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Is it live or is it laminate flooring?
Is it a marble floor or a laminate that resembles marble? Is it an exotic natural wood or an engineered floor?
With advances in technology, flooring manufacturers have created a variety of man-made products that replicate natural stones and woods. The result is a long list of options for consumers who want a floor that goes beyond the norm.
When selecting flooring for a new home, you'll be presented with a long list of materials, patterns, wood species — and look-alike options. The way to narrow down the decisions is to understand the materials and how they function.
The main flooring choices in many new home developments are vinyl, laminate, tile and wood. "Flooring materials are a very personal decision," said John Barie, director of design for Bigelow Homes. "Some people adore wood floors and other people adore marble just because of the look and texture."
While design is important, people also should think about the traffic patterns in the house. "The first thing to look at is how a particular room is going to be used," Barie said.
If the room will have a formal tone, then an elegant wood or plush carpeting would fit. One example is a dining room that will be used for entertaining. A Brazilian cherry or mahogany wood floor would impress dinner guests, while a neutral ceramic tile might not.
That same floor would not be practical for a home with two toddlers and a large dog, however.
"If they have children and pets, I try to get them to move toward laminate, ceramic or stone because of the durability," said Tony Castellano, a division merchandising manager for Home Depot.
Laminate floors are growing in popularity because they combine the look of ceramic, stone or wood but require less maintenance. Laminate flooring is made of a fiber core with a print layer on top that holds the pattern. Among the popular styles are those that look like oak, maple, walnut and other popular wood species.
Laminates also are easier to install than many other materials, making them ideal for the do-it-yourselfer. Laminates are priced from $1 to $4 per square foot. The less expensive laminates are thinner and typically do not have the same range of patterns or wood species, Castellano said.
Vinyl is the least costly floor material, as it starts at about $1 per square foot and is inexpensive to install. Vinyl is ideal in high traffic areas, such as a mudroom, where dirty shoes and wet boots will first hit the inside of the house.
Vinyl also is well-suited for bathrooms and laundry rooms, where frequent water spills will not damage the material. Vinyl is considered a low maintenance material, as most spills can be removed easily with household cleaners. Vinyl can dent, so be careful about walking on it with high heels or dropping large objects on it.
While some people consider vinyl a basic, functional type of floor material, it has been updated in recent years as manufacturers try to compete with laminates. Vinyl flooring now includes softer looks, more cushioning and patterns that resemble tile and stone, said Paul Murfin, vice president of sales with Armstrong Floor Products.
Tile is another popular material that is sold in a wide range of sizes, shapes, colors and patterns. While many people equate tile with bathrooms, it can be used in any area of the home.
The tile category is divided into ceramic and porcelain. Ceramic tile is the most commonly used, as it is economically priced and highly durable. Ceramic tile is priced from $1 to $8 per square foot for most patterns, plus installation. Many porcelain tiles range from $4 to $18 per square foot, plus installation. Tile is more costly to install than laminate and vinyl, however.
Porcelain tile is stronger than ceramic, has a lower absorption rate and has the pattern baked all the way through the tile. If a porcelain tile chips you see the color of the tile, not a stark white interior. Both types of tile are made with patterns that resemble marble and other natural stones. This provides the look of stone without the higher cost and added maintenance.
One disadvantage to tile is that it is a hard, cold surface. In bathrooms, some people add heating under the floor to counter that cold feeling. Another alternative is to use area rugs on top to add cushioning and warmth.
Wood is perhaps the most sought-after flooring material, as it adds a rich, natural look that is reminiscent of the floors found in older homes. While oak continues to be a big seller, there also are many variations of maple, hickory, cherry, walnut and pine floors.
Wood typically costs from $3 per square foot for a basic oak wood to $18 per square foot for an exotic wood floor, plus installation.
Special to the Tribune