Randy Sweitzer illustration
Story by Jim Kemp
Flooring is one of those crucial design elements that determines how your new timber frame house will look and function. But, we may not give it serious thought until it’s too latewhen someone slips in the bathroom or permanently stains the bedroom carpeting.
Fortunately, home owners can choose appropriate and attractive flooring from an array of stylish options. Some of them are the result of new technologies unheard of only a few years ago. Others are tried-and-true standbys. But even some of these have been updated via new manufacturing techniques that yield lovely, durable and easy-to-care-for flooring options.
Take, for example, a historic favorite: wood. Its popularity is easy to understand. Wood flooring imbues a warm feeling that is synonymous with “home.” And, it lasts a long time.
Only a few decades ago, however, wood floors required periodic hand-waxing. That’s not the case today. The engineered wood flooring now available to home owners is pre-stained with a long-lasting protective finish that eliminates time-consuming scrubbing and waxing.
Some timber frame owners prefer old flooring materials reclaimed from buildings that are slated to be demolished. They are the perfect complement to salvaged kitchen cabinets and doors, immediately offering a new house the charm of an antique. Period wooden flooring also can be made hassle-free by applying a coat of shellac or polyurethane. The result is wood floors that require only occasional damp mopping to look their best.
Strip oak flooring often has been the first choice among home owners because, as a hardwood, it can stand up to daily use. Other hardwoodsmaple, hickory and cherry, in particularhave become extremely desirable in recent years.
Whereas hardwoods come from deciduous, leaf-losing trees, softwoods result from harvesting various species of evergreens. Pine is currently enjoying home owner acceptance. Softwoods create a rustic atmosphere appropriate for a casual decorating scheme.
Pre-finished, engineered flooring costs approximately $4 to $5 per square foot, plus installation. To reduce expenses, some home owners install this type of flooring themselves. Recycled flooring is priced on a case-by-case basis. The reason? It varies considerably, depending on the availability of the wood, the species and the cost of salvaging floorboards from old structures.
Stone has been used as flooring since ancient times, but never has it been a more convenient choice than it is today. Popular for floors from the foyer to the family room, stone flooring will last as long as the house, if not longer.
The current trend is toward marble, granite, slate and limestone. Polished marble and granite create an air of formality that probably isn’t the atmosphere you want in an inherently casual family room, but it may be entirely appropriate for a foyer. Slate, which creates an informal mood, may be just the right choice for the casually decorated timber frame house. Limestone is a particularly popular choice these days, especially for the kitchen.
For safety, many designers urge home owners to stay away from flooring composed of polished stone. They often recommend a rougher finish achieved by honing or tumbling. Honing is the process of grinding the stone flat but not polishing it. A tumbled finish is exactly what it sounds like: The stone has been tossed in a huge container to crack off sharp edges and scruff up the material. Picture pieces of stone being tossed around in an industrial-strength clothes dryer.
Other slip-resistant finishes also are available. For instance, sandblasting stone yields a textured finish, as does searing it with a torch. Slate offers a naturally textured finish in that it can be split into layers.
Though long-lasting, stone isn’t cheap. The material runs $15 to $30 per square foot. A professional mason may charge triple that amount to install it. To keep the material looking its best, the experts recommend resealing a stone floor every year.
If stone seems too pricey, you can achieve the same look at a much lower cost. Stone tile is made by slicing the material into thin pieces in uniform sizes, usually 1 square foot, and installing them in much the same manner as conventional ceramic tile. In many areas, slate, marble and granite tiles can be purchased for $2 to $3 each. Smaller pieces, which usually are used as decorative borders, are also available.
Tile, of course, covers a range of materials other than stone. The best known variety is ceramic tile, a long-time favorite of home owners because of its durability. Ceramic tile comes in a variety of styles, some even mimicking stone. The array of sizes is equally great, making ceramic tile suitable for everything from finishing a large room to creating a small border.
Large tiles measuring 1 square foot make a room appear large, but smaller ones are safer to walk on because they require more grout. This is a legitimate concern, especially when finishing bathrooms and kitchens where spilled water can cause falls and injuries.
Like stone, ceramic tiles with matte or textured finishes enhance slip-resistance, as do unglazed tiles, although they’ll need to be resealed annually.
The cost of ceramic tile ranges between $1 to several hundred dollars per square foot, depending on the type chosen. Mass-produced tiles are the least expensive; custom-made, hand-painted ones cost the most. Installation runs from $1 to $5 per square foot.
Offering a handsome appearance at a low price, resilient flooring is the most common choice for kitchens and baths. The best known type is vinyl. Sold as wide sheets or individual tiles, vinyl is made in a vast selection of colors and patterns. Inlaid vinyl tile has color running entirely through it. This option is more expensive, but it eliminates the problem of color wearing off over time. Both the individual square tiles and sheet tile run about $4 to $7 per square foot installed.
Linoleum, associated with houses of the 1920s and ’30s, is enjoying a renaissance. No longer made in this country, linoleum flooring is imported, which increases the price. You can expect to pay between $20 to $40 per square yard installed.
Installing linoleum is not a do-it-yourself project, as it requires a professional to ensure it is laid properly. On the plus side, linoleum is made of natural materials, making it a smart choice for people who are sensitive to chemicals. Also, colors permeate throughout linoleum for a longer-lasting look.
Laminate floors were developed in the 1990s and have since proved to be a popular choice among home owners. Laminate flooring is relatively inexpensive and looks great. It’s also easy to install. Indeed, many home owners put down laminate flooring as a do-it-yourself project either to reduce expenses or simply to put their personal stamp on a house.
Laminate floors come in a wide variety of styles. Most patterns emulate the look of wood, stone or ceramic tile and are produced as planks and squares. In either case, laminate flooring pieces have interlocking edges that are simply glued together.
For kitchen and bath installations, shop for laminate flooring that carries a warranty against moisture damage. Otherwise, the pieces may swell and separate when left sopping wet for an extended period.
Laminate flooring is priced from $2 to $5 per square foot. On average, budget $8 per square foot for installation.
Perhaps the newest product to hit the market in the past two years is bamboo flooring.
Bamboo is a naturally soft material. After processing, however, the product looks and feels much like pre-finished hardwood flooring and is installed in a manner similar
to laminate flooring products. Typically, bamboo flooring costs between $38 and $50 per square yard installed.
An emerging trend for kitchen and bath flooring is concrete. In new houses, concrete can be a money-saver because it serves as both the foundation and the finished floor. For this type of flooring, you can expect to pay from $4 to $10 per square foot installed.
Don’t think you must limit yourself to concrete’s battleship gray look. Dyes can be added to the mix, yielding different hues. Also, after the concrete is applied, the installer can cut grooves into the versatile material, simulating the look of tile and grout lines.
Finally, there is carpeting. It’s comfortable, soft and it absorbs sound. Carpeting is also inexpensive. The synthetic variety runs from $10 to $20 per yard, and it’s long-lasting. Synthetic fibers, such as acrylic, polyester and nylon, offer great stain-resistance.
Natural fibers, such as wool, cotton and even silk, are softer than synthetic and have a warm luster. Wool, one of the most sought-after natural fibers, starts at $20 and up per yard. Installation can be as little as a few dollars per yard.
A growing area of soft flooring may seem exotic. Consider sisal, sea grass and other natural fibers. Soft underfoot, they are surprisingly sturdy. However, the porous nature of these fibers makes them vulnerable to staining. This drawback can be overcome by applying a stain-repellent when the covering is installed. The installed price for these types of products is from $38 to $50 per square yard.
Whatever your preferencehard or soft, tile or wood, sisal or bamboothere’s a flooring material to meet your needs. Indeed, the only trouble you may encounter is choosing from among the many options now available.