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Basic Flooring Options

Basic Flooring Options
Discover the pros and cons of flooring.
How do you decide what kind of flooring to put down and how much to invest? Here are the pros and cons for basic types.
Laminate Flooring
Laminate flooring, the least expensive option, is not made with real hardwood but has the look and feel of traditional wood flooring. It is digitally printed to replicate the look and finish of a real hardwood floor but has a stronger-than-wood finish made with factory applied layers of aluminum oxide. Laminate is very resistant to scratches and is your most affordable option. Some laminate floors are warrantied for up to 30 years. The disadvantage with laminate is that it cannot get wet. It is therefore unsuitable for use in the kitchen or the bathroom. Cleaning should be done using dry methods and it is important to keep dirt from building up on the floor as it can get ground in, which might cause scratches in high traffic areas.

Engineered Flooring
Engineered hardwood flooring also called Composite Flooring features a top layer of hardwood flooring laminated over layers of compressed and glued wood fibers. Engineered hardwood has several advantages over solid wood floors. One advantage is that the layers are assembled and glued in a perpendicular manner or cross-laminated. This creates strong boards that are more stable in each direction than solid wood boards. This can be important in areas that experience a wide range of temperature and humidity. An engineered floor can be  glued down, nailed down or can float over concrete, tile or older flooring. The floating feature allows for installations in basements and over radiant heat systems where solid wood floors cannot be installed as they cannot be nailed down. Engineered  floors come with a hardwood top layer that varies from approximately 1/32” to ¼” thick.  The floors with ¼ inch thick veneers can be sanded and refinished from five to seven times over the life of the flooring.  

Floating Floors
Floating floors can be installed over a wide range of surfaces. After the boards are clicked or glued together the floating floor moves as a single unit. This allows for expansion and contraction. A space is left around the perimeter that allows the floor to move. This space is usually hidden by baseboard or quarter round moulding. Floating floors should always be installed with an underlayment pad.  An underlayment pad controls both sound and moisture and cushions the floor as well. In some cases, floating floors have also been known to creak. This tends to happen in old houses or in houses where the subfloor is out of level. In new construction with a solid subfloor this should not be a problem. Further, the underlayment pad helps control sound with a ¼” cork layer offering the greatest sound control. When installing a floating floor over concrete, make sure your concrete slab has a moisture content that does not exceed 4%.

Solid Hardwood Floors
Solid wood floors are available from 5/16” to ¾” thick. Boards come milled in a tongue and groove pattern and vary from a standard 2 ¼” wide up to six or more inches wide. The wider boards are called plank floors
Boards are available finished or unfinished and are available in a wide range of American species from white and red oak to maple, elm, ash and many other species. Exotic hardwood boards are also available from a wide range of sources. These include mahogany, teak, Austrailian cypress, rosewood, Brazilian cherry and others. Solid hardwood floors offer the advantage of having more wood available for future sanding and finishing. Hardwood floors add strength to a flooring system and last a very long time. Solid wood flooring comes in a range of grades or qualities from Clear to Common. The higher grades have more uniformity of appearance and the longest board lengths. Make sure your wood comes for a high quality mill that will select the best boards that are most consistent in quality. The hardwood flooring in the living room shown at the top of this post is from Plan 891-1 by architect Cathy Schwabe.
It is important to make sure boards come from a Certified Sustainable Grower. This assures that the trees are being harvested and regrown rather than cut once and never replanted.

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