When it comes time to renovate your home, one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make is what type of flooring to use.

And for most homeowners it’s not an easy decision.

You need to consider not just looks, but also practicality. How will the floor feel on your feet, and how will you clean it? Will it stand up to pets, kids and spilled red wine? And what’s your budget anyway?

“It’s kind of a balancing act,” says Olga Adler, an interior designer who operates Olga Adler Interiors in Westport, Connecticut, and Delray Beach, Florida. Tile, for example, is practical and durable, but “it’s not very comfortable to walk on,” she says, and it can be cold.

Hardwood flooring is very popular now, but it can be damaged by too much moisture and easily scratched by pets’ nails. Engineered hardwood provides a similar look at a lower cost, but can’t be refinished as often.

Carpet and laminate are less popular flooring options in many parts of the U.S., but they're usually also less expensive.

[See: 8 Potential Headaches to Be Aware of Before Becoming a Homeowner.]

“A lot has to do with the climate,” says Frederick Wilson, partner at Morgante-Wilson Architects in suburban Chicago. Tile, since it’s cold, is popular in warm climates such as Florida, Texas and Arizona. Carpet, which is warmer and softer, is often favored for bedrooms in colder climates.

A popular design trend is to use the same flooring throughout the entire house, or at least throughout the public areas. That makes the rooms look bigger and provides a unified look. But you wouldn’t want to use hardwood or carpet in a bathroom or mudroom, where tile, vinyl or linoleum would be a better choice.

You also need to consider comfort. Carpet, laminate and cork are more comfortable to stand on than tile, for example, and they’re also more comfortable to fall on – a potential concern for elderly people or families with toddlers. Hardwood falls in the middle on the comfort scale.

Tile will last forever under normal conditions, but carpet and laminate may need replacement in ten years or less. Hardwood, properly maintained, can last for decades, but it may require more maintenance than other flooring options.

While most people choose hardwood, engineered hardwood, carpet, tile or laminate flooring for their homes, some homeowners opt for bamboo, linoleum, vinyl or concrete.

[See: 10 Home Renovations With the Best Return on Investment.]

To help you make your flooring decision, we have compiled the pros and cons for five popular types of flooring. Costs are also included, but they are extremely rough estimates because the costs of both materials and installation vary widely, depending on where you live and the choices you make. Costs to remove old flooring are not included, and some homes may require additional construction for some floor types. Installing new flooring often requires replacing the baseboard trim as well. We used HomeAdvisor.com and Fixr.com as sources for labor and material costs.

Hardwood

Pros: Hardwood is durable and attractive. If it’s scratched it can be resanded and refinished many times. It will last the lifetime of the house if it doesn’t get too wet.

Cons: Hardwood requires regular maintenance and can warp with moisture. It needs to be refinished periodically. It also needs a subfloor installed.

Cost: $3 to $14 per square foot for material, plus $3 to $8 per square foot per installation, for a total cost of $6 to $22 per square foot.

Engineered Hardwood

Pros: Less expensive than hardwood, engineered hardwood comes prefinished and is easier to install. It works better with heated floors and is less susceptible to moisture damage. Doesn’t require a subfloor.

Cons: Can only be refinished a few times.

Cost: $3 to $13 per square foot for material, plus $3 to $10 per square foot for installation, for a total of $6 to $23 per square foot.

Carpet

Pros: Softer and warmer to walk on than most other materials. It’s often less expensive than other flooring.

Cons: Can be easily stained by spills and wears out more quickly than other flooring. Can be a problem for people with allergies.

Costs: $1 to $11 per square foot, depending upon material. Installation is 80 cents to $1.60 per square foot, including padding. Installed cost is $1.80 to $12.60 per square foot.

Tips: Looped pile is more durable than cut pile, Adler says, and a wool or wool-blend carpet will last much longer than synthetic materials.

[Read: Want to Make Over Your Kitchen? 3 Remodeling Tiers: Budget, Midrange and Splurge.]

Tile

Pros: Extremely durable, will last longer than the house, easy to clean, comes in a huge variety of styles, sizes and colors. You can even buy porcelain tile that looks like wood.

Cons: Grout is not easy to clean, surface is hard to stand on for long periods, and anything dropped on tile breaks. Tile requires expert installation, though it can be done by a skilled DIY homeowner.

Cost: $1 per $10 per square foot for tile, plus $5 to $10 per square foot for installation. Total cost of $6 to $20 per square foot.

Tips: Darker tile shows less dirt, and minimizing grout lines cuts maintenance. “The bigger your grout lines, the dirtier that grout line is going to get,” Adler says.

Laminate

Pros: Inexpensive, can be installed over existing floors, comes prefinished. It can also be a DIY project. It’s softer on feet than tile if it is installed with proper backing.

Cons: Can’t be refinished, can be destroyed by flooding or damaged by moisture.

Cost: 69 cents to $4.50 per square foot for materials (backing is extra at lower end) plus $2 to $8 per square foot for labor, bringing the total cost to $2.69 to $12.59 per square foot.

Tags: home prices, home improvements, housing, real estate, money


Teresa Mears writes about personal finance, real estate and retirement for U.S. News and other publications. She was previously the real estate blogger for MSN Money and worked as the Home & Design editor for The Miami Herald. During her journalism career, she worked on coverage of immigration, religion, national and international news and local news, serving on the staffs of The Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Times and the St. Petersburg Times. She has also been a contributor for The New York Times and The Boston Globe, among other publications. She publishes Living on the Cheap and Miami on the Cheap. Follow her on Twitter @TeresaMears.

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