Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

How to choose the right floors for every room in your home

Floors are never forgotten underfoot for Rob Davis. “When we walk into a house it’s basically a pile of wood,” says the Floorcovering Installer instructor of him and his industry colleagues. “It’s not fit for living in. When we walk out, you can live in it.”

Davis (Floorcovering Installer ’97) has an obvious bias, but his appreciation for his trade is more than a matter of professional allegiance. It’s rooted in creature comforts – like “a soft fuzzy carpet.”

“When I wake up, I dig my toes in and ball them up,” he says. “If you have a really nice carpet, there’s no better feeling in the world first thing in the morning.”

Now building a home in Stony Plain, Davis faces the same choices as other new home owners and renovators: what material to use to make a room as livable as possible. Here, he offers a tour of his new pad, examining his flooring choices and the alternatives (see the gallery below for examples), and potentially saving us from making costly mistakes.

“Why not put your best foot forward?” he says, no apologies for the pun.

Bedrooms

Mostly for comfort, Davis is using carpet in his upstairs bedrooms – and a high-quality undercushion. “You can put a $100-a-yard carpet over a cheap undercushion and it will self-destruct in a matter of years.”

Besides dampening sound and conserving heat, the undercushion keeps the backside of carpet intact. Look for a density rating of at least 6 pounds, Davis advises. Thicker isn’t necessarily better. Undercushion compresses to half its thickness – the greater the distance, the more carpet pulls away from walls, causing ripples over time.

Office

Davis will convert his third upstairs bedroom into an office, where he wants a smooth surface for rolling chairs. Since the joints of hardwood or laminate can separate under the pressure of a wheel, he’s choosing linoleum.

This isn’t the sheet vinyl on grandma’s kitchen floor. True linoleum is a natural product made from linseed oil, recycled wood and limestone. It’s anti-bacterial, durable and customizable, thanks to the practice of inlaying designs by water jet cutting.

“We’re looking at water jetting our names into the floor,” Davis says.

Bath

Sheet vinyl is linoleum’s synthetic counterpart. Davis prefers it over tile for the upstairs bath. It’s often less expensive, quite durable, easy to clean and comes in countless patterns.

He’s chosen a green-veined marble accented with flecks of black and grey. “I’m a firm believer in making your walls neutral – as in white – and putting your colour in the floors. That gives the illusion of a bigger room.”

Stairs

“We want carpet on the stairs in case somebody slips,” says Davis. “Carpet is firmer footing than any other material.”

If you have pets, he recommends using plush rather than berber. Unlike plush, the tops of the loops of berber aren’t sheared off, making them traps for nails and claws. “It can cause pain and agony. It can also destroy your carpet.”

Front entrance, kitchen and laundry

About half of Davis’s main floor will feature the same sheet vinyl as the upstairs bath. This will create continuity and ensure easy cleaning.

If Davis liked tile, or luxury vinyl tile (slightly softer and easier on the legs), he’d use it in the entry. “It’s very durable. If you come in and you’ve got muddy boots, tile handles that better than anything else.”

Though he acknowledges that it can be done, he's reluctant to use hardwood or laminate in his front entry for fear that melted snow and grit might enter the joints.

Living room

Despite Alberta’s dry climate, wood remains a common choice for living rooms. “The thing about hardwood is that you need a humidifier,” Davis cautions. “Even with laminate.”

To prevent shrinking and swelling that can lead to separated joints and buckling, maintain a minimum relative humidity of 35 to 40 per cent for hardwood and 25 per cent for laminate using a humidifier connected to your furnace.

It’s no issue for Davis: he’s going with carpet. He’ll install a two-toned plush, surrounding the room in a 20-centimetre border 60 centimetres from the wall. (The living room in his last house was hunter green and cranberry, with a 120-centimetre diamond in the centre. “You can get as artistic as you want.”)

Basement

Because of the risk of moisture and cooler temperatures in basements, “I don’t like anything that would seal the floor,” says Davis. Linoleum, sheet vinyl, tile and wood products are barriers, forcing water toward walls where mold can grow. Choose breathable materials that allow evapouration.

His suggestion? Surprise: “For my basement it’s going to be carpet,” he says. More plush. “And it’s probably going to have some kind of freaky, far-out design in it, too.”


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