculpted planks have enough variation to hide the wear and dents that occur in high-traffic areas. If you want the look of site-finished wood but the ease and longer warranty of prefinished wood, request a square end and edge instead of the prefinished beveled end and edge.

    What it costs
    Some Web sites offer hardwood floors for as little as $2.30 per square foot, but watch for knots and color consistency. Midgrade hardwood starts at about $4 per square foot. Exotic woods, wider widths, and special finishes start at $10 per square foot.

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    Ceramic Tile Flooring

    What it is
    Ceramic tile is a mixture of clay and minerals molded and baked in a kiln. Types of ceramic tile include glazed ceramic, quarry, porcelain, and terra-cotta. Porcelain tile comes from finer clay that is baked at a higher temperature, making it extra durable and water-resistant.

    Style pointers
    From simple squares to elaborate mosaics, ceramic tile can define the style of a kitchen. Liven up the look of a simple tile by installing it diagonally or choosing a contrasting grout color. To define areas of a kitchen or outline the room, use coordinating border tiles. For a special effect, place decorative tiles throughout the floor.

    What it costs
    The price of ceramic tile starts at as low as 75 cents per square foot and goes up depending on the glaze, thickness, and production method. Also keep in mind that installation cost can double the cost of the flooring.

  • 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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