Flooring Types: Which One is Right for You?

In this article we take a look at all the different flooring types available and discuss the pros and cons. If you're looking for new flooring, read on!

Carpet Styles

Inevitably, when consumers seek assistance with carpet problems, the first question asked of the consumer is whether the carpet is a cut pile carpet or loop pile carpet. Just as inevitable is the silence on the other end of the phone. Few consumers really have an understanding of the product they have purchased. It is no wonder that so many people have issues with carpet purchases. There is no clear starting point in explaining carpet construction, but carpet styling seems to be the easiest to explain.

Carpet can be distinguished into three primary constructions; loop pile, cut pile, and cut and loop pile. Each of these construction types may be used in the home, although cut piles represent the largest market share for residential carpet. Loop pile carpets, such as Berber, have been increasing in popularity over the past 10 years. Cut and loops represented a significant portion of carpet sales during the 1970's and 1980's, but cut and loop usage has been reduced considerably.

All carpet actually begins as a loop pile and the loops are cut during manufacturing to provide the cut pile appearance. As the name implies, cut and loops are a combination of cut loops and uncut loops to provide texture or patterns. Most cut and loops are primarily cut piles with some loops left uncut for patterns; although a few styles utilize the opposite effect.

Carpet Fibers
Cut pile constructions can be used in both residential and commercial carpet installations. However, cut piles are used far more widely in residential applications and comprise the largest share of the residential market. There are numerous sub-categories of cut pile carpet. Each category provides a different appearance or finished look. The following categories of cut pile can be found when shopping for residential carpet.

Saxony
A saxony is a cut pile carpet in which two or more plies of yarn have been twisted and heat-set so that the tip of each carpet tuft is distinguishable on the pile surface. Saxonies have the tendency to show footprints and vacuum cleaner sweeper marks. This is based in light reflection of the fiber when pile direction is changed. When brushed in one direction, the pile may assume a darker hue, while adjacent yarns brushed in the opposite direction may present a lighter hue. When viewed in the opposite direction, color hues of darker areas will appear lighter. This is not a defect of any kind, but merely a characteristic of this carpet construction.

Plush
Sometimes called velvet because of the velvet or velour appearance obtained by using staple yarn and high-density construction. Plushes provide a more formal appearance than other cut pile constructions. They are subject to revealing vacuum cleaner sweeper marks and footprints due to light reflection similar to a saxony. Delustred (non-shiny) yarns may reduce this shade variation. Plushes tend to be more subject to pile reversal or water marking. Water marking is the result of permanent pile reversal in localized areas. Watermarking provides the appearance of a wet surface in darker shaded areas. The shape of these areas may appear irregular, which reinforces the appearance of a wet area. This is considered a normal occurrence for Plushes and is not considered a manufacturing defect. The occurrence of water marking may be a result of local conditions or other unknown causes. In previous examinations, products that have been replaced with similar problems develop watermarking in the same areas, suggesting local influences.

Textured
Textured cut piles also may be called "trackless", "foot-print free", "stuffer-box", and mistakenly, "frieze carpet". These names describe the tendency of this construction to show fewer footprints and sweeper marks than other cut pile constructions. It should be noted that no cut pile can be classified as being completely free of shading. These constructions are obtained by stuffing yarn into a steam box (stuffer box) and providing a kinked or curled yarn. The fiber is exposed to live steam to set yarn memory in this curled position. This curling of the fiber reduces light reflectance, thus reducing the appearance of footprints. Generally, when viewing a texture from the top, kinked yarns may provide a two-tone effect as a result of shade variations from reflected light.

Frieze Carpet
A true frieze carpet is similar to a texture in that footprints and vacuum cleaner marks are disguised. The textured appearance is acquired by placed a high twist level on the plied yarns. This high twist level causes the tuft to twist back upon itself providing a kinked appearance. In general terms, higher twist levels provide enhanced performance characteristics, when compared to lower twist products with the same construction attributes. True frieze carpet styles tend to be more costly because of higher costs of production and they may not provide the same perceived value as lower twist, textured products.

While other cut pile categories exist, these styles constitute the most popular styles of residential carpet. Also to be considered is shag carpet - a low density, high pile height product popular during the 1970's. This construction tends to increase and decrease in popularity depending upon design trends. Another style that is very good at hiding foot patterns are multi-level cut piles, sometimes called carved saxonies, that utilize higher and lower cuts to form patterns.

"Article by Michael Hilton of carpetbuyershandbook.com - the Largest Online Source for Unbiased Carpet Information (http://carpetbuyershandbook.com)" .

Carpet Pile Fibers
The majority of the carpet produced in the United States contains one of six pile fibers: nylon, polypropylene (olefin), acrylic, polyester, wool, or cotton. Synthetic fibers make up about 97% of the fiber used by the U.S. carpet industry. Each fiber has strengths and weaknesses that must be recognized and should influence how it is to be used and constructed. Some fibers have very low resiliency and only should be manufactured in high-density loop pile constructions to limit crushing (pile flattening). Other fibers have the tendency to absorb oily soils and other oil-based compounds (including body oils) and should be carefully considered before installing in areas subject to these contaminants. It should be emphasized that there is no perfect fiber and carpet is a fabric that is subjected to incredible abuse through foot traffic, accidental spills, environmental contaminants, and other abuses.

Pile fiber represents greater than 80% of the cost of most residential carpet; therefore differences in price between carpet styles usually can be attributed to differences in fiber. Nylon is the most popular carpet fiber used in the manufacture of carpet. Of the three most commonly used fibers (nylon, olefin, and polyester), nylon is by far the most expensive fiber and the best all around performer. In comparing price alone, a polyester fabric could be one-third less than the cost of a comparable nylon product.

In addition, when comparing two like fibers, there can be considerable cost differences between the two. Nylon, for example, may be type 6 or type 6,6 and may be branded or unbranded. These factors influence value, price and performance as well. It is impossible to purchase carpet and anticipate performance or value by fiber ounce weight alone. In essence, two 40-ounce nylon fabrics may differ in price by 30% or more. There are a number of variables to consider in selecting the proper carpet product. Hopefully, the descriptions contained in this explanation will make the decision easier rather than more confusing.

Staple and continuous filament
Each of the fiber systems used in the manufacture of carpet can be divided into two classifications: staple and bulked continuous filament (BCF). Nylon is produced in both staple and BCF yarn. Olefin is typically produced in BCF only. Polyester is manufactured in staple only; cotton and wool are inherently staple. Staple yarns are yarns that are produced in short lengths and spun and twisted together (like cotton) to form long threads of yarn and tufted into carpet. BCF yarns are actually long filaments of fiber that are plied together to form continuous bundles of fiber.

Many lower face weight products and higher end carpet products are manufactured using staple yarns. These yarns can be spun by the manufacturer into any size yarn bundle and provide more styling flexibility. This allows manufacturers to spin very small yarn plies for pinpoint saxonies and very large bundles for shag or cabled yarns. Staple fiber is also used to manufacture the beautiful velvet plushes that signify luxury and comfort.

Some consumers prefer bulked continuous filament (BCF) fibers, because they do not shed loose filaments following carpet installation. Staple fibers will shed loose filaments for a short time following carpet installation. In some cases with staple fibers, you may notice your vacuum cleaner bag filled with these short staples. In lower quality staple fibers (short staple length) these filaments will work loose and accumulate on the carpet surface. As mentioned, staple fibers offer design opportunities that BCF fibers cannot. Better quality staple fibers shed very little because of their length (8-10 inches vs. 3-4 inches). This loose fiber is generated when the tufts are cut to form cut pile. While one end of the staple is anchored in the synthetic latex adhesive backing, the cutting of the tuft may sever the end of the staple that is not anchored. This unanchored cut staple will eventually work loose of the yarn tuft.

While this shedding does not affect carpet performance or long-term appearance, you should be aware that this is a normal occurrence and the shedding will stop with time depending upon the frequency of vacuuming or the amount of foot traffic. In rare instances, when shedding exceeds six months and frequent vacuuming has been performed, you should contact the manufacturer. In these cases, poor encapsulation of the yarn bundle with synthetic latex may have occurred. As stated, this is very rare but it should be noted.

Predyed staple fiber provides better colorfasteness properties.

To distinguish between staple and BCF yarns, look on the sample label for the description BCF or CFN (continuous filament nylon). Any sample label that does not carry this designation is probably a staple fiber. If you are looking at roll goods, where a sample is not available, rub your thumb across the fiber over the same area. If short filaments work loose, it is probably a staple fiber.

Nylon
Nylon is utilized in approximately 65% of the carpet sold in the U.S. It is a very durable fiber with excellent performance characteristics. Its strengths include good resiliency, good yarn memory to hold twist, good carpet cleaning efficacy, good stain resistance with stain treatment applied, good soil hiding ability, and good abrasion resistance. Because the fiber is porous, it may accept and retain color spills that dye the fabric more than an extruded plastic fiber such as polypropylene (olefin). Nylon is manufactured in both BCF and staple fiber. It is the strongest fiber, making it an excellent choice for the heavy traffic of an active household or commercial facility. It's also the most durable of the synthetics. It is soil and mildew resistant and resilient, but is prone to static. Most nylon is treated with an anti-static treatment to reduce static. Continuous filament fibers minimize pilling and shedding.

There are two basic types of nylon (type 6 and type 6,6) and each provides different performance characteristics. For many years, type 6,6 has been considered to be the premium nylon fiber, but technological advances in dyeing and twisting processes have narrowed the gap between the two. However, type 6,6 remains the premium nylon fiber used today. If you are looking for value goods, type 6 nylon fibers offer a considerable benefit for the money. It is difficult to assess whether the cost premium or cost savings is worth the differences. It only should be mentioned that when considering two styles, one type 6, the other 6,6, there will be difference in cost and this difference is justified. The difference over a 10 to 15 year lifecycle will equate to the same approximate price provided the construction of the two styles is similar.

Nylon fibers also can be branded or unbranded. For example, DuPont nylon (type 6,6) is manufactured by DuPont and is a premium fiber. Many fibers that do not carry a brand name may be extruded by the carpet manufacturer (typically type 6) and can be considered value goods. Branded fibers traditionally cost more than value goods. This can be attributed to a number of factors including the shape of the fiber (soil hiding), topical treatments (stain inhibitors), minimum construction requirements (twist level, pile weight), and consistency of fiber quality. However, you should not base your purchase decision solely on branded vs. unbranded or type 6 vs. 6,6. Because of lower cost for the fiber, an unbranded type 6 fiber may be able to provide better construction attributes for the same dollar amount.

Polypropylene - Polypropylene, also called olefin, is the fastest growing fiber segment in use today. It is a relatively inexpensive fiber, which is easily extruded by most carpet manufacturers. There are very few, true branded olefins available other than those brands registered by carpet manufacturers. Olefin makes up about 30% of the fiber used in U.S. carpet manufacturing today. Its strengths include superior stain resistance, with the exception of oil-based stains, and low cost. It is a solution-dyed product, which means color is added during extrusion in its molten state rather than topically applied. (Imagine a carrot vs. a radish). Because of this dye method it has superior resistance to bleaches and sunlight fading. However it has poor resiliency, which can lead to crushing. Color selection is limited due to its dye method. It has poor abrasion resistance, and heavy traffic areas can be subject to fraying which will cause the nap to become rough and shadowy, and its low melt point can cause fibers to fuse if furniture or other objects are dragged across its surface. Olefins clean very well and most staining is non-existent. Color spills will generally stay on the surface of the extruded fiber and not be absorbed, so stains can more readily be removed in comparison with a porous fiber such as nylon. Olefin was originally favored for outdoor carpeting and basements due to its resistance to moisture, mildew, water damage, staining, pilling, shedding and static—all for lower cost than nylon. Now it's more widely used for its durability and appearance. Since it's dyed before it's made into a fiber, olefin is extremely colorfast.

This description should not scare you away from olefin, because constructed properly, olefins provide an excellent value and good performance. Olefin would not work well in a busy airport or school environment, but will perform well in a busy family room. In acknowledging it's weaknesses, it is easy to find a suitably constructed olefin Berber or other loop pile product. Steer clear of big loop Berber with low density and never consider any cut pile olefin for residential use. These constructions typically fail with any fiber system, but olefin is especially susceptible to pile crush in these constructions. A properly constructed olefin will outperform a similarly constructed nylon product because of its inherent stain and fade resistance, but a poorly constructed olefin will ultimately lead to dissatisfaction. Olefin is manufactured in BCF only.

Polyester
Polyester fiber produces some of the most beautiful colorations available. It also is extremely fade resistant and provides excellent resistance to stains. However, like olefin, it does have poor resilient properties and thus is susceptible to crushing. Polyester fabrics are generally sold in heavy face weights with high-density construction. Avoid high pile heights with low-density construction. These products tend to flatten and "ugly" out. Also look for high twist levels rather than "blown" yarns. Loose twists (blown yarn) tend to untwist and the yarn tips tend to fuse together creating a matted appearance. Most consumers like to dig their fingers into the carpet pile and if it provides a luxurious feel (hand) they believe this is excellent quality. This is referred to as "perceived" quality. True quality exists when it is difficult to insert your fingers into the pile. This is a true test for all carpet constructions, but it is a necessity for polyester fibers.
Polyester is manufactured in staple fiber only. While it's not as durable as nylon, it's quite durable and resists wear. Polyester offers a wide selection of textures and colors. It is non-allergenic, sheds moisture and resists moths and mildew at a lower cost than wool or nylon. While it's susceptible to pilling, shedding and oil-based stains, it otherwise cleans fairly easily and is enhanced by stain treatments. Some polyester fibers are recycled from plastic pop bottles, so if environmental concerns are a major issue for you, ask for polyester fibers that have been reclaimed from post consumer use products.
Wool
This traditional favorite offers a deep, rich look and feel. Wool remains the premier fiber in carpet construction, but its price is out of reach of most consumers. It has excellent resilience and durability, but is very expensive—often twice as much per yard as nylon. Other synthetic fibers have done an excellent job of duplicating the characteristics of wool, although none can duplicate all of these characteristics. Wool cleans especially well, provides beautiful colors, and has good resiliency, but special care should be used in cleaning wool carpet. Unfortunately, wool tends to "wear down" or the pile tends to wear away. In some cases bald spots may occur as a result heavy traffic loads. Wool is naturally a staple fiber. Although it is naturally stain resistant, it requires a high level of maintenance including mothproofing. Most wool products manufactured in the U.S. have been permanently mothproofed. While it's still extremely popular for area rugs, it accounts for less than 1% of the fiber used in carpet. Since wool can hold 10 times its weight in moisture, it is also susceptible to shrinking and mold and mildew growth.
Cotton and acrylic are used in very few carpet styles in the U.S., but their use is increasing in area rugs. Both offer poor resiliency and tricky carpet cleaning requirements. Both offer extremely beautiful colorations and in the right construction can provide a beautiful flooring alternative.

Acrylic
Acrylic is the closest to wool of any of the synthetics. Its use is primarily because of its springy feel, soil resistance, excellent cleanability, and resistance to static, moths and mildew. It's available in a wide choice of colors, and is less likely to fade in bright sunlight than some fibers. It is susceptible to pilling and is slightly more expensive than nylon. Brand names include Acrilan, Orlon, Creslan and Zefron.

Cotton
Cotton is soft, but it does not resist stains or matting well. It also absorbs moisture, which makes it difficult to keep clean. Cotton is also subject to browning if cleaned with alkaline solutions.
"Article by Michael Hilton of carpetbuyershandbook.com - the Largest Online Source for Unbiased Carpet Information (http://carpetbuyershandbook.com)".

Hard Flooring Summary

Solid Wood

Best for its natural warmth and its ability to be sanded and refinished several times. Factory finishes are more durable. Solid wood can discolor and wear quickly, and all tend to dent. It's more difficult to install, and solid wood can't go in basements or other damp spaces.

Engineered Wood

Best for a wood or bamboo surface with easier installation than solid-wood floors. Most can be nailed, stapled, or glued and can be refinished once; some can be simply laid down, or floated. However, it wears relatively quickly and dents easily. Small spills can damage it.

Plastic Laminate

Best for toughness, choice, and easy installation; all laminates can be floated without glue or fasteners. The best examples wear better than most wood, with better scratch, dent, and sun resistance. Plastic laminate can't be refinished like solid wood. Big spills can damage it.

Vinyl/Linoleum

Best for practicality. Vinyl flooring typically offers long wear and resistance to stains, sun, and moisture, along with easy installation. Some premium vinyl products do a better job of imitating stone and other natural materials. Tends to resist dents, sunlight, and moisture. Vinyl flooring is an inexpensive option available in either sheets or vinyl floor tile with tons of colors and patterns to choose from. Thicker tile is more durable and resistant to gouging or tearing, but all vinyl floor tile is susceptible to abrasions, scratches, cuts, tears and staining.

Proper cleaning is a bit tricky since soaps and many cleaners will leave a film attracting more dirt and regular waxing and/or application of floor polish is needed to keep your floor looking its best. Vinyl floor tile is fine for any area or room.

Marble, Travertine, Limestone

The classic floor tile material exuding elegance, luxury and style. The look of travertine and marble tile flooring is often imitated by ceramic and porcelain. A wide variety of colors is available, especially earth tones.

Marble, travertine and limestone are all calcite-based stones and thus have similar properties regarding care and cleaning. Not as care-free as man-made tiles, but marble maintenance requirements are relatively simple once you learn how. Sealing may be necessary and etching can be an issue; however, most problems are simple to solve. Using the proper cleaning products is a must. So, a little more work and care, but no other tile will look as good in your home.

Marble, travertine and limestone can be used anywhere in your home: kitchen, bathroom, shower, patio, etc. Keep in mind that etching is most common in the kitchen, although floors aren't nearly as susceptible to etching as countertops.

Pros: Long lasting, low maintenance, easy cleaning, elegant, and retains heat.

Cons: Most require reinforced sub-flooring, cold to the touch (may need under-floor heating), expensive, and reflects noise.

Marble

It is available in tile, sheet, block and in a variety of colors and intrinsic patterns. The most classical of all flooring. Dating from the Greek period and used extensively since. Polished marble can be slippery and is best kept to isolated areas like around fireplaces. A dulled finish is optimal for regular flooring use. Being widely imitated in synthetic material may lessen the grandeur of genuine marble.

Granite

Available in block, sheet and tile. Generally found in neutral and warm colors and is a more expensive stone flooring. Appears to be dimensional when polished due to the glass-like nature of its grain. Can be slippery when polished and requires occasional polishing to retain glossiness. Imitated in a variety of synthetic materials.

Slate

Available in sheet and tile. Generally found in darker, muted colors without much color pattern like marble has. Available in natural grain and honed finishes. If natural grain finish is chosen, extra time for cleaning may be required to completely remove grime from recesses and wrinkles in the rock. Imitated in a variety of synthetic materials.

Granite Floor and Tile

If you choose the right variety, granite tile flooring is essentially indestructible and can be used in any room without worry including an outdoor patio or entry. Granite does not etch like marble, travertine and limestone can and staining is generally not an issue. You also have thousands of gorgeous and unique patterns and colors to choose from.

For the most part granite has basic maintenance requirements, although polished granite (like any polished stone floor) may require periodic re-polishing depending on the degree of use and wear. Some granite tiles may need sealing to help diminish staining and although not absolutely critical, it's best to use cleaning products made specifically for stone.

Brick

Available in a wide range of colors such as soft orange-reds, buffs and browns. Pavers (flooring bricks) are great for areas that see a lot of traffic or moisture. Bricks can be laid in a number of different patterns.

Various contemporary patterns can be visually stimulating but require careful planning and intricate cutting. Using different colors can enhance the pattern and add visual interest. If your subfloor is strong enough you may want to try using recycled bricks to get a more rustic look or purchase prefinished bricks that are moisture proof and reduce potential staining. Being modular units, damaged bricks can be replaced without disturbing the floor. If you have a busy schedule and need something that is low maintenance, brick may be a good alternative, needing only a damp mop for cleaning.

Tile

This impenetrable floor is available in a variety of sizes ranging in size from 1 sq. foot to 1 inch sq. Excellent for high traffic and moisture prone areas (as seen at swimming pools). Tile comes in many types, finishes, colors and shapes. If unable to afford an under-floor heating system, consider burnished terra cotta tiles which retain heat well. Ceramic tiles can feature designs baked onto the tile and are used to simulate stone. If you have pets or children keep in mind that unsealed tile, like terra cotta, stains easily. The fact that custom patterns can be achieved by cutting intricate designs lends itself to contemporary designs. Grout is used to hold tiles in place. It is a powder mixed with water that dries quickly. When you choose your grout it is best to get a darker color which will make stains less visible. If you have old tile with stained grout, the tile can be relaid with new grout.

Ceramic Tile Flooring

Ceramic is the most common tile found in homes today. Ceramic tile wears well, provides good traction, is essentially water and stain proof and easy to maintain using almost any cleaning chemical. As such, it can be installed in any room without any particular concerns. Best for its natural beauty. Tile tends to resist wear, moisture, scratches, dents, and stains. But its hard surface can be a problem with dropped cups and dishes, which can break more easily. Installation is relatively difficult. Tiles can crack; grout can stain.
Nearly unlimited color and pattern choices are available making ceramic a versatile tile flooring, although it can look a bit "manufactured" or "plastic."

Porcelain

Porcelain is becoming a very popular alternative to stone and ceramic. It is harder and more durable than ceramic… almost like stone. Porcelain also provides a better imitation of marble, travertine or other stone patterns, colors and textures with plenty of choices to match any design. Like ceramic, porcelain tile is nearly impossible to stain, scratch resistant and easy to maintain. Install it anywhere you like.

Saltillo Tile

Like slate, many people love the unique look and vibrant yellow-orange colors of Saltillo tile, but when compared with other options, saltillo has some drawbacks. Made of clay, it is very porous and stains easily, so it must be sealed often and is not a good choice for a kitchen or bathroom. Saltillo is prone to scratching and scuffing and cracking in colder climates. It is also difficult and thus expensive to install.

Concrete

This is one of the most affordable, as well as durable, choices of flooring. It can be painted to add warmth to a room, and repainted to keep up with changing trends. Concrete is a cold, heat and scratch resistant floor and should be sealed to prevent staining and wear.

Glass

An exotic flooring material that is costly. It is best to be adequately supported on all edges and have some type of anti-slip mechanism such as sand blasting. On the lower level of the building, glass can enclose a display space and on the upper, it acts as a transparent walkway. Scratching can be a problem, so use in low-traffic areas is best.

Acrylic

Less expensive than glass with the same attributes. It can form the base layer for a piece of 3/8 inch glass to be laminated on top of, which can be replaced after extensive use. An alit-slip mechanism such as sand blasting is recommended. Clear acrylic set in the concrete of sidewalks and lit from below is used for effect lighting outside buildings. Scratching is much more of a problem than with glass, so use in low-traffic areas is best.

Metal

Stainless steel and aluminum are the most common metals for flooring. Embossed patterns like diamond plate create visual interest while reflecting the environment which can make the room look larger.

Markets

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