As you can see by the flooring types below, there’s really a wide range of choices available when it comes to pros and cons of each. The key to making a good choice is matching your performance expectations with the appropriate material. As an example, the kitchen is a room that sees a lot of traffic and it’s prone to food and water spills. A floor surface that’s durable (will stand up to traffic, dirt, grit, scratching, etc.) and easy to clean is a good choice here. By the same token, a bathroom floor experiences a lot of moisture, so flooring choices that can stand up to this type of environment long-term are the best choice. Laminate probably wouldn’t be the best option given its seams and the susceptibility of it’s backing material to damage from moisture.
The information below is a breakdown on your various flooring options plus the pros and cons of each. Don’t necessarily use the pros/cons as ‘absolutes’ but as points to consider in deciding what’s the best fit for you.
Flooring Types and Choices
Vinyl is still a mainstay of floor covering material. Its easy-to-clean surface and wide range of available colors and patterns make it versatile, economical, and low maintenance. There are a lot of vinyl choices that incorporate new technologies in texturing and durability for a more modern and realistic look.
Vinyl Flooring Pros
- Easy to maintain
- Resilient (provides “give” and cushion underfoot)
- Wide range of colors/patterns available, including new textures
- Good sound absorbing qualities
- Can be laid without seams depending on the size and shape of the room
Vinyl Flooring Cons
- Not as eco-friendly or made with sustainable materials as other choices
- Susceptible to cuts and tears (i.e. – moving heavy objects over it such as refrigerators)
- Not a renewable surface like wood flooring
- Not heat tolerant and can be scorched or burned
- Seamed/tiled vinyl offers paths for spilled liquids to get to the backing and subfloor
- Susceptible to permanent dents (i.e. – tables, furniture legs, & even pointed-heeled shoes)
- Edges and seams may be visible and interrupt the decorative pattern depending on the quality of installation
Laminate Flooring mimics the look of other floor materials by employing a picture of real wood, stone, or tile covered with a wear-protective layer. Some laminates are virtually indistinguishable from the real material, while costing a lot less. There are plenty of brands and products to choose from such as Armstrong laminate, Quick-Step, Shaw, and Mannington to name a few. Care of laminate flooring is relatively easy, armed with a sweeper and a little knowledge on how to take care of it.
Laminate Flooring Pros
- Durable – some use advanced coatings designed to stand up to heavy traffic
- Less costly than wood, particularly for higher end exotic woods
- Can be applied over existing floors
- ‘Glueless’ laminate is portable – Can be removed and reinstalled elsewhere (though some warranties become void if the floor is disassembled more than 3 times)
- Many style options both in wood and stone patterns
- Installation process is simple enough for someone with do-it-yourself skills
Laminate Flooring Cons
- Requires full replacement when worn out – no refinishing possible
- Seams between planks and edges present a path for spills/water intrusion which can cause edge-swell
- Floating-floor characteristic results in a hollow sound if no acoustical underlayment is used
The beauty and natural variability of real wood flooring is hard to beat. There’s a whole realm of choices available with wood floors starting with species like maple, oak, hickory, and birch… all the way to the exotic woods like Merbau, Jatoba, and Teak.
If those choices don’t resonate with you, how about floors made from old growth Douglas Fir, antique wide plank heart pine, or even extinct American Chestnut? Reclaimed wood flooring offers these options using wood salvaged from sunken logs, old structures, and other similar sources. There’s a bonus too in that it’s an eco-friendly choice since no new trees are consumed.
You also have a choice on whether to use solid wood or engineered wood. Solid wood is just what the name implies – solid from top to bottom. Engineered wood consists of a top layer of real wood bonded to several other layers of wood beneath it, similar to plywood. Solid wood can be purchased prefinished or it can be finished on-site using unfinished hardwood stock. Engineered wood is usually purchased prefinished. Solid wood and some engineered wood floors are capable of being refinished several times.
Wood Flooring Pros
- Durable and long-lasting, particularly when well maintained
- Renewable – can be refinished several times
- Wide diversity of style choices available from stain color to type of wood species
- Provides a warmer feel than stone, tile, or concrete
- Economical choice over the long term due to it’s renewability
- Pre-finished wood does not require on-site finishing and its associated inconveniences
Wood Flooring Cons
- Susceptible to scratches and wear from grit and dirt
- Susceptible to damage from moisture and liquids (not recommended for the bathroom)
- Can develop squeaks and creaks over time due to loosening between the wood and nails that fasten the planks to the subfloor
- Susceptible to gaps or “cupping” (curving of the wood surface) even with normal humidity changes if improperly installed
- Floors finished in-place require room(s) to be vacant for several days to allow sanding, staining, and finishing (not necessary with pre-finished wood however)
Linoleum is an all-natural product, made up of linseed oil, wood or cork flour, mineral fillers, and pigments that are combined and applied to a jute or canvas backing. It’s sometimes confused with vinyl, but it’s natural ingredients provide a more environmentally friendly material than vinyl. It’s resilient like vinyl, which makes it more comfortable to stand and walk on.
Linoleum Flooring Pros
- A more environmentally friendly product – made from natural materials
- Contains natural anti-bacterial properties due to its linseed oil content
- Available in click-tiles (floating floor) for easier do-it-yourself capability (as opposed to trickier glue-down sheet and tiles)
- Color goes through the material which helps to hide chips and scratches
- Naturally anti-static – helps prevent the attraction of dust
- Good durability and wear properties (linseed oil oxidizes as it ages, imparting strength over time)
- Won’t melt (like vinyl) if a burning match or hot object is dropped on it
- Lots of rich colors are available (many more than when your great-grandmother had linoleum floors)
Linoleum Flooring Cons
- May not be suitable for wet environments (like bathrooms) due to its porosity, unless it’s sealed (recommendations vary with manufacturer however)
- Retains a distinctive (but temporary) scent from the linseed oil content when new
- Glue-down installation may require professionals for proper results and seaming
Carpeting offers a warmth and softness not found in other surfacing options, but it’s obviously not for all applications. Carpeting not only comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns, but in many different textures as well, making it a versatile style option. There’s plenty of choices too, from established brands like Karastan®, Shaw®, Mohawk® and others. There’s even carpets for kids.
New synthetic fiber technology gives you better alternatives for stain resistance, greater resiliency and even “green” carpeting choices. If natural fibers appeal to you, wool carpeting is still the measure that all synthetic carpets try to emulate, with natural resilience, durability and softness.
- Comfortable material from a tactile and visual perspective
- Endless variety of styles, colors, patterns and textures to choose from in addition to several different fiber types
- Quiet – acts as a good sound insulator
- Softer surface offers greater cushion and may prevent injury from falls (particularly with infants and elderly)
- Easy to replace (more so than wood and tile)
- Acts as a good insulator although it can be used with radiant heat provided it’s matched with a low-insulating cushion
- Hides some irregularities in subfloor that wouldn’t be possible with a tile floor (without correction)
- Not as effective as other surfaces for radiant heat systems (due to the insulating qualities of the carpet and pad), though it is possible with lower-insulating cushions
- Stains more readily and spills are harder to clean up as opposed to hard surfaces
- Harbors allergens and dust unless regularly vacuumed and cleaned (dirt and allergens can also be ground into the carpet over time making them harder to extract)
- Potential source of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) contributing to poorer indoor air quality
- Susceptible to damage from water/moisture that can initiate mold growth
Tile provides almost infinite style and decorating variety. There’s practically an endless range of styles available, and the ability to combine them within a floor plan offers even wider design options. Tile is durable, long-lasting and works well with in-floor radiant heating systems.
Tile Flooring Pros
- Endless variety of styles, textures, and colors
- Durable surface that can last for years
- Flexibility in where it can be used – above, at, or below grade
- Low maintenance requirements (sweeping and damp mopping)
- Works well with radiant floor heating systems
- Resistant to stains and wear, and won’t fade, burn, or melt
- More easily repaired than other floor types (individual tiles can be replaced)
- Cost effective (life-cycle vs. cost)
- Has good “thermal mass” properties that help with heating and cooling
- Won’t dent or scratch like wood can or develop impressions like resilient flooring
Tile Flooring Cons
- Grout lines can trap dirt and/or stain and can be a hindrance to wheelchairs and wheeled walkers
- Hard surface can break dropped items and be uncomfortable to stand on for long periods of time (non-resilient)
- Can be a cold surface during cooler periods of the year if not used in conjunction with an underfloor radiant heat or passive (solar) heating system
- Glossy and smooth tile surfaces (as opposed to matte finishes) are slippery either wet or dry and present a slipping hazard