Guide to Choosing the Right Flooring: Application, Cost, and Sustainability
Updated: Jul 30
Flooring is one of the first decisions we make in a renovation as many other design elements will be impacted by the material and budget of the floor materials. Flooring is a material that lives a long, hard knocked life so it needs to stand up to your family's lifestyle.
We've made a guide to choosing the right flooring for you based on application, cost and sustainability.
Solid Hardwood Flooring
There's a reason people get excited when solid hardwood is discovered underneath decades of carpet or referred to as an increased value when selling a home. Hardwood floors have been found lasting longer than 100 years in buildings and homes.
Averaging $6-15/square foot material + labor
Main and upper level living spaces such as living + family rooms, dining room, kitchen, home offices, and bedrooms. Hardwood flooring can hold up in entryways, mudrooms and powder bathrooms, but rugs are highly recommended to alleviate some of the water, snow and salt tracked in. Hardwood flooring isn't a good choice for heavily-used bathrooms with showers and lower levels/basements.
Solid hardwood is considered one of the most sustainable options according to its lifecycle assessment (LCA). Ideally solid hardwood flooring starts by being grown in a maintained forest, always responsibly harvested with new tree being planted to take its place. One way to guarantee the hardwood flooring you're buying is responsibly harvested and produced is by checking if that company is a member of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Note, many ethical and sustainable flooring companies are not members of the FSC and are great to use, you just have to do a bit of research.
Hardwood can be sanded down many times and refinished to extend its life. While the upfront cost is more than the other options, its lifespan in your home will makeup the costs of replacing the other materials in the future.
Engineered Wood Flooring
We install engineered wood flooring in most renovations where hardwood currently doesn't exist. Engineered wood flooring allows for wider planks, an aesthetic many homeowners try to achieve in their renovation. Engineered wood is great for Minnesota's climate because the binding substrate holds the planks in place as the drastic cold and hot weather makes the floors expand and contract.
Averaging $5-12/square foot material + labor
Main and upper level living spaces such as living + family rooms, dining room, kitchen, home offices, and bedrooms. Engineered wood isn't a good choice for heavily-used bathrooms with showers, mudrooms, laundry rooms, and lower levels/basements.
Engineered wood flooring is considered a sustainable option because it offsets the waste from production. Engineered wood is constructed by a wood composite base and thin layer of solid hardwood on top. The wood composite base is created from pieces of scrap wood. This practice can also considered unsustainable because it is often times held together with glues with harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde. Speak to your flooring specialist to select flooring without carcinogens and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). While it looks beautiful at installation like hardwood and is a less expensive option, engineered wood can only be sanded down once or twice and will have to replaced sooner than hardwood.
Easy to install, inexpensive, durable. Laminate flooring is a multi-layer plank with a padded base layer (sometimes), fiberboard core, photo image layer to achieve desired color tone and texture look to mimic wood floor, stone, etc., and topped with transparent wear layer that is moderately waterproof with tight installation. Laminate flooring is great for the DIYer looking to replace floors because it has a click together application and can float on top of existing floor. Pads are recommended underneath for extra comfort.
As a designer, laminate flooring admittedly is not my favorite because doesn't look enough or feel like hardwood. However, I do recognize its affordability, durability and sustainability qualities as a good option for many homeowners.
$1-6/square foot material + labor
Laminate flooring is a good application option in wet areas where you want the look of hardwood, such as lower level living areas, mudrooms and laundry rooms.
Laminate flooring is a moderately sustainable and affordable option for many homeowners. Laminate flooring is produced using fiberboard, comprised of recycled wood fibers and chips, which repurposes and reduces waste. After the fiberboard is constructed an image mimicking hardwood or stone is printed on top to give the appearance of its natural counterpart. Another perk of laminate flooring is that it is recyclable because it doesn't require glues and adhesives with harmful chemicals. If removed carefully laminate can be reinstalled elsewhere.
Luxury Vinyl Plank + Tile Flooring
Luxury Vinyl Planks and Tile (LVP/LVT) is increasing in popularity for its affordability, easy installation and durability. Vinyl is a 100% synthetic material with an image printed on top. Vinyl planks and tile have a click-and-lock installation on floating floor. It's high durability allows it to be installed in any interior space.
$1-6/square foot material + labor
Any interior space including dry and wet rooms.
LVP/LVT is the least sustainable option we're going to talk about today. Vinyl is made of PVC which emits an array of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when it's manufactured and installed, therefore is harmful for the environment, people making the product, and the homeowners when it's installed in your home. In addition to the VOCs in the product itself, it requires the use of adhesives to install, which includes harmful chemicals. The main ingredient in PVC is petroleum, which is not a renewable resource, unlike the other options we have. At the end of LVP/LVT's lifecycle it is nearly impossible to recycle.
Carpet is important in Minnesota homes, whether by use of area rugs or wall-to-wall carpeting. It is soft, comforting, and absorbs sound. Carpet is a very versatile flooring by use of material, color, cut and pattern to fit any home's design.
$3-11/square foot material + labor
Bedrooms, living rooms, stairs, lower levels, dining rooms.
Choosing a natural fiber carpet such as sisal, seagrass, organic wool, and organic cotton versus a synthetic fiber such as nylon, acrylic, and polyester is the start to picking a sustainable carpet. On the flip side of the soft carpet under your toes, is the backing that adheres it to the floor. Find a backing using jute, non-synthetic latex, or wool as opposed to polypropylene. Choosing natural materials for the face and backing will lead to lower VOCs and off-gassing of chemicals, as long as the manufacturing company did not add additional finishes. To help guide your process, look for companies with Cradle to Cradle, NSF 140 (Sustainable Carpet Standard), and CRI Green Label Plus certifications.
Tile is highly durable, water resistant, highly versatile material that comes in an extensive selection of materials, colors, patterns, sheen and cost. We always recommend professional installation as this can get messy quick once grout comes into place. But for skilled, patient craftspeople tile can be installed on your own.
$3+/square foot material + labor. Price greatly varies on material and how it's made.
Walls - natural stone, ceramic
Floors - natural stone, porcelain
Shower Floors - small format natural stone, porcelain with lots of grout lines for slip residency
Tile slides on a spectrum for sustainability. Fortunately, a lot of tile is being made with recycled content these days and you should lean into those options when available. Where you can make more sustainable options is by doing more research into where your tile is coming from. Choosing companies manufacturing in the United States or even your local city is a big plus and saves the carbon footprint of transportation.
What, linoleum? Yes! What once was an old eye sore breathes new life. Linoleum is a great option for homeowners who want minimal maintenance, high durability and resilience, and a clean look at an affordable price. Linoleum is great for people who want to add a pop of pattern or color with something softer than tile.
Mudroom/laundry room, bathroom, lower level rec room. Choose between a sheet/roll, tile, and plank.
$4-8 square foot material + labor
Linoleum is back and is a great sustainable option. Linoleum is manufactured from renewable natural materials: linseed soil, cork dust and wood flour. It's antimicrobial, low VOC, biodegradable, recyclable, anti-static and very durable for a long life.
We made it through, thank you for hanging in there! Flooring is a big decision and different types of flooring are better than others through different phases of life. We hope this guide helps make your next decision easier.
Katie Wick + the Jkath team
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