Which type of flooring is right for you? These days, with all the options flooding the market, you might find yourself overwhelmed deciding what fits your budget, lifestyle, and taste. But don’t worry, you’re in vast and good company, and we’ve created this guide to help all homeowners decipher between the endless choices and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each type!
For decades, hardwood has been the go-to flooring choice because it looks great in just about any room with any type of decor! Its classy, timeless design lasts an extremely long time and adds immense value to your home—you can expect up to an 80% ROI if you add hardwood floors to your home. However, while wood is a renewable resource, it isn’t always harvested in sustainable ways. Look for flooring certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or the SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) to ensure your wood floors come from sustainably managed forests. The biggest downside of solid hardwood floors is that it doesn’t stand up well to rough handling, and beware, it can warp if it’s exposed to moisture for a long time, making it a bad choice for bathrooms or laundry rooms. In addition, wood shrinks and swells due to temperature changes, and since it’s vulnerable to scratches and dents, you need to refinish them once every 10 years. Despite this, it’s easy to maintain, but will do best in low traffic areas. Expect to pay anywhere from $3-$14 per square foot, making hardwood the most expensive and luxurious flooring type on our list.
Engineered wood looks just like hardwood but with a veneer of natural wood on top, showing the grain, with layers of less expensive plywood underneath. This gives you the solid hardwood look at a marginally lower cost, allowing you the opportunity to afford a much more luxurious wood type (like Brazillian, tigerwood, etc.) on your budget! It’s also more stable than solid wood and less sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, making it a reasonable choice for a basement room. However, it’s less durable than hardwood over the long run because it can typically only be refinished once. After that, you risk wearing through the veneer to the plywood underneath.
Bamboo is a fast-growing grass that looks and feels like hardwood. It’s become popular recently as an eco-friendly alternative to wood flooring, but experts caution that it isn’t always a greener choice. Most bamboo planks are made in and shipped from Asia, which adds to their carbon footprint. Also, many bamboo farmers rely heavily on fertilizers and pesticides that harm the environment. Some bamboo flooring manufacturers also use glues high in harmful formaldehyde! So, be sure to talk to the manufacturer about the flooring’s origin and production before you decide to bring bamboo into your home. It also varies in durability—the darker colors tend to be vulnerable because the process used to color it weakens its fibers. However, all varieties are vulnerable to scratches and dents, just like wood flooring. And while bamboo stands up to moisture better than wood, it can swell or crack in humid climates. Expect to pay a cheap $1 per square foot for bamboo flooring!
Laminate flooring is constructed much like engineered wood—with a thin veneer over layers of plywood. However, the top layer is not wood but a photograph under a clear plastic coating. This means it can mimic just about any type of floor (stone, wood, tile, etc.) for much less money! It is also a hard material that resists scratches, dents, and stains, cleans up easily, and requires little maintenance. The downside is that laminate can be very slippery when wet, and it doesn’t hold up well in moist environments, such as a damp basement. And unlike real wood, laminate can’t be refinished when it wears out, only replaced, making it a less cost-effective choice than wood over the long term. Laminate seldom costs more than $2 per square foot and often costs less than $1.
Vinyl is a flexible material made from a layer of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic over a felt layer. It tends to feel a bit softer underfoot than rigid wood, and some types even have a layer of foam as well, making it very comfortable to walk on. Thicker vinyl flooring can even have a textured surface to make it look just like wood! Amazingly, vinyl can last up to 20 years and is inexpensive, coming in at about $0.05-$5 per square foot. However, it’s still vulnerable to scratching and gouging, and once it’s worn out, you have to replace it altogether. One of the biggest complaints about vinyl is that it’s not eco-friendly. Because it’s made from PVC, a petroleum product, it’s not a renewable resource. Some types of vinyl flooring even emit high levels of harmful volatile organic chemicals (VOCs)! To find low-VOC flooring, look for products with the FloorScore label.
Linoleum has been around since the 1880s and is made from natural, biodegradable, and renewable materials, including cork powder and linseed oil. For decades, it mostly disappeared from homes as vinyl became more popular, but concerns about vinyl flooring chemicals have revived interest in this old-fashioned alternative. Linoleum flooring is even more durable than vinyl—it can last up to 40 years with proper care! It’s easy to clean, and it doesn’t show scratches as much as vinyl since the pigment runs all the way through the material. Although linoleum stands up to everyday wear, it’s vulnerable to denting from high heels and tears from sharp objects. It’s not as water-resistant as vinyl and can darken or turn yellowish in rooms that get a lot of sunlight. Expect to pay $2-$5 per square foot for Linoleum.
Cork is made from the bark of a particular type of tree, which you can harvest every eight to 10 years without killing it, making cork a sustainable material. Often, it actually uses up leftover material from wine cork production that would otherwise go to waste. To make cork flooring, the bark is boiled, ground up, compressed into sheets with a resin binder, and baked in a kiln. It’s naturally resistant to mildew, mold, termites, and fire, and it can last 40 years or more with proper maintenance. Many people praise cork for its warm, quiet, and soft underfoot and slip-resistance. Although some cork flooring comes prefinished, it still needs to be resealed every 2 to three 3 to protect it from stains and water damage, and it will cost you about $3-$12 per square foot.