By Scott Gibson
Photo: © iStockphoto
Flooring takes tremendous wear and tear, especially in high-traffic rooms like the kitchen and bath. Bathrooms are highly susceptible to water damage, especially if the household includes tykes who splash in the tub or someone who's likely to leave the shower curtain half closed. In the kitchen, areas around the sink and dishwasher inevitably get wet, and the floor areas next to the range, refrigerator and sink will see more than their fair share of abrasive foot traffic.
Given these conditions, the best flooring options are those that stand up to traffic, are stain- and water-resistant and don't require a lot of maintenance.
Top Picks: Tile and Stone
Ceramic tile and natural stone will be trouble-free surfaces in either the kitchen or bath. Of the two, ceramic and porcelain tiles are more stain-resistant. Most types of stone should be sealed (and periodically resealed) to keep out stains. But both materials are very long-wearing and need little regular maintenance.
Tile ranges in size from 1-inch to 24-inch rectangles, squares, octagons and hexagons. It offers tremendous versatility in design and installation. Field tile in one color can be offset by a border pattern in another, for example, or the corners of field tile can be clipped and filled by small squares of a contrasting color.
Stone has many of the same attributes. Because it's a natural material, there may be more variation between individual tiles. But it offers the same possibility of mixing and matching colors and textures as ceramic tile.
Tile and stone can crack if they're set on a floor with too much bounce. That shouldn't be a problem in new construction, but if the floor is going down in an older home it's something to discuss with the installer, as the floor framing may have to be reinforced.
Both materials can seem cold under bare feet, which is a drawback in winter. If the floor is laid over a radiant-heating system, this won't be an issue. In a house with conventional heat, consider a thermostatically controlled electric mat beneath the tile to keep it more comfortable in cold weather. If radiant heat isn't an option, a bath mat is a low-cost solution.
One other caution: Some tile and stone (polished marble, for example) can be slippery when wet, a potential hazard in the bathroom. Ask the installer for a textured or slip-resistant tile, or use a mat underfoot for better traction.
An Old Favorite: Wood
Wood is warm underfoot, available in light and dark colors, and a good fit with both traditional and contemporary architectural styles. In a very old home, it's hard to imagine a flooring that would look better. Wood flooring is traditionally a solid plank, either with square edges or milled into an interlocking tongue-and-groove pattern. Newer types of wood flooring may be engineered, meaning that a thin layer of natural wood is glued to a core of plywood.
Wood is a better bet in the kitchen than in the bathroom, mainly because of its vulnerability to moisture damage. Frequent exposure to water will damage the finish, and in time will cause decay. Areas around the toilet and shower are especially likely to see this problem. In the kitchen, keep an eye on the area around the sink: When the finish is worn through, water stains will certainly follow.
Bamboo, though technically a member of the grass family, is attractive and durable, but with the same drawbacks around water as wood. It is often praised by green-building enthusiasts for its powers of regeneration and rapid growth. Cork, another wood alternative, has many desirable qualities, including cushioning underfoot, but it should be avoided in the bathroom.
Easy to Live With: Resilient Flooring
Vinyl flooring isn't cold to the touch, like stone or tile, and it's entirely water-resistant, making it a good candidate for a child's bathroom. There are lots of attractive colors and patterns to choose from, and it's less expensive than many other flooring options.
In better grades of vinyl flooring (referred to as "inlaid"), the pattern runs all the way through the sheet, so any surface nicks or scratches won't be obvious. Flooring with a printed top surface protected by a wear layer won't hold up as well.
Vinyl building products, including flooring, get a thumbs-down from some environmental activists. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) gives off dioxin when burned and may excrete chemical softeners called phthalates after installation.
An alternative is linoleum, a much older type of resilient flooring that was largely replaced by vinyl, but is now enjoying a revival. It's made from environmentally friendly materials, including linseed oil and rosin, over a jute base. Although it is more expensive than vinyl, it's also more durable.
Linoleum needs more maintenance than vinyl, and it should be installed by a professional. Generally, linoleum is water-resistant, but not waterproof. Spills should not sit on the surface for more than 30 minutes, and all seams and edges must be sealed with silicone caulk to prevent water from getting beneath the flooring. Areas around toilets and showers would be particularly sensitive to this problem.
A Realistic Look: Laminates
Laminate flooring combines a printed photographic image protected by a wear layer over an inner core of high-density fiberboard. The image can be of stone, wood or another material. In more expensive grades of flooring the image can be surprisingly realistic.
Unlike most other floor coverings, laminates are "floating," meaning they are not attached to the subfloor. Interlocking tongue-and-groove joints in the edges of the planks are snapped together and installed over a special underlayment.
The more melamine in the core of the flooring, the more moisture-resistant it will be. Laminates can be used in the bathroom as long as certain precautions are taken to keep moisture from reaching the fiberboard core. Each joint must be glued and the perimeter of the floor should be sealed with caulk.
• Extremely durable.
• Wide selection of patterns, colors and sizes.
• Many installation options.
• Stain- and water-resistant.
• May crack if there is too much bounce in floor.
• Grout lines must be sealed to prevent staining.
• Cold underfoot in winter.
• Great diversity of color and textures available.
• Natural product, nonallergenic and nontoxic.
• Extremely durable and abrasion-resistant.
• High cost.
• May crack if the subfloor is not stiff enough.
• Grout lines can stain if they are left unsealed.
• Cold to the touch.
• Must be resealed periodically to prevent stains.
• Polished stone slippery when wet.
• Warm and soft underfoot.
• Can be refinished.
• Matches traditional architectural styles.
• Natural, renewable, environmentally friendly material.
• Will stain or decay in presence of chronic moisture.
• Gaps between boards allow intrusion of water.
• Gaps will shrink and expand with changes in seasonal humidity.
• Finish must be maintained.
• Comes in tile and sheet form to increase installation options.
• Many colors and patterns available.
• Highly water- and stain-resistant.
• Relatively low-cost.
• Warm to the touch.
• Environmental drawbacks.
• Not as durable as other types of flooring.
• Environmentally friendly, nonallergenic material.
• Variety of colors and patterns available.
• Available in sheet and tile form.
• Sheet linoleum must be installed professionally.
• Needs periodic polishing.
• Water-resistant but not waterproof.
• Edges must be sealed to prevent water intrusion.
• Variety of colors and patterns that mimic stone, wood and other materials.
• Relatively affordable.
• Won't last as long as some other flooring options.
• Prolonged exposure to water can damage fiberboard core.
• Vulnerable at joints andalong perimeter.
|*Source: Armstrong, consumersearch.com. Prices vary by region, installer and complexity of installation, and do not include remedial construction work or disposal fees.|
Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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