Hard Surface Flooring, A Simple Guide

floor coverings are a great home improvement

When thinking about hard-surface floor coverings there are many different materials to consider, not to mention colors and patterns! Flooring is such a big investment, you want make sure you take your time and make the right choice for your home and family. Initial cost is a consideration, but you must also consider how easy the floor will be to maintain in the long run. This will help you decide whether the flooring you want is the best choice for the room where it will be installed.  

It would be difficult to list the numerous hard-surface floor coverings out there. This simple guid will teach you the basics about the most commonly available hard-surface flooring.

Floor Coverings Made of Solid Wood

“Hardwood” is frequently used to describe any wood floor, but technically, the word only describes actual hard woods like, black walnut, aspen, and oak (both red and white). While pine makes a beautiful floor, it is not a hardwood. Regardless of whether the wood is hard or soft, the construction is usually the same. 

With solid wood flooring, each board is cut from a single piece of wood. It is, well, solid all the way through and typically a thickness of 3/4 to 5/16 of an inch. Tongue and groove is a popular type of solid wood flooring. With tongue and groove flooring a tongue projects from one side of the strip of flooring and a groove is notched along the other edge. The tongue of one board interlocks into the groove of another board to keep the floor snug and tight.

Solid wood flooring is not recommended for basements or anywhere the floor could be threatened by water.  It is a wonderful way to warm up any room above grade. 

Floor Coverings Made of Engineered Wood

home improvement should include floor coverings

In some applications, engineered wood is a better choice than solid wood. Don’t let the name fool you, engineered wood is not a subpar product. After installation it’s virtually impossible to see a difference between engineered and solid wood flooring.

Engineered wood is manufactured in layers. The best wood grain is the uppermost layer. Wood runs in different directions in the underlying layers. It’s the layers that give engineered wood it’s resistance to shrinking and swelling due to humidity. More importantly, the layers give engineered wood flooring a tremendous amount of strength. Because it was finished in the factory, engineered wood with stands wear and tear better too.

You can use engineered wood flooring almost anywhere in your home, even in basements or below grade where dampness would eliminate solid wood as a choice.

Floor Coverings Made of Linoleum

floor coverings a re a great home improvement

Linoleum is often mistakenly used to refer to floors with faux marble finishes or floral designs — those floors are actually vinyl. Linoleum refers to a specific flooring made from linseed oil and other natural materials. Linoleum is one of the greenest flooring options on the market.

Linoleum is available in a surprising range of colors from vibrant, bright shades to muted beige. It’s available in 12 inch tiles or sheets.

If you want a resilient hard surface flooring, Linoleum is your choice. It’s great for use throughout the house. If there is an accident that leaves a stain, hole, scratch, or burn, the color is solid throughout, so it can usually be sanded or buffed out leaving the floor looking the same as before the accident. You won’t have to live with a ruined floor.


Floor Coverings Made of Vinyl

home improvement should include floor coverings

Today’s vinyl flooring is no longer limited to predictable patterns and solid colors. Modern vinyl is produced in tiles, sheets and planks that look like almost anything from wood to stone. They even make some vinyl tiles that are groutable using special grout.

The advantage of vinyl is that it is easy-care. There’s no wax necessary, to keep it looking good, you simply sweep and damp mop.  The downside of vinyl is that it is easy to damage and hard to repair. Burns will melt the material and scratches can cut through the sealed surface. Repairs frequently require cutting out the ruined section and putting in a patch.

Laminate Floor Coverings

home improvements like floor coverings should match how you use your home

Laminate flooring looks like wood, but in most cases contains little or no wood. Laminate flooring is usually a photograph of real wood grain, backed by hard plastic and sealed with a durable plastic coating. Some laminate is cheap, but this hard surface flooring is as easy-care as vinyl and can look great. 

Typically when laminate flooring is installed, it’s installed as a floating floor. Floating floor is laid over a subfloor, but none of the individual flooring sections are attached to it. The sections are attached to one-another via tongue and groove edges (see above) but nothing is glued or nailed to the subfloor. Sometimes the interlocking sections are glued together. Laminate is perfect for basements, and almost any other room in the house, but does require special installation techniques on the stairs.

Tile Remains a Popular Flooring Material

Tile can be stone such as marble, granite or slate, or other materials like porcelain, glass or ceramic.  There is a difference between floor tiles and wall tiles. Ceramic or porcelain can be made durable for floors, but wall tiles made of the same materials are not durable or strong enough to be used for flooring.

You must have the right support underneath tile or it will crack or come loose. It it’s not already, the subfloor must be re-secured with screws to prevent it from moving up and down. Then, the underlayment or cement board must be laid down to provide extra support. Here’s a good video to take you through the steps to preparing a floor for tile.

When picking out new hard-surface flooring consider your family’s needs and how you use your home first. A home with active kids and pets might be best with something durable like wood or tile, but a softer solid surface floor might hold up beautifully in a lower traffic home. There’s a lot more to selecting a new floor than deciding on a color and price. With the right choices, your new flooring should last for many years.


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