One of the most appealing aspects of building a custom home is having the ability to shape the home you want based on your personal preferences, lifestyle needs and budget. Many homebuyers spend a significant amount of time researching options for one finish in particular: flooring.
Floor coverings for various rooms are important decisions that impact both the functionality and aesthetics of your home. At Stratford, we can accommodate many different flooring types and are happy to provide resources and consultation based on your needs and budget. This introductory guide explores the benefits and considerations of a few popular flooring options to help get you started.
Solid Hardwood Flooring
- Long Lifespan: Solid hardwood can be sanded down and refinished multiple times in its lifespan. Hardwood is known to last decades to well over a century, depending on how well it’s maintained and the quality of the boards.
- Adds Home Value: Hardwood flooring is a great long-term investment because it often increases the value of your home. The warmth, elegance and beauty of hardwood floors never go out of style and continue to be a sought-after feature in the real estate market.
- Variety: Hardwood offers a kaleidoscope of appearances. There is a large range of wood species, stains, plank sizes, textures and styles to choose from. Some current trends are gray tones, darker woods, low-gloss floors, vintage-style and reclaimed woods.
Things to Consider
- Wood Hardness: Wood is known as a highly durable flooring option, but homebuyers need to fully assess their selected wood species and finish quality. Wood species vary in density and hold different hardness ratings. The industry uses what is known as the Janka ratings to measure wood hardness. Both sides of the scale have their benefits and drawbacks. Harder woods withstand dents from heavy objects better, but softer woods are easier on the joints if you are standing for long periods of time.
- Moisture and Sunlight: Because hardwood is a natural material, it can respond to seasonal changes, humidity and moisture by contracting and expanding. In addition, direct sunlight can discolor flooring over time. Solid hardwood is not recommended for utility rooms, basements and bathrooms with showers/tubs.
- Prefinished or Site Finished: Prefinished products are sanded, stained and finished in manufacturer factories. This finish is often urethane-based with as much as 6-10 baked-on coats that protect the wood from stains, sunlight and moisture penetration. Unfinished woods are finished on site and allow for increased customization and are often easier to repair and refinish in the future. Both have their benefits and drawbacks that should be analyzed by the consumer before purchase.
- Higher Upfront Cost: Solid hardwood does command a significantly higher up-front investment than wood laminate or vinyl. Homebuyers should also consider the smartest economical choice for their household is in the long-term.
Wood Laminate Flooring
How it's made
Laminate is made from four different layers that are combined in a high-pressure process in sheets at up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, then cooled and fully cured to avoid surface imperfections. Once the boards are fully acclimated, they are cut into planks with tongue and groove edges.
- Wear Layer:&nbps;The clear, top layer that protects the floor from stains, fading and moisture penetration.
- Design Layer: A photographic image of wood grain, stone or tile.
- Inner Core: Consists of a moisture-resistant high-definition fiberboard that provides stability, durability and sound absorption.
- Backing: The bottom layer that serves as a plank stabilizer and moisture barrier.
- Great Design Possibilities: Laminate can reproduce the look of highly-detailed and stylized wood boards, tile and stone with the use of advanced high-definition printing. For people that want to mimic the feel of wood, look for a feature called embossed-in-register, where the embossing matches the printed image texture. There are seemingly endless variations of colors, textures, finishes and floor plank widths to choose from to match the home buyer's individual taste.
- Lower Upfront Cost: Overall, laminate is a relatively affordable material and installation costs are considerably less than hardwood or tile. The cost of laminate does vary depending on design quality, embossing, thickness and warranty offered.
- Durability: Laminate is considered a durable flooring option as it resists stains, dents and other signs of wear and tear. Look for the length of the warranty offered and the quality of the wear layer to help determine durability. While laminate cannot be sanded down and refinished like hardwood, there are repair options. Most brands offer color-matching touch-up kits that repairs nicks and scratches. Individual planks and tiles can be replaced as well.
Things to Consider
- Keep Laminate Clean: Laminate floors will last much longer if a cleaning regimen is maintained. Make sure to regularly sweep or vacuum dirt and other particles to avoid small scratches from forming in high-traffic areas. Laminate floors should be kept dry because sitting water can warp or swell the boards. Any sort of cleaner or protector used should be specially formulated for laminate flooring. Soap-based detergents, abrasive cleaners and scouring pads should never be used.
- Moisture Prone Rooms: Some laminates can be installed in all rooms including bathrooms and basements — as long as water does not sit on the floor for too long. Many brands incorporate water resistant features, but it's very important to look over the specific product warranty and ensure the flooring is properly installed. Vinyl and tile are generally considered more water-proof options for bathrooms.
Ceramic/Porcelain Tile Flooring
How it's made
Porcelain tile is a variety of ceramic tile made from finer, denser clay and fired at higher temperatures. This makes porcelain stronger and more water-resistant than other varieties. Glazes are added to both ceramic and porcelain tiles, making them extremely scratch-resistant.
- Long Lifespan: Ceramic tile is considered one of the most long-lasting and durable flooring options. Tile that is properly installed and maintained can last a lifetime and retain its original beauty. While the upfront material and installation cost is higher than vinyl or laminate, in the long-term it can be a more economical choice.
- Timeless Elegance and Versatility: Tile has a rich, cultural history originating in Ancient Egypt over 4,000 years ago. Modern manufacturing technologies allow for a nearly limitless amount of colors, styles, shapes and textures. Advanced glazing systems can produce highly-realistic tile planks that look like distressed and exotic wood boards or even intricate stone and brick.
- Easy Maintenance: Oftentimes tile is easily cleaned with warm water, allowing the homeowner to avoid harsh chemicals that may be found in floor cleaners. Tile is also inhospitable to dust mites, mold and bacteria.
- Fire and Water Resistant: In case of fire, ceramic tile is non-combustible and does not emit toxic fumes. Hot kitchen pans do not scorch glazed ceramic tile countertops. Certain tile installations can be virtually water-proof and can even provide better traction, making them great options for showers and swimming pools. Because of its superior water resistance, ceramic tile is suitable for exterior surfaces as well.
Things to Consider
- Grout and Repair Difficulty: Grout is prone to discoloration and can darken over time from heavy water exposure or dirt. Choosing a grout color that blends in with the tile flooring is recommended to minimize its appearance. While porcelain tile can go years with no damage, there still is the possibility of cracks and breakage. The best repair method is to replace the tiles themselves. Because manufacturers are always constantly changing product lines, it's recommended to have spare tiles available for when a problem does occur.
- Hardness: While the hardness of tile is great for durability, it does have its drawbacks. Standing for long periods of time on hard surfaces like tile can also be hard on the muscles and joints for some people. Also, injury can occur for some people who fall on tile flooring. Fragile objects like dishes or bottles break easily on tile surfaces.
- Cold Surface: Because ceramic tile does not retain heat very well, it can feel very cold on the feet. Adding rugs is one way to help with these issues. Also, installing an underfloor heating system underneath the tiles can add thermal comfort.
Luxury Vinyl Planks and Tile Flooring
What is it?
Luxury vinyl is one of the fastest growing flooring products on the market in both residential homes and in commercial settings. Luxury vinyl is often installed throughout the home as it can realistically mimic the look of wood and stone at a lower upfront cost, is highly durable and suitable for water-prone areas.
Like laminate, luxury vinyl is a multi-layered design. The three primary layers are:
- Protective Wear Layer: Made of an enhanced urethane that makes it easy to clean and scratch resistant. There is also a clear film layer that protects against rips, tears and gouges.
- Printed Design Layer: The photo replication and texture of natural materials.
- Resilient Tile Backing: The bottom layer that adds structural strength and durability.
- Realism and Design Options: Advanced 3D imaging technology allows manufacturers to transfer photographs of natural materials directly to tiles and planks. They are then embossed to match the appropriate texture they are representing. Luxury vinyl has all the trends that are seen in the hardwood and porcelain tile such as gray tones, exotic or reclaimed wood looks. Homebuyers can mix and match planks to create unique looks. Most luxury vinyl planks have beveled edges and come in a variety of board sizes. Keep in mind that the design quality, embossing, thicker wear and warranty length can command higher prices.
- Resistant and Friendly Surface: Luxury vinyl is naturally water resistant, making it an excellent choice for bathrooms, utility and mudrooms. Enhanced coatings make luxury vinyl scratch, stain, dent and scuff resistant. Luxury vinyl is a friendly surface for normal household use and pets.
- Durability: Luxury vinyl is constructed to withstand commercial wear and tear. Many businesses are choosing luxury vinyl flooring for its durability, easy maintenance and safety features. This makes luxury vinyl able to accommodate residential high-traffic areas with ease.
Things to Consider
- Upfront cost: Many people associate vinyl flooring as inexpensive, as it is in sheet form or the "peel and stick" tiles. Luxury vinyl tiles are higher in cost per square foot. While there are relatively affordable options, some of the best quality selections can be as much as standard hardwood or ceramic tile.
Want to learn more about flooring options? Here are some resources:
- World Floor Covering Association
- Consumer Reports Flooring Buying Guide
- National Wood Flooring Association
- Better Homes & Garden Floor Materials and Buying Guide