Terry Love (425) 649-LOVE
Fantastic Flooring

How to make sure what's underfoot is up-to-date. By Merle Henkenius,
reprinted from Popular Mechanics August 1996

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Kitchen flooring is both accent and foundation. It needs to complement your other choices--the cabinets, counters, fixtures and appliances-and hold up under heavy traffic and frequent spills. Flooring has a lot to do, so it pays to consider all the options your budget allows before committing yourself. If you're like most of us, you'll live uith your choice a minimum of 10 years. Of course, the best materials can last a lifetime.

Resilient flooring

Residential resilient flooring, either vinyl-sheet goods or tiles, is still the most popular choice, and not just because it's affordable. Prices, after all, range from $6 to $40 per square yard, with installation often running an additional $4 to $9 per square yard.

There are really two categories of resilient flooring: layered and full depth. The layered kind has a printed vinyl fused to a white, fibrous or foam liner. The second type is inlaid, in that the colored composition particles extend the full depth of the flooring. The advantage of inlaid flooring is that there's no surface layer to puncture, snag or tear.

Printed vinyl can be dirt-cheap or rather pricey, depending on the thickness of the wear layer and, to a lesser degree, on the quality of the liner. Bear in mind that budget flooring can look as good as quality flooring on the surface, so price can be a fairly good indicator of quality. The better selections hold their finish for years and feel more substantial underfoot.

When selecting vinyl for kitchens, try not to dip below the lower-middle price category. With builder's discounts, seasonal sales and remnant prices confusing the issue, it's hard to fix a figure, but $14 to $20 per square yard is the likely range.

Aside from wear-layer thicknesses, expect few other variations. While most lines are designed to be glued down completely, a few can be glued only at the edges. These are usually more expensive, but offer two advantages. They require less labor and mastic, and are more flexible underfoot, which can reduce wear and abrasions.

And finally, you'll find a modest selection of self-sticking vinyl squares, usually 12 x 12 in. Most popular with tight budgets, they can be laid by any patient, diligent person. Prices range between 59 cents and a few dollars per square. As for quality, some are pretty good. The problem is all those seams. When laid over concrete, they hold up fairly well. When laid over wood subflooring, however, water entering the seams can cause the subfloor to bulge or the tiles to let go.

While many retrofit installations involve stripping the old flooring before laying the new, some sheet vinyls can be laid directly over existing vinyl, even if the old floor has an embossed surface pattern. In these cases, the installer deglosses the old flooring with an etching primer and trowels on an embossing leveler.

This kind of overlay is often a good choice, because most vinyl liners and mastics sold prior to 1982 contain asbestos fibers. The asbestos is stable when left in place, but becomes airborne when flooring is stripped. If old vinyl is taken up, asbestos abatement procedures should be followed. Check your local building codes.

Kitchen carpeting

Kitchen carpeting is not as popular as it once was, for obvious reasons. It doesn't handle spills very well and it fits neither the rustic-chic or white and-sleek fashion motifs popular today. Still, those who like it have their own good reasons, which often involve concrete floors and cold, tired feet. Kitchen carpeting, because it's rubber-backed, is more comfortable than all the marble in Italy. It's also quite affordable, and the best is stain-resistant.

Hardwood floors

Traditional hardwood flooring, usually 3/4-in. tongue-and-grove planking, has always been popular because it warms a room, complements cabinets and counters and is relatively easy to maintain. At a minimum $6 to $8 per square foot installed, it's fairly pricey, but it can be refinished whenever necessary to look as good as new.

Each plank is nailed through its tongue and the entire floor is usually sanded, stained and sealed on-site. Sealing a floor with three coats of urethane is an exacting process, requiring several dustfree days. When possible, other subcontractors and the occupants are locked out of the house when a floor is being sealed. While urethane is a reasonably tough sealer, it's not that tough. Close inspection of a floor that's been down a year or so will reveal a variety of dents from fallen utensils and canned goods.

What no tongue-and-groove flooring can tolerate, however, is standing water. Even the slightest plumbing leak, from a faucet, dishwasher or ice maker, can swell and buckle the floor if not caught immediately.

Prefinished veneers

Because full-dimension hardwoods are costly, and because factory-applied finishes are more durable, many manufacturers have gone to prefinished tongue-and-groove plywood planks, and squares, topped with hardwood veneers. Less hardwood is needed, which means more exotic types of hardwoods can be offered, in a greater variety of widths and patterns, and with a harder finish.

While some of these planks can be nailed in place, most are designed as floating floors. The planks are glued together along the tongue-and-groove joints and then laid over a foam pad. When installed, you'll be hard pressed to a notice a difference. Urethane-finished veneers run $2.50 to $6 per square foot installed.

The next step up, and it's a big step, is acrylic-impregnated veneer. In these cases, a superhard acrylic-plastic sealant is forced deep into the veneer. The result is a thick plastic finish many times more resistant to scratches and dents than factory- or site-applied urethanes. Again, prices and installation costs will vary, but $5 to $13 per square foot is likely, depending on the type of hardwood or hardwood combination you choose.

Plastic-laminate floors

A recent variation on the hardwood veneer theme is a wood-grain plastic laminate. The laminate, which contains silica sand, is many times harder than countertop laminates--or hardwoods, for that matter--and is bonded to plywood planks or squares. While this option may sound like a step down, it's not. Wood-grain laminates are just as costly, if not more so, than hardwood veneers. Because it's really just a simulation of wood, the most exotic hardwood appearances, often in buried cuts, are possible. The result is a nearly bulletproof floor that looks exactly like real wood.

Earthen tiles

Earthen tiles come in two forms glazed and unglazed, and some are even handmade, often with custom colors and details. Handmade tiles are less consistent in shape and size, and frankly, this is part of their appeal. Naturally, handmade tiles are a bit more expensive.

Most tiles are factory-made, usually with fine-grained clays that are machine shaped and pressed. These are more uniform and come in a wide variety of colors. Unglazed tiles need to be sealed after they're installed and periodically thereafter. Glazed tiles are impervious to stains and moisture and therefore do not need additional protection. All tile grout, however, should be treated with a liquid silicone sealer every year or so. Light grouts are naturally more difficult to keep clean, so consider using a colored grout.

How much you'll pay depends on the installation and, of course, your tile selection. Tiles range from $5 to $25 per square foot, with most costing $10 to $12. Installation varies, but expect it to be about $3 to $5 per square foot.

Tiles should not be installed directly over particleboard, or even wood subflooring, if the floor will be subject to a lot of flexing. Flexing is a function of room size, joist span and joist spacing. Today, 1/2-in. concrete backing board is nailed directly over the deck lumber and the tile is cemented to the board with adhesive mortar. All tiles are given a hardness rating, on a scale of one to four. No. 1 is the softest, and is primarily made for walls. Residential floor tiles should have a grade-3 hardness rating.

Stone floors

Stone flooring, typically marble, slate or granite, is considered permanent. It's not that stone flooring can't be replaced, but when it is, it's usually done by a subsequent owner bent on a completely new look.

Marble is not as hard as slate or granite, and is slightly more susceptible to scratching. Granite is the most durable, though all hold up well with reasonable care. While stone, especially slate, can be ordered in irregular shapes, most are trimmed into 12or 24-in. squares. All should be laid over concrete or concrete backing board. Remember, darker grouts are easier to keep clean. Stone runs $12 to $25 per square foot, plus installation of between $5 and $7 per square foot. If concrete backing board is needed, expect to pay a little more. PM
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