Budget-Friendly Flooring Options
With so many flooring materials on the market, choosing the right one for your project can be confusing. The fact that many materials are made to look like other, more attractive materials doesn’t make the process any easier, but it does give you options and the ability to stretch your budget.
The Big Questions
Before you buy new flooring, ask yourself these three questions:
- Where will the flooring be used? A floor that is just right for a formal living room will probably not work in a playroom. To choose the right material, consider moisture levels, comfort, potential maintenance requirements, and how much traffic the room will get.
- What style of flooring are you looking for? Do you want a traditional look, like oak hardwood or natural stone, or something more unexpected, like cork or bamboo? What color scheme matches your existing décor?
- How much do you want to spend? Choose a material and style within your budget. Factor in the installation costs, which will depend on the materials as well as the size of the project and the prep and repair work involved.
Selecting Materials Based On Your Budget
The materials listed below range from the most expensive to least expensive. Most flooring manufacturers produce budget-friendly products that resemble natural wood or natural stone. These products are more durable, fit most home designs, and provide a timeless and expensive look at an affordable price.
Solid wood. Many people consider wood to be the gold standard for flooring, and many of the other materials listed here try to mimic its look. There are many varieties of wood flooring available, each with a different grain pattern and color. Although solid wood comes from a renewable resource — and a properly maintained wood floor can last into the next century — it does have weaknesses. It shouldn’t be installed in rooms with a lot of moisture and humidity, such as basements or bathrooms, and it is easily scratched. Solid wood floors come either finished or unfinished. For the best look, have it professionally installed. A factory-finished product is often the least expensive option, as it reduces installation costs.
Engineered wood. This product consists of thin layers of wood bonded together, like plywood. The top layer is made up of familiar wood species and provides the finished look of the flooring. It can’t be sanded and refinished as many times as solid wood, but the plywood-type construction makes it more dimensionally stable than solid wood and therefore more durable in high-traffic areas. Because it’s laminated, it can be used in humid or moist areas. Experienced DIYers can install engineered wood floors themselves — most come in tongue-and-groove planks that snap together to form straight lines.
Bamboo. Bamboo is technically a grass, not a type of wood, but bamboo flooring is 25 percent harder than oak. It can be processed to look like traditional wood flooring or keep its own distinctive look. It works well in high-traffic rooms but does not hold up in moisture-prone areas. Choose tongue-and-groove floating floors for easier DIY installation.
Porcelain tile. These products can look like natural wood or stone products, such as slate or marble. In addition to squares and rectangles, porcelain tiles also come in planks to enhance the natural wood look and give a more modern appeal. The tiles wear well and are moisture-resistant. Installation requires the mortar and grout of any other porcelain or ceramic tile and can be undertaken by a skilled DIYer.
Cork. This eco-friendly product is made from the bark of the cork tree and offers natural insulation and noise-canceling benefits. Cork floors also have a distinctive look. They’re popular for kitchens because they have some “give” to them when walked on, making them comfortable underfoot. Cork floors are also a great choice for bathrooms because they’re naturally resistant to mold and mildew. Floating cork floors — which snap together in planks, like engineered hardwood — are simple to install on your own. Cork tiles need to be glued to the subfloor – a job best left to a professional.
Luxury vinyl tile (LVT). These products are thicker and more durable than standard vinyl tiles, and they can look like real wood or stone. Some so convincingly mimic the texture of natural products it’s difficult to tell them apart. Wood lookalikes are available in plank form. Some are totally waterproof, so they can be used anywhere. This flooring is one of the easiest projects for a DIYer — the self-stick tiles are easy to install.
Laminates. This flooring is made of high-density fiberboard with a protective melamine layer. Unlike engineered wood, it doesn’t have a layer of solid wood. It can look like wood, stone, or pretty much anything. (The top coating protects a photographic applique layer, which can be printed to match the look of almost any material.) These floors are scuff- and stain-resistant, but shouldn’t be installed in rooms with excessive moisture. Select a floating floor for easy DIY installation.
Choosing a Color and Finish
For wood and stone flooring (or flooring that looks like wood or stone), the world is divided into people who prefer dark colors and those who prefer lighter shades. Keep these things in mind when making a decision you’ll need to live with for a long time.
- Light colors help make a room feel open and airy, providing a more casual, informal appearance. This category includes naturally light woods like oak and ash, as well as floors that are treated to appear gray or have a white-washed look.
- Dark colors provide a more formal look to a room and complement a variety of colors and fabrics. They can make rooms feel cozier and more intimate. Dark flooring is often difficult to match up with dark cabinetry and other built-ins. If you’re using real wood, choose a naturally dark species, like walnut or cherry. Alternatively, you can choose a lighter wood and stain it to your preferred color. Dark-colored floors tend to show more marks than light-colored floors.
- No matter which color you choose, consider matte finishes. They’re currently on trend, show off the beauty of natural wood, and are better at hiding dirt and scratches than glossy finishes.
Replacing a floor is a big project, but with so many options available, you can find the products that best match your budget and your taste.