Flooring Basics

Posted on Apr 28th 2022 by David — Comments ↓

Choosing Your Kind of Floor

The standard flooring options include  solid and engineered hardwoodlaminate, various forms of waterproof flooringbamboo (which some think of as a style of hardwood), cork, ceramic tile, stone tile and  carpet. You may have a very good idea of what you want, you may have no idea, or you may have questions about whether your selection will be the best fit for your room. Here are some very broad tips to get you started, and links to go deeper on any topic you want to investigate further. Our links lead to definitions and further explanations, not to ads or other websites. We also have some shopping tips we think you’ll find useful.

Location

First, on what level will you be installing your floor? All floors can be installed above ground level, called above “grade” in flooring circles. If you’re installing below grade, say, in a basement, You still have most of the flooring options we listed above, but two should be crossed off your list. Generally, solid hardwood is not recommended to install below grade, and bamboo flooring is also considered a bad candidate for a lower level installation. At or above grade, all floors are available.

Subfloor

The surface onto which you will install your floor is called a subfloor, and these are usually made of either wood or concrete. Wood is pretty versatile. All floor types can go over a wood subfloor. With concrete, solid hardwood gets another knock. The vast majority of solid hardwood floors must be nailed down to the subfloor, not glued, and not floated. Nailing through wood into concrete being a difficult proposition at best, solid hardwood should be off the list if you have a concrete subfloor.

Moisture

Does the room get a lot of moisture? Now here we’re talking about the potential for spilled or tracked in water (or snow), but also for high humidity, say in a bathroom with a nice, hot, well used shower. There are better and worse floors for each type.

Rooms with Water and Humidity

Picture of a bathroom, "El Banyo" as the French say when they speak another language.
Sheet Vinyl – Great option
Vinyl planks and tiles – Also great - they're waterproof!
Ceramic tile and stone – Both good options
Cork can be okay, as well as some laminates – But you can’t let the spills sit for too long
Engineered Hardwood and bamboo – Less okay, but can be made to work
Solid Hardwood – Bad enough to almost be called your worst option, except
Carpet – Is the very worst choice for high spillage areas

In rooms with high humidity, the options are more pass fail, not so much a matter of degrees. There are floors which will soak in that moisture, and those which just won’t.

Good Options
Engineered Hardwood
Vinyl Plank
Bamboo
Ceramic Tile
Stone
Just Say No
Solid Hardwood
Cork
Carpet
Pic of a sort of 'spa' area taken by Irish Welcome Tours Picture of a steamy, steamy bathroom, taken by Ken Bosma

With laminate, if the humidity will be really high, we have to recommend against it.  Some really can be quite moisture resistant, and there are technologies in place which may make some of these products just perfect for a steam room, so if you’re hoping to use a laminate in a place like this, do call us in case we have something new and exciting.

Pets

The issue with pets is not so much general traffic, say from a small, frisky dog. It’s the big, heavy dogs with unclipped nails, the deep, sharp impacts or scratching about which we are concerned here.

Image of a doggie, emphasis on paws on the floor
Stone Best. Makes sense, really.
Laminate Great option.  There are different durability ratings. Go high.
Ceramic tile Only “good”. Why? It’s for the animals’ sake. They can slip as they walk.

Both bamboo and vinyl plank

Can be made to work. 
Cork Not good for large animals, but is really fine with small ones.
Both solid and engineered hardwood Not recommended.
Carpet Considered the worst choice.

High traffic

Picture of a lot of people standing around with drinks, taken by Laura Brunow Miner There are rooms where you will walk around in a casual manor, maybe wear slippers or bare socks most of the time, and rooms where people will run around, or entryways where everyone comes and goes. Some floors are not designed for heavy wear, and some are made with that in mind.
Best – Ceramic tile or stone
Great –  Laminate & Vinyl Plank
Optional – Hardwood – it will depend on the species you choose


Okay – Carpet
Not great – Bamboo and Cork


 

Allergies

Do you need your environment to be as hypoallergenic as it can be? Here is what we know:

Best Ceramic Tile
Great Vinyl Plank of all types
Very good options Laminate and Bamboo
Good Cork
If it is very well cleaned and cared for, carpet can be good!
Not great All hardwood and stone
Worst Carpet! Not taken care of very well, carpet drops to the bottom.
Picture of two benches sitting in the middle of a field of weeds and grass by Pauline Eccles

Sound reduction

How important is sound reduction to you? Your best options are limited to carpet, vinyl plank, cork and some laminates, if you use good pad underneath. The hardwoods and bamboo, as well as the ceramic and stone are simply going to do what hard surfaces do when you walk on them.

Radiant Heating

Do you have radiant heating under your floor?

Best - Ceramic tile and stone
Good - Engineered Hardwood
Okay - Carpet
Possible - Laminate
Worst - Vinyl, bamboo, cork, and solid hardwood
Pic of Radiant Heating being installed under a floor, taken by Bryn Pinzgauer

Installation


If you are a flooring novice, and want to install your floor yourself, there are more and less conducive options for the success of such a venture. If you plan to hire an installer no matter which floor you choose, then the following list can help you save money. Easier to install floors should take less of an installer’s time. Of course, this list is very generic. If this is a serious consideration, do check the links to the installation sections for the choices in which you are interested.

Best – Laminate & Vinyl plank (or tile)
Good – Bamboo, Cork and Engineered Hardwood
Okay – Solid Hardwood, Ceramic Tile and Stone
Difficult – Carpet and vinyl sheet
Picture of someone installing the next plank of their new floor - all by themselves, no less!

 
 

These are some other good articles for the beginning floor shopper:

Why You Want Samples, and Things to Try with Them

What Type of Floor is Best for a Family?

What’s the best floor for your bathroom?

Best Floor for a Basement

Worst Floor for a Basement

Best Floors for Allergy Sufferers

 
 

– – – –
David is has written and made videos about flooring products and installation since 2011 at Floors To Your Home (.com), where he is also the PPC Manager,a Researcher, a Website & Marketing Strategy Team member, Videographer, Social Strategist, Photographer and all around Resource Jito. In my spare time I shoot and edit video, put together a podcast, explore film history, and mix music (as in ‘play with Beatles multi-tracks’). Connect with  W. David Lichty

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