Smart Choices: Kitchen Flooring

Article From

By: John Riha
Published: September 16, 2009

Choose kitchen flooring that marries your priorities–durability, sustainability, low maintenance, or an open floor plan–with the options.

Choosing flooring for your kitchen remodeling project is a critical design decision, one that unites all the elements of your kitchen. Not only that, kitchen flooring must perform extremely well, providing low maintenance, durability, and good looks without breaking your budget. With so many flooring options available, how can you be sure you’re getting a product that provides the right combination of price and style-one that will provide years of satisfaction? Weigh the options based on your lifestyle and how you’ll use your kitchen.

Chef’s choice: Comfort and low maintenance

Top-quality sheet vinyl flooring is ideal for busy cooks. It’s a snap to clean up, plus it’s completely waterproof and stain-proof. There are few seams to trap dirt or let moisture through to the subfloor, and installations for kitchens less than 12 feet wide (the width of standard sheet vinyl) are seamless. Sheet vinyl requires no ongoing maintenance, so you can spend more time cooking.

Sheet vinyl belongs to a group of flooring products called resilient flooring, which have flexibility and are slightly soft under foot. This characteristic eases muscle fatigue-a plus if you spend a lot of time in your kitchen. Also, resilient floorings are much more forgiving of accidentally dropped glasses and bowls.

Then there’s cushioned vinyl, which is backed with a layer of foam-regular sheet vinyl uses felt backing-providing an extra measure of comfort. But its added thickness and flexibility makes it difficult to create seams that stay tightly bonded over time. When your flooring dealer measures your kitchen, be sure to ask if your configuration requires seams. If the answer is yes, consider regular felt-backed vinyl.

You’ll find sheet vinyl flooring in many of colors and patterns. Thicker vinyl can feature a textured surface, and some types do an excellent job of mimicking the appearance of ceramic tile and real stone. Textured vinyl provides traction and is a good idea for kitchens where floor surfaces occasionally get wet.

Vinyl flooring includes a “wear layer” on its top surface that helps resist scratches and scuff marks. The trade-off for low maintenance is that the wear layer eventually dulls and you’ll likely want to replace it. The best brands offer guarantees on the wear layer of 10-15 years, but good quality vinyl should last 20 years.

Cost: At $1 to $5 per sq.ft., sheet vinyl is one of the least expensive options for kitchen flooring. Installation adds $1 to $2 per sq.ft., depending on the complexity of the project. For a 12 x 16 foot kitchen, you’ll spend about $1,000. In general, the thicker the vinyl, the higher the quality and the cost of the product. It’s widely available at home improvement centers and flooring stores.

When durability is important

Porcelain flooring tile, a version of common ceramic tile, is the durability champ. It’s fired at high temperatures that produce an extremely hard, durable, stain-resistant tile impervious to moisture. In fact, it’s so tough it can be used outdoors in virtually any climate.

Like common ceramic tile, porcelain tile comes either unglazed or glazed. The unglazed versions take on the color of their clay mixture, so they have naturally earthy tones. Glazed tiles have a glass-like coating that can be made in virtually any color, and can mimic the look and texture of real stone at a much lower cost than stone. For kitchens, choose porcelain tiles certified as slip-resistant by the Americans with Disabilities Act-the designation should be visible on product literature or packing materials.

Cost: Averages from $1 to $20 per sq.ft.; installation, $5 to $10 per sq.ft. Porcelain tile is widely available at home improvement centers and flooring stores.

Your best green option

Cork is made from tree bark that’s harvested every eight to 10 years; it’s a sustainable material, meaning the bark grows back and can be harvested repeatedly. Countries that produce cork are careful to regulate harvesting practices to ensure future supplies.

Cork has a unique cellular structure that’s waterproof and compressible, which makes it a comfortable, moisture-resistant choice. It comes in 12 x 12-inch tiles and 1 x 3-foot planks, each with a unique grain pattern of swirls and speckles. The surface is naturally textured, so cork is slip-resistant as well.

Most cork flooring products come pre-finished. However, they should be resealed every 3 to 4 years to help guard against scratches and prevent moisture from entering the seams between tiles. Both natural wax and polyurethane are good sealers for cork. Choose water-based polyurethane that’s non-toxic or has low volatile organic compound content.

Cost: $2-$6 per sq.ft.; installation, $5-$10 per sq.ft.

Hardwood unites an open floor plan

Hardwood flooring, with its unmatched warmth and visual appeal, is a great choice if you have an open floor plan and prefer a single flooring style that creates visual continuity beyond the kitchen. In the kitchen, hardwood provides durability and low-maintenance. Prefinished hardwood is moisture-resistant, although spills should be wiped up immediately.

Hardwood flooring is either solid wood strips or engineered wood planks. Engineered wood has a veneer of real wood backed by layers of less expensive plywood. This construction provides dimensional stability that makes the flooring less susceptible to movement caused by changes in humidity and temperature-a good idea for kitchens.

Increasingly popular bamboo, like hardwood, is glued together to form solid strips or engineered planks. But technically it isn’t a hardwood, it’s a grass. Bamboo is tough, durable, and green. It can be re-grown quickly and easily. If the environment is a factor in your choice of bamboo flooring, look for products made without urea formaldehyde glues. Costs are comparable to hardwood.

Cost: $3-$8 per sq.ft., although exotic varieties of wood may run as high as $12 per sq.ft. Installation, $5-$12 per sq.ft., depending on the complexity of the job.

John Riha has written six books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. His standard 1968 suburban house has been an ongoing source of maintenance experience.

Reprinted from HouseLogic ( with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®
Copyright 2009.  All rights reserved.