THE BASICS: Vinyl is a resilient flooring, which has a little give to it and helps cushion falling objects. Vinyl tiles are composed of colored vinyl chips formed into solid sheets of varying thicknesses by heat and pressure and cut into 12-inch squares.
AVAILABLE IN: A variety of patterns based on the look of hardwood, stone, terrazzo or ceramic tile, plus countless other designs and colors.
INSTALLATION: Tiles are applied to any smooth, leveled sub-floor using a specially formulated vinyl adhesive. Tiles can be cut and assembled into colorful and decorative patterns.
MAINTENANCE: Vinyl tiles have high resilience to abrasion and impact damage and can be repeatedly refinished with chemical strippers and mechanical buffing equipment. If properly installed, damaged tiles can be easily removed and replaced. Flooring should last about 10 to 25 years.
COST: $1.50 to $5 per square foot
THE BASICS: This inexpensive floor covering is low-maintenance and is made to mimic materials such as wood, marble or granite. It’s made up of synthetic materials combined with natural ingredients and then covered with a decorative applique, made to simulate the desired material.
AVAILABLE IN: Wood, stone and tile patterns, as well as other designs and colors.
INSTALLATION: It’s floated over a sub-floor, not glued down, so it’s an ideal cover for any surface. Because it’s water-resistant, laminate flooring can be installed in bathrooms.
MAINTENANCE: Laminate floors are stain-resistant and need no waxing or varnishing, much like a laminate countertop. Flooring normally lasts around 10 to 20 years.
COST: $2 to $5 per square foot
THE BASICS: Often confused with vinyl flooring, linoleum is made from renewable, all-natural solidified linseed oil (linoxyn) in combination with wood flour or cork dust over a burlap or canvas backing. Because it’s made of organic materials and is purportedly non-allergenic in nature, high-quality linoleum is still in use in many places (especially in non-allergenic homes, hospitals and health-care facilities).
AVAILABLE IN: A variety of colors, patterns and textures.
INSTALLATION: Sheets are floated over sub-floors, not glued down. Like laminate, its water-resistance makes it a good option for kitchens and bathrooms.
MAINTENANCE: Repolish with products intended for linoleum as needed. Color runs all the way through the material, so surface scratches don’t stand out. Generally lasts 25 to 40 years.
COST: $3 to $5 per square foot
THE BASICS: This option was originally made from Mediterranean cork-oak tree bark, which naturally separates from the trees about every 10 years, making it harmless to harvest. It’s also highly resistant to fire, mold, rot and insects. But note: like many natural products, cork tends to have an “earthy” odor.
AVAILABLE IN: A variety of earth-tone colors and unique patterns. Choose from planks or tiles; thin or thick flooring.
INSTALLATION: It can be installed right over any existing flooring type. Cork absorbs sound, making it an excellent option for home offices and music rooms.
MAINTENANCE: Aluminum oxide or polyurethane finish can be reapplied every decade or so. Floors can last a century or more.
COST: $3 to $9 per square foot
THE BASICS: Plantation-grown Chinese bamboo grass matures much faster than trees (six years versus fifty), and there’s no need to replant after a harvest since it automatically regenerates. Its nodes, knuckles and grain variations create appealing and different designs.
AVAILABLE IN: Shades of brown and horizontal or vertical grains. Engineered planks can be purchased in brighter colors like deep crimsons and blues.
INSTALLATION: Solid-bamboo planks are nailed down to a sub-floor. Engineered-bamboo flooring can be glued down to any surface, including concrete.
MAINTENANCE: Refinish with aluminum oxide as needed, about every 10 years. High-end bamboo flooring is twice as durable as some hardwoods, so your flooring should last for decades.
COST: $4 to $11 per square foot
THE BASICS: On Southeast Asian coconut-palm plantations, trees are replaced when they stop producing fruit and flooring is made with the discarded palms.
AVAILABLE IN: Dark mahogany-hued planks with patterns and variations.
INSTALLATION: Solid-palm flooring or planks can be nailed down to a sub-floor. Engineered-palm flooring can be glued down to any surface, including concrete. Palm also contracts and expands less than its hardwood counterparts, making it more suitable for damp environments including bathrooms and outdoor porches.
MAINTENANCE: Reapply polyurethane finish every 10 to 15 years, and this extra-durable material can last up to 100 years. It’s also resistant to water, dents and stains.
COST: $8.50 per square foot
THE BASICS: Squares of carpeting made from 100 percent recycled-fiber content. Squares that become stained or worn can be swapped with squares from less-traveled areas, extending the life of the flooring.
AVAILABLE IN: A variety of colors and textures (think multicolored loop pile or nubby sisal).
INSTALLATION: Squares are placed on adhesive backings to be stuck on floors.
MAINTENANCE: Vacuum and shampoo like normal carpeting. Should last 20 years. Because they come in separate tiles, you also can easily replace sections of carpet with new ones.
COST: $1.50 to $40 per square foot