Flooring
Buying Guide

Picture of a clean expanse of flooring.
Flooring Buying Guide

Where We Stand on Flooring

Your home is your castle. But this isn’t the Middle Ages, so your palace is going to need flooring. Hardwood, laminate, vinyl or tile: With so many choices, where do you start?

Installing a new floor is a big-ticket home improvement, so budget is certain to factor into your decision. But you should also consider how much foot traffic, sunlight, and wear and tear your flooring will endure.

For example, some engineered woods, along with a few solid-wood types of flooring, aren’t as resistant to moisture as vinyl or laminate flooring—a serious drawback in a bathroom or busy kitchen. Ceramic tile would be a better choice for durability, but it can be expensive and requires labor-intensive installation.

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Types of Flooring

Most flooring falls into one of the following six types. The type of flooring you choose will depend on your needs, budget—not to mention your personal style and aesthetic.

Picture of solid wood flooring.

Solid Wood Flooring

Pros: Wood has a natural warmth, impressive wear resistance, and can be sanded and refinished several times. Pre-finished floors can hold up better than those finished on site, and their warranty comes from the factory, not the installer.

Cons:
Solid wood may expand and contract with varying humidity levels and can dent easily. Some can show wear quickly and become discolored from sunlight. Note: Unfinished flooring costs less than pre-finished, but higher installation costs can offset savings. Wood flooring is not a good choice for basements and other damp spaces.

Installed cost: $5 to $10 per square foot.

See Our Flooring Ratings for More on Solid Wood
Picture of flooring that is engineered wood.

Engineered Wood Flooring

Pros: This flooring uses a thin veneer of real wood or bamboo over structural plywood, making it a cost-effective choice.

Cons: Most engineered wood doesn't wear as well as solid wood or laminate. It also dents easily. Most can be carefully refinished once, but the veneer on some may be too thin for even one refinish.

Installed cost: $4 to $9 per square foot.

For More on Engineered Wood Check Our Flooring Ratings
Picture of laminate flooring.

Laminate Flooring

Pros: Constructed of dense fiberboard with a photo beneath a clear-plastic protective layer, laminate can mimic nearly anything.

Some brands use real cork beneath the clear layer. The best laminates resist scratching and discoloration from sunlight better than most wood products.

Cons: The repetitive pattern can compromise realism. In terms of durability, you might be able to touch up minor flaws, but you'll have to replace the flooring once its outer layer has worn through.

Installed cost: $3 to $7 per square foot.

Read Our Flooring Ratings to Find the Best Laminate
Picture of vinyl flooring.

Vinyl Flooring

Pros: Especially good at fending off wear, dents, scratches, discoloration from sunlight, and stains. Easy installation, particularly for tiles or planks, and more color and design choices are available these days.

Cons: While the premium brands can mimic the look of stone, tile, and even oak, even the best products still look like vinyl up close. Top-of-the-line vinyl can cost as much or more than the best solid-wood and laminate floors.

Installed cost: $2 to $6 per square foot.

See Our Flooring Ratings for More on Vinyl
A picture of linoleum flooring.

Linoleum Flooring

Pros: Made of linseed oil and wood products, linoleum is a natural, resilient material. Today's products offer far more styles and colors. Linoleum tends to fend off discoloration from sunlight.

Cons: Resistance to wear, scratches, and dents varies widely from product to product. Linoleum can also be relatively expensive.

Installed cost: $4 to $8 per square foot.

For the Top Linoleum Options Check Our Flooring Ratings
Picture of ceramic tile flooring.

Ceramic Tile Flooring

Pros: This classic material tends to resist wear, moisture, scratches, dents, and stains.

Cons: Tiles can crack and some grout can stain. Dropped cups and dishes break more easily. Tile is also relatively expensive and hard to install. While some can now be floated without the usual cement and grout, that makes replacing cracked tiles more of a challenge.

Installed cost: $8 to $15 per square foot; $5 to $8 for products that can float.

Visit Our Flooring Ratings for More Details on Ceramic Tile Flooring
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Flooring Checklist

Sampling is Smart. Before you buy, bring home samples of your top flooring choices. Compare them side-by-side where they're going to be installed.

Compare for Consistency. Manufacturers try to match solid- and engineered-wood flooring for color and grain. But variations can occur from one batch to the next, so buy all the flooring you'll need at one time. On the flip side, laminate floorboards within a given package often have a similar pattern. To reduce repetition, pull boards from multiple packages when installing.

Measuring Avoids Mistakes. To determine how much flooring you'll need, measure the room's square footage by multiplying its length times its width. (Divide an irregularly shaped room into smaller rectangles, calculate the square footage of each rectangle, and then add them together.) Then buy 7 to 10 percent extra to allow for mistakes, bad samples, and waste. Consider buying an extra box of flooring for future repairs or additions.

Know Your Traffic Patterns. Common high-traffic areas are entryways to rooms and to the house itself. If you have pets or kids, the family room can also be a busy place. Our top products performed best in simulated foot-traffic tests. For less-busy areas, consider one of the top-engineered wood or bamboo floors, for their natural veneer and easy installation.

Preparing to Install Flooring. Before installing wood or laminate flooring, unpack it and let it sit for one to three days in the space where it will be installed so that its temperature and moisture become acclimated to the levels in the room.

Check for Certification. Vinyl floors with the industry's FloorScore certification (pictured below) emit relatively low levels of volatile organic compounds—substances linked to health problems and pollution. For wood flooring, certification by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative offers some assurance that your flooring comes from responsibly managed forests—a plus for the planet. Check packaging for product and manufacturer certification.

Ways to Save

• Check prices with overstock discounters. They buy directly from manufacturers, and often sell flooring below list price.

• You can often save on opened or damaged boxes or on flooring with minor flaws that you can install where it won't be noticed.

• Hiring a pro to do the installation? Trim hundreds of dollars off the job by doing the prep work yourself.

For more helpful information see our Flooring Ratings.

Pciture of stacks of flooring with the green and white FloorScore certification logo on each bundle of flooring.
FloorScore certification logo: FSC trademarks provide a guarantee to consumers that the products they buy come from responsible sources.
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Armstrong manufactures flooring under the well-recognized brand names Armstrong and Bruce, and the specialty brand Robbins. Armstrong is also the brand leader in vinyl-sheet and vinyl-tile flooring, dominating the category with more than 40 percent of sales. The Armstrong brand includes wood and laminate, a line of linoleum flooring, and ceramic tile. Bruce focuses on providing value and ease of installation with its Lock & Fold line of wood flooring. The high-end luxury Robbins line is sold in specialty flooring stores and through special order at select home centers. Armstrong has also introduced floating engineered-wood flooring across all its brands.
Mannington manufacturers products in every flooring category. It is among the top three leading vinyl-flooring brands and has a foothold in wood, laminate, and porcelain tile. A recent innovation is the Adura Luxury line of premium vinyl tile and planks, which mimic the look of hardwood and ceramic tile. Mannington is available only through specialty flooring stores.
This leading carpet manufacturer crossed over to hard-surface flooring through acquisitions and partnerships and now offers wood, laminate, and vinyl flooring. Mohawk sells stone flooring under the American Olean brand and laminate flooring under the Quick-Step brand. Its Dal-Tile brand accounts for half of all ceramic-tile category sales. In vinyl, Mohawk distributes the Congoleum brand through its vast dealer network. Mohawk flooring is sold through home centers and specialty floor stores.
This leading carpet manufacturer now offers wood, laminate, and ceramic-tile flooring; it recently expanded its presence in wood through the acquisition of Anderson Flooring. Shaw is available through home-center chains and specialty flooring stores and has its own retail programs—Shaw Design Center and Shaw Flooring Alliance—that offer local dealers expanded product lines, display assistance, and training.
Originally a European manufacturer of linoleum, Tarkett is now among the largest flooring manufacturers worldwide. Tarkett offers wood, laminate, and vinyl flooring under its own brand, along with luxury vinyl tile from Nafco. Tarkett also makes FiberFloor, a water-resistant flooring that combines the qualities of carpet and vinyl. Tarkett is available through home centers and specialty flooring retailers.
Other brands to consider include: Bruce, Millican, Anderson, Forbo, and Kentwood.