The Low-Down on the Down Low
Weighing the different kinds of flooring options for your kitchen.
If there’s any part of your home that is taken for granted, the floor is certainly it. It’s always there, underfoot, holding you up, taking the abuse of countless footsteps, dropped items, spills, scuffs, scratches, and more.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the kitchen. It’s one of the most heavily trafficked areas of a home—and chances are, everyone in your household uses it daily (and often for different purposes—cooking, hanging out, doing homework, eating, working, feeding the dog, etc.).
Which is why kitchen flooring is an important consideration, not just from an aesthetic standpoint, but from a functional one, as well. It is important to consider a flooring that meets YOUR particular requirements.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the popular flooring types on the market today.
Wood (Natural Hardwood)
Wood (Natural Hardwood)
Pros: There’s a reason hardwood flooring (any type of flooring milled from a single piece of timber) has been a perennial flooring favorite. Warm and earthy, as well as relatively gentle on the feet, hardwoods come in a multitude of natural hues and grains, and can be finished/stained in an almost unlimited number of finishes.
From the clean, contemporary look of maple to the rustic, homey feel of wide-plank pine, there design options are myriad. Plus, if properly cared for and maintained, it is exceptionally long lasting and can be sanded and refinished multiple times.
Cons: On the downside, while harder woods like oak can stand up quite a bit of abuse, may types, especially softer woods like pine, are easily damaged, so if you have active kids or pets, they may not be the best choice. And, of course, even sealed woods are susceptible to water damage, so any spills will need to be cleaned up immediately.
Considerations: One of the more costly flooring materials, hardwood can range from expensive to very expensive. Installation costs can double the price, as well. However, it is often a selling point, and in some markets may help resale potential.
Pros: Engineered wood (a veneer of hardwood on top of other layers of non-hardwood) offers many of the advantages of wood—including grains and color options. Plus, as it comes prefinished, the finish is more consistent and harder, making it more resistant to water damage or dings and nick. It also shrinks and expands less than solid wood, and some varieties can be installed below grade (basement).
Cons: There is a limit on how often you can refinish engineered wood flooring (typically only once or twice). Also, while the treated flooring can be more water-resistant…it IS still wood, and can be damaged by moisture.
Pros: Tile is durable, and water and stain resistant. It’s also available in a wide variety of combinable sizes, colors, patterns, etc. Machine-made ceramic tile is the workhorse of the bunch—wear-and-tear resistant, extremely easy to clean and maintain, and economical. It comes in matte, glossy, and satin finishes. Porcelain tile is very similar, although more durable (and more expensive). Made of high-fired, refined clay it is available glazed or unglazed. Both porcelain and ceramic tiles are great choices for active families or multi-pet households, thanks to their durability and ease of cleaning and sterilizing.
Cons: Tile’s density means it is durable—but it also means it is extremely hard, making it difficult to stand on for long periods of time. It will also most likely break any dishware or glasses dropped on it, and glossy-finished tiles can be very slippery when wet (something to keep in mind if you have children or elderly family members).
Considerations: The cost of tile is almost as variable as the options, however ceramic tile tends to range in price from inexpensive to moderately costly, while porcelain is moderately to very expensive. Upkeep is minimal—although the grout will need regular cleaning and periodic re-sealing.
Pros: Once considered “less than cool”—or, dare we say it, dated and unhip, vinyl is making a resurgence. It’s now available in a wide variety of designs and finishes, including stone, wood, ceramic tile, as well as interesting textures, colors, and patterns.
As one of the most inexpensive floor coverings on the market, vinyl can give you the look of pricier materials at a fraction of the cost. Plus, it’s easy to clean and soft underfoot. Some varieties, the peel-and-stick tiles, in particular, are also easy to install and don’t require a host of special tools—making them great for DIYers.
Cons: Because of its soft nature, vinyl can dent, gouge, tear, bubble, or curl over time. It may also fade in strong sunlight. Also, the processes involved in making vinyl flooring means then end product could result in the offgassing of potentially harmful VOCs into your home.
Considerations: Vinyl is very inexpensive (although you tend to get what you pay for—with pricier options being more durable, realistic looking, and often having a longer lifespan). Add to it the fact that some types are DIY-friendly, cutting or reducing installation costs, and it can be a very economical option.
Pros: Natural stone, including slate, marble, limestone, and granite, is both beautiful and durable, with many color and pattern choices. From rustic rough slate to sleek polished marble, there are options for nearly every design vibe. It is also nearly indestructible.
Cons: Unless you choose a honed or tumbled finish, many types of stone such as granite or marble can be slippery. Natural stone does need fairly regular maintenance—it must be sealed regularly to protect it from dirt, stains, and moisture. Like tile, stone can be cold and hard on the feet (and on your glassware, should you drop it). It is also exceptionally heavy, and requires a strong subfloor to hold the extra weight.
Considerations: It is durable and long-lasting…but for the most part, stone is comparatively expensive, and often has labor-intensive, difficult, and costly installation.
Pros: Designed to imitate the look of wood or tile, laminate flooring is composed of several layers of engineered material sandwiched together. It is durable, scratch-resistant, and easy to clean and maintain. In addition, it can be installed directly over an existing floor.
Cons: Unlike wood (engineered or hardwood) or natural stone, laminates cannot be refinished at all. Once it begins to show its wear—or if it is damaged—it must be replaced entirely. It is also subject to moisture damage, and water exposure can cause laminate flooring to buckle or warp.
Considerations: Although many varieties of laminate are relatively inexpensive, some can cost nearly as much as a true hardwood—with none of the durability and longevity.
Pros: This grouping, which contains materials like bamboo, linoleum, and cork, is popular among those wanting to balance a sense of style with a sense of environmental friendliness.
As a natural material, cork, like wood, features a lot of texture and color variation. It comes in many shades of brown and a handful of other muted colors. It's very soft to walk and stand on and has good traction. In addition, it won’t rot or absorb dust and is stain-resistant.
Bamboo (which is actually a grass) can grow as much as three feet in a single day—making it an even more sustainable option than its close cousin, hardwood. Dense, sturdy, and durable, bamboo has a subtle, variegated appearance, is softer underfoot than wood, and is low maintenance.
Often confused with vinyl, linoleum is actually a composite made of natural materials including linseed oil, resins, wood flour. and more. It comes in virtually any color imaginable, allowing you to be as subtle or as bold as you desire. It is easily manipulated, allowing for custom patterns and configurations, and is durable and low maintenance (it can come with a factory coating, or you can wax and polish it periodically).
Cons: Bamboo has a somewhat limited color palette, and also can be subject to fading and water damage. Cork’s durability depends greatly on the type of finish used. Poorly sealed products are vulnerable to water damage. It can also be marred by dirt and grit, so regular sweeping and vacuuming is a must, and it needs regular resealing. As stated, linoleum does need regular polishing and waxing. And while it is durable, it can be difficult to repair.
Considerations: All three of the natural options are reasonably priced—often less expensive than traditional hardwood. Custom colors and patterns will increase the cost of linoleum.