When it comes to flooring there are a multitude of materials to choose from, along with both practical and aesthetic considerations to make. Balancing the functional with the decorative, while staying within a predetermined budget can be somewhat challenging.
In this article we provide you with an overview of what’s available on the market, and list some basic features for each type of flooring so you’ll be better informed to select the style of flooring that is best suited to your lifestyle and budget.
No one type of flooring is best for the whole home. Rather, the choice of flooring for a room will depend in large part on your family lifestyle, including such considerations as family size, ages of children, presence of pets, how much traffic the different floors are likely to receive, and whether someone in the family has allergies, uses a walker, or a wheelchair. The budget you set will also have an impact on your flooring choices. Rather than thinking in terms of the upfront cost it may be helpful to look at the cost prorated over the expected life of the flooring. And, don’t forget to factor in other improvements that may need to be done, such as replacing baseboards.
In the master bedroom, spare bedroom, and bedrooms for older children, comfort and warmth may be the most important considerations, particularly as these rooms tend to get far less foot traffic than other areas of the home. Good choices are carpeting and solid wood.
In a young child’s bedroom durability is likely to be paramount. Other considerations include flooring that is resilient and non-slippery. Vinyl and laminate are good choices here as they are the least expensive floors to install, and can be easily upgraded when the children get older.
In the bathroom a flooring that can better resist intermittent high levels of humidity and spilled water from shower and tub, and isn’t overly slippery, will be more critical. Vinyl and clay tile floorings are popular choices, and both can be installed over radiant heating systems.
For entrance ways and kitchens, durability and ease of cleaning are at the top of most lists. Popular choices include clay tile and linoleum as they’re available in a wide variety of colours, patterns, and designs, and they’re easy to maintain.
The selection of flooring in living and dining rooms is often based more on aesthetic appeal. Carpeting is still a very popular choice because it’s easy to care for, muffles sound, and is high on the comfort meter. Solid and engineered wood are also excellent choices because of their classic good looks, durability, and especially for solid wood – the ability to be refinished multiple times. And, of course, wood flooring enables you to incorporate carpeting in the form of rugs and runners.
DIY or contract
You can save quite a bit on money by installing flooring yourself. Most installers charge by the square foot. If the existing flooring has to be removed, or if the subfloor needs to be repaired or replaced there will also be additional per square foot charges.
Click-lock (aka floating) flooring is, by far, the easiest and quickest to install, and, in many cases, can be placed over most existing flooring. The only power tool you’ll likely need is a table or miter saw. Various brands of engineered wood, laminate, linoleum, and vinyl are available in a click-lock format.
While solid wood flooring isn’t difficult to install (using staples or flooring cleats), the process is involved, time consuming, hard on the back and knees, and requires patience to get the job done right. You’ll need to remove the existing baseboards and reinstall or replace them later. Likely you’ll also have to do some trim work around doors, thresholds, floor registers, stairs, and fireplace, and install transitions where the hardwood flooring meets other types of flooring.
Hard floors (tile and stone) are even more arduous and time consuming to install, and unless you know what you’re getting into, don’t.
If you hire an installer do get several quotes with references. Retailers may be able to provide you with the names of reputable installer – a person whose primary work involves flooring installation – rather than a handyman who may have much more limited installation experience.
The condition of the subfloor is critical to how your new flooring feels underfoot and how long it lasts. For newer homes this isn’t likely to be an issue. But, for older homes (pre 1960’s) you’ll want to ensure that the subfloors are structurally sound and free of excessive vertical movement or deflection. They also need to be smooth, level, dry, and free of debris. An uneven or rough subfloor is not only likely to telegraph through the new flooring but also result in excessive wear on high spots.
Most types of flooring require an underlayment (padding in the case of carpeting), which goes between the subfloor and the finished flooring. This is especially important for laminate, vinyl, and linoleum flooring, which can be fairly thin.
Underlay provides some shock absorption, impact resistance, protection form substrate water vapour (especially when the flooring is placed over concrete), and helps to reduce sound transmission. Some underlays include a moisture or vapour barrier. Not all flooring uses the same type of underlay. Tile floors, for example, might use a cement board or polyethylene membrane underlay, while laminate flooring use foam, cork, or felt underlays. Make sure you use the underlay recommended by the manufacturer. In all cases, a premium underlay is better value, considering how long those floors will likely be in place.
What’s on top?
We’ve listed eight of the most popular, and widely available floor coverings. Once you’ve narrowed your selection down to one of two of these categories, you’ll want to do more detailed research. Take a look at what’s available on manufacturers websites, and visit local flooring retailers to see the products up close. However, the way a product looks in a retail store isn’t necessarily the way it’s going to look in your home. Fortunately, a lot of retailers will let you take home samples. Don’t rush to buy – Canada is, after all, a world leader when it comes to ‘specials’, ‘sales’, and ‘hot deals’.
We’ve avoided some of the more esoteric flooring – concrete, brick, steel, cork, bamboo – because of limited market availability, high cost, or difficulty in finding experienced installers. There are some flooring options, such as DuraCeramic, that don’t fit exactly into the categories below. This Congoleum product is made from limestone composite fortified with a polymeric resin and needs to be sealed. It’s more flexible than ceramic tile, so easier to stand on for longer periods of time, but it’s more prone to denting and chipping. It can be installed over concrete and other types of flooring. There is also a newer variant of polyester carpeting called Triexta (aka Sorona) that is considered more resilient and softer than conventional polyester, but not as lustrous.
One of the most popular floor coverings because of its warmth and comfort underfoot. Available in a myriad of colours, styles, and textures in both natural and synthetic fibers including wool, nylon, polyester, and polypropylene (aka Olefin). There are a wide variety of styles including berber, saxony , wilton, friese, and cut and loop. Underlay recommended.
Pros: Soft under foot; helps reduce noise transmission between floors; safer than other flooring against falls; low-VOC emission.
Cons: Requires more maintenance than other flooring options; difficult, if not impossible to repair;
Sources: BeaulieuFlooring.com, DWCarpet.com, KrausFlooring.com, ShawFloors.com, StainMaster.com
A traditional flooring that exudes character, charm, and warmth. Harder woods are a much better choice than softer woods. Available pre-finished, which offers better durability than finishes applied on-site. Lasts a lifetime as it can be refinished many times. Unlike engineered wood flooring it has to be nailed down.
Pros: Wide range of species and colours; reasonably easy to repair; can be refinished; hypoallergenic.
Cons: Can show wear quickly on high traffic areas; susceptible to moisture and denting; time consuming to install and refinish.
Sources: ArmstrongFlooring.com, LauzonFlooring.com, Mercier-Wood-Flooring.com, MirageFloors.com, Pergo.com, Preverco.com
Essentially a thin layer of solid wood bonded to one or more layers of structural plywood. Just as many choices as with solid wood. Varies in quality and thickness. Can consist of as few as two layers. Look for a thick wear layer. Economy brands made overseas can contain formaldehyde. Installation options include nailing, stapling, gluing, click-lock (floating). Underlayment recommended. Some can be installed over radiant heating systems.
Pros: Quick and easy to install; some can be installed on concrete; pre-finished; about as durable as solid wood but more dimensionally stable.
Cons: Some can’t be refinished, most only once; as with solid wood can dent.
Sources: ArmstrongFlooring.com, LaurentianHardwood.ca, Preverco.com, Mercier-Wood-Flooring.com, MirageFloors.com, LauzonFlooring.com
Also known as Resilient flooring. Made of bonded layers of urethane, vinyl, and fibreglass, with a photographic paper layer. Available in squares, planks, and sheets in a wide variety of colours, patterns, and textures. Installation options include loose lay, peel and stick, click-lock, full gluing, perimeter gluing. Underlayment recommended. Some brands can be very thin, transmitting any imperfections in the subfloor. Can be installed over embedded radiant heating systems.
Pros: Easy to install; durable; moisture resistant particularly in sheet form; soft under foot; easy to maintain.
Cons: Difficult to repair especially for sheets; seams may show; can be slippery when wet (some come with an antislip coating); colours can fade; can contain VOCs; not biodegradable.
Sources: ArmstrongFlooring.com, Congoleum.com, KrausFlooring.com, Mannington.com
Very large choice of colours and patterns that mimic wood and granite. Less aesthetically pleasing than engineered flooring. Consists of multiple built-up layers of plastic, high-density fiberboard, and a photographic paper layer under a clear plastic topcoat. Available in squares, and narrow and wide planks usually installed as a click-lock (floating) floor, in some situations glued. Underlayment recommended. Can be installed over most other flooring. Not for use in bathrooms, laundry rooms, and basements.
Pros: Quick and easy to install; colours don’t fade; very durable; reasonably easy to repair; easy to maintain.
Cons: Can’t be refinished; susceptible to moisture; hard and unyielding underfoot; can contain formaldehyde though generally VOC-free.
Sources: ArmstrongFlooring.com, KrausFlooring.com, Mannington.com, MonoSerra.com, Pergo.com, TORLYS.com
Made primarily from natural materials including linseed oil, wood products, and limestone. Comes in sheets and tiles of various sizes in a wide variety of colours and patterns. Installation options include gluing and click-lock.
Underlayment recommended. Some brands can be very thin, transmitting any imperfections in the subfloor. It’s hypo-allergenic, doesn’t off-gas, and is recyclable. Less moisture resistant than vinyl.
Pros: Very durable; antistatic; hypoallergenic; good stain resistance; soft under foot; easy to maintain.
Cons: Difficult to repair; somewhat easy to scratch; cannot be refinished; seams may show; requires regular resealing.
Sources: ArmstrongFlooring.com, Forbo.com
Available in a wide variety of colours, designs, and shapes. Comes in two formats: porcelain and nonporcelain (usually referred to as ‘ceramic’ tiles). Available in matte, unglazed, or glazed finish. Porcelain is denser and harder, impervious to moisture, and stain resistant. However porcelain is more brittle, making it somewhat prone to breakage when cutting. Glazed ceramic is also moisture and stain resistant, but more prone to wear and chipping than porcelain. Unglazed tiles and grouting require sealing. Brand quality varies and some tiles chip and break more easily.
Pros: Durable; stain, scratch, and moisture resistant; hypoallergenic; very easy to maintain; appearance won’t fade over time.
Cons: Time consuming to install; more easily chipped or broken if heavy objects dropped on; grout can stain; hard and unyielding underfoot; can be cold and slippery.
Sources: ArmstrongFlooring.com, Ceratec.com, Eurotile.ca, Savoia.com
Includes granite, marble, travertine, sandstone, and limestone. Provides the most distinctive and classic appearance as each piece has its own colouring and veining. Not all pieces will be of a uniform thickness. Can be installed over radiant heating systems.
Pros: Very durable; moisture resistant; appearance won’t fade over time; hypoallergenic.
Cons: Time consuming to install; must be periodically resealed; more easily chipped or broken if heavy objects dropped on; grout can stain; hard and unyielding underfoot; can be cold and slippery; somewhat higher maintenance needed than other flooring.
Sources: AderaStone.com, Centura.ca, Nufloors.ca
Wool: Soft, durable, resilient, and luxurious. Can last a lifetime if properly maintained – which means a professional carpet cleaner experienced in cleaning wool carpets. Stains easily but sensitive to bleach. The most expensive of all fibers.
Nylon: Available in a wide range of styles and colours. Very resilient, durable, resistant to stains (but not bleach), wears well, cleans easily. The most expensive synthetic fiber.
Polypropylene (PP): Also referred to as Olefin. A lightweight fiber with good resistance to abrasion, waterborne stains, and mildew. The least expensive fiber. Oily stains difficult to remove. Less resilient and heat tolerant than other fibers.
Polyester (PET): Resistant to bleaching, waterborne stains, fading, soil dye reactions. Dries quickly. Oily stains difficult to remove.