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Flooring is a major part of any kitchen or bathroom, so it’s important to carefully select the material that best suits your needs. Start by considering these three things before making your choice – how will the flooring fit into your design scheme; what are your needs for durability and maintenance; and what is your budget?

Consider first your design, taking into account that the floor can either make a statement on its own, or blend seamlessly into the background. Do you like a rustic country look, or is your plan more formal?

Durability and maintenance are also very important aspects. Kitchen and bath floors get heavier usage than any other floors in the house. They have to be up to the task of handling heavy foot traffic, spills of all kinds, potential water damage from overflowing sinks and tubs, as well as heavy things being dropped on them. And just like any other floor, daily dirt buildup can scratch, etch, or make your floor look dull. Do you have a large family and not a lot of time to spend cleaning or waxing your floor? Or are there just two of you in rooms that get little use?

Finally, budget is always a major consideration. Luckily there are more flooring options to choose from than ever, so it’s not hard to find the right floor that meets all your needs.

Since materials are the most important choice in your flooring decision, it helps to know some pros and cons associated with the different types.

Wood is a classic choice. Its many natural hues work well with a wide array of designs. Wood floors are long-lasting, warm and comfortable on your feet, and fairly easy to keep clean. Prices range from expensive (standard, unfinished oak) to very expensive (cherry with an inlaid design).

There are many types of wood flooring, such as oak, maple, ash, cherry, mahogany or pine. Another consideration is the color (natural or stains), grain, and board widths.

Lighter woods like maple and ash work well to brighten a room and are often used in more contemporary designs. Wide board pine flooring can be used to create or compliment a rustic or country look. For a more formal design you can also use parquet floors (wood flooring made up of wood “fingers” formed into tiles), or you can opt for inlaid designs.

Another option with wood flooring to choose is whether it's unfinished solid wood, pre-finished solid wood, or engineered wood flooring.

Pre-finished Flooring has a stronger coating and wears better than wood that is installed and finished on site.

Be aware that installing unfinished wood or refinishing wood floors will create lots of dust everywhere! If the floor is finished after installation, you'll need to choose a Satin or Gloss finish. Keep in mind that a satin sheen will hide dirt better – an important plus in kitchens and bathrooms. Glossy finishes can be slippery when wet and will show scratches.

Engineered Wood Flooring is made up of several layers, rather than being cut from one piece of wood. The top layer is a veneer of the hardwood that you see as the floor. (Get the thickest you can afford, so it wears well and can be refinished.) The other 2 - 4 layers are made of less expensive wood laid in opposite directions for added strength and stability.

Engineered Wood comes pre-finished in strips or planks. They are usually installed as a “floating” floor (meaning the boards are glued together, rather than being nailed to the subfloor). Beware of beveled edge flooring. This feature will make a floor look more level, even if the boards don’t match up perfectly. But beveled edges can allow moisture between the boards, diminishing the life of the floor.

Despite the old adage that wood and water don’t mix, wood floors can be an excellent choice for a kitchen or bath. As long as your floor is properly sealed and well maintained, it will last for years. However, keep in mind that even a well-finished floor will stain if spills are not wiped up right away. Also, softer woods, such as pine, can mar and dent easily, and most wood will darken with age, which can change the look of your floor over time.

To stretch out the life of your wood floor, put rugs and mats (with slip proof pads underneath) wherever you can. They should be placed at room entrances and in front of sinks and appliances - anywhere that will get a lot of wear and tear.


Tile is another popular option and a great choice for do-it-yourselfers. It's durable, and water and stain resistant. It's available in a huge array of colors, sizes and shapes. Tile can be combined for an infinite number of designs to create contemporary or traditional looks. There are many different types of tile including ceramic, porcelain, quarry and terra cotta.

Machine-made, glazed Ceramic Tiles are the most common. They come in many different colors, with a matte, satin or glossy finish. A glossy finish will be more slippery when wet. Some are made to look like stone. They are generally low maintenance, fairly durable and moisture resistant. They range from very affordable to mid-range in price.

Porcelain Tiles are made of high-fired, refined clay, and are more durable than ceramic tiles. They are available glazed or unglazed (which has extra traction). They are moisture resistant if properly sealed. The cost is mid-range to expensive.

Quarry Tiles have a rough texture and are available in a wide array of shapes and sizes. They are very durable, low maintenance, affordable, and can be sealed to be moisture and stain resistant.

Terra Cotta Tiles are made of low-fired clay and are either hand or machine made in Mexico or Europe. They're beautiful to look at and give a great feel to walk on. However, they are not very durable. They are high maintenance because they need to be sealed every year for moisture resistance. They're low to mid-range in cost.

The best thing about tile is the infinite number of designs you can create by mixing tile sizes, shapes and colors. It’s a good idea to work out a design on graph paper before laying down tile.


There are a few things to keep in mind when planning your tile design:

-If you want the floor to blend in as a backdrop, use neutral-colored square tiles with matching grout. If you want the tile to stand out as a design element, choose contrasting colors, shapes or grout color.

-Smaller tiles and lighter colors work best for small spaces. Be aware that contrasting grout colors and bold designs can overwhelm a small room.

-To make the room appear longer, use alternating stripes of dark and light tiles along the length of the room. To make it look wider, use the stripes along the width of the room.

-Glossy finishes can be slippery (perhaps not the best choice for homes with young children or elderly folks), whereas rougher tiles, or smaller tiles with more grout lines will add extra traction.

-If your floor tile is meeting wall tile, be sure to either match grout lines perfectly or lay the tiles in such a different way that the grout lines won’t meet.

-Square tiles placed in a grid are easiest to work with.


The down side of tile is that it is cold and hard to stand on for long periods of time. If it cracks or chips, it can be difficult to repair - it may be hard to find a perfectly matching tile. So make sure you have leftover tiles when the job is done.

And then there’s the grout... Both the tiles and the grout must be sealed for moisture-resistance. Even so, grout can end up looking dingy fairly quickly. If stains or moisture do seep through the sealer, it can be next to impossible to clean and may need to be replaced. (Diluted bleach can work well to clean grout. Beware it may change the color of colored grout. So test it on a small area first.) As you might imagine, bright white grout is not the best choice for flooring.

You should also consider what the tile is going on top of. It is best to lay tile on top of cement backer board (I like Wonderboard), which rests atop a moisture-resistant sub floor. But new tile can be laid over old if need be. Just make sure that whatever you lay new tile over, it is sound and level. If your floor is not level or if it's uneven in spots, and you can’t make it level, use the smallest tiles you can (such as mosaics) and choose a neutral color with matching grout so the floors defects are not highlighted.


Stone is another popular option for flooring. It comes in a wide array of colors and patterns and has a natural, timeless beauty. It is nearly indestructible and can add an elegant (polished marble), or rustic (uneven slate) look.

Granite is probably the best choice because it's the hardest stone. It's wise to get a honed, non-glossy finish for better traction and lower maintenance. You may also want to choose a tumbled or honed finish if you’re laying down a Marble floor. Remember, it must be sealed regularly to protect it from dirt, stains and moisture.

Slate is a natural looking stone that often comes in irregular shapes. If you're installing your own flooring, this can inspire your creativity, or make for a daunting task, depending on your skill level and project needs. Slate will also need to be sealed to repel dirt.

If you do choose stone, keep in mind that it will be cold and hard on the feet, and, aside from some types of slate, it's very expensive and you must make sure that your subfloor can handle the extra weight of a stone floor.


Laminates are another flooring option that has gained popularity in the past decade. They are durable, scratch-resistant, and easy to clean and maintain. They come in a wide range of colors, designs and textures that can imitate wood, stone or ceramic tile. They can also be installed over old flooring. They are in the mid-range price and a good choice for do-it-yourselfers.

Laminate Flooring is available either in planks or tiles. It consists of a laminate surface glued to a fiberboard core. A “floating” floor, laminates are a tongue and groove system that is glued or merely “clicked” together, rather than nailed to the subfloor. If you are installing laminate on a wood subfloor you need to use an underlayment, which cushions the floor and muffles sound. If you are working with a concrete floor, you must use a vapor barrier under that as well. For best results follow the manufacturer’s directions and use the products they recommend.

Although the planks are sealed on the top layer, the joints will not be sealed and spills should be wiped up right away to avoid moisture between the joints. Even the most durable laminates cannot be refinished if damaged, but pieces can be replaced.

Although it costs about as much as installing a wood floor, laminates can be used in damp environments, such as below grade basements.

As with other types of flooring, choose lighter shades for small spaces or to give a more open feel and darker colors for larger spaces, or for a more intimate feel. Many laminates also have matching trim pieces that can really enhance the design of the floor.


Resilient Flooring is another option. This category includes Vinyl and Cork. Resilient floors are a great choice for heavy use areas. They're comfortable on the feet, easy to clean, stain-resistant and easy to install.

Vinyl is available in simple designs or made to look like tile, stone, wood or brick. You can also create your own designs with vinyl sheeting by cutting out pieces of the sheeting and replacing them with contrasting pieces, or make a design from different colored tiles.

Vinyl Sheets come in 12 foot widths, which is great for a no seam floor in smaller rooms. Tiles are easier to install than sheeting and many come with an adhesive backing that makes it even easier. But it is important to get the tiles to butt up against each other, so no dirt or moisture can collect in between. Although sheeting costs a little more it may be worth it for high traffic areas or where there is a lot of moisture. Overall, vinyl is inexpensive and quick and easy to install.

The cons are that vinyl is prone to dents and tears. Solid vinyl is more expensive, but longer lasting and better wearing than vinyl composites. Expect a 10 year warrantee on the best vinyl flooring, compared to about 5 years or no warrantee on the cheap stuff.

Glossy finishes are not only slippery when wet, but need to be waxed regularly to keep the shine from turning dull. There is a cushion layer on vinyl flooring, which makes it comfortable to walk on and quiet, but the thicker the cushion the more easily the floor will dent. Keep in mind that textured patterns are better at hiding dents than smooth ones.


Cork is another excellent flooring choice. It's made from sustainable materials, so it’s a great choice for the environment as well. Since it is a natural material, like wood, there is a lot of texture and color variation. It comes in many shades of brown with a few muted colors. It's very soft to walk and stand on. It has good traction, it won’t rot or absorb dust and it's stain-resistant.

Cork comes in sheeting or tiles which may have an adhesive backing, making it as easy to install as vinyl. It is available unfinished or sealed with polyurethane and is fairly affordable. However, it’s not as durable or as easy to clean as vinyl.


Besides cork, there are a few other sustainable flooring materials, which are good for the environment, that are worth mentioning. Although some wood is sustainably harvested, much of it is not. Bamboo has all the beauty of wood and is more durable and sustainable than wood. In fact some species grow as much as 3 feet a day! Marmoleum (Forbo's version of linoleum) is made from linseed oil, woodflour, pine rosin, jute and ground limestone. It is hygienic, anti-static, durable, biodegradable and comes in many shades. However, it may need to be polished or waxed.


Carpet is another option which can make the room feel warm and comfortable. It can even work well in certain bathrooms. However, it is not recommended in a kitchen as food spills would have it looking and smelling pretty bad in no time. Carpet is very warm and soft on the feet and it muffles sound. It's slip-resistant and there are lots of colors and styles to choose from. It is best used in drier climates, where humidity and mildew aren’t a problem.

Since carpet is harder to keep clean than other flooring, the best choice would be a tightly-woven, high-wear, commercial carpet, that is moisture- and stain-resistant, such as polypropylene. If you live in a humid climate, try large, washable area rugs on top of another type of flooring instead of wall-to-wall carpet, for a similar effect.


If you’re doing a new construction or a remodel from the floor up and can spend a little extra, Radiant Floor Heating is a wonderful choice for kitchens and baths. It's especially good under cold ceramic or stone floors. Some laminates are specially designed to be used with radiant floor heating systems, but check first. Never install one under a wood floor as the constant change in temperature and moisture could cause the wood to warp and buckle. Although you will spend a little extra on installation, you will save money on heating costs, since radiant floor heating warms the whole room so effectively. In a radiant floor, the heating elements are placed into a specially designed subfloor, which the flooring is then placed over. You can install a radiant floor heating system yourself or hire a flooring contractor to do it for you.

If you are remodeling and find that the old flooring is securely stuck in place, but is fairly level it may be best to leave it there. If the flooring was installed before 1986 and you’re not sure of the material, it may contain asbestos. Asbestos can cause serious health hazards and you could be putting yourself at risk by pulling up the old floor. If it’s feasible, patch and mend what you can and lay the new flooring on top. Keep in mind though that if you do put new floor over old, it may require changes to be made to cabinets and baseboards and transitions into other rooms. Also, your appliances may not fit under the cabinet again once the new floor is in place. Baseboards may need to be cut to accommodate the new flooring material.

It is important to remember that when you choose flooring it may look different in your home than it does in the store. It's a good idea to bring home a sample and test out how well it suits your design scheme. The floor is just a part of the room – make sure it serves its purpose in conjunction with all the other elements in the room.

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