Flooring Basics 101 (By Chad Vankoughnett)

One of the biggest impact renovations you can make is to change the flooring in your home. It can also be one of the most expensive renovations, and can cost tens of thousands of dollars depending on the floor covering you choose and whether you have it installed or do it yourself. It makes sense to learn as much as possible about floor coverings as you can in order to prevent potentially costly mistakes.

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Regardless of the type of flooring you choose, make certain that you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your choices, and make sure the product you install meets of the needs of the room you have put it in. It doesn’t make sense to put carpet in a kitchen or a bathroom (historical practices notwithstanding), and if you are looking for a warm soft landing for your feet when you get out of bed, tile probably isn’t the best choice for your bedroom. Before you even consider what kind of flooring you want, make sure you have thought through the practical issues of what the room will be used for and what kind of floor covering makes the most sense in that application. Once you have made these decisions, then it is time to determine what type of floor is best for you.

There are several different kinds of flooring to choose from, including hardwood, carpet, tile, vinyl, and engineered products such as laminates and engineered hardwoods. We are going to break down this list, give some strengths and weaknesses of each product, and hopefully help you make good decisions when it comes to your floor coverings.

Hardwood

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Hardwood has been growing in popularity for a couple of decades now after going out of style for a time during the 80’s. People love the classic look and feel of real wooden floors, and this popularity is reflected in how many different faux hardwood floor coverings now exist. Hardwood floors are made up of real wood, which has been stained and finished prior to being shipped to the seller. True hardwood flooring has no layers of other material laminated (glued) to it, but is real wood through and through (distinguishing it from engineered hardwood, which is a thinner layer of wood laminated to plywood, fiberboard, or other backing). Hardwood looks fantastic, and is a very long lasting floor covering. It is also a very expensive floor covering, and can easily cost $5 – $10 per square foot even before installation.

One of the real benefits of hardwood apart from its beauty is the ability to sand it down and refinish it when it begins to look worn or scratched. This, combined with the cost, means that you really want to be certain that you want the same flooring for life. A well maintained hardwood floor can easily last 100 years or more, so the cost is somewhat mitigated by the longevity inherent in a hardwood floor.

On the downside (apart from cost), hardwood flooring should only be used in certain areas of the home, and you should avoid using hardwood in any high-moisture area of the house. Bathrooms, basements, and any area below grade (ground level) in a home should not have hardwood installed due to the risk of moisture damage. The other downside to hardwood is installation, as specific tools need to be used when installing hardwood. Unless you are a truly accomplished DIYer, with an investment this expensive it is always wise to leave installation to the professionals.

Engineered Hardwood

As stated above, engineered hardwood is a layer of hardwood laminated to a carrying agent, such as fiberboard or plywood. This allows the appearance and wear of hardwood with the added benefit of moisture resistance, meaning that most engineered hardwood is suitable for any application in the home. Because the expensive material (the wood) is much thinner, the cost of engineered hardwood is considerably less than true hardwood. Engineered hardwood still allows you to sand and refinish the surface of the wood, although for a limited number of repetitions compared to true hardwood.

There are very few downsides to engineered hardwood. Unless you are a purist who needs the wood to go all the way through, there are virtually no technical reasons to choose hardwood over engineered hardwood, and in fact the extra flexibility of application found in engineered hardwood makes it an ideal choice for many homeowners.

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Laminate

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When talking about floors, the term “Laminate” refers to artificial flooring made from layers of fiberboard, plastic, and other materials. Usually, laminate flooring is designed to mimic the look and feel of wood without the pesky issues that accompany wood floors, such as cost and weight. Laminate floors are lightweight and reasonably durable, and come in a wide variety of styles, thickness, and colours. Cheap laminate will not be effective in high traffic areas, but is easy to replace if nothing else. More expensive laminates will still be much cheaper than either of their wooden cousins, will be very durable, and will certainly enhance the beauty of your home.

The low cost of laminate makes it an ideal product if you are the type of person who likes to change the look of your home on a regular basis. It is also an excellent choice if you are looking for something to spruce up your home in order to sell it, as many people change the flooring when they purchase a home anyway.

Laminate flooring can be installed virtually anywhere in the home, and is very easy to install even for the beginning DIYer. Most laminate floors do not require any kind of glue or nails, so the only tools you may need are a pencil, a cutter (a saw of some kind or a special laminate cutter, which are quite inexpensive), and maybe a rubber mallet.

In the next edition of the blog, we will be looking at carpet, tile, and vinyl flooring as options for your renovation. Remember, regardless of the style of flooring you choose, the type of material will determine longevity, comfort, and practicality. Take the time to make the right decision and you will be happy with your floors for a long time to come.

– Chad Vankoughnett