We have always thought that our house has “good bones.” It is a large, classic Colonial style home—a commonplace style here in Virginia. The layout is nice, the rooms on the main floor have high ceilings and trim work and most have hardwood flooring. In all major renovations to our home, we try to honor these good bones and make changes that look like they were part of the original design rather than add-ons.
When it came time to pick a new flooring option for the family room, we faced a sea of choices. Primary on my list was keeping the cost down. An important secondary consideration, however, was that it had to be a flooring choice that would stand up to a lot of abuse. This is a well-used room and since it opens to the patio, is right off the garage, and adjacent to the kitchen, the flooring often sees dirt and food spills.
Carpeting – We first thought about carpeting options. The quickest and generally cheapest option would be to recarpet. You can buy carpeting in zillions of colors and even textured patterns. The big concern, however was the dirt problem. Our existing multicolored (green, burgundy and cream) berber carpeting was almost a perfect camouflage pattern. We looked at several carpeting options and the idea that was most favorable was a highly patterned carpet that would mimic an oriental rug like we had in other rooms of the house. We ordered up a sample of this Lake Manyas carpet and liked it quite a bit.
In the end, there were two factors sinking this choice. The first was our continued hesitation to put more carpet in that room knowing how much dirt gets tracked in, how food would inevitably spill and how hard it would be to clean. The second was learning that woven carpets, the most beautiful choice for patterned carpeting, generally have more complicated installation procedures, including some piecing and sewing. With the wrong installer this could go very wrong and the right installer would probably cost quite a bit, negating the affordability of this option.
So we switched our thinking to hard flooring options.
Slate Tiles – One of the first DIY projects we did in our home was to replace the linoleum in the laundry room with wonderful watercolor slate tiles. It came out fairly well and we do love the look. We knew from that experience, however, that we didn’t want to do another slate tile installation ourselves. Slate is a tricky material to work with because it is naturally uneven. When you are trying to lay a straight, even floor, you need a good eye and some experience to work with slate.
We were tempted by the slate choice as it would transition from the laundry room right to the outside where I have a faux slate patio. Slate is also terrific at hiding dirt. Why didn’t we go with slate? The primary reason was an intangible feeling that a slate or tile floor would be just too hard and cold for the exercise purpose of the room. Maybe the transition from carpet to tile was just too much for me. I pictured dishes shattering on it and kneeling on it for exercise to be uncomfortable or uneven. Slate tile would also be one of the more expensive of our flooring options.
Resilient Vinyl Wood Planks – At the cheapest end of the spectrum were these linoleum wood-look plank strips that install similarly to hardwood flooring but with peel and stick convenience! You don’t even need a saw to cut them, just a sharp knife. At about $0.80 per square foot and easy to install yourself this was a tempting option. The photos of DIY installations online were impressively gorgeous. Linoleum would also work well for our situation given the dirt factor.
We decided not to go with this option for a couple of reasons. First, this flooring was going to abut the hardwood flooring in the kitchen so in our case, people would always be comparing the vinyl flooring with the real thing so the fool-the-eye technique was not going to work out well. Second, the whole peel and stick concept just felt cheap to my husband and he felt it was not in character with the well-made quality of the rest of the house. This look would definitely work the best when you use the peel and stick flooring continuously throughout a small home, apartment or basement.
Inexpensive laminate flooring – There are a million patterns of laminate flooring out there that are less than $1 per square foot—including some as low as $0.50 per square foot. We ordered up a couple of samples that we thought might coordinate with our flooring.
We decided not to go with this option primarily because there were no laminate patterns that were even a close match to our flooring. Inexpensive laminate generally comes in wider plank widths. We already had two types of flooring in the area: hardwood flooring in the kitchen and slate tiles in the laundry room. Going with laminate would introduce a third type of flooring and it just felt too busy. Also, even though the laminate flooring itself is generally inexpensive, labor to install the flooring can run roughly about $2 per square foot. (If you are a true DIY-er you would do it yourself but this was not in our realm of expertise.) So, when you factor in how much it would cost to install, the savings decreased and didn’t compensate for the visual deficiencies.
*Note: much later, after the installation process was underway, we learned another factor that would weigh against choosing vinyl planks or laminate flooring for our installation – floor height! Our flooring is generally at a ¾” height throughout the main floor. The berber carpet with pad was about ¾” tall, as was the hardwood flooring nearby. Once the carpet and padding came out, the floor dropped ¾ of an inch. If we went with laminate or vinyl planks, we would have had to either put in additional subflooring or padding to raise the floor or put in some sort of noticeable transition between the two flooring types, which probably would have looked awful.
Pre-finished hardwood flooring – Sometimes you can get a good deal on prefinished hardwood flooring but the best patterns tend to be in the range of $4.00 per square foot. It has a nice look to it and comes in almost every color of the rainbow. It installs quickly and can be used right away. The only downside we have heard about prefinished floors is that over time they collect dirt in the tiny seams in the beveled edges between boards, which lessens their uniform “hardwood” look.
Unfortunately, the rainbow of prefinished flooring does not include the color of our 24 year old flooring, which was installed in the late 1980’s. At that time, it seems to have been in vogue to use a yellow undertone in the brown wood. Today’s prefinished flooring are not very yellow and are more red-brown in color. We just couldn’t find anything that was a close enough match for our taste. Also, the finish of prefinished flooring is so perfectly glossy and smooth that it looked a bit artificial next to our existing hardwood flooring.
Unfinished hardwood flooring stained to match – The final option was to try to match the existing hardwood flooring in the house as closely as possible, using unfinished hardwood flooring and staining and finishing it to match. This was by far the most labor intensive option, had the highest mess factor and also meant that we needed to avoid putting rugs and furniture in the room until it had cured for about 6 months (according to one installer). It was also the most expensive option, although just barely more than prefinished hardwoods.
I really didn’t want to do this option knowing how much work would be involved for me in supervising the installation, having to avoid walking on the area during the installation and keeping my children out of the room for 6 months but in the end after knocking down every other choice, we knew this was the route we had to take.
The final factor in favor in choosing the unfinished hardwoods was simply the good feeling we got that this was the choice that probably should have been made when our home was built. This room was meant to have hardwood flooring in it. If we were successful, it would feel like an original part of the house.
Have you faced this type of flooring decision before? If it were your decision, which route would you have taken? Please share in the comments.
Tomorrow: Preparing the Room for Installation