vinyl wood flooring

Getting Started

Begin by considering where the flooring will go and how much traffic, sunlight, and other wear and tear it will get. Vinyl proved tops in our moisture tests and most linoleum. Plastic laminates, and solid wood fared nearly as well. But many engineered woods, as well as some solid woods, and a linoleum product we tested flubbed that test – a serious drawback in a busy kitchen. And while the best vinyls and plastic-laminates fended off wear better than solid wood, they can’t be refinished when worn. 

How to Shop

Before settling on a product, spend a few dollars on two or three samples. That can be a lot less expensive than winding up with flooring that looks great in a catalog or on a website and then awful in your home. Manufacturers generally match most wood or engineered-wood flooring for color or grain. But variations can occur from one batch to the next, so buy the flooring you’ll need all at once. All the plastic-laminate floorboards in a package often have a similar pattern, so you may want to pull from multiple packages to avoid repetition.

To determine how much flooring you’ll need, measure the room’s square footage by multiplying its length times its width. (Divide an irregularly shaped room into smaller rectangles, calculate the square footage of each rectangle, and then add them together.) Then buy 7 to 10 percent extra to allow for mistakes, bad samples, and waste. You might also want to invest in an extra box of flooring for future repairs or additions. 

Where to Save

One way to save is on overstocks. Also, take advantage of mistakes. You can often save on opened or damaged boxes or on flooring with minor flaws that no one will notice.

Hiring a pro to do the installation? You can trim hundreds of dollars off the job by doing the time-consuming prep work like prying up the old flooring, leveling or filling the subfloor, and removing any baseboard that’s in the way. 

Green Floors That Didn’t Cut It

Bamboo is considered renewable because it’s a fast-growing grass. The best bamboo floorings we tested area stranded products such as the EcoTimber solid and Teragren engineered flooring, which are made of fibers that are shredded and compressed for strength. Cork floors are made of tree bark in a process that doesn’t kill trees.

Know How Rough You’ll Be

The best products in every category were also the best overall in our simulated foot-traffic tests. For less busy kitchens, you may want to consider the top engineered wood or bamboo, with its blend of natural veneer and easy installation.

Pick a Factory Finish

Prefinished wood and bamboo floors cost about 40 percent more than unfinished products. But you’re likely to save overall because a factory finish tends to last longer-and paying a pro to apply the finish adds costs, mess, and hassle. Factory finishes are also warranted by the manufacturer. 

Check for Certification

Vinyl floors with the industry’s FloorScore certification emit relatively low levels of volatile organic compounds, substances linked to health problems and pollution. All vinyl we recommend has that certification. For wood flooring, certification by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative offers some assurance that it comes from responsibly managed forests, a plus for the planet. The product and manufacturer must be certified; check the packaging. 

When You Get it Home

Before installing wood or laminate flooring, unpack it and let it sit for one to three days in the space where it will be installed so that its temperature and moisture match the levels in the room.

Keeping New Floors Looking Good

If you need to heat the room soon after installation, raise the temperature gradually over the course of a week – especially if you have radiant heat – to allow the flooring to adjust. Sweep or vacuum floors with a soft broom or brush, and clean with a damp but not overly wet mop. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines for recommended cleaning products. And put felt pads under furniture to prevent scratching. 

Types of Flooring

Though you’ll find a growing array of styles, most flooring falls into one of these six types. The type of flooring you choose will depend on your taste, needs, and budget.

  • Solid Wood
  • Engineered Wood
  • Plastic Laminate
  • Vinyl
  • Linoleum
  • Ceramic Tile

Flooring Features

Different flooring materials require different installation techniques. Homeowners install about half of all flooring. Floated floors that go down without glue or fasteners are easiest. In the case of vinyl, planks or tiles; they are easier to install than sheets. 

  • Nail- or Staple-Down Installation: These are the methods of choice with solid wood and engineered wood over a wood subfloor. Standard, ¾-inch-thick solid-wood strip and plank flooring is traditionally nailed to the subfloor; thinner solid or engineered material is almost always stapled. The fasteners are usually driven diagonally through the tongue side of the material and into the subfloor (blind-nailed) so they are invisible once the floor is finished. Solid flooring can also be nailed straight through the surface (face-nailed) with decorative cut nails or fastened with screws, which are typically countersunk and concealed with wood plugs. Installers often sandwich a layer of 15-pound felt or rosin paper between the subfloor and floor to prevent moisture between the two and to deaden sound.
  • Floating Installation: This works with engineered wood, plastic laminate, linoleum and some ceramic tile over a wood or concrete subfloor or existing flooring. Tongue-and-groove planks or tiles lock together mechanically. Some products must also be glued together at the joints. The material generally goes over a thin foam or cork pad, which fills minor flaws in the subfloor and absorbs sound. Installations over concrete require a thin plastic vapor barrier.
  • Glue-Down Installation: Engineered wood, vinyl, linoleum, and tiles are typically glued. You trowel adhesive onto a clean, flat, wood or concrete subfloor or existing flooring and lay down the sheets, planks, or tiles. No vapor barrier is required. Some glue-down flooring is simply peel-and-stick, the easiest to install. You’ll also find vinyl flooring in sheets and easier-to-install tiles.

Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

Flooring Design Trends

Then & Now

What a difference 20 years makes. When Floor Focus first started in 1992, residential carpet hadn’t evolved much from the solid color saxonies that were so popular when wall-to-wall was introduced in the early ’60s. Along with the new berbers and sisals, the biggest fashion statements were broader color offerings. But palettes then were not as carefully calibrated as they are today. Most color lines then included only a handful of neutrals (one or two beiges and grey) with lots of jewel tones: blues, teals, greens, golds, roses and burgundies. Today’s palettes offer a significantly broader selection of neutrals, in both warm and cool casts, ranging from light to dark. 

Carpet dominated the residential market back then. Sheet vinyl was beginning to fade, and hardwood was just beginning to make a comeback after nearly three decades of lackluster sales. There was a ripple of excitement in the area rug market as the Egyptian company Oriental Weavers began to make waves in the U.S. market with stylish, well-priced polypropylene rugs. It was just the beginning of a trend that would completely transform the U.S. rug market in the ’90s.

Another important trend was developing around then. In 1993, the Swedish company Pergo opened a plant in North Carolina that made laminate flooring, a product that was already successful in Europe but had not made it to the States. Laminate floors, most of which imitate hardwood, became a huge success in the U.S. residential market in the ’90s, and they contributed to the further decline of sheet vinyl.

Hardwood began making a dramatic move in the late ’90s, when importers; mostly from Brazil and China, entered the market with exotic woods like Brazilian cherry and Santos mahogany. In the 2000s, domestic players like Anderson Hardwood took it up another notch with exciting variations on solid wood: weathered and scored looks, lower gloss levels, deeper colors, wood that looks like barn siding. 

Also, exciting advances in porcelain technology, such as sophisticated through-body color combined with striking natural stone designs, gave the ceramic sector a big push in the late ’90s. Continuing technical advances, like digital inkjet technology, allow today’s stylists to create artistic architectural finishes and effects for both the residential and commercial markets.

While the residential market made its most dramatic changes in the late ’90s and early 2000s, the commercial carpet market was already becoming a style leader in 1992, thanks to dramatic improvements in the capabilities of the tufting machine. First came small-scale graphic patterns and textures and more subtle color choices, then larger scale patterns and even more complicated color combinations. But the biggest change was the rise of carpet tile. In the late ’90s, David Oakey of Interface began making tiles with non-directional “random” designs that could be laid on the floor in any direction. As the tile market soared, every firm followed his lead. Today, designs range from small and medium scale to large, even giant scale patterns that can be laid on the floor in virtually limitless combos, which gives designers the ability to create signature looks with a single product.

Today, linoleum, luxury vinyl tile (LVT) and, more recently, rubber have become important complements to carpet in the commercial market. Companies like Mannington, Amtico and Parterre are making LVT products that emulate stone and wood with striking authenticity. Rubber floors, too, have transformed over time from the limited palettes in standard utilitarian colors and textures into creative collections’ with interesting finishes and trendy colors. 

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