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Picking the Perfect Floor

When choosing a new floor for your home, asking yourself a few key questions at the beginning can dramatically increase your satisfaction in the end.

Choosing the right flooring for a particular room in your home may seem like a daunting decision. It's a process that combines your personal taste with careful thinking about practicality. After all, it's a surface you, your family and friends will walk, stand and sit on, your kids will spill, play and grow up on. But asking yourself a few key questions at the beginning of the process should help reduce your worry, ease your choice and increase your long-term satisfaction with your new floor.

Questions on the Floor

What's the size of the family that will regularly use the room, and how much traffic will the floor receive? Children definitely make a difference. Any pets? Will the floor be exposed to moisture regularly? How often is the floor likely to need cleaning? How long do you hope and expect your new floor to last?


For kitchen flooring, durability and ease of cleaning are top criteria. Good choices are linoleum, ceramic tile--both very common--and wood. Linoleum is inexpensive and provides an easy-to-clean surface and comes in countless designs. Ceramic tiles are even better. Also easy to maintain and available in a huge range, they offer superior durability, resisting most dents, dings and scratches. There are a couple of things to bear in mind about tiles, however. One is that if installed over a floor that has structural movement, ceramic tiles are prone to crack. So if your house is very old, it's probably a good idea to replace your subfloor while you're at it. A second point that's worth thinking about, particularly if your family includes children or anyone with special safety needs, is that smooth tiles can be very slippery when they get wet, so you may want to consider ones with a textured surface.

Then there's wood. While some feel it's an unusual choice now that there are so many different flooring options, I personally think hardwood is an excellent choice for the kitchen. Everybody ends up spending a lot of time there, and wood floors can add a great deal of "homeyness" to the kitchen. At the same time, wood is also good at coping with the high traffic volume. One important reminder: When installing wood flooring in a kitchen, do make sure you apply a good protective finish, such as a polyurethane, to guard against the many kinds of moisture that inevitably make their way onto the kitchen floor.


Even more so than kitchens, bathrooms obviously see a lot of moisture. Linoleum, ceramic tile, limestone, marble and granite are all popular and functional flooring choices, coming with a range of different price tags and requiring various levels of expertise to install. Working with ceramic or even vinyl tiles is relatively easy, and many homeowners should be able to successfully do it themselves. Ceramic tiles look great and provide superb durability, but they aren't cheap. And if you should elect to go with an even more challenging and higher-end material such as marble--as Rob Thompson did in his master bath during the recent West Palm Beach renovation--you're going to need to hire professionals.

Living Areas

Flooring for the rest of your home's living space really comes down to a matter of personal choice. Some people like tile in their living areas, some wood, others carpet, perhaps all three. Tile offers a nearly unlimited variety of patterns and styles, from the simple to the exotic, which make it possible for tiles to give a room a very creative or exotic feel. On the other hand, tiles can feel cold and hard underfoot, so they may not be the best choice if you're looking for something a bit more cozy. Wood flooring has a natural beauty and elegance, feels warmer and is easier on your feet and back. It is stain-resistant, easy-to-clean and offers long-term versatility because it can be sanded and refinished. You have a number of options when it comes to both hard and soft flooring woods. Oak is the most popular, while maple, birch, and pine are also widely used. These woods all come in a few different quality grades, which allows some control over both the cost and appearance of wood floors, ranging from boards with plenty of irregularities ("character marks") right up to boards that are almost totally uniform--with prices to match. Another choice that will affect your floor's overall look is the actual width of the boards. The term strip flooring refers to the narrower cuts of woods, usually about 2 3/4 inches in width or less, while plank flooring refers to wider boards, up to about 7 inches. Keep in mind that one place to avoid wood flooring is below ground, where constant humidity can cause you some problems. If you want the look of wood floors in a finished basement, for instance, you're better off with a wood laminate. This material is made with a multi-ply core layered over with hardwood, which resists expansion and contraction much better than solid wood. And finally, there's carpet. In terms of sheer warmth and intimacy, carpet is probably tops. It's especially great for bedrooms and anywhere you may like to spend a lot of time barefoot. Carpet also provides a certain amount of sound-proofing, as well as some insulation. So it's a good choice for rooms that have no heat below them, such as over a garage. Carpet is available in a wide array of styles, piles and costs. Whether your preference is for classic wool or resilient nylon, just do your homework beforehand. And remember that the quality and thickness of the pad you use underneath is nearly equal in importance to the carpet itself in determining what its life span will be in your home. Choosing a floor is a big decision, but it doesn't have to be overly stressful. Plan ahead, asking yourself all the important questions beforehand, including who will use the room, what atmosphere you hope to create, how much effort you want to expend installing and maintaining it, and of course, what you're willing to spend. Having done that, you'll be well on your way to picking the perfect floor.