Are you considering new flooring? You have a few decisions to make. Where your grandparents may have only had the option of solid oak slats, nailed and finished on site, now you can choose from a myriad of materials and finishes. Still, you want a flooring company that provides solid advice and top-notch installation at reasonable prices.
Choosing a type of flooring is the first step. Here are some of the most popular options.
Solid wood strips or planks. Standard three-quarter-inch-thick solid wood floors look and feel more realistic than any marvel of engineering. Plus, solid wood can be sanded and refinished three or more times, and refinishing a floor is much less expensive than investing in a new one.
Solid wood is also durable, but not indestructible – most solid wood flooring is easily damaged and wears out faster than other options. It can also be discolored by sunlight and may warp and warp in wet areas. The biggest disadvantage of solid wood is its price: a good quality prefinished floor costs between $8 and more than $14 per square foot, installed.
Engineered wood. Engineered wood flooring is made of layers of wood glued together and covered with a hardwood veneer. Compared to alternatives, engineered wood best mimics the real thing. In general, higher quality products have thicker plating layers than lower quality ones. If you can afford it, only consider flooring with veneers at least one-eighth inch thick.
Engineered wood tends to dent easily and even a little moisture can cause permanent damage. Many factory-applied topcoats tend to scratch easily. But at $5 to $10 per square foot installed, engineered wood costs considerably less than solid wood.
Laminates. Made from dense fiberboard topped with a photo image protected by clear plastic, laminates can mimic almost any type of flooring. But many laminate products use a repeating pattern which is a giveaway that they are not wood.
Because they resist scratches, dents, and fading from sunlight better than other flooring, the best laminates offer great durability. But if you have an accident, it will be difficult to repair. What gives laminates an advantage is price: good quality flooring costs between $4 and $7 per square foot, including installation.
Vinyl. When you walk across the floor of a supermarket, school or hospital, you’re probably walking on vinyl. Since it’s plastic, vinyl isn’t affected by moisture, isn’t easily faded by sunlight, and is the easiest to clean of all flooring options.
In addition to durability, the main selling point of vinyl is price. Even the highest quality varieties are relatively inexpensive, at $2 to $6 per square foot, installed. But, unfortunately, even the best vinyl products look like, well, vinyl.
Linoleum. Often confused with vinyl, most linoleum is made from natural products – such as linseed oil, wood powder, limestone and resins – lined with jute. It’s kinder to the environment than most other flooring options – and it’s durable, easy to clean, and not easily damaged by moisture.
Linoleum comes in rolls, tiles, and planks or strips cut to look like pieces of wood. Most linoleum products are inexpensive, $4 to $8 per square foot, including installation.
Other options. Bamboo and cork are renewable resources that provide distinctive looks. But they are also the most expensive options.
Finishing options. Once you’ve decided on a type of flooring, you’ll need to decide what you want it to look like. Do you want a natural light finish, or a dark mahogany or walnut finish? For solid wood or engineered wood floors, you will also need to choose a wood species.
Narrow down the forest of choice by getting samples – lots of them – and bringing them home. Compare them in daylight and after dark.
Choose a supplier and installer and get good prices. You want to buy from a supplier who gives good advice, offers a wide variety of products, does high-quality installation work, fixes things quickly if things go wrong, and charges a reasonable price.
The nonprofit Delaware Valley Consumer Checkbook has ratings of local flooring suppliers and installers for quality and price. You can view Checkbook’s business ratings for free through the end of June at Checkbook.org/Inquirer/floors.
Checkbook’s ratings show that many flooring companies fail to satisfy their customers. What’s troubling is that so many of the negative comments relate to workmanship – buckling, uneven gaps between boards, incorrect staining – and other issues that could have been avoided.
Once you’ve selected a product (or narrowed down the choices), contact the best vendors for pricing. If your job is simple, you can shop via email and phone, which Checkbook’s undercover shoppers have done for a sample of local retailers. When collecting prices, specify the exact product you want. Include a description of the work areas, with measurements. Ask companies to total their prices for the entire job. Get all the details in writing.
Checkbook undercover shoppers have discovered that you can save a lot while shopping. To supply and install flooring for a 432 square foot room using Mullican Muirfield hardwood flooring, prices quoted by local suppliers ranged from $4,029 to $5,790; using Shaw Lakeside engineered wood flooring, prices ranged from $3,781 to $6,000.
Checkbook shoppers were unable to directly compare prices at Home Depot, Lowe’s and Lumber Liquidators. These chains mostly sell products supplied exclusively to them, and this “private labeling” prevents a buyer from comparing prices. For the closest equivalent products offered, Home Depot prices were consistently below average. But prices at Lowe’s and Lumber Liquidators were only average.
the Delaware Valley Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and checkbook.org is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help consumers get the best service and the lowest prices. It is consumer backed and does not take any money from the reviewed service providers.