Tips on Buying Carpet, Vinyl or Hardwood Flooring

Carpet: The main considerations in picking a carpet for your home are style, construction, yarn source, and additional treatments for stain resistance. Carpet yarn can be made from wool, nylon, olefin, and polyester. I have listed them in descending order of durability and cost.

Wool is very luxurious and durable. Because it is a natural fiber, it can be at a disadvantage when exposed to moist climates (resulting in mold) or spills (resulting in stains). It is available only as a “staple” fiber, meaning it is made of short fibers that are combed and twisted into yarn. It is also the most expensive of carpet fibers.

Nylon is the most popular carpet fiber. It is durable and fairly stain resistant. Nylon can be made from “staple’ fiber (as described above) or continuous filament (like very fine fishing line). Continuous filament is preferable as it does not shed and will maintain it’s new appearance longer.

Olefin is used mainly in commercial carpet. You know, that fine loop stuff used in many offices. It is cheap, virtually stain proof, and easy to maintain. The greatest disadvantage to loop construction is the tendency to snag a loop and cause a “run” of yarn pulling out of the carpet. The best remedy is to cut the snag with a pair of scissors and place a DROP (just a drop) of some kind of glue onto the cut edge of the yarn to prevent it from coming loose again. Olefin is what we call a “solution dyed” fiber, meaning the color is added to the olefin while it is still in a liquid form, before the yarn is extruded. A good analogy of solution dying verses vat dying is to compare the color you see when you cut a radish in half as opposed to a carrot where the color goes all the way through. Because Olefin has the color all the way through the yarn, it resists almost every stain. Most nylon carpets are made with dyed (radish) fiber. On the downside, olefin is not as durable as nylon. It tends to crush easily when made into a plush carpet. That’s why it is mostly used in a very low compact style of carpet. Many larger loop “berber” carpets are also made from olefin. It can be an inexpensive alternative to having a carpet that looks like wool.

Polyester yarn keeps trying to capture market share but has some inherit weaknesses. It is less expensive, but wears poorly too. Many times it is made from recycled material like plastic coke bottles. If you want to put a thick carpet down for less money, and aren’t concerned about its durability, polyester can be a good choice.

Now a word about construction: In typical cut pile, or plush carpet, three things matter, yarn material (nylon is best), filament yarn, and lastly, pick a carpet that has a high twist in the yarn. The tighter the twist, the more durable it will be. I might give you this analogy: If you took a kitchen towel in your hands and twisted it, the tighter you twisted it the tighter and thinner it would get. The same is true with carpet yarn. The tighter the mill twists the yarn, the thinner it will get. But it will be more durable and hold its appearance longer. To give the appearance of value, many mills make carpet of poorly twisted yarn. It will feel thicker, but it won’t wear as well as one that is well twisted, even though it might feel thinner. Also, thicker carpet is not necessarily better carpet. Remember the old shag carpets of the 60’s and 70’s. they never seemed to wear out. Why? Because of the way the carpet yarn flowed back and forth under your feet. Extremely thick carpet might seem to be the best, but can lose its appearance quicker because all the foot traffic lands directly on the ends of the yarn. The effect of this is that it will soon look matted. If a carpet has a “mini” shag construction, you are then walking on the sides of the yarn as it moves back and forth under your feet. The sides of the yarn are much more durable and resist wear over time.

Sheet vinyl: This is much less complicated. There are basically two types of vinyl floors, inlaid vinyl and embossed vinyl.

Inlaid vinyl is created by laying down particles of colored vinyl chips over a backing material, and ‘welding’ them together by heat or some other method. A wear layer is then put over the top. Inlaid floors tend to be more expensive, but more durable than common embossed vinyl floors.

�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­�­Embossed vinyl is made by taking a printed pattern and covering it with a plastic wear layer. One of the biggest considerations here is the thickness of the wear layer. Generally the thicker the wear layer, the more durable the floor. Though less expensive than inlaid vinyl, common embossed vinyl can be prone to cuts, punctures and tears. The homeowner must exercise extreme caution when moving appliances over sheet vinyl floors,especially if it is not inlaid.

In using either type of vinyl, be sure to use an approved seam sealer over all seams. As an example, if you are installing a Mannington floor, use the right Mannington seam sealer for that particular floor.Otherwise, your seams could begin to split open over time.

Vinyl floors must be installed over a very smooth surface to avoid “telegraphing” a patter from under the floor. Particle board or “MDF” is the less expensive choice, but can be vulnerable to damage by exposure to moisture or water. An exterior grade of”A” surface plywood is preferable.

I will break this category down into three groups;true hardwood, laminated hardwood, and synthetic laminates (or ‘pergo’ floors).

True hardwood is made of solid material, oak, maple, or some other wood. It can more sensitive to atmospheric moisture, resulting in ‘cupping’ or warping. It can also be the most long lasting because it can be sanded and refinished several times depending on its original thickness. Solid wood floors can come prefinished or can be sanded and finished on the job site. While more time consuming and messy, a ‘sand and finish’ job will be more durable, especially in areas like kitchens and bathrooms where water is present.

Laminated hardwood offer some advantages. They can be installed in less time and with less mess, while still offering the beauty of real wood. The laminated construction is recommended where the floor is to be installed on or below grade, including over a concrete slab.

Synthetic laminates (“pergo” floors) are becoming increasingly popular because of their improving appearance and affordability. They are also seen as the floor of choice by the do-it-yourself crowd (make sure to read and follow the instructions included in each box). The difference in the cost has to do with the beauty of the patterns and quality of the backing material. Some backing materials are more durable and resistant to damage by moisture than less expensive floors. In the past, most of these floors were glued together. They have now been replaced by the “snap together” floors. Caution must be exercised when installing these floors in kitchens, baths, laundry rooms, or anywhere where there might be exposure to water. With the snap together construction, water can find its way between the boards and cause damage to the floor. As a matter of personal choice (as in use at your own risk), I install these floors with a small bead of wood glue along the top edge of each board. This provides a measure of protection by keeping water from seeping in between the cracks in the floor. And be careful to never mop the floor with a sopping wet mop. Clean up spills asap.

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