The perfect floor covering does not exist – they all have their pros and cons. Here’s a look at some of them to help you make an informed decision before buying.
While the choice of wood is certainly a question of taste and price, there are other factors involved. Texture and stain, to name two. You’ll also want to consider the hardness of the wood, as softwood is more easily damaged. If it’s for a child’s room, if it will see a lot of punishment from high heels or if you simply don’t care for marks and scratches, you’re better off with hardwood such as oak, ash, beech or maple rather than pine or cherry. There are more exotic woods available, such as mahogany, bamboo, jatoba and Brazilian cherry, that offer rich colours and superior durability. Here’s a tip: the more grain a wood has, the harder it is to see marks. And if you are a condo dweller, you might be surprised to learn that there are special floors on the market specially designed for your kind of building.
These days most wood flooring is finished entirely at the factory. This means no dust or odours in your home from sanding and varnishing – nor the wait of three to five days before you can walk on it. With a pre-finished floor, you can use it right away. In addition to being easy to install, a factory-applied finish is more uniform and simply better: every prevarnished plank gets two coats, making the floor more wear resistant. They also receive a layer of ultraviolet protection to protect against fading. Factory-finished floors usually come with a 25-year guaranty for normal wear.
Prevarnished wood comes in three looks: satin, semigloss and gloss. While it’s true that shiny floors show up dust and marks more, they lend a certain brightness to otherwise dark parts of the house. You could also treat the wood with oil. Oil gives a flat finish and brings out the wood’s colour and grain. You can also touch up sections that get worn or slightly damaged.
Pros – Wood floors do not trap dust, which is a plus for people with allergies or asthma. They are also easy to clean, never go out of style and are an excellent investment in the long term.
Cons – Wood reacts to direct sunlight, which makes its colour fade, and to humidity, which can cause it to swell – not recommended for bathrooms, laundry rooms or basements. Wood also falls victim to dryness, which can cause cracks. Wood is rather resistant to shoes, but the finish eventually wears off, especially in high-traffic areas. Unfinished wood floors, after being installed, require sanding (lots of dust) and varnishing (toxic fumes), so you might have to stay somewhere else during installation – not to mention the big cleanup when you get back.
Cost – From 4 to $10 per square foot. The harder the wood, the more its costs. Rare or exotic woods are more expensive. Factor in the cost of installation at around $2 per square foot for a nailed floor. For unfinished wood, add the finishing costs of sanding, staining and varnishing. And in condos, you must also lay down a soundproofing membrane (1 to $2.50 per square foot), so you can add the cost of their materials and labour to your overall expense. Excluding the glue for the membrane and the wood, you’ll pay $180 to cover approximately 250 square feet.
In case you’re wondering, the floor doesn’t actually float; rather, the “floating” describes the way it is installed – without nails or glue. Planks are milled with tongue and groove: all that needs to be done is to fit the tongues into the grooves. What is commonly called a “floating floor” is usually a laminated flooring. A base of high-density fibreboard (HDF) is less vulnerable than one of medium density (MDF) or chipboard. And now there are floating floors made from real wood.
Pros – In addition to being affordable and easy to install and maintain, laminated floor coverings are impervious to light. They are also scratch and dent resistant. As they are also more resistant to humidity and less prone to expand or contract than wood floors, they can be laid down in basements.
Cons – Flooding can cause laminated wood to swell. Furthermore, it cannot be sanded or varnished to repair damaged areas.
Cost – From 1 to $7 per square foot. In addition, you will need to lay cellular polyethylene under the floor covering to keep the wood from knocking against the floor. For a condo, you could use a soundproofing membrane.
Made from synthetic (rayon, viscose, nylon or acrylic) or natural fibres (wool or cotton), wall-to-wall carpeting is still very popular. The choice depends on your taste and what you need it for. Note that “hypoallergenic” simply means that dust stays on the surface rather than work its way deep into the pile, which makes the dust easier to vacuum up.
Pros – Broadloom is warm, welcoming and comfortable. It soundproofs and insulates against the cold better than any other kind of floor covering. And now it comes treated with non-slip surfaces, making it safer.
Cons – It stains easily, traps odours and is problematic for people with allergies or respiratory problems because the fibres trap dust. Carpeting creates the ideal environment for dust mites to live in, and for mould to develop.
Cost – From 6 to $50 per square yard. Some carpets require an underpadding (3 to $7 per square yard). The price for a glued carpet is $4 per square yard; $5 per square yard for Berber carpeting; and $5.50 per square yard for residential broadloom with underpadding. Expect added-on costs for open staircase treads or for cutting around balusters.
Linoleum has made a comeback with the arrival of Marmoleum®, a linoleum made from natural materials, such as linseed oil. It comes in squares and rolls that are glued down, as well as the “click” version that does not require glue.
Pros – Marmoleum is ecological, durable, easy to maintain, flexible, fire resistant and hygienic. It is also antistatic and antimicrobial.
Cons – It is hard to install. The joints need to be sealed to prevent liquids and bacteria from seeping in. Because it is very supple, the surface on which you wish to lay it down must be flawless; otherwise, any imperfections in the floor, such as cracks or screws, will show through.
Cost – By the roll, about $35 per square yard; for tiles, starting at $5. Installation costs approximately $1.25 per square foot for tiles and $14 per square yard by the roll, plus sealant.
Cork comes in tile and floating-floor form. The softer the cork, the more easily it can be soiled or marked, especially where furniture legs dig in. On the other hand, cork that is too hard – due to a coating of varnish, for example – loses its soundproofing properties. One solution is to buy cork coated with PVC, which makes the surface hardwearing while preserving its soundproofing qualities.
Pros – Waterproof, comfortable, fire-resistant, antistatic and durable. It has good soundproofing properties and its elasticity makes it shock resistant and dampens sounds from impacts. It is also an excellent insulation against heat or cold. Ideal for a basement or a child’s room. It is ecological, inasmuch as it is made from the bark of the cork oak, which does not need to be felled to be harvested.
Cons – The less expensive tiles warp, shrink and buckle when being laid down. Cork must be glued onto a very smooth floor to hide flaws.
Cost – From 2 to $5 per square foot for tiles, and from 7.50 to $9 per square foot for a floating floor, including the plastic membrane that’s spread out beneath it. The installation costs around $2 per square foot.
Ceramic and porcelain
Both are very popular. The main difference between them is that porcelain is baked for a longer time at a very high temperature, thus making it tougher than traditional ceramic. When buying ceramic, check the grade, which will tell you its tolerance to wear. There are five grades: the higher the grade, the tougher the ceramic. Grade 1 is for walls only; grades 2 and 3 are good for bathrooms; and grades 4 and 5 are the only ones you should use in high-traffic areas, such as the kitchen.
Pros – They are durable, easy to maintain, fire-resistant and you can create all kinds of patterns and layouts (such as straight lines or 45° angles, geometric patterns or broken tiles). They are stain resistant and impervious to humidity. Ceramic and porcelain tiles are perfect for heated floors.
Cons – They are cold and can easily chip and break, depending on the quality. Dust, defects and scratches show up well, especially on shiny tiles. As they do not muffle sound, they can help make a room very noisy. They can also be very slippery when wet. Porous tiles need to be varnished with a sealer, as they have a tendency to absorb liquids and grease.
Cost – Depending on the grade and the size, ceramic tiles cost on average 1 to $7 per square foot, while porcelain starts at $3 per square foot. Installation costs range from 3.50 to $4.25 per square foot. Factor in extra costs when laying tiles at a 45° angle, in a checkerboard pattern, staggered or in other patterns. For condos, you might need to install a soundproofing membrane first.
We wish to thank designer Louise Plourde of the Centre de Décoration des Sols, as well as Maurice Lepage of Plancher Bois-franc 2000 for their invaluable assistance.
By Jacqueline Simoneau
Translated by John Woolfrey