The Wide World of Flooring
There are many choices available to homeowners today—and being informed is key.
Cork floors, like this one from US Floors, which is available at Gregory J. Flooring Design Center in Nashua, offer the look of wood but with additional eco-friendly benefits. For example, cork floors are anti-microbial, warmer to touch (cork heats to your body temperature) and flame retardant.
When talking to their customers, flooring retailers have almost as many questions as they do answers.
“Although 75 percent of our customers come in already knowing what they want—carpet, wood, tile—it’s important to listen to what the customer is asking,” says Gregory J. Kyer of Gregory J. Flooring Design Center in Nashua. “Customers already have a picture of a finished product in their mind; they’ve been thinking about these projects for a long, long time. It’s easy to make a big presentation. But, it’s more important to try to give practical information.”
For example, the right flooring choice for a space is often determined by how the room will be used; if the family has any pets or allergies; if the property is a primary residence or will be rented out. “What we’re trying to do is figure out a customer's needs without peppering with questions,” says Carol Burgard, who owns The B & C Floor Store, LLC in Portsmouth with her husband, Brett. “And then, we want to just to educate customers on what’s the best product.”
Diane Soucy, Allied ASID and a designer at Artistic Tile LLC in Nashua, says she even likes to know about the lighting and overall decorating style of the space, as well as a customer’s preferences in color and texture. “Our job is to use this information to guide the customer to a selection that is complementary to the space, durable for its purpose and reflective of the customer’s personal style,” Soucy says.
Wherever the answers lead flooring experts, there’s a solution close by.
Wood floor options
Flooring specialists seem to agree: wood floors draw New England homeowners.
“We’ve grown up with hardwood floors," Kyer says, "and our neighbors have them. They’re still in high demand.”
“The newest and fastest growing trend is a move toward lighter colors, specifically grays, whitewashes and light sandstone colors,” says Chris Sy, Carlisle Wide Plank Floors’ vice president of contractor sales and development. (Carlisle has a showroom in Stoddard.) The lighter colors are achieved either through the use of stains or by choosing a naturally lighter colored wood.
“Unfinished looks are also very popular,” Sy continues. “Customers no longer want the higher shine or build up of urethane. They are shifting toward more European oils, which penetrate the wood and completely seal it from spills and moisture, but also leave the wood looking very natural and organic.”
Because wood floors are affected by a home’s environment, proper installation is key, Kyer says. For example, if a home is often humid, an installer needs to consider how wide the boards are. “The wider the board width, the more unstable it can be,” he says. “Anything over four inches wide needs to be glued and nailed down.”
But even with the love of wood floors, carpet is not disregarded. “People want to lie on the floor,” Carol says. “So when people buy hardwood, they then usually get an area rug, too."
Tile is another popular flooring choice. “Porcelain tile works well in any room,” Soucy says, “and it has a wide range of colors, styles and textures. Porcelain is a hard material that is durable in high-traffic areas, is difficult to scratch and resists chipping better than ceramic. Plus, if you want the look of wood, we have an amazing tile that looks like wood in a variety of colors and sizes.”
Recently, Soucy has been seeing her customers become more accepting of using larger format tile. “People are no longer afraid to use eighteen-inch-by-eighteen-inch tiles in a smaller rooms, where traditionally you would have seen eight-inch-by-eight-inch tiles,” she says. “Larger tiles mean fewer grout lines and can create the illusion of space.”
When hearing concerns about tile being cold, Soucy says there are ways to work around that. There are heat mats that can be installed under the tile and customized to the size you need plus they come with a programmable thermostat. “The operating cost of the heat mat underlayment is lower than you would think,” she says. “Varying on the size of the space, the average operating cost can range from two to ten cents per hour.” Soucy says the mats can be used anywhere but are most common in kitchens and baths.
Alternatives to ceramic or porcelain tiles are stone tiles, such as marble, slate, travertine and limestone. The texture of a stone can help provide traction in a wet area, such as a mudroom. “Natural stone needs to be sealed to resist staining,” Soucy says, “but with the fifteen-year sealers that are now available, maintenance is simple.”
As styles and preferences evolve, the flooring industry does as well.
“All of our wood is sustainable, and our reclaimed floors all carry the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification,” Sy says. “And since we work directly with the sawyers who actually cut the timbers, the demands we make on quality and dimension fit well with the selective cutting approach that most of them have been practicing for years.”
If you’re thinking of something other than traditional wood floors, cork is a possibility. Because only the bark of a cork oak tree is used in cork floors, the tree itself is never destroyed. In fact, cork trees are slow growing and can live for more than one hundred or even two hundred years, which means a single tree can be harvested more than a dozen times in its lifespan.
Plus, cork is resilient. For example, if you drop a pan on or set a piece of furniture on a cork floor, it’s likely any indentation will nearly disappear. “Within forty-eight hours, any dents in a cork floor come back up to about 90 percent,” Kyer says.
This elasticity also makes cork great for people with back or hip issues, Carol says, because it’s easy to stand and walk on.
Another green option is bamboo flooring. Bamboo is actually a grass—not a tree—and grows up to thirty feet a year, Brett says. “This means you can get a lot of bamboo in a short period of time,” he says.
But all bamboo is not created equal; of the one thousand varieties of bamboo, only three are flooring quality. “We’ve been selling bamboo for about twelve years,” Brett says, “and it’s come light years in terms of quality in the last five to seven years.” With this increased quality has come increased popularity (bamboo flooring accounts for about a third of the wood flooring sales that the B & C Floor Store does, Brett says) and more options. In the past, bamboo was available in basically two color choices: natural or carbonized (because bamboo is a grass, it can be “cooked” to draw out the sugars and change colors, much like onions do when introduced to heat). But now, manufacturers can stain bamboo floors in a variety of colors.
Other traditional flooring options have green choices as well. “We are seeing more tile manufacturers using recycled content in their products,” Soucy says. “One line of glass tile that we carry uses anywhere from 30 percent to 94 percent recycled content in producing beautiful glass mosaics, decorative tiles and field tiles.”
Carol points to carpet options made from recycled plastic bottles, low-VOC hardwood or vinyl, and true linoleum. “Vinyl—which is what most people think of as linoleum—is a man-made product. But true linoleum is 100 percent natural. It’s made of linseed oil and paper, and has no VOCs.”
Caring for floors
No matter what your floor is made of, caring for it properly will allow its virtues to shine for years.
Wood floors have the reputation of requiring the most care. But it’s all about quality. “First,” Sy says, “choose a floor that has a thick wear layer. Second, choose a finish that can be refinished. Today, many inexpensive floors have thin wear layers that do not hold up well when sanded. The finish of the floor is critical as many floors today are coated in finishes that do not allow for sanding or recoating once they are scratched.”
Be sure to break out the vacuum.
“If you maintain a floor,” Carol says, “it will last. Your vacuum is your best preventative maintenance. It’s not
the dust, but the sand and dirt that ruin flooring. The sand grinds into the floor.”
Even stone floors require some special care. “Make sure that in cleaning a natural stone, that you don’t use bleach or anything acidic that will etch the stone,” Soucy says. She advises checking that the cleaner you’re using is safe for stone.
No matter what flooring choice you make, Carol advises using what the manufacturer recommends for cleaning. “If you’re looking for a green cleaner, a lot of people just use water, or water and vinegar. Be sure to dilute the vinegar a lot: 1/2 cup of white vinegar to 1 gallon of warm water. The acetic acid in the vinegar helps cut the grease and grime, but it won’t leave a residue that may cause problems down the road when you’re ready to have your floors refinished.”