How to Pick the Perfect Floor: A Step-by-Step Guide

Choosing flooring is stressful. After all, with so many options, where do you begin?

A practical starting point is your budget. Some flooring choices like sheet vinyl are just $0.50 per square foot while exotic hardwoods like tigerwood clock in at more than $20 per square foot. But cheapest isn’t always best.

Before settling on teak hardwood or cork, you should weigh cost alongside other factors like style, foot traffic, and general wear and tear. In this guide, we do just that to help you pick picture-perfect flooring.

HARDWOOD FLOORING

Hardwood floors are timeless. They add warmth and beauty to any room. However, they aren’t suited for every space in your 1920s American Foursquare.

COST OF HARDWOOD FLOORS: $5 to $10 per square foot

BEST FOR:

Living Rooms: Hardwood can endure the foot traffic that comes with Sunday gatherings and holiday parties. However, be sure to clean up spills right away.

Dining Rooms: Pine or mahogany hardwood pairs well with any dining room. Just add soft pads to your chair and table feet.

Master Bedrooms: Carpet in the bedroom is so 1990s. Instead, hire a general contractor to install hardwood and place a few rugs by the bed.

WORST FOR:

Bathrooms: Water and wood don’t mix. Over time, wet feet and dripping towels will cause your floor to swell and buckle.

Basements: Even if your basement has no noticeable leaks, it’s still humid. When this humidity condenses on surfaces (think: your beautiful maple flooring), it’ll cause big issues.

PROS:

  • No need to replace; can be sanded and refinished
  • Variety of different types, colors, and finishes
  • Hypoallergenic; best for babies
  • Easy to clean
  • Some hardwood flooring can be glued directly to the concrete

CONS:

  • Prone to termite attack
  • Can buckle and swell when exposed to moisture
  • Prone to dents and scratches
  • Susceptible to mold growth 
  • High maintenance; will need to be polished every three to four years

ENGINEERED HARDWOOD FLOORING

If you’re set on decking your highly-trafficked halls and overly wet basement with hardwood, opt instead for engineered hardwood. This flooring option looks exactly like traditional hardwood (we promise!) but is made of multiple layers of crosshatched plywood for durability.

COST OF ENGINEERED HARDWOOD FLOORS: $3 to $14 per square foot

BEST FOR:

Basements: Unlike traditional hardwood, which will swell and warp when exposed to humidity, engineered hardwood is designed to maintain its shape even in swampy basements.

Remodeled Spaces: Engineered hardwood is a fraction of the thickness of traditional hardwood. This is especially helpful when you need to seamlessly transition from a different kind of flooring in a remodeled space.

WORST FOR:

Bathrooms: Though engineered hardwood is fairly water-resistant, it still doesn’t hold up in a hot and steamy bathroom.

Laundry Rooms: Engineered hardwood also doesn’t play well with wet clothes, dribbles of laundry detergent, or a leaking washing machine.

PROS:

  • Designed to be more durable than hardwood flooring
  • Less likely to warp or swell when exposed to moisture
  • Available in a variety of colors
  • Typically costs less than traditional hardwood
  • Can be installed over a concrete slab

CONS:

  • Some engineered hardwoods can’t be refinished
  • Liable to scratch and dent over time
  • Not entirely waterproof
  • Low-quality engineered hardwood can off-gas toxic chemicals
  • Prone to fading when exposed to UV rays

VINYL PLANK FLOORING

When most people think “vinyl,” they imagine tacky flooring with a dizzying tile design from the 1970s. But we promise that today’s vinyl is significantly more durable and aesthetically pleasing. In fact, this flooring is a top pick among homeowners because it looks convincingly like hardwood.

For the sake of simplicity, this guide focuses on vinyl plank flooring – a tongue-and-groove option that’s perceived as the crème de la crème of vinyl flooring. However, homeowners also have the choice of vinyl sheet flooring and peel-and-stick vinyl. Both are affordable but vary in quality.

COST OF VINYL PLANK FLOORS: $2.50 to $5 per square foot

BEST FOR:

Basements: Unlike traditional hardwood, which will swell and warp when exposed to humidity, engineered hardwood is designed to maintain its shape even in swampy basements.

Remodeled Spaces: Engineered hardwood is a fraction of the thickness of traditional hardwood. This is especially helpful when you need to seamlessly transition from a different kind of flooring in a remodeled space.

PROS:

  • Attractive and affordable
  • Water-resistant
  • Quiet; no creaks or pops like hardwood
  • Highly durable and great for families with kids
  • More shock-absorbent than hardwood or tile
  • Stain-resistant

CONS:

  • Limited UV resistance; may fade over time
  • Low-quality vinyl may off-gas toxic chemicals

LINOLEUM FLOORING

If you’re looking for flooring that will withstand the test of time (and your dog’s muddy paws) look no further than linoleum. This versatile and durable flooring option is great for kitchens, living rooms, and other highly-trafficked areas.COST OF LINOLEUM FLOORS: $4 to $10 per square foot

BEST FOR:

Joint Pain: If you have bad knees, you know that standing on ceramic tile, hardwood, and concrete takes a toll. Fortunately, linoleum offers a softness and “bounce” that’s perfect for homeowners with joint pain.

Asthma & Allergies: Linoleum is a great flooring choice for people with asthma and allergies because it doesn’t hold onto pet dander or pollen. It’s also made of natural materials that won’t off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

WORST FOR:

Coastal Locales: Though linoleum is water-resistant, it’s not a great choice for your beachside bungalow. When exposed to wet, sandy feet or high humidity, this flooring will curl at the edges.

Split-Level Homes: In a split-level home, the lower level is below-grade (meaning it’s below the earth’s surface). Since below-grade spaces are typically damp, linoleum is a no-go.

PROS:

  • Incredibly durable; you can expect higher-quality linoleum to last 40 years
  • Softer on the joints than hardwood or tile
  • Lots of different designs and colors
  • Environmentally sustainable
  • Water-resistant

CONS:

  • Susceptible to scratches, gouges, and pricks
  • Easily damaged by UV rays
  • Tends to trap moisture underneath the subfloor

LINOLEUM VS. VINYL: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Linoleum and vinyl are often confused for one another despite being very different. Whereas linoleum is made of linseed oil, a substance extracted from flax seeds, vinyl is made of synthetic materials like PVC (polyvinyl chloride).

That being said, linoleum is an environmentally friendly alternative to vinyl. It also lasts four times longer when regularly sealed. The downside? Linoleum is more expensive and less waterproof than its synthetic cousin.

CORK FLOORING

Made from the bark of the cork oak tree, cork flooring is a completely natural and incredibly stylish flooring option. The downside? Cat and dog nails are its arch-nemesis.

CERAMIC, PORCELAIN & STONE TILE FLOORING

No longer is tile flooring reserved for the laundry room and bathroom. Nowadays, a herringbone mosaic is considered vogue in about any space – from your master bedroom to your dining room. The sky is the limit!

COST OF TILE FLOORS: $1 to $100 per square foot

BEST FOR:

Sunrooms: Sunrooms are named such for a reason – there’s lots of sunlight. While hardwood and vinyl flooring will fade when exposed to UV rays, tile flooring keeps its color.

 

Foyers: Your home’s entryway receives the most foot traffic. This is the spot where guests kick off their gritty shoes and kids drop their bookbags. To withstand that much wear and tear, you need a durable tile floor.

WORST FOR:

Kids’ Playrooms: Since tile flooring is notoriously resilient, you might be tempted to use it in your daughter or son’s playroom. However, keep in mind that this material is hard. If your little one takes a spill, they’re liable to hurt themselves.

PROS:

  • Great for kitchens, bathrooms, basements, and other wet spaces
  • Low maintenance
  • Increases a home’s resale value
  • Many different styles, designs, and textures
  • Relatively easy to repair; you only need to fix the broken tiles
  • Not damaged by UV rays

CONS:

  • Slippery and hard
  • Cold to the touch
  • Heavy; not ideal for upper-story installations
  • Relatively expensive

CARPET FLOORING

In the 21st-century, we have access to smartphones, electric cars, and a bevy of carpet options that aren’t shag. (Thank goodness, right?) In fact, manufacturers now produce such attractive offerings that carpet accounts for more U.S. sales than all other flooring types combined.

But before you carpet every inch of your home, keep in mind that this material isn’t suited for all spaces.

COST OF CARPET FLOORS: $0.65 to $12 per square foot

BEST FOR:

Stairs: If you have a little one toddling around, you need carpeted steps. Hardwood steps are slippery and have sharp edges that can cause a nasty boo-boo.

 

Bedrooms: Though other flooring materials like tile and vinyl fare just fine in bedrooms, there’s nothing quite like putting your bare feet on warm carpet first thing in the morning.

WORST FOR:

Hallways: Hallways see lots of grimy feet. Over time, this constant pressure will leave your carpet threadbare and stained.

Water Exposure: Any space that sees water (think: kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, basements) should never see carpet.

PROS:

  • Soundproofing and insulating properties
  • Cushions falls in homes with toddlers or seniors
  • Very affordable
  • Covers uneven subfloors
  • Comfortable for bare feet 
  • Low-maintenance; it hides dirt and dust

CONS:

  • Shows wear and tear
  • Not a good option for kitchens and bathrooms
  • Must be replaced periodically
  • Needs to be vacuumed regularly

CONCRETE FLOORING

If you want a contemporary flooring option that’s as tough as nails, consider concrete. This no-fuss material is as affordable as it is stylish.

COST OF CONCRETE FLOORS: $2 to $6 per square foot

BEST FOR:

Ultra-Modern Homes: Concrete floors add a sleek and utilitarian look that other flooring options just can’t provide.

Basement Workshops: If you hope to remodel your unfinished basement into a woodworking shop or a place to tinker with your mountain bike, consider leaving the concrete floors as they are. After all, concrete can withstand the blunt force of a dropped wrench. It’s also easy to clean.

WORST FOR:

Home Studies: Though concrete offers the right aesthetic for a modern workspace, it doesn’t offer the right acoustics. More simply, it can be really loud and echoey. If you have a standing desk, it’s also very hard on the joints.

PROS:

  • Comparatively affordable
  • Shrugs off dirt, dust, and debris 
  • Ability to customize with dyes, stains, and polishes
  • Compatible with radiant heating systems
  • Doesn’t release harmful VOCs
  • Reduces allergens in your home

CONS:

  • Unforgiving; a dropped glass will break
  • Liable to crack
  • Can become slippery when wet
  • Will need to be resealed every two to five years

ASK THESE QUESTIONS BEFORE YOU BUY

A word of warning: Flooring stores can be very overwhelming. With hundreds (if not thousands) of options and oftentimes commissioned-based salespeople, you’re liable to choose a flooring option that’s over budget and ill-suited for your house.

The solution? Ask yourself these questions before you go:

DO YOU HAVE PETS OR CHILDREN?

YOUR ANSWER

  • Yes
  • No, and I’m not planning on it

CHOOSE THIS FLOORING

Rambunctious dogs and tweens are hard on floors. Whether you have a four-legged child or a few with two legs, you need to stick with durable flooring like tile, vinyl, and concrete.

Since durability won’t make or break your flooring choice, continue to the next question.

WHICH ROOM ARE YOU REMODELING?

YOUR ANSWER

Bathroom, kitchen, or basement

Another room

CHOOSE THIS FLOORING

Water is a big issue in these spaces. To avoid mold and mildew, choose water-resistant flooring like vinyl, tile, and concrete.

If moisture isn’t an issue, any type of flooring may be used. Proceed to the next question.

HOW MUCH ARE YOU WILLING TO SPEND ON MATERIALS PER SQUARE FOOT?

YOUR ANSWER

$2 or less

$2 to $5

$5 and up

CHOOSE THIS FLOORING

Stick to vinyl or concrete. For a truly affordable option, install some sheet vinyl for less than $0.50 per square foot.

You can nab certain types of hardwood, engineered hardwood, and tile flooring without breaking the bank.

In this price range, you’ll find premium exotic hardwoods, high-quality linoleums, and porcelain tiles.

WHAT IS THE AESTHETIC OF YOUR HOME?

YOUR ANSWER

Coastal

Industrial

Mid-Century

Farmhouse

CHOOSE THIS FLOORING

Pick a light and bright ceramic tile, engineered hardwood, or vinyl.

Concrete gives you the most authentic industrial look. However, mahogany or walnut flooring works too.

Stick with large, 12×12 tiles or polished concrete. Funky carpets offer a mid-century vibe, as well.

For a farmhouse aesthetic, choose a wide-planked hardwood, terracotta tile, or high-quality vinyl.

LET PORTICO INSTALL FLOORS THAT LAST A LIFETIME

Still not sure which flooring will look best in your studio apartment or lofty farmhouse? Call the flooring experts at Portico. As a licensed general contractor in Charlotte, we can help you select a flooring option that looks great and is suited for your space. Our team can also install the flooring, ensuring it’ll last a lifetime.

For a free price estimate, contact us online or give Portico a call at 704-742-2720 today!