Flooring Material Pros and Cons
Here's a rundown on popular flooring options so you can live happily ever after with those you bring home
Much like getting married, you'll live with your flooring choices a very long time; so, blind purchases—much like blind dates—can be especially risky. Here's a little background check before you invite one of these popular floor choices home to meet the family.
Pros: Not just for pandas anymore, bamboo feeds your hunger for adding a warm look to a room while potentially minimizing your impact on the environment. That's because bamboo is actually a grass—an ultra-renewable resource that grows to an impressive 80 feet tall in just three to six years. The stalks are harvested, split, flattened, and laminated as planks, yielding the beauty associated with wood floors.
Cons: It's the glue used in the lamination process that can cancel the earth-friendly status of bamboo flooring—some imported products release toxic VOCs into your home. Also, some foreign entities are wiping out forests to make way for bamboo fields.
True bamboo can be a less-than-sturdy flooring consideration. Check the hardness of the bamboo products you're considering: push a fingernail or penny into the surface to see if it dents. If it does, check out other bamboo options, such as engineered bamboo, which tends to dent less easily.
Pros: Most homeowners select carpet for the "ahh" effect beneath their bare feet: warmth, texture, and softness all afford a treat to the toes. Additionally, a carpet's color and texture can bring life to your living room.
Noise reduction is yet another drawing card of carpeting, making a room much quieter when the kids dump out the building blocks or your 150-pound mastiff treads across the floor. High-tech fibers make today's carpeting much more stain- and crush-resistant than its predecessors.
Cons: Following the manufacturer's care instructions is a must, because no carpet is impervious to stains, and lower grades can go flat faster than a bad soufflé. Carpets tend to hold dust, so allergy sufferers beware.
For optimum wear, clean up spills when they happen and vacuum low-traffic areas a few times per week and more frequently for high traffic areas.
Pros: Dimensional stability makes engineered flooring a top choice for kitchens and below-grade spaces where wood is desirable but you want to avoid the expansion and contraction problems associated with solid wood flooring. The plywood-like substrate layer beneath the wood veneer of engineered wood flooring is the secret behind its blasé reaction to temperature and humidity, which have little effect on it.
And while solid wood flooring installation is best left to the pros, engineered wood flooring is made for DIYers, forgoing all the hoopla of pneumatic nailers and glue. Instead, you'll typically find product lines with tongue-and-groove construction—some even simply snap together.
Cons: Be on the lookout for low-quality engineered wood, as cheap substrates can't support heavier or concentrated weights, resulting in cracks and dents in the veneer. And, like solid wood flooring, engineered wood can scratch, so add felt pads to all furniture legs and kick off those stilettos at the door. Place walk-off mats at all entrances as well to help catch sand and gunk that can mar the wood.
Pros: More than just a plug for your pinot noir, cork makes a pretty nifty covering for floors. Air pockets in the material render a soft cushiony effect underfoot, a feeling only rivaled by carpeting. This makes cork a good alternative for places where carpeting doesn't make sense, like the kitchen—one of the most common rooms where you'll find it.
Cork is easy on your legs and feet when you stand for long periods and is more forgiving than wood or tile when you drop your grandmother's compote on it. And, like wood, it doesn't hold on to dust or mold, providing relief for allergy-prone noses and eyes.
Cons: On the downside, cork's soft surface dents easily, so provide protection (such as coasters) beneath heavy furniture and try not to drop a 25-pound frozen turkey on it. Have a professional thoroughly seal the surface to repel water and prevent plumping. Even then, it's best to never allow water to languish on the surface for long.
Color fastness can be an issue with cork as well, as flooring may fade in sunlight and over the years.
Pros: It's been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the case of laminate flooring, a picture could be worth some money in the bank. That's because laminate uses photographs of wood, stone, ceramic tile, and other materials to create a realistic, lower cost substitute for popular, more expensive flooring.
With the photographic image securely bonded to a melamine or plywood-like substrate, laminate flooring is dimensionally stable while a clear surface layer provides a durable surface that repels water and stains, and provides a somewhat scratch-resistant surface.
If you're seeking floors you can install yourself, laminate flooring offers tongue-and-groove construction that's DIY friendly—some products just click together.
Cons: Like wood, laminate isn't scratch-proof, so protect furniture feet with felt pads and place walk-off mats at all entrances to catch sand and dirt. Also, never allow water to remain on laminate or the surface can bubble and warp. To that end, laminate isn't generally recommended for use in bathrooms, so check with the manufacturer before installing it in moisture-prone areas.
Also, low-grade laminates may have poorly constructed substrates that allow the surface to dent easily, so stick with the good stuff.