How to Select Flooring for Each Room of Your House

The Best Flooring Is Based on Your Unique Situation

Mother and daughter dancing on living room floor
Hero Images / Getty Images

When you're in the market for upgrading your flooring, it becomes almost impossible to figure out the best flooring for your house.

And just what does ​the best flooring mean anyway? That depends on several factors, all of which are applicable to your own situation and several key factors:

  • Budget: What is in your budget? If you cannot spend more than $1,000 on a large room, then granite and marble are not viable options.
  • Location: Where is the floor being installed? Will the flooring be in a wet location, semi-wet, dry, high-traffic, etc? How will the selected flooring hold up in these areas?
  • Maintenance: What about maintenance needs? This is more of a personality decision than a flooring decision .Any type of flooring--even the least durable--can be used for decades if properly maintained. But if you don't normally like to maintain your floor per manufacturers' instructions, then you need to reconsider your choice.
  • Look and feel: Most homeowners place this question at the top of their list, but many experts place it at the bottom, below the more pragmatic issues listed above. Oddly enough, the look of your flooring is becoming less critical as the years go by, as flooring manufacturers become more adept at reproducing the look of natural stone or wood in both laminate and resilient flooring versions. But it's hard to reproduce the warmth of solid hardwood or the solidity of stone.

For Budget and Clean-Up: Tile

Bathroom tile floor
Chuckcollier / Getty Images

When you look at the big picture, tile is one of the best flooring choices you can make: it is readily available, cost-effective, and offers versatile options. Tile flooring comes in different materials, from ceramic to stone varieties.

Great Range of Sizes

The amazing versatility of tile floors comes from the sheer amount of options at your disposal. Tile size can vary from the very small mosaic types--some of which are less than an inch square--to large (12") and even larger tile squares.

As for ease of maintenance, tile can hardly be beaten. Rather, it's the grout that poses the problem. Even those issues of staining and chipping can be mitigated by proper maintenance, sealing, and even choosing to go with an epoxy-based system, thus eliminating the need to be concerned.

Wins "Best Flooring Award" for Repair Ease

Another huge plus of tile is that repair is relatively easy. Did you know that on most tile installations, extra tiles are left behind expressly for this purpose? So, if a tile develops cracks--usually due to an improper substrate or improper adhesive for the substrate--then you merely replace it.

Stains and water damage are a moot point when it comes to non-porous ceramic tile. But natural stone such as marble may need to be sealed to prevent this problem.

Finally, if you like a warm floor in the winter for your bare feet, you can always install tile over a radiant heated floor, which comes with thermostat controls like an HVAC unit. Tile remains one of the best flooring solutions in any budget.

For Resilience and Authenticity: Linoleum

linoleum vs vinyl flooring
While vinyl and linoleum are similar in a variety of ways, vinyl does have a few advantages in kitchens, where its waterproof abilities make it safe against spills and floods. © FloorMall

While commonly confused, there is all the world of difference between linoleum and vinyl flooring.

Linoleum is included in this list of best flooring options because it remains one of the most beautiful and durable flooring options, with over 150 years of history.

What Is Linoleum?

Linoleum is composed of linseed oil and is therefore waterproof, as well as being environmentally friendly. Sheet linoleum (vs. tile) is ideal for use in the bathroom and kitchen, though you will need to seal around the wet areas where water from tubs and sinks may spill with a silicone caulking. Standing water isn't an issue on linoleum unless it can penetrate to the substrate underneath the linoleum. In that case, the water damages the substrate and can also cause the linoleum to peel, so sealing the perimeters is a good caution against that damage.

Best Flooring for Retro Looks?

Linoleum's beauty can be enhanced with inlays and various borders, giving it extra versatility. As retro 1950s and 1960s remain the vogue, linoleum is here to stay.

Maintenance is very simple. Dents or dings--if small enough--can self-heal. For resilience alone, linoleum remains one of the best flooring materials.

For All-Round Usability, Looks, and Return on Value: Hardwood

Hardwood floor in kitchen
Ivan Hunter / Getty Images

If you have ever managed to catch a weekend episode of This Old House or similar restoration shows, then you're familiar with the new homeowner who buys an older home and decides to rip up the outdated, worn carpet only to reveal hardwood flooring.

Best Flooring for Majority of Homeowners' Needs

In most cases, the homeowner begins to ask how they can overlay or remove that floor to lay down tile or some other floor, only to be told by the contractor that it would be insane not to simply re-finish the old floor, saving tons of money and becoming the envy of friends and family in the process.

Hardwood flooring is a classic example of style done right, a perfect balance of the best of all worlds. With its warmth, character, and ease of maintenance--especially when you consider that sanding and refinishing costs are minimal compared to installing new floors--hardwood flooring remains one of the best flooring options of all time.

Patterns, Inlays, and Species

With the hand of a fine craftsman, fancy inlays and patterns can be achieved. With the right species of wood, scratches from pet claws and high heels aren't an issue. Mixing species of wood can also achieve dramatic results, but care should be taken to ensure that the cellular structure of the species has similar expansion and contraction rates. Scratches can be sanded out and refinished, as can most any dent or ding.

For "Foot Friendly" Feel: Cork Flooring

Staircase and cork flooring
David Papazian / Getty Images

How on earth can cork be classified as the best flooring for your home?

Admittedly, cork flooring does not hit the #1 or #2 spot on any homeowners' or builders' lists. But cork certainly does deserve its rightful place in the general "best flooring" list because:

  • Cork flooring is a renewable resource as it is made from harvesting the bark of the cork oak tree.
  • Because of the sponge-like cellular structure, cork can be compressed and easily reverts back to its original shape--thus, it is impact-resistant.
  • Cork flooring is excellent at dampening sound, and because of that has been used in libraries from the late 19th century.
  • Cork is versatile. It comes in tiles or planks and can be installed by those who are familiar with similar installations on engineered wood floor products.
  • Since cork is harvested from the bark of its host tree, the patterns of the grain are very lively and arguably provide some of the most interesting grain patterns in wood.
  • Maintenance is easy. With only a bit of damp mopping, occasional vacuuming and sweeping necessary. Cork flooring is non-toxic and safe for all members of the family, human and fur-covered alike.

For "Green-ness" and Sustainability: Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo flooring in kitchen
Laughingmango / Getty Images

Bamboo is one of the world's fastest growing plants; in fact, bamboo is a grass. So, how is it possible for bamboo to be the best flooring material?

"Green" Flooring

For one, bamboo flooring is a renewable resource. Though technically a grass, its fibers can be conditioned to be as tough as the hardest woods, its tensile strength greater than many alloys of steel, and compressive tests greater than many mixes of concrete.

Impact Resistance

Bamboo flooring is relatively impact-resistant because of the forgiving nature of bamboo's cellular structure. Typically, bamboo comes as an engineered wood product, either in tiles or planks, similar to cork. As such, it generally comes pre-finished, though a few manufacturers provide the raw planks for the customer to stain and seal. It is recommended to buy pre-finished, however, as the manufacturers of bamboo flooring apply high-grade finishes in controlled environments.

For a Contemporary Look: Concrete Flooring

Polished concrete floor
Jhorrocks / Getty Images

If concrete flooring makes you think of garage floors and sidewalks, think again. Concrete flooring is slowly establishing itself as one of the best flooring options for mid-budget homeowners.

Endless Ways to Embellish

Today's concrete staining and stamping methods have really opened up concrete to all, making it a must-have on this best flooring list. There are endless ways to embellish a concrete floor. From radiant heating to inlaid tile, the possibilities are limited only by a designer's imagination.

Ease of Use and Lasting Beauty

Concrete flooring is making a comeback in high-end remodels for its ease of use and lasting beauty. Shop online for examples of colors and textures that would suit your needs, and rest assured that concrete maintenance is by far one of the easiest in the flooring industry.

With a properly sealed concrete floor, stains are not an issue. As to impact resistance, this is concrete after all. 

For a Unique Angle: Leather Floors

Leather flooring in living room

Yes, leather flooring. As in cowhide.

Leather is one of the last flooring options people may think of, but it shouldn't be discounted for your home--nor as a candidate for the best flooring list.

The More Traffic, the Better

Leather flooring comes in tiles of varying size and can be laser-engraved by the right manufacturer for an extra fee. Leather flooring is one of the few flooring options you'll see where a weathered patina is a desired effect. The more traffic, the better, like an old leather jacket.

Exotic and Sensual

Because leather floors have natural water resistance, they hold up well to moderate amounts of moisture. It should be noted that standing water should still be cleaned up because the tile seams can allow water to infiltrate. Leather flooring feels the way one would imagine: exotic, sensual, warm in the winter and cool in the summer, warming to the touch.

And no, leather doesn't just come in cowhide-brown color; it comes in more colors than you may imagine.

Leather flooring: The best flooring only if you want something that no one else has!

For the Look of Wood or Stone: Luxury Vinyl

Wood vinyl floor in a contemporary living room
Astronaut Images / Getty Images

The best flooring to buy if you really want the look of wood is, well, wood. But what if you like the look of wood (or stone) but don't want the installation hassles or cost or the associated maintenance? The perfect compromise might just be luxury vinyl flooring.

Luxury vinyl flooring has three attributes that skyrocket it past the old, dreary vinyl flooring of yore:

  1. Looks: Manufacturers have improved "printing" techniques to achieve startlingly realistic 3D graphics on the flooring surface.
  2. Feel: Texturing feels amazingly like the grain of wood or the rough face of stone.
  3. Thickness: Luxury vinyl flooring tends to be thicker than ordinary tile--often twice as thick.

To Get Ahead of the Trend: Wood-Look Ceramic Planks

Wood-look ceramic tile - Koa species simulation
Handtrade By FG/Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0

You've already walked on this stuff countless times. Chances are, it was a doctor's or lawyer's office, or a pricey clothing store, or a local restaurant. You may have glanced at it, and in response, your brain registered it as solid wood flooring.

For lack of a better name, you might just call it wood-look ceramic plank flooring.

It's more expensive than that other wood-substitute, luxury vinyl flooring, but its appearance is far more realistic.