By Jim Fitzgerald.

In this post, we give you a framework for choosing the right floor for your home.

And such a framework is sorely needed because today’s homeowner is confronted with a bewildering array of flooring choices. In the old days, it was easy. There were four choices. One was carpet. The second, the most economical hard-surface floor, was sheet vinyl. The third was solid hardwood, installed “raw” and stained and finished in the home. And the fourth was tile, either ceramic or porcelain. And that was it.

Those were the good old days. Those days are gone.

The Paradox of Choice

Now, it’s overwhelmingly confusing. There is pre-finished versus finish-on-site hardwood, solid hardwood versus engineered hardwood, bamboo (considered a hardwood even though it’s a grass.) And that’s just in the hardwood category.

And bamboo! There’s strand-woven, vertical, horizontal, solid, and engineered. Oh, and what color do you like? Would you care for a distressed look? Or a traditional, smooth look? What size plank would you like? It goes on and on.

There’s an assumption that all this choice makes life better, but psychologist Barry Schwartz, who gave the TED talk, The Paradox of Choice, maintains that having so many choices can actually make us feel worse, not better.

For one thing, we subconsciously feel that with all this choice, there has to be a perfect one, if we were only smart and discerning enough to find it. So, when we finally make a choice, and the floor is great, we’re a little disappointed. Why? Because if we were really “in-the-know” we would have found the PERFECT floor. So we feel kind of let down, even though we have a great floor, many magnitudes better than anyone could have had in the old days when there were only four choices.

That’s perhaps another unfortunate side effect of all this choice. We’ve worked so hard and fretted so long over choosing just the right floor, that we’re deathly afraid of it getting damaged. Often when a client purchases a great floor from us, they then worry that it’s going to get scratched. At the end of a project, I occasionally have the strangest urge to hand the client an old-fashioned can opener, as a souvenir, perhaps even with our Floor Coverings International logo on it, and then saying, “Scratch the largest, sweeping arc across that floor that you can! And get the scratch behind you!” Just to relieve the stress.

How do you choose between so many flooring choices? And why are there so many choices out there, anyway?

It’s daunting.

Paralysis of Analysis

In fact psychologist Scwartz said that it is very common for a person to become paralyzed when confronted with too many choices. He cites an example of company-sponsored retirement plans. If there are a lot of investment choices, then significantly fewer employees choose any option, even when there’s a significant company match. They are so overwhelmed they become paralyzed, even leaving the company matching funds on the table.

This paralysis of analysis is a common phenomenon in flooring too. Many people have a flooring project in mind, but don’t know where to start.

R-E-L-A-X

In this blog post, we will assist you with your flooring choice. First, as Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers said last season when the football team got off to a slow start:

R-E-L-A-X.

With today’s flooring technology, you’re going to get a great floor. Your biggest challenge is avoiding the paradox of choice. And now that you know the paradox exists, it should be fairly easy to sidestep it.

Now that we’ve got that settled and you’re all comfy and excited again about your future new floor, let’s look at a basic framework for understanding what the choices are.

Below are some tables that describe the more common floor coverings and how you can go about selecting from among them. Have fun!

American Products

One word of advice before we begin: your new flooring will become part of your real estate. Perhaps for decades to come, you, your children, and your pets will be walking, sitting, even lying on that floor.

So buy American-made products if at all possible. You can be confident that an American product made by a leading manufacturer is well made. That it complies with our laws and with our industry standards. That it is safe for you and your family.

So buy good stuff. Look at it not so much as a purchase as an investment in your real estate, your home.

The Tables

The following tables summarize some of the more popular flooring choices out there. This is not an exhaustive list. It is meant to help the client begin to get their head around making a flooring decision.

Hardwood Description Guidelines
Hardwood – solid Solid hardwood all the way through. Traditional. If “real” hardwood is very important to you. Particularly suitable for “prestige homes.”
Hardwood – engineered A top layer of real hardwood (what you see and walk on). Middle section made of “engineered wood,” layers of high-end plywood, with each layer placed at right angles to the adjoining one to provide dimensional stability. Environmentally responsible (fewer trees cut down). Can be less expensive because less “real wood” is used. Because of increased dimensional stability, humidity will cause less swell and shrinking, compare to solid hardwood.
Hardwood – pre-finished At the factory, wood planks receive stain and polyurethane/aluminum oxide finish. Finish is super hard. Special effects can be added, such as a distressed look.
Hardwood – finish-on-site Hardwood used is always solid. Raw wood planks are laid, then stain and polyurethane are applied manually. The raw wood planks are usually less expensive than pre-finished hardwood, but installation costs are higher because stain and polyurethane are applied by hand. Finish is not as durable as pre-finished hardwood. Refinishing is usually recommended after seven to 10 years.
Bamboo, strand-woven Considered a “hardwood,” although technically it’s a grass. Comes as either a solid or an engineered product. Environmentally sustainable: it can be harvested every 7 years versus the 30 years it takes to grow a tree. Comes in solid or engineered. A very “in” product these days. Bamboo is considered a “green” product because using it saves trees. For people with big dogs or rambunctious children, bamboo can be a good choice because it is less susceptible to scratching, compare to other hardwoods. And it tends to be less expensive than hardwood because it can be harvested so often. When buying bamboo, be very, very careful. Bamboo comes from China, and China is lacking in governmental oversight. We suggest you buy from one of the following three companies: Teragren, U.S. Floors, and Cali Bamboo. (We happen to carry U.S. Floors and Cali Bamboo.) These three companies have an established reputation for making sure the bamboo they use is harvested responsibly and that it is manufactured according to exacting specifications.
Carpet Fiber Guidelines
Nylon Preferred for the home because it is durable and looks new for a long time. Get the best quality that fits your budget.
Polyester Less expensive than nylon (usually roughly about 30% – 40% less). Fibers look yucky after just a year or two in many cases. Often used for rental properties and for homes that are being sold.
Wool High-end, luxury product. In Europe, about 25% of carpet sales are of wool carpet. In the United States, only 3%. Natural fiber, not a synthetic like nylon or polyester. It’s very durable and resists dirt. It helps regulate humidity in the house by absorbing and releasing moister as humidity changes. This “breathing” removes dirt from the air and draws it down into the carpet, where it can be vacuumed up. Said to be helpful for people who have asthma and allergies.
Various Products Guidelines
Sheet vinyl Economical, but can tear. Good for people on a budget or for rental property. Not good to put in when selling a house because of its poor reputation.
Laminate Economical. Drawback: pressboard core falls apart when wet. Have to be careful to keep it dry. Not recommended for bathrooms. Can be used for kitchens, although it will be ruined if a dishwasher or sink links.
Luxury Vinyl Plank or Tiles Made of vinyl, but is a whole different animal than sheet vinyl. This is not your mother’s sheet vinyl. The wood-look vinyl comes in planks, just like wood. The tile-look vinyl comes in tiles, like ceramic or porcelain. Tiles can either be grouted or not. When grouted, the tile looks more like authentic tile. Because the grout is synthetic so it is not as porous as “real” grout, so it doesn’t get as dirty as fast. Luxury vinyl is durable, scratch-resistant, sunlight resistant, stain resistant. Softer and warmer than ceramic or porcelain. The flooring industry’s name for this category of flooring is “Resilient.” We think this is a great flooring choice for families with young children and pets. About the only downside for this product is that it has the word bad word“vinyl” in it. Widely accepted in the West, in places like California, Oregon and Washington State. This is the fastest-growing flooring category.
Cork A very cool product these days. Environmentally sustainable, soft underfoot yet durable, beautiful. Natural sound insulator.
CoreTec This is the U.S. Floors brand name of a new type of laminate, a vinyl-core laminate. (It’s our understanding that U.S. Floors was the first to market; there are similar products out there now as other manufacturers are playing catch-up. Full disclosure: we sell CoreTec.) Standard laminate has a pressboard core, which makes it susceptible to water. CoreTec has a core of extruded vinyl. You can pour water on it all day long. Relatively new, this type of product is selling like hotcakes.

* * *

I hope this brief introduction to the bewildering world of flooring products proves helpful to you as you go through the floor-selection process. Remember, R-E-L-A-X. You will probably find a great floor, so enjoy it. And consider getting an old-fashioned can opener for that first scratch!

And, if you live in the Cincinnati, Ohio, metro area and are looking for expert, unbiased help in choosing the type of flooring that is best for you, please call our 24-hour appointment desk at 513-729-7499. We look forward to helping you find the floor of your dreams.

If you are in another part of the country, there is probably a Floor Coverings International near you.

Jim Fitzgerald is the marketing director of Floor Coverings International, Cincinnati East, located in Cincinnati, Ohio.