To make the right choice for your home and your lifestyle, let's examine the good and the bad about the different types of flooring available:
The best thing about hardwood floors are how versatile they are. They look great in both traditional and contemporary interiors, can be stained an infinite number of colors and offer a timeless beauty to your floors. They are easy on your feet and are a great option for allergy sufferers. The downside to hardwood floors is that they require a lot of maintenance. You have to be committed to sweeping the floor daily so that the small pieces of dirt or gravel don't scratch and damage the finish. They are also susceptible to water damage.
The most common types of wood floors are oak and cherry, but you also can get flooring out of chestnut, walnut, mahogany, pine, and even some exotic woods from around the globe. Wood floors are available in planks of varying widths and in parquet. Generally, the wider the plank, the higher the cost per square foot, as they need to use older trees to get the wider boards. For those interested in being "green," look for reclaimed wood floors that have been pulled from older buildings before they were renovated or torn down.
Hardwood floors are great for use just about anywhere. They add elegance to living and dining rooms, coziness to family rooms and kitchens, and are healthier for allergy sufferers in the bedroom. I would not recommend hardwoods for full bathrooms because the risk of water damage is high, but it should be OK in a powder room.
Prices range from $4 to $20 per square foot.
The best thing about stone is how luxurious it looks while still being durable. There is a reason it has been used for thousands of years in Europe, it's also stain resistant, scratch-proof, moisture resistant and easy to clean. The downside to stone flooring is it is very expensive. Adding to the cost of the stone is the added expense of radiant heaters, which are often installed beneath the stone to make them warmer to walk on.
Stone comes in a wide range of colors and materials, such as marble, granite, limestone, sandstone, and slate. Stone tiles can be purchased polished, but polished stone can be very slippery and dangerous in wet areas. Other finishes that offer more texture and less slippage are: honed, flamed, semi-rough and sandblasted. Its versatility allows you to coordinate your flooring with your backsplashes in the kitchen and with your shower and tub surrounds in the bathroom.
Prices range from $15 to $30 per square foot.
The best thing about bamboo flooring is that it is a highly sustainable product, due to its rapid growth cycle. It has the same design versatility as hardwood -- suitable for both traditional and modern interiors. When it is manufactured properly it can be harder than oak. The downside to bamboo flooring is that, much like hardwood, it needs daily cleaning to maintain the finish. Bamboo flooring also has a reputation being easily scratched and stained, and showing indentations from furniture. Bamboo flooring is laminated together into strips, planks and tiles of varying sizes. It is available in many colors, but if you select bamboo that has been stained a dark color, be prepared for fading in bright sunlight.
Bamboo should be relegated to rooms without a lot of traffic and where there isn't risk for moisture. While it is popular to install in kitchens now, be sure you are comfortable with it having a "distressed" finish due to the high traffic and presence of water.
Prices range from $5 to $10 per square foot.
The best things about cork flooring is its rich, organic look and its soft and comfortable feel underfoot. It has great sound-absorbing and insulating properties, and is also non-allergenic. The downside to cork flooring is that it is susceptible to indentations from furniture, and can also get gouged. It is easy to stain, particularly if spills are not cleaned up quickly. Cork is available in tiles and planks.
Cork would be a great floor for dens and children's playrooms since it is so cushioned and comfortable. If you spend a lot of time in your kitchen it would be easy on your feet, but react quickly when spills occur.
Prices range from $4 to $10 per square foot.
The best thing about vinyl is its affordability. It is incredibly versatile and can mimic tile, stone, or wood floors. It is very low maintenance, is water and stain resistant and easy to install. The downside to vinyl flooring is that it can dent or tear, and seams may lift if it isn't installed properly. Even though it has many great qualities, it is not a popular flooring if resale is on your mind. Vinyl floors can come in solid vinyl tiles and strips or fabric-backed sheets.
Vinyl floors are great for rooms with high moisture, such as kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms.
Prices range from $1 to $6 per square foot.
The best thing about a carpet is how soft it is underfoot. It makes rooms feel cozy, warm and quiet. The downside to carpeting is that it not good for areas with high moisture or for allergy sufferers. Carpeting comes in a wide range of colors, patterns, and textures. It can be made from nylon, polyester, olefin, wool, silk, rayon, cotton and acrylic. Make sure your carpet has stain resistant fibers built in.
For those interested in being "green" look for carpets made from recycled soda bottles, tires or old carpet. Carpeting is available in area rugs, tiles or wall-to-wall. Carpeting is best in bedrooms, living rooms, family rooms, finished basements and media rooms.
Prices range from $1 to $15 per square foot.
Laminate flooring's best qualities are its affordability and low maintenance. It's scratch resistant, which makes it the perfect floor for people with pets. It can also be an easy do-it-yourself project. The downside to laminate flooring is that if it gets damaged it has to be replaced. There is no way to repair it. Laminates are available to look like any type of wood, stone or tile. They can be purchased in strips, planks, or tiles.
Laminate floors are best for high traffic areas such as foyers, hallways, family rooms, kitchens and homes with children or pets.
Prices range from $2 to $7 per square foot.
The best thing about tile is its versatility. It comes in a wide variety of sizes, styles, colors, patterns and textures. It is both water and stain resistant when it is glazed. The downside to tile flooring is it is cold and hard on the feet. Tile can crack or chip easily, and the grout can get dirty and be difficult to maintain.
Tile comes in both ceramic and porcelain. If you are using tile outdoors, you need to select porcelain, as ceramic will not withstand the elements. Tiles are available as small as 1/4-inch mosaic sizes to as large as 3-by-3-foot floor tiles. It is best for use in entryways, bathrooms, kitchens and pool houses. Prices range from $1 to $20 per square foot.
No matter which type of flooring you choose, proper installation is crucial to the lifespan of your floors. If you are tackling it as a DIYer, be thorough and precise in your prep work or the end result will be unsatisfactory. Shoddy installation can lead to buckling floors, cracked stones, moldy cork or bamboo, peeling vinyl, warped laminate, or broken tiles. Wall-to-wall carpeting should always be installed by professionals, over the highest grade pad that you can afford, so you are sure it is fitted and stretched properly to prevent breakdown of the backing. Make sure you do it right the first time, so you will have many years of enjoyment ahead.
Barbara Green is The Design Diva and owner of One of a Kind Interiors. She creates one-of-a-kind interiors that reflect your taste, lifestyle and budget. Follow on her Twitter.