How to Choose Flooring: a Step by Step Guide

Stools arranged at breakfast bar in contemporary kitchen
Eric Hernandez/Getty Images

Choosing flooring is far more complicated than just finding the best-looking product.  Several other factors--moisture, durability, costs, and more--greatly influence your decision.  Follow these five steps in order reach the flooring decision that is right for you and your home.

1. Will Your Floor Be Installed in a Basement, Full Bathroom, or Other High Moisture Area?

Your AnswerChoose This Flooring
YesYou need flooring that is suited for a high- or medium-moisture environment, such as concrete, ceramic or porcelain tile, or vinyl tile.
NoMoisture is not a limiting factor.  At this point, all types of flooring still may be used.  Proceed to next step.

2. Do You Have Pets, Children, or Any Other Extra Need for a Durable Floor?

Your AnswerChoose This Flooring 
YesYou will need a floor with superior wear resistance.  Some flooring that appears to be wear resistant often is not.  For example, site-finished solid hardwood can easily scratch.  Its saving grace is that scratches can be sanded out.  Instead, try a durable flooring like ceramic or porcelain tile, laminate flooring, plank vinyl flooring, or even carpeting.
NoWhile everyone wants a durable floor, durability is not a chief factor in your decision.  Proceed to next step.

3. What Is Your Square Footage Budget? 

Your AnswerChoose This Flooring 
$2.00 or lessYou will find bargain laminate flooring hovering around this price; nothing gorgeous but it has a general wood-like appearance. Sheet and tile resilient flooring can also be found in this price range. Lots of gorgeous ceramic and porcelain tile can be found in this range--but tile is truly a labor-intensive installation.  
$2.00-$5.00The sweet spot price range for many types of flooring. You can snag some domestic solid hardwood and engineered wood flooring, but do not expect any exotic woods. The more attractive laminates fall in this range, as well as higher quality luxury vinyl tile.
$5.00 or moreIncreasing your price range means you can explore some of the harder, more exotic hardwood and engineered wood options--kempas, ipe, brazilian cherry, mahogany.  The highest quality, premium laminate and luxury vinyl flooring products will be found here.

Whatever your choice in this section, proceed to the next step.

4. Do You Want To Install Your Flooring By Yourself?

Your AnswerChoose This Flooring 
Yes

By installing your flooring yourself, you can often cut your entire flooring cost in half.  Laminate flooring and plank vinyl flooring tend to be the easiest floor coverings for homeowners to self-install.  Both are floating floors, which means that each board connects to an adjacent board (not to the subfloor).  Ceramic and porcelain tile installation is not as self-evident as laminate and vinyl installation.  Hone your learning curve on an out-of-the-way room, like a basement bathroom.

No

Wall to wall carpet is tough for DIYers to lay down perfectly flat.  Nail-down solid hardwood and engineered wood floors are best installed by pros.  As mentioned, ceramic/porcelain tile can be self-installed; it is more a matter of whether you want it installed well.  

Many flooring retailers do not offer in-house installation, though they may maintain a list of favored local installers.  Angie's List tends to be a reliable source of floor installers.

5. Do You Want Flooring That Requires Very Little Maintenance?

Your AnswerChoose This Flooring 
Absolutely.  It Is My Primary Concern

Any form of resilient (vinyl) flooring is best:  tile, sheet, or plank.  Laminate flooring is a close second, only because it needs special cleaning methods.  Because wet mops can ruin it, use an extremely damp mop or a system like a Swiffer Wet Jet.

Buy on Amazon - Swiffer Wet Jet

Would Be Nice, But Not the Most Important ThingWith solid hardwood, you trade beauty for maintenance. I don't care what the manufacturers say: solid or engineered wood is work, but it's worth it. One major task: keep high-traffic areas covered with throw rugs and runners.