Types of Flooring Made Simple: The Complete 2020 Guide
Updated March 16, 2020
We know, we know. Choosing a new floor is kinda the worst. There are about a million types of flooring (and it’s hard to tell the difference between, like, 90% of them). It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming. It’s confusing. We get it.
But here’s the thing: we’re here to help. We’re here to make your flooring options understandable. We’re here to make flooring—dare we say it—fun?
Below, we’ll break down everything you need to know about all the most popular types of flooring: solid hardwood, engineered hardwood, wood laminate, vinyl plank, LVT, vinyl sheet, ceramic tile, stone tile, carpet tiles—even niche products like bamboo flooring, cork flooring, and wood-look tile.
We’ll examine each flooring option’s construction, installation methods, advantages, disadvantages, best uses, and cost. And when you’re ready to find a local flooring retailer, we’ll even help you with that too.
We’re going to help you find the best flooring for you. Don’t fret. It’s going to be ok.
As you might imagine, solid hardwood flooring is constructed of (no surprise) solid wood throughout. It usually comes in strips between 1½ and 2½ inches wide, or planks between 4 and 8 inches wide. Strips and planks are generally ¾ of an inch thick and can come prefinished or unfinished, depending on your preference.
Solid Hardwood Flooring Installation
Because it’s natural wood throughout, solid wood flooring needs to be nailed to a subfloor. That means you’re probably going to want to hire a professional (trust us, this is not the place to cut costs and hire some guy from Home Depot). Whatever you do, make sure to leave your flooring in its intended room for at least a few days before installation to acclimate; natural wood grains expand and shrink based on humidity and temperature.
Advantages of Solid Hardwood Flooring
It’s beautiful and feels great underfoot, duh.
Ok, ok, so there are actually lots of other advantages to a solid wood floor. First and foremost, it’s extremely long-lasting. Because it’s made of solid planks, a wood floor can be sanded and refinished over and over again for decades. Solid wood is versatile; there are dozens of species (types of trees) to choose from, each with its own look, color, and texture. The same goes for finishes. Even the way a plank is cut can reveal different elements of its beauty. Here’s a quick guide to some of the most popular wood flooring options:
Wood Flooring Types / Species
Oak: The most popular type of wood flooring in the U.S., Oak is known for its warmth, character, and variation. Red Oak, White Oak, domestic, imported—you’ve got options.
Maple: Maple is also a popular domestic option. It’s much lighter and can be a bit more difficult to stain than oak, but it’s a harder wood with a great natural look.
Walnut: Rich and dark, walnut is known for its chocolate-colored grain and luxurious appearance.
Hickory: Varied, complex, and hard, hickory is a great option if you want to really showcase your floor’s intricate detail.
Cork: Technically speaking, cork flooring is actually a composite flooring made of bark—but it’s pressed into planks and installed just like other solid hardwoods.
This is, of course, just a tiny cross-section of your endless solid wood flooring types (and we haven’t even talked about different cuts or finishes yet). If you want some help finding the best wood flooring for you, use this flooring stores near me search to find a local floor retailer in your area.
Disadvantages of Solid Hardwood Flooring
While it looks and feels great, solid wood is a natural material—meaning it’s susceptible to temperature, humidity, and moisture. Water can make it swell. It can be stained, warped, and scuffed relatively easily (depending on the species and finish, of course). With proper care, your wood floor can last a lifetime; without it, you’ll find yourself looking for a new floor quicker than you thought. All to say, solid wood floors take a bit more maintenance than other flooring options, and you need to be careful where you install them.
Best Uses for Solid Hardwood Floors
Solid wood floors are a great option for living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, hallways, etc.—anywhere you want a beautiful look and a great feel.
Where to Avoid Installing a Solid Wood Floor
Basically, you should avoid putting solid wood floors anywhere they’ll be exposed to:
Water, humidity, or moisture (like a kitchen or bathroom).
Rising damp (like a basement or other below-ground-level room—or any room with a concrete subfloor).
Dramatic shifts in temperature (like a 3-season room or above an underfloor heating system).
Intense activity (like a child’s room or somewhere dogs play, for instance).
Solid Wood Flooring Cost
According to the Washington Post, solid wood flooring costs $5–$10 per square foot, on average (including professional installation). That said, exotic or luxury woods can cost upward of $15 per square foot.
Engineered Hardwood Flooring
Engineered wood flooring is a great option if you want the look and texture of solid wood—with a bit more versatility and a little less maintenance.
Engineered Wood Flooring Construction
Engineered wood is essentially made of two layers: a thin sheet of solid wood (or veneer) on top, and a thicker core of high-density fiberboard or plywood below. Engineered wood can come in strips or planks up to 12 inches wide, and it’s generally ⅜ to ½ inch thick.
Engineered Wood Flooring Installation
Engineered wood can be installed in a number of ways. You can glue or nail it to a subfloor or install it as a floating floor using click-together flooring planks. The latter is a great DIY project if you have the time and skill, but a professional installer can usually do the job more quickly (and efficiently). But hey, your call. We won’t judge.
Advantages of Engineered Wood Flooring
There are tons of advantages to engineered wood flooring, especially in comparison to solid wood. It has the look, feel, and versatility of solid wood—since the top of it is solid wood. And while it isn’t waterproof, engineered wood flooring is much more resistant to warping, meaning it can go where hardwood can’t. You can even refinish it! Well, most of the time. Read on for more info on that. Oh, and since it’s mostly made of wood byproducts, it’s more environmentally friendly than solid wood too. #EarthWarriors.
Disadvantages of Engineered Wood Flooring
If you’re looking for a last-a-lifetime wood floor, engineered wood might not be your best bet. While solid wood can be refinished numerous times, engineered wood can only be refinished once or twice (and occasionally not at all), depending on the thickness of the veneer. Plus, it’s susceptible to the same types of surface scratches and gouges that solid wood flooring is.
Best Uses for Engineered Wood Flooring
Like we said, engineered wood flooring is much less susceptible to warping than solid hardwood flooring is. That means humidity, temperature, and moisture aren’t going to affect it nearly as much. Translation: put it wherever you can’t put solid wood (as long as it’s not going to get super wet). Basements? Check. Go for it. Over a concrete subfloor? Why not. Above an underfloor heating system? Do it. When it comes to choosing between wood flooring types, it’s definitely the more durable option.
Engineered Wood Flooring Cost
Engineered hardwood will run you roughly the same price as most solid wood flooring. That said, if you’ve got your heart set on some sort of exotic wood flooring and don’t want to shell out the big bucks, engineered hardwood can be a great alternative.
What is laminate flooring? Think of it as a more durable alternative to engineered hardwood—but with a photo layer instead of solid wood veneer. Confused? Don’t be. Here’s what you need to know.
Laminate Flooring Construction
Laminate flooring is made up of three (sometimes four) layers. Starting from the bottom, they are:
Base Layer/Core: A rigid, high-density fiberboard (very similar to the core of engineered wood).
Image Layer: A photorealistic image of wood, stone, tile, etc.—whatever the laminate flooring is imitating. Wood laminate, for instance, is printed with an image of wood grain.
Wear Layer: A transparent plasticate that guards against both fading and wear.
Some laminate flooring has a fourth layer below the base, often for soundproofing or comfort. Really, every type of flooring has endless versions and gimmicks devised by manufacturers to set them apart. The only way to really know what’s best for you is to talk to an expert.
Laminate Flooring Installation
Laminate is generally installed as a floating floor, meaning it’s only attached to itself (and not the subfloor). It usually requires a soft underlayment (foam, for example), and can be glued together or clicked into place—it all depends what kind of laminate you get. Again, every manufacturer has a million types of flooring with a million gimmicks.
Advantages of Laminate Flooring
In a word: durability. The wear layer of laminate flooring makes it super, super durable. Kids? Dogs? Heavy furniture? A passion for knife throwing? Whatever you’ve got going on, laminate is a great way to avoid scratches and gouges in your floor. Plus, its wear layer makes it easy to clean and UV resistant (so it won’t fade in the sun the way solid wood sometimes does). Oh, and it’s usually a lot less expensive than wood, too.
Disadvantages of Laminate Flooring
Like engineered wood, laminate flooring isn’t horribly susceptible to humidity, moisture, or temperature—but it’s not waterproof and will swell if water gets into the base layer. Lower-end laminate floors are sometimes artificial-looking, and though laminate is durable, some types have been known to chip. And while its super-hard top makes it durable, it also feels plastic-y underfoot and gets slippery when wet. Plus, you can’t refinish or repair it.
Best Uses for Laminate Flooring
Laminate flooring is a solid flooring option anywhere it won’t get wet. Its scratch resistance makes it one of the best flooring options for high-traffic areas (like hallways) or homes with kids or dogs.
Laminate Flooring Cost
Laminate flooring can cost anywhere from $1 per foot to $10 per foot (and those are just ballpark numbers). It all depends on the type and quality you want. Installation usually ads at least a few dollars to the cost per square foot, as always. Like grandpa always says, there’s no free lunches.
Viny plank flooring, LVP, LVT, luxury vinyl tile… call it whatever you want, it’s essentially the same product: a durable, synthetic flooring material that can mimic the look and feel of just about anything. But since it’s most commonly referred to as “vinyl plank flooring” or “vinyl tile flooring”, that’s what we’re going to call it from here on out.
Vinyl Plank / Vinyl Tile Flooring Construction
Vinyl plank flooring is made of PVC (plastic). Like laminate, it contains multiple layers. Starting from the bottom, they are:
Base Layer/Core: Made of vinyl, the core can range from rigid to flexible, depending on the product.
Design Layer: Also made of vinyl, the design layer ranges mimics the look (and texture) of anything from wood to metal to stone.
Wear Layer: A transparent layer to guard against (you guessed it) wear.
Lots of the best vinyl flooring options also have some sort of backing underneath the base layer, but again, it depends on the product. Sometimes they’re designed to make the tile softer underfoot, sometimes to make the floor more durable, etc. etc. There are a million variations.
What’s the Difference Between Vinyl Plank Flooring, Vinyl Tile Flooring, LVP, and LVT?
Like we said, they’re essentially the same product. LVP stands for “luxury vinyl plank”, which is just a fancy way of saying “vinyl plank flooring”—literally planks of the vinyl floor we just described.
LVT stands for “luxury vinyl tile”, which is, totally predictably, the exact same thing—but in the shape of tiles rather than planks. It’s not rocket science. Why all the different names? Because every manufacturer wants to differentiate their products and make them sound special.
Vinyl Plank / Vinyl Tile Flooring Installation
The possibilities are endless, friend. Vinyl plank/tile floors can be glued to a subfloor, installed using a click-and-lock system as a floating floor, or loose-laid (with just friction to hold it in place). Some types even have peel-and-stick backing.
Advantages of Vinyl Plank Flooring / Vinyl Tile Flooring
There’s a reason everyone’s jumping on the LVP/LVT train—it’s inexpensive, it’s soft underfoot, it’s insanely durable, it can mimic the look and texture of just about any material, and (maybe best of all) it’s an entirely waterproof flooring option. Put it in your basement. Throw it in that mudroom. Tile a bathroom with it. Heck, make a freakin’ deck out of it. The world is your vinyl oyster, baby.
PS: Want more rigid vinyl plank/vinyl tiles? They’re known as WPC, SPC, or rigid core.
PPS: Vinyl plank is so durable, some manufacturers even offer lifetime warranties for it.
Disadvantages of Vinyl Plank Flooring / Vinyl Tile Flooring
It’s plastic, which means it’s not particularly eco-friendly. And if you’re purchasing a less-expensive product, it might not look as realistic as you want it to. Plus, if you’re going with a more flexible LVT/LVP option, you’re going to need to make sure you’re installing over a good, smooth subfloor—otherwise, any irregularities are going to show and you might get a hollow, echoey sound when you walk on it.
Best Uses for Vinyl Plank Flooring / Vinyl Tile Flooring
Like we said, LVT/LVP is waterproof—you can put the stuff anywhere. That said, you’d be making a mistake if you thought of it as just a “utility floor”. High-quality laminates do an amazing job of imitating hardwood, tile, and stone, and lots of them are absolutely gorgeous. Put it in a living room or bedroom!
Vinyl Plank / Vinyl Tile Flooring Cost
Vinyl plank floors and vinyl tile floors are definitely a budget-friendly option. They usually run between $1 and $5 per square foot, before installation. And remember: they’re usually easier (meaning cheaper) to install than hardwood floors.
Are Vinyl Tiles the Same as Linoleum Tiles?
While the terms are often used interchangeably, vinyl and linoleum are actually two different materials. Vinyl is 100% synthetic. Linoleum, on the other hand, is a mixture of fillers and binders like cork dust, pine rosin, and solidified linseed oil. It fell out of fashion a few decades ago, but it’s recently been making a comeback—mainly because it’s way more environmentally friendly than the PVC that vinyl is made from.
Vinyl Sheet Flooring
Ever been in a kitchen or bathroom from… well, from the second half of the 20th century? Then you’ve walked on vinyl sheet flooring. In fact, thinking about sliding around on it in your socks is probably bringing up some major nostalgia right about now.
Vinyl Sheet Flooring Construction
Vinyl sheet flooring is exactly what it sounds like: a single layer of vinyl laid out in a sheet. It’s an extremely flexible material and comes in an endless variety of patterns and textures. Some products have backings, some don’t—it depends on the manufacturer.
Vinyl Sheet Flooring Installation
Vinyl sheet flooring usually comes in 6- or 12-foot rolls, which are then cut to size. Depending on the product you choose, it can be glued down or peeled-and-stuck.
Advantages of Vinyl Sheet Flooring
Because it’s plastic and installed as a single layer, vinyl sheets are a totally waterproof type of flooring. They come in literally thousands of patterns and textures, so there’s basically something for everyone. Plus, they’re ridiculously durable—there’s a reason so many houses still have them. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Disadvantages of Vinyl Sheet Flooring
As a PVC product, vinyl sheeting isn’t super eco-friendly—and if you don’t install it properly, you’re going to get some pretty monumental warping.
Best Uses for Vinyl Sheet Flooring
Laundry rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms are the most common places to put sheet vinyl floors, but it makes a great flooring for basements as well.
Vinyl Sheet Flooring Cost
Vinyl sheet is comparable to low-cost vinyl plank and vinyl tile. That said, you really need to have a good installer put it in. If water gets underneath the sheet, it’ll bubble like crazy.
You might think you know all there is to know about tile, but believe us—there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on in the world of tile flooring. Seriously! Stop laughing.
Tile Flooring Construction
There are quite a few types of tile for flooring—the most common being stone, ceramic, porcelain, and cement (ok, and linoleum, but that’s not particularly common in homes anymore). Here’s what you need to know:
Stone Tile Flooring: Types of stone flooring tile include marble, granite, and sandstone (among literally dozens of others). Each type of stone has different properties, applications, and uses.
Ceramic Tile Flooring: Made of baked clay, ceramic tile is extremely popular for its beauty and natural feel. Saltillo is a gorgeous example of ceramic tile.
Porcelain Tile Flooring: Though it’s a type of ceramic, porcelain is made from a more refined clay and baked at a higher temperature than common ceramic. This makes it less water-absorbent and, in some cases, more crack-resistant. But of course, it also makes it more expensive.
Cement Tile Flooring: Cement tiles are quite popular in Europe, and for good reason. They’re gorgeous! Cement tiles cure at room temperature, making them a bit more porous (so you have to seal them), but they come in amazing patterns and can even be refinished.
On top of the differences in material, both porcelain and ceramic tiles can come either glazed or unglazed.
Unglazed Tiles are generally a bit rougher, but they’re the same color all the way through. That means they’re more rustic, slip-resistant, and if they crack or chip, it’s less noticeable.
Glazed Tiles have an extra layer (of glaze, duh) and they’re probably what you think of when you picture beautifully-patterned tile floors. Because they’re glazed, chips and cracks are a little more apparent—but they don’t stain or absorb water nearly as easily.
Wood Look Ceramic Tile
Wood-look ceramic tile is one of the most popular flooring products on the market today. Why? It does an incredible job of mimicking wood grain (seriously, it’s really hard to tell them apart) while offering the same durability and benefits as porcelain or ceramic tile. That means you can put it in laundry rooms, bathrooms, kitchens… anywhere you wouldn’t put a wood product. Best of all worlds, basically.
Tile Flooring Installation
You can lay and grout tile flooring yourself, but it’s a time-consuming process and not the easiest thing in the world to do. Our advice: find a flooring store in your area and have someone who knows what they’re doing take care of it.
Advantages of Tile Flooring
It depends on the material, of course, but tile floors are absolutely timeless. From porcelain tile patterns to granite-tiled bathrooms, you really can’t go wrong in the looks department. Tile is always a great option anywhere you need a waterproof floor, and it’s a solid choice if you have an underfloor heating system. It’s easy to clean, and ceramic floors require very little day-to-day maintenance.
Disadvantages of Tile Flooring
Tile is brittle, so it can crack or chip (porcelain especially). Some types of stone floors, like marble, are very absorbent and prone to staining. Most of all, though, tile takes needs to be taken care of. You need to re-grout it every few years, and stone floors need to be resealed or they’ll start to crack.
Best Uses for Tile Flooring
Like we said, tile can go anywhere. Our advice? Avoid putting porcelain tile floors in high-traffic areas, since they’re more prone to chipping. Use unglazed tiles in your bathroom to avoid slipping. But really, there is no bad use of tile flooring. And if you want a less-slippery tile, make sure to look up its Coefficient of Friction (CoF) rating!
Tile Flooring Cost
Tile flooring costs can vary wildly depending on the material you choose. Inexpensive tiles can cost as little as $0.50 per square foot; luxury tiles can cost over $80 for the same. Installation prices are also dependent on who you buy your flooring from and the intricacy of the pattern you’re going for.
For the last couple of decades, carpet has been the proverbial fanny pack of the flooring world: out of style and largely replaced. But like the fanny pack, it’s been making a huge comeback as of late (thanks, Millennials)—in the form of versatile, self-adhesive carpet tiles.
Carpet Tile Construction
Carpet tiles are square sections of carpet, usually between 16 and 24 inches long. Like most carpet, they can come in an endless variety of textures, materials, and designs. While some carpet tiles need to be glued down, many come with self-adhesive backing. High-quality carpet tiles, in fact, can often be installed over existing finished surfaces and reused.
Carpet Tile Installation
If you’re going with self-adhesive peel-and-stick carpet tiles (and you should) you can install these so-called “carpet squares” with almost zero effort. Just make sure the surface you’re putting them on is clean; then peel, stick, and you’re good to go. Like we said, peel and stick carpet tiles can be installed over existing surfaces and reused. So if you mess up on the first try, it’s really not the end of the world.
Advantages of Carpet Tiles
Modular carpet tiles are reusable, they’re easy to install, they’re inexpensive—what’s not to like? In all seriousness, though, carpet tiles are a great option if you want to get creative with your space. You can carpet an entire room with them, use them for hard-to-cover spots, or even mix and match different styles to create patterns and effects. Versatility: it’s the wave of the future.
Disadvantages of Carpet Tiles
If you’re using tiles to carpet an entire floor, you need to be precise. Otherwise, you might end up having visible seams between the tiles. Additionally, if you don’t line them up properly, you’re going to get wonky, jarring edges.
Best Uses for Carpet Tiles
Seriously, anything. Use them to carpet your office; use them to create an area rug; use them as stair runners; use them to make your patio more comfortable; use them for whatever!
Carpet Tile Cost
Modular peel-and-stick carpet tiles generally cost between $3 and $5 per square foot, and since there’s no installation cost to speak of, they’re definitely one of the more budget-friendly flooring options. Plus, you can buy carpet tiles at Home Depot, on Amazon… anywhere, really.
When you think of conventional carpets, you’re usually thinking of broadloom carpets—ones that are woven on a wide (or broad loom)—that cover a floor wall to wall. While broadloom carpets are a bit of their own thing (there are endless publications dedicated to educating people all about carpet), here’s a quick rundown.
Broadloom Carpet Construction
Carpets generally come in one of three categories, or piles: cut pile, loop pile, or cut-and-loop pile.
Cut pile stands straight up from the backing, whereas loop doubles back to make—you guessed it—a loop. Pretty self-explanatory. Cut-and-loop pile is a combination of both, and usually used for making patterned carpets.
Materials for carpet fiber include nylon (the most common), wool, polyester… you name it.
Broadloom Carpet Installation
This one’s a doozy. Carpets are not easy to install. You need tons of special materials and it is not a good do-it-yourself flooring option. We could describe the intricate process of properly installing carpet, but we’d rather just leave you with this post from DIY Network. It’s designed to show you how to install carpet “easily”. Spoiler: it’s not easy.
Advantages of Broadloom Carpet
It’s cozy! Come on, it’s carpet. You know the advantages—it’s cozy, it’s soft, it’s warm, it’s slip-proof… the list goes on. When it comes to analyzing types of flooring, this one is pretty self-explanatory.
Disadvantages of Broadloom Carpet
Have you ever tried cleaning spills out of a carpet? Do you have any pets? Kids? Allergies? Do you live in a dusty area? Is your home prone to mildew? Do you like keeping your house clean?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you probably know the disadvantages of broadloom carpets already. They’re hard to clean; they’re magnets for dirt, mites, and dust; they’re home to allergens and bacteria, they can mildew, etc.
Obviously, it depends on the type of carpet you buy (some new materials are mildew-resistant, for instance)—but on the whole, they’re not the easiest. There’s a reason so many people are debating carpet vs. laminate these days—and landing firmly on the laminate side.
Best Uses for Broadloom Carpet
Put carpet anywhere you want a soft, warm floor! Bedrooms, hallways, even living rooms—just not bathrooms. Please.
Broadloom Carpet Cost
Carpeting runs a huge price range depending on material and construction. The materials themselves can vary from $4–$20 or more per square foot (depending on your choices). And installation is not the cheapest, given the need for a highly trained professional. That said: if you’re wondering how to replace flooring on a budget and you want carpet, it can be done. You just need to talk to a flooring professional for help!
How to Find Flooring Near Me
It’s time, friend. We’ve given you the lowdown on all the most popular types of flooring. Now it’s time to go straight to the source: a local retailer. Don’t fret; we won’t make you type stuff like “carpet near me” and “hardwood flooring near me” over and over into Google (it’ll just return a bunch of results for Home Depot and Lowes, anyway).
There’s an easier way: use this flooring stores near me search. It’ll show you all the flooring stores in your area, complete with their contact info, inventory, and descriptions. See? We told you we’d help you find the best flooring for you. And you thought we were kidding when we said we’d make flooring fun.
About The Author
Content Marketing Manager at AdHawk//FloorForce, Samuel is a former travel writer, reformed English teacher, and semi-professional trivia host. When he’s not creating content, he can be found doing crosswords, drinking coffee, and stalking the office dogs.
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