Hard-surface flooring FAQs
By Nikki Luttmann, Interior Designer
Replacing your hard-surface flooring can be a very rewarding home improvement project. However, there are so many different types, colors and materials out there, what’s the best one to choose for your home? Following is a reference guide to “all things flooring” from tile to laminate to some of the newer options like LVP. For this article, I’ve established a quick cost guide for each, with one $ being the least expensive and four $$$$ being the most.
LVP (Luxury Vinyl Plank) $$
Generally speaking, LVP is fairly cost effective, both as a product and to install. It does require a smooth, debris-free and non-sloping subfloor, but a professional installer can usually tidy up any issues that your subfloor may have. Still relatively the “new kid on the block” in the flooring industry, the popularity of LVP has skyrocketed in recent years thanks to its durability, waterproof nature and the myriad looks that it offers. LVP is a layered product, with a vinyl wear surface on top, pad on the back and a rigid or flexible core sandwiched between. Generally speaking, the product locks together with a locking mechanism similar to a laminate floor, creating a floating floor surface that is quite durable and pet, kid and spill friendly. Because it is a floating floor, it installs quickly, and is a good option for many areas of the home, from main living spaces to bathrooms and mudrooms. It’s also very practical for basements, as it has insulative qualities due to the cork or rubber backing attached to most products.
Laminate is quickly losing momentum to LVP, but it is still a front-runner for bargain flooring solutions. It is easy to install, and resistant to scratching and other surface damage, but typically not very water resistant. There are a few laminate products that have a water-resistant core, but they are typically more expensive and on-par with LVP for pricing. However, for sheer durability in dry locations, laminate can’t be beat. Just a warning, though, it is far harder to find a good-looking (realistic) laminate than it is to find a good-looking LVP.
Engineered Hardwood. $$-$$$
Engineered hardwood is real wood. Yes, you read that correctly. Engineered hardwood is typically wood all the way through. However, it is made up of a pre-finished veneer over a plywood substrate. This plywood or other core is used to create dimensional stability that is especially helpful in our northern climate’s interiors, where it can be dry and hot, cold and damp, and everything in between—all in one day! This construction allows for larger, wider planks, and variances in temperature that solid hardwoods do not tolerate well. For quality, look at the thickness of the veneer, the type of substrate and the kind of finish applied. For those of you who ask the inevitable question, “Can it be refinished?” The answer is “Yes,” but it’s not designed to be. A quality engineered wood may have a lifetime or 50-year finish on it. These finishes are often proprietary from manufacturer to manufacturer and may include language like “Aluminum Oxide” or “Titanium Finish” and are typically baked on for a more durable finish. They are truly intended to last a lifetime.
Solid Hardwood $$$-$$$$
Solid hardwood can also come prefinished, but you will likely not find 6-inch-wide planks that run to 8-feet long, like you can with engineered wood. Solid hardwood can warp and bend and is generally finicky about where it lives—just like the trees it comes from. If you are absolutely convinced you want a solid hardwood floor, in our climate I recommend looking at hardwoods like oak or maple, and going with thinner boards in shorter lengths. Work with a reputable installer and follow the installation guidelines. Often, solid hardwoods are recommended to be glued and nailed, or full-spread glued, which can be pricey. For sand-and-finish hardwood, it is even more important to work with a reputable installer. The techniques used for finishing a floor in place are very specific and really, really easy to screw up. I have done it myself and then had to call in a professional to come fix my mistakes!
Tile is one of my favorite surfaces—for walls, showers, accents and even floors. It is durable and comes in so many looks and colors, it is suitable for any home. While there are many affordable and beautiful tile options out there, something that people often don’t consider is the cost of the labor to install tile. It is by far the most expensive flooring option to install correctly, and for good reason. Tile installation—really, like any good flooring installation—is an art. Many things must be taken into account, from floor joist weight loads, to subfloor quality to underlayment application, grout type and direction of the tile. It is possibly the easiest flooring option to have done badly. If this is the case, the new tile might look good for a week, a month, or even a year, but then cracks start to form, grout starts to chip out, and the floor fails. If you are considering tile for your flooring needs, I highly recommend going through a reputable installer who will guarantee their work.