Understanding the Different Types of Flooring Available Today

If you’re building a new home or renovating an existing one, the flooring you choose is one of the most essential decisions you’ll make.

There are several types of flooring, and the material you choose will be an integral part of your interior design. The material also determines the cost, difficulty of installation, use, and maintenance. 

Before you decide on a specific type of flooring, research what’s available. Keep reading for our guide to the best flooring options.

Hardwood Flooring

Most hardwood flooring is made of a single piece of hardwood cut from oak, walnut, or cherry.

While width varies, most hardwood floor planks are three-quarters of an inch thick.

A “medium” or “standard” plank is between three and five inches wide. Recently, wide planks have become trendy, as well. These measure between five and ten inches wide.

Hardwood floor planks come either unfinished or finished. Finished planks have finish applied before you install them, while unfinished wood must be sanded down and finished before application. Finishing makes the wood shiny and moisture resistant once installed.

True to its name, all hardwood planks are hard. However, there are varying levels of hardness depending on the species of wood. You must choose wood with a hardness that can withstand the expected foot traffic in your room. 

The Janka hardness rating scale can help you choose which wood species matches your needs in a specific area of your home. 

While it depends on the variety, you should expect to pay between $5 and $10 per square foot of hardwood flooring. Exotic wood species can run up to $14 per square foot. 

Installation costs also vary by region but average between $6 and $11 per square foot.

Engineered Wood Flooring

If you’re hoping to save money, engineered hardwood is an excellent and affordable alternative to solid hardwood.

Manufacturers combine a layer of genuine hardwood with multiple layers of plywood planks that run in opposite directions to make engineered hardwood. Together, they look like solid hardwood but are more moisture resistant.

If you live in an area with high humidity levels or are installing hardwood in a basement, engineered hardwood may be the better choice. 

As engineered hardwood consists of less expensive solid wood, they’re a more affordable option for people who want plank flooring for less.

Because of the thin top veneer, engineered hardwood can’t be sanded down and refinished as often as true hardwood flooring. You can apply a high-quality coating that makes them more resistant to daily wear and tear.

The finishes and plank sizes are nearly identical to solid hardwood. You can also choose from several species such as cherry, oak, hickory, and bamboo.

On the low-end, engineered hardwood can run $3 to $5 per square foot, while high-end engineered wood can cost $8-13 per square foot.

Linoleum Flooring

Don’t worry. Linoleum flooring has come a long way since what was in your grandmother’s kitchen in the 1970s. It no longer has that slick-looking surface and is made from renewable materials such as cork and linseed oil—so it’s considered environmentally friendly. 

Linoleum flooring comes in sheets, so it’s easy to install by gluing it to the floor. The sheets have mineral pigments that offer a variety of patterns and rich colors. They’re sealed with a protective coating to prevent wear and staining. 

If you purchase linoleum sheets with a protective coating, they should last a long time. 

Without this coating, you should refinish your floors every few years to keep them looking new. 

While it depends on the type, linoleum runs $3 to $7 per square foot of material. Including installation, it can cost between $7 and $12 per square foot.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate is an affordable flooring option if you like the look of solid hardwood but can’t fit it into your budget. 

Laminate has a top layer that’s finished and sealed over layers of plywood or compressed fiber. It’s created similarly to engineered hardwood. This method offers durable and stable flooring slats.

The main difference between laminate and wood flooring is that laminate doesn’t feature a real wood top layer.

The top is a photo-realistic image of real finishes such as wood, ceramic tile, stone, or stained concrete. This image is covered in a plastic coating.

This photo-realism technology creates laminate versions of planks that look almost identical to real wood for a fraction of the cost. You can purchase laminate as low as $1 to $7 per square foot. The installation will cost between $2 and $5, depending on the project’s difficulty.

Cork Flooring

Cork flooring is an environmentally-friendly option. To create cork flooring, manufacturers harvest it from tree bark. This doesn’t kill the tree, as it regenerates the bark every eight to ten years. Once the bark regenerates, it can be harvested again. 

Similar to laminate flooring, you can purchase cork in tiles or planks. Cork offers unique grain patterns that look similar to wood. Often, cork planks include unique speckles and swirls not found in wood.

Cork flooring tiles and planks are typically finished before installation. However, to make your floor last longer, you should reseal the cork every three to five years. Resealing protects the floor again moisture damage and stains. Common sealers include wax and polyurethane.

At $2 to $6 per square foot, cork flooring is an affordable option. Installation averages $3 to $5 per square foot.

Ceramic Tile Flooring

If you’re searching for versatility, ceramic tile flooring is an interesting choice. It’s easy to coordinate ceramic tile with any room, as it comes in various shapes, textures, colors, and sizes. 

To make ceramic tiles, clay and shale are combined and fired in a kiln. Before firing, pigments are added to the compound to create additional color choices. 

It’s imperative to choose ceramic tiles that are constructed for floor use. If you don’t, you may not select tiles that can withstand foot traffic. You can find tiles that meet the Americans with Disabilities Act’s slip-resistance standards to keep your family and guests safe in your home.

As it comes in so many varieties, it’s difficult to estimate the cost of ceramic tile flooring. While some tiles will sell for as little as $1 per square foot, luxury tile can cost up to $100. A professional ceramic tile installation will run from $4 to $12, depending on the project.

Vinyl Flooring

If you’re searching for the most affordable flooring option, consider waterproof vinyl flooring. Vinyl is flexible, resilient, and cushioned. Plus, it’s virtually maintenance-free.

One of the most attractive aspects of vinyl flooring is the variety of colors and patterns to choose from. These include intricate mosaics as well as basic designs. While vinyl can look cheap, it can also look just as expensive as higher-end options.

If you want your floor to truly mimic the look of wood, check out this most realistic vinyl plank.

The cost of vinyl is attributed to the thickness of the tile. To make vinyl, manufacturers attach a top wear layer to layers of felt and foam. The top layer of vinyl is usually stain- and scratch-resistant. Usually, manufacturers will include a warranty with vinyl flooring, and you can expect it to last up to fifteen years if properly cared for.

Carpet Flooring

Carpet is still a common flooring option. As it’s created from a variety of materials, it comes in more color and texture options than other flooring choices. 

Its fiber density count determines the quality of a carpet. Generally, carpet is more durable when it has more fibers per square inch. 

To predict how well carpet will withstand general wear and tear, some manufacturers will use a rating system. This system is based on a scale of one to five. Options that fall in the middle are well within normal.

Prices for carpet flooring vary wildly, but typically, you’ll pay between $3.50 and $11 per square foot for carpet. Installation is more affordable than many other options discussed here—from $0.50 to $2 per square foot.

Stone Flooring

Stone flooring screams luxury—and it has a price tag to match. Stone can add a feeling of luxury to any space. The tiles are usually made from travertine, marble, ledger, slate, granite, or limestone. 

While all stone is hard, the level of hardness varies. Keep in mind that softer stone, such as sandstone, won’t resist stain or moisture, as well as harder stone, such as marble.

If you choose softer stone flooring, you’ll need to seal and finish your floor every three years. Harder stones can go four to five years between refinishing to maintain a luxurious appearance.

Which Types of Flooring Will You Choose?

Now that you know more about the types of flooring available, it’s time to make a decision. 

When you’re ready, visit a local or national flooring contractor near you. They will have the most reliable service and choice of inventory.

For more homeowner’s advice, check out the DIY section of our website.