Flooring Options for Kitchens & Baths
Index to Ratings
The perfect flooring would be very durable, long lasting, low maintenance, inexpensive, environmentally friendly and would get a rating score of 100.
But, alas, there is no such material. All flooring is a trade off. High durability and low maintenance usually come with a high price. A low price usually means a material that does not last long and needs to be replaced more frequently and/or needs frequent maintenance.
The best flooring in this line-up rates just above 60 — giving you an idea of just how far available materials are from the ideal. Still, it is possible to get a durable long lasting floor that's still affordable. You just have to choose carefully.
What floor best complements your kitchen or bath design? There are many more choices of materials today than there were just a few years ago. New products such as laminate flooring and almost forgotten materials now enjoying a revival such as cork and linoleum have vastly expanded the possibilities. Discover how good quality and stylish flooring materials — from ceramic tile to hardwood to stone — can provide stunning design ideas. Our in-depth reviews and objective ratings will help you find the perfect floor for your kitchen or bath.
In the middle of selecting fixtures, sinks, faucets and myriad accessories, it's easy to forget about one of the most important features of your new kitchen or bathroom, the floor. Yet the floor has more impact on the look, feel and function of the area than just about any other item. It's important to get it right because it's expensive to replace it if you get it wrong.
Fortunately, flooring choices have never been greater than they are today. There is a flooring material for every need, every style and every application; some new like laminate flooring, and some old (but resurgent) such as cork and linoleum. There are many more green, natural choices for minimum impact on the environment as manufacturer's respond to the growing environmental movement. And, there are more low maintenance, durable flooring choices than ever before. Yet the most durable floors, ceramic tile and stone have been around since the dawn of history.
There are so many choices, in fact, that it is starting to get confusing. What is the best choice for your new kitchen or bath? What materials best match the architectural period and style of your home? Which materials require the least maintenance, are the most durable? Which are easiest on the back and legs? What are the green choices?
Solid Wood Flooring
Overall Rating: 58
(out of 100)
|100+ years with reasonable care|
|Sweep and damp mop, can be sanded and refinished several times. Modern finishes do not need to be sealed, and should not be waxed or oiled.|
|$8-15 sq/ft installed, more for exotic woods|
|Green Rating||Medium to High|
|Much of the wood used in floors is from managed forests or plantations, and, at least in our neck of the woods, a lot is salvaged from farmers' burn piles. But, much more is still harvested in natural forests, and is not so green. Look for a certification of sustainability by a reputable third-party rating agency like the Forest Stewardship Council. The varnish or sealant used on site-finished floor may out-gas for a few weeks. This can be controlled by specifying low-VOC water-based finishes.|
This review seeks to answer those questions and many more. Our ratings system is designed to make choosing a floor much easier by making it simpler to compare options. We rate flooring on cost, ease of maintenance, and durability. You will probably find some surprises. For example, did you know that cork is one of the best flooring materials for kitchens? It is tough, easy to maintain, low cost, waterproof and a joy to walk on. Did you know that ceramic tile can be one of the least expensive flooring options? Read on to find out everything you need to know about modern flooring.
Resilient vs. Non-Resilient
Flooring may be roughly grouped into three categories.
- Non-resilient flooring includes ceramic tiles, stone and concrete. These materials have no "give" in them whatsoever. They make up for it by being about the most durable materials you can use.
- Resilient flooring includes sheet vinyl and vinyl tile, linoleum and cork. They are more comfortable to walk on and do not retain cold like the more durable materials.
- Somewhere in between are semi-resilient wood and bamboo. These are not as hard as stone, tile and concrete, but not as resilient as vinyl and cork.
Wood flooring has the versatility to be used in contemporary or traditional settings. It can be stained to produce a variety of wood tones and colors from very light to very dark, or show off its natural beauty with a clear finish.
This category includes both solid wood flooring and engineered-wood flooring. Engineered flooring uses a thin veneer of real wood over plywood. The flooring is usually purchased already sealed and varnished (prefinished). The cost is similar to the cost of solid wood flooring. But it is easier to install because it comes in large tongue and groove sheets and are often glued together instead of nailed to the sub flooring. Newer products have even eliminated the glue with sheets that snap together using an inter locking joint.
Since it's prefinished at the factory, the messy and sometimes dusty process of sealing and varnishing the floor is avoided — although with new "dustless" methods of finishing wood floors, this difference is fast disappearing. However, factory finishes leave a floor looking "wavy". This is the result of a physical property of liquids called surface tension, which causes the finish to curve in at the edged of the flooring plank. When laid in a floor, pre-finished flooring has a visible break in the finish at the edges of each board. For the traditional glass-like flat surface, site finishing is necessary.
Engineered Wood Flooring
Overall Rating: 56
(out of 100)
|30-40 years with reasonable care|
|Sweep and damp mop, cannot be sanded, but can be refreshed with a new coat of polyurethane. Modern finishes do not need to be sealed, and should not be waxed or oiled.|
|Cost||Low to Medium|
|$5-12 sq/ft installed, more for exotic woods|
|Engineered wood often includes wood products such as bark and sawdust that would otherwise be thrown away. For making good use of wood scraps, engineered wood products get good marks. But, the process of making engineered wood flooring uses massive amounts of electricity, and some very un-green petro-chemicals. At best, engineered flooring is "greenish" rather than actually green.|
Solid wood wins by a big margin on longevity and durability. Most engineered flooring is 3/8" thick with as little as 1/32" of hardwood veneer. If this thin veneer surface is damaged, it cannot be easily repaired. The relatively thin flooring often sounds "hollow" — which puts off many homeowners. By contrast 3/4" solid wood flooring sounds solid and since the hardwood goes all the way through the strip, any but the most severe damage is easily repaired. According to the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association, a solid wood floor will last for the life of your home and can be sanded and refinished repeatedly. Scratches and dulling from normal wear and tear can be buffed out using a buffing pad. The process is less messy than refinishing and takes less than a day.
Solid wood flooring is available in strip, plank, or parquet form. Strip (also called longstrip) flooring consists of boards that range in width from 1 1/2 to 3 1/4 inches. Planks are at least 3 inches wide, so there is some overlap between strip and plank flooring. Parquet flooring comes in standard patterns of 6 x 6-inch blocks; dramatic geometric effects can be achieved with custom patterns, such as the time-honored herringbone.
Oak, either red or white, is the most commonly used wood for flooring in the United States because it's the most readily available. Other domestic species that are growing in popularity include maple, ash, beech, birch, cherry, hickory, pecan, and walnut. Many of these woods are produced right here in Nebraska. See Guide to Nebraska Hardwoods for Cabinetmakers and Woodworkers, and are milled into flooring locally at a very reasonable cost. Local woods include some rather rare species seldom found commercially such as Hornbeam (Ironwood), Mulberry, and Kentucky Coffee.
Exotic imported woods such as Brazilian cherry, kempas, and merbau are also starting to find favor with American homeowners. Most are pre-finished with a coating that is tough and durable, often more durable than any site-finish coating. And, they are often finished on all four sides which helps prevent cupping — an important consideration as many of these tropical hardwoods are somewhat unstable. However, an increasing number of species are now available kiln dried but unfinished from specialty flooring mills, and can be finished locally for that glassy flat look typical of site-finished flooring.
Veneer floors are not nearly as durable as real wood floors and cannot be easily refinished like solid wood, but often come in a variety of colors and wood species not available, or available only at very high cost, in solid wood. We recommend these only for relatively low-traffic areas, and rarely for kitchens or bathrooms, where there is risk they will get wet, unless the material is specifically rated by its manufacturer as "moisture resistant".
Thanks to the urethane finishes available, solid wood floors can be used safely in kitchens and baths as long as spills are wiped up immediately. You can vacuum, sweep, or damp mop a wood floor, but never use water-based cleaners. Avoid high-gloss finishes. These look great in the magazine photographs, but not so great after a few months on your floor. They show scratches and wear much more readily than semi-glass or matte finishes.
Floor finishes for wood floors are made in two basic formulations, water based and oil based. The paint companies say there is no difference in durability, but, in fact there is. Oil-based finishes are more durable, but they also emit more smelly volatile organic compounds (VOCs) while drying, and may require you to evacuate the house for a few hours. Most of today's finishes can be walked on (carefully) within six hours or so.
In its natural state, bamboo is one of the world’s most environmentally friendly natural construction materials. It is not wood. It's a stalk of grass. There are over 1,000 species of bamboo growing in most places in the world, even in the U.S. The bamboo used in flooring grows so fast, (about 1" each hour), that there is little danger of exhausting the material. It is completely sustainable. It can reach 90' in height and 8" - 10" in diameter by the time it is harvested. Bamboo is on average 27% harder than Northern Red Oak and about 60% more stable.
Testing Bamboo Flooring for Durability
Much of the bamboo flooring on the marketed in the U.S. is an excellent product, durable and tough, that will last for years of normal use. But some is not. We have had experience with bamboo flooring that lasted barely two years.
There are as yet no generally recognized rating standards for bamboo flooring, or organizations that test and certify it. Some of the standards used for wood flooring also apply to bamboo, but many do not. There are no wholly accurate tests for the quality of bamboo flooring that can be used outside of a laboratory
The quality of the flooring depends very much on the grade of the bamboo and adhesives used, the depth and durability of the finish, and the techniques used to manufacture it. But here are some informal durability tests that ought to weed out the very worst bamboo products:
Finish Durability: Scrape the finished surface of a plank with the edge of a new dime. If the finish peels off or scratches, don't buy it.
Hardness: Press the corner of a dime into the finished surface. If it dents at all, be wary of it. Hard bamboo should not dent. If several products dent a little, pick the one with the smallest dent.
Bamboo used in flooring is not, however, in its natural state. It is an engineered product in which bamboo is just one of the ingredients. Multiple plies of bamboo strips are laid cross-wise in layers, much like plywood. These are then laminated together under great pressure with a binder or glue to produce beams, which are about the size or railroad ties. The result is generally known as "woven-strand" bamboo. The beams are then milled into planks.
The pattern in which the bamboo strips are glued affects its appearance. There are two basic gluing patterns, horizontal or flat, and vertical. Vertical grain flooring has more figure and can be given interesting variety by using different colored strips to simulate strong grained material. Horizontal grain flooring looks more like low-figured wood such as birch or maple. There is no significant difference in durability. The working properties of the material are not much different from wood. It mills, cuts and drills about the same, and wood glue will work well. The dust can contain some very unpleasant chemical resins, including formaldehyde, so a particulate respirator is required (and recommended as well for wood dust).
Bamboo is pre-finished with a factory-applied coating, much like pre-finished wood flooring products. Some coatings are warranted by some manufacturers for 50 years. Up to a few years ago, there was no good way to stain bamboo, so it was available in just two basic colors, natural and "carbonized". Carbonized is just bamboo that has been baked to brown the sugars in the material, this gives it a brownish color, but also weakens the fibers. Today there are staining processes that work on bamboo, so a variety of more interesting colors are available. But, there is no good way to re-finish stained bamboo, so a damaged plank will have to be replaced rather than restored. Be sure to keep a couple of spare planks in the garage just in case.
Overall Rating: 50
(out of 100)
|The durability and longevity of this flooring varies widely. See the main article for more detail.|
|Sweep and damp mop. Some varieties can be refinished, many cannot be. Cannot be stained, so if any part of the floor is re-sanded, the whole floor has to be to avoid splotchy coloring.|
|$9-17 per sq/ft installed.|
|Green Rating||Low to Medium|
|Bamboo is a grass, and one of the most prolific and abundant grasses on earth. It is also fast growing — so fast that you can actually watch many species growing. Its sustainability is certainly not in question. But, bamboo is not suitable as flooring in its natural state, and the process of turning it into flooring is anything but green. A massive amount of power and scads of unfriendly petro-chemicals are required, and the product is made in a part of the world that pays little attention to environmental pollution.|
But, bamboo is not all the same. How well it works as a flooring is very much dependent on the manufacturing process and the bamboo used. Old growth bamboo is very hard, but becoming rarer. Young bamboo is not nearly as hard, but is, unfortunately the product most often used in flooring. Some bamboo floors act like a dense hardwood with very minimal shrinkage and little movement over time. Other products will shrink and swell noticeably when exposed to changes humidity, and are less suitable for floors. However, all bamboo flooring will swell when exposed to liquid water for a long period of time, and will not return to its original dimension once it dries. So use in a bath is at best iffy, and in a kitchen only if you can guarantee your dishwasher will never leak.
If damaged or worn, bamboo is difficult to repair, and usually has to be replaced. Sanding the floor often results in a fuzzy surface as individual fibers are torn off by the sanding process — bamboo is not wood and does not sand like wood. Sanding can also release formaldehyde in the form of dust, so any sanding dust needs to be completely controlled so as not to contaminate your house. Bamboo cannot be stained, so if the manufacturer's original color is compromised by sanding, it cannot be matched, which may mean obvious blotches on your floor where it was sanded.
Despite its widespread reputation as a "green" materials, it is not actually very environmentally friendly as flooring. It is essentially a manufactured composite material with shredded bamboo as a filler. Its fabrication requires a lot of chemicals that are not at all green. Dovetail Partners, a respected group of environmental scientists, in its 2014 report on the environmental impact of bamboo flooring concluded that the growing, harvesting and manufacturing of bamboo flooring has substantial environmental impacts. The study concluded:
Overall Rating: 44
(out of 100)
|15-25 years with reasonable care. Varies widely, however.|
|Sweep and damp mop. Can be refreshed with mop-on coatings made for vinyl, but once coatings are applied, need to re re-applied regularly to maintain the fresh look. Cannot be refinished and cannot usually be invisibly repaired. Worn or damaged vinyl can only be replaced.|
|$2-6 sq/ft installed|
|Green Rating||Very Low|
|The Healthy Building Network characterizes Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) as one of the "most environmentally hazardous consumer materials ever produced". It is a health hazard throughout its life-cycle from manufacturing to disposal. Manufacturing releases toxins into the environment including dioxin, vinyl chloride and ethylene dichloride, all known carcinogins. Once installed it continues to release lead, cadmium and phthalates. Phthalates are linked to childhood asthma. Lead and cadium are known to cause mental defects in children. PVC does not decay in landfills, and at the moment there is no known safe way to destroy it except through high-temperature incineration.|
"The benefits [of bamboo flooring] come at a high environmental cost. Degradation of natural forests, tremendous biodiversity loss, widespread use of fertilizers and pesticides, loss of resilience in bamboo resources, and increased social and environmental risks linked to large-scale monoculture agriculture are among the costs.
The rapid renewal capacity of bamboo is a reality. But reality is replaced by fantasy when rapid growth is equated to environmental superiority without serious consideration of practices employed to achieve rapid growth. Fantasy becomes even more fantastic when completely unfounded claims are accepted without question.
As we concluded in 2005, bamboo products should never be designated as environmentally preferable materials without at the very least requiring careful consideration of environmental impacts throughout the entire supply chain. It is time for all players in the green building arena to replace rapid renew ability credits with a bit of common sense."
Vinyl flooring is the most common resilient flooring used in kitchens and baths. Resilient flooring yields slightly, making it comfortable to stand on. It is available in sheets or tiles.
Manufacturers use one of two processes: inlaid or rotogravure. In the inlaid process, solid-color vinyl chips are laid on top of a carrier sheet and bonded together with heat and pressure, resulting in geometric patterns and designs. In the rotogravure process, a print cylinder spins around while the vinyl's core layer, called the gel coat, passes underneath. The cylinder systematically prints the pattern with colored ink dyes. Vinyl made by either method has a felt backing and a clear wear layer applied to the surface.
The better the wear layer, the longer a vinyl floor will keep its fresh, new appearance. A urethane wear layer will maintain the new look longer than a no-wax surface, which needs to be polished periodically. Wear-layer thickness varies with each collection or series and is usually measured in mils, one mil being about as thick as a page in a telephone book. (A 10-mil wear layer, for example, would be comparable in thickness to 10 pages of a telephone book.)
In general, the more expensive the vinyl floor, the thicker the wear layer. The wear layer for rotogravure vinyl is 10-15 mils thick, compared to 25-30 mils for a quality inlaid vinyl floor. As you're comparing different brands and price points, also note how easy the flooring is to clean and how well it resists scratches and staining.
Sheet vinyl, which is produced in roll form, is commonly available in 6- and 12-foot widths and almost any length. It has few seams to trap dirt. However, you might have to replace the entire floor if it's burned, torn, or dented. Vinyl tile is usually sold in 12 x 12-inch squares, but other sizes are offered, and some vinyls come in planks as well as tiles. Some tiles are the peel-and-stick variety, while others require an adhesive spread over the floor before setting. Because they don't have a felt backing that sets into the adhesive, they may come loose more easily. A vinyl tile floor can be harder to keep clean because the seams collect dirt and liquids, but if damaged, individual tiles can be replaced.
The look of wood, stone, and other natural materials continues to be a big trend. Metallic accents, such as brass, copper, bronze, and pewter, are also becoming popular. Commercial vinyl flooring is sometimes used in homes but may require waxing and other maintenance that isn't necessary with residential vinyl.
Glazed Ceramic Tile
Overall Rating: 60
(out of 100)
|Durability 1||Very High|
|It will outlast you and your house if properly installed|
|Sweep and damp mop. Does not need to be refinished. Modern urethan grouts do not need to be sealed.|
|Cost||Medium to High|
|$12+ per sq/ft installed|
|Green Rating||Medium to High|
|Fired clay tile gets low marks from the greenies because it is not a renewable resource. We know of no way to regrow the clay used to make tile. On the other hand it is a sustainable resource. There is so much clay in the earth, that we are very unlikely to use it all up before the sun explodes, so we don't give non-renewability much weight. The manufacturing process does use a lot of heat which is generated by burning natural gas or coal (to produce electricity), so it loses points for energy consumption. But, the material is completely recyclable, and biodegradable. It poses no known environmental health hazards after installation.|
Manufacturing releases toxins into the environment including dioxin, vinyl chloride and ethylene dichloride, all known carcinogins. Once installed it continues to release lead, cadmium and phthalates. Phthalates are linked to childhood asthma. Lead and cadium are known to cause mental defects in children. PVC does not decay in landfills, and at the moment there is no known safe way to destroy it except through high-temperature incineration — which produces very toxic gases — something to consider if your house ever catches fire.
Stone & Ceramic Tile
Ceramic tile is a natural product made of clay, minerals, and water, which is pressed into shapes and fired at high temperatures. The body of the tile may be glazed or left unglazed, depending on the intended use. Tile strength is determined by the body's thickness, composition, and by the duration of firing.
Glazed tile is used more often for residential flooring than unglazed tile. With today's technology, tile manufacturers are able to produce a wide selection of colors, sizes, shapes, and new textures. Large tiles -- 24 x 24-inch squares and larger are becoming popular, and decorative elements, such as strips and borders, are being used more and more.
Large tiles offer two big advantages: there are fewer tiles to install and there are fewer grout joints, so as a rule, large tiles are less expensive to install. Grout is much less of a problem than it was just a few years ago. Newer urethane and epoxy grouts are flexible, long lasting, and easy to clean. The days of the grungy grout lines on floors are pretty much gone forever.
Is Your Floor Strong Enough for Tile?
The Tile Council of North America's L-360 standard can tell you whether your floor will support ceramic or porcelain tile or stone. If a floor is too "springy", tile or stone will crack or loosen over time. The standard allows no more than a 1/2" deflection over a 15' span. The L-720 standard used for large format tiles (18"x18" and larger) is even stricter: allowing only 1/4" deflection over a 15' span.
The process of measuring deflection requires a fair amount of arcane equipment. An experienced tiler will just jump up and down a few times to see if the floor "gives". If it does, it has to be stiffened before tile can be laid.
The latest trend is tile plank patterned to look like wood. Early plank tile had problems with bowing and warping, but the technology not seems to have matured to the point where these issues are no long a problem.
Stone & Unglazed Ceramic Tile
Overall Rating: 54
(out of 100)
|Durability 1||Very High|
|It will outlast you and your house if properly installed|
|Maintenance||Low to Medium|
|Sweep and damp mop. Needs to be sealed at least annually, and as often as every 3 months in high-traffic areas. Can be refinished, but it's expensive.|
|Cost||Medium to High|
|$12+ per sq/ft installed|
|Green Rating||Medium to High|
|Natural stone tile is not a renewable resource in the traditional sense. Once we quarry stone, we have no way of re-growing it. But, natural stone, unalike most other flooring products, is used almost unaltered from its natural state. It's not used up, just relocated from the earth to your kitchen or bath, then back to the earth again at some point. The manufacturing process does not use a lot of energy compared to other flooring options. The material is completely recyclable, and biodegradable.. It poses no known environmental health hazards after installation.|
Tile sellers make a distinction between porcelain tile and ordinary ceramic. We were surprised while doing the research for this article to learn that there is no one generally accepted standard that distinguishes porcelain from ceramic tile. There are a number of standards, which make the "porcelain" designation almost useless in selecting ceramic tile. See Porcelain vs. Ceramic: Is There a Difference?.
Of much more importance is a tile's rating. Tile is rated by testing organizations to determine how it can be used. There are tiles suited only for walls, others for floors and the highest quality tiles for outdoor use. Tile rated for floor in area that see some moisture, but not standing water are suitable for kitchen floors. For more information on how ceramic tile is rated see tile ratings.
Another option is natural stone tile, a category that includes granite, marble, slate, and limestone as well as a huge variety of exotic stones. Some varieties, such as granite, are practically indestructible, while others are vulnerable to scratching, cracking, and other wear. (Imperfections, however, may make a stone floor more attractive.)
Certain kinds of stone tile can warp under moist conditions unless they are installed with an epoxy adhesive and grout. Stone tiles with a highly polished finish, such as marble, may be dulled by heavy floor traffic, so you may want to limit them to areas where only soft footwear is worn. Some stones commonly used for countertops, such as soapstone, are too soft for used on a floor.
The disadvantage of stone and unglazed tile is that they need to be re-sealed regularly. Manufacturers usually recommend that it be re-sealed annually, but it may be necessary more often in high-traffic areas — as often as every three months in a busy kitchen.
Overall Rating: 54
(out of 100)
|20-30 years with reasonable care|
|Sweep and damp mop. Does not need to be sealed, although it can be refreshed with mop-on coatings designed for laminate flooring. Cannot be refinished.|
|Cost||Low to Medium|
|$5-15 per sq/ft installed. Flooring stores often have "free installation" sales, look for them.|
|Frequently advertised as environmentally friendly because of the products use of recycled materials, laminates actually are not particularly green. Like laminate countertop materials, flooring laminates use lots of unpleasant petro-chemicals in their manufacture, especially phenols, and a lot of electricity to produce the massive pressures required to compress and bond the materials. "Greenish" maybe, but "green", no.|
Originating in wood-starved Europe where it has been used in homes for more than 30 years, laminate flooring migrated to the United States for residential use in the mid-1990s. It is similar in construction to laminate kitchen countertops but with a much tougher wear layer.
Laminate flooring is a tongue and groove interlocking flooring system that floats on top of an existing sub floor. The sub floor can be wood, concrete, an existing vinyl floor, or any other flooring type that is smooth and flat. Laminate Floor is not attached to the floor underneath. A special polyurethane padding is laid down prior to the new laminate flooring being installed.
Some laminate flooring is glueless, it just snaps together. Other brands require a bead of specially formulated, water-resistant, glue be placed between the tongue and grooves of every plank to hold the planks together and to seal all the edges of the planks from moisture.
The product itself is constructed of laminations of a core material, a printed layer and a plastic top or wear layer. These are are bonded together under high pressure. The wear surface is usually extremely durable and resists scratching, denting, fading, and even cigarette burns! but, if it is damaged, it cannot be repaired, only replaced.
Laminate flooring has an exceptional ability to reproduce the look of other materials such as wood, stone, and tile. Traditional wood-grain patterns are the most popular, particularly oak and maple. Laminate is a good choice for homeowners who want the look of a wood floor at less cost and with minimum maintenance. How lifelike the wood grain depends on the manufacturer. The wood grain in laminate is actually a printed image on paper. The technique can produce realistic results, but also some not so realistic. Regular vacuuming or sweeping and occasional damp mopping are all that are required. One drawback to the flooring is that it is noisy. Walking on it is often like walking on a drum.
Most laminate flooring is 5/16 inch thick. Less expensive, thinner laminates are also available but are not as durable. Warranties are a good gauge of quality; they can range from 10 years to lifetime. Most of them guarantee against defects, wear, fading, stains, and water damage. Laminate flooring can be installed on any level of the house, including below grade. There are even water-resistant designs made especially for bathrooms. Check the warranty to be sure what's covered.
Genuine linoleum is the original sheet flooring material, first patented by Englishman Frederick Walton in 1863. Although some people still call all sheet floors "linoleum," the real thing is quite different from the sheet vinyl floors that have gradually replaced linoleum in the late 20th century.
Its name derives from the main ingredient, linseed oil. (In Latin, linum is the word for linseed and oleum means oil.) The oil is boiled, mixed with vegetable oils, and combined with powdered cork, wood flour, ground limestone, and other natural materials on a jute backing. Mineral pigments provide the color. This mixture is formed into a durable sheet by applying heat and pressure.
Overall Rating: 40
(out of 100)
|12-25 years with reasonable care|
|Sweep and damp mop. Needs to be waxed or sealed regularly and kept sealed continuously to protect the material and retain its luster.|
|$7-10 per sq/ft installed. Installation is not for do-it-yourselfers.|
|The all-natural materials used in most linoleum make it a favorite among environmentalists. The materials are derived from renewable resources and are 100% biodegradable. Most manufacturers use mineral pigments, but avoid lead and cadmium. Unlike laminates or PVC, the material contains no phtalates, chlorine, tar, formaldehyde, sulphur or vinyl chloride. Manufacturing does, however, require high pressure and heat, similar to the pressure and heat used in the production of laminates.|
Today, linoleum has enjoyed resurgence in popularity among homeowners because of its natural look and physical properties. Linoleum is quiet and comfortable underfoot and contains no synthetic chemicals. The linseed oil in the material has natural antimicrobial properties. The anti-static surface rejects dust and makes it ideal for rooms with electronic equipment, and people with dust allergies. It is reasonably durable, in fact, so durable that the Navy used it in early 20th century warships as its standard flooring below decks. One manufacturer, in the 1940s, Congoleum, advertised its linoleum as complying with the "exacting requirements" of the U.S. Navy.
Installing linoleum is not for amateurs, and not for floor installers who have not been specially trained and certified by linoleum manufacturers. It requires tools, techniques, and materials not normally used with more common vinyl sheeting. No manufacturer recommends installation by other than a qualified professional. In fact, the Armstrong web site under "installation instructions" for linoleum provides no instruction other than "linoleum should be installed by a professional installer".
Linoleum is high maintenance flooring. Its formulation and manufacturing have not changed very much since your great-grandmother's kitchen when it was commonly called "oil cloth". It is tough and durable but susceptible to moisture and alkalinity. In order to produce its best appearance and to protect it from soil and excess moisture, linoleum should be cleaned and sealed with products intended for use on genuine linoleum. Remember Mop & Glo®? If you decide on genuine linoleum for your kitchen or bath, you will want to get reacquainted with this venerable floor care product now owned by the UK company, Reckitt Benckiser Group plc.
Overall Rating: 62
(out of 100)
|30-50 years with reasonable care, although some 100+ year old cork floors are still in service, and looking good.|
|Sweep and damp mop. Can be re-coated with polyurethane to freshen its look. Can be dented, and deep dents or tearing of the fabric of the cork cannot be repaired, the tile will have to be replaced. Keep several spare tiles just in case.|
|Cost||Low to Medium|
|$6-13 per sq/ft installed. Avoid less durable "bargain" cork.|
|Green Rating||Very High|
|From harvest to production to installation, cork is non-toxic, and healthy. Cork is a probably the most sustainable “green” building material. The bark is harvested without harming either the trees or their habitat. Cork flooring is usually created from waste cork produced by the cork wine-stopper industry. Waste cork is ground up and then formed into sheets. The process involves minimal processing. The only additional materials are the small amounts of adhesive used to bind the particles together under pressure.|
"Cork" is not a name that immediately comes to mind when thinking of kitchen and bath flooring. Yet, it is about as close as we can come today to the perfect material for kitchen flooring. Durable, yet resilient, water resistant and one of the most sustainable and renewable of green materials, cork's unique properties that make it an excellent choice for bath and kitchen flooring.
Cork is the bark of the Cork Oak tree. The tree, grown predominately in Europe and North Africa, has a life span ranging from 150-200 years. Cork is harvested using methods that have remained virtually unchanged since the uses of cork were first discovered. Once the tree has reached maturity (typically 25 years), the first harvest of cork bark is removed from the tree. The process is repeated at intervals of nine years (the minimum interval required by law), at no time affecting the health of the tree. During each harvest, no more than 50% of the bark is removed, allowing the tree to protect itself using its natural defenses.
To produce cork flooring, waste cork bark left over from making wine corks, is ground into small granules. The granules are baked under pressure in molds at varying temperatures producing shade variations in the finished tile product. A dye may also be applied, but most of the color you see in cork is just the result of baking. The result is then cut into slabs, smoothed and finished with several applications of polyurethane or some other durable coating.
Cork contains micro-cells filled with air, about 2.4 million of them in each cubic inch of cork. This is what gives cork its resilience and buoyancy. Cork has a little "give" to it when it is walked on, but immediately springs back to its original shape. While cork can be dented if enough pressure is applied and the micro cells are ruptured, ordinary use causes no damage. Still, you should keep pointy-legged tables and chairs off the material. Cork is also very water-resistant due to its cellular structure — but allowing water to stand for long periods on cork should be avoided, if only because it is likely to damage the subfloor under the cork. For this reason, it is not a suitable material for bathrooms.
Overall Rating: 46
(out of 100)
|NACHI rates the longevity of concrete floors at 50 years. We think that's too low, based on outdated data.|
|Sweep and damp mop. Needs to be sealed regularly and kept sealed to avoid embedded dirt. Can be refinished, but it's expensive and time-consuming.|
|$50+ per sq/ft installed.|
|Green Rating||Low to Medium|
|Concrete is made from limestone, silica and additives such as bauxite and iron. The main pollutant produced during its manufacture is carbon dioxide. By some estimates, 7% of the total carbon emissions produced each year are from concrete production. Both the production and transportation of the material are energy intensive. Furnaces used to make concrete must maintain a temperature above 1,400° continuously. After installation, however, the material is inert. The acids and pigments used to stain concrete floors can be a hazard during application, but after curing pose no environmental problems. Concrete can be recycled, but rarely is due to the high cost.|
Properly installed, cork provides a long lasting floor, giving your interior a warm, natural look and feel that will retain its functional beauty for decades. Some cork floors have been in use for over 100 years. Cork floors in the reading room of the library of the Department of the Interior, for example, have been heavily trafficked since the 1890s. The floor of the foyer of the U. S. Department of Commerce building in Washington was installed in 1930, and is still in daily use. Maintenance is simple. Damp mopping with a mild detergent is all that is needed to maintain a cork floor. Cork does not stain easily or require scrubbing or cleaning with harsh chemicals. Like wood flooring, a periodic reapplication of finish is recommended, but never sand a cork floor. Damaged cork tiles can be easily replaced.
For a very durable surface, consider concrete for your kitchen or bathroom floor. We do not mean, of course, the kind of concrete that you have on your sidewalk.
Interior concrete floors are a denser, finer concrete mixture. Acid staining and dying the concrete can produce a huge variety of looks from rustic to industrial.
New flexible thinset materials can even be applied over old floors for a fresh, new look. And, concrete is a natural if you want radiant heat in the floor. It transmits the heat better than just about any other flooring material with the possible exception of ceramic tile.
Acid staining is not a process for the unskilled or faint of heart. A trained colorist is a chemist with the soul of an artist. It requires a lot of experience to get it right the first time, and there is no second chance. The stains are a mixture of metallic salts and acidic, water based solution. The acid opens up the top of the concrete allowing the mineral salts to penetrate. The salts react with the calcium hydroxide in cured concrete to produce color that is a permanent part of the concrete.
Colors are now pretty much limited to black, earth tones, blues and greens, but the list of colors is growing yearly as stain manufacturers continue their search for the next great color.
Efficient and Effective Kitchen Lighting
There’s a critical missing element in most American kitchens, and it’s not a $10,000 range or a stainless steel French door refrigerator. No, it’s simply good lighting. Most kitchens not only do not have enough lighting, but the wrong kind of lighting…… (Continues).
1. Durability based on estimates provided by the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI) modified with data from other sources.
2. NACHI rates bamboo as a 100+ year floor. We think that too optimistic. Reports of bamboo failing after less than 10 years are frequent and widespread.