Kitchens get heavy use, from frequent trips to the refrigerator to lots of back and forth between counters and an island, and all the comings and goings from the outside to the inside to haul in groceries and then back outside to remove trash.
Kitchen floors are the path on which we tread daily to do these things and more. While they may not be the key reason folks are wowed by a kitchen when looking to buy, an old dinged or dented floor is sure to cause concern about how much it will cost to fix or replace.
So what floor catches the attention of most buyers? Which holds up best to lots of traffic? Which one is most comfortable to walk and work on, cleans up easily, looks right with different styles of décor and color palettes including prevalent white, and fits best into kitchen remodel budgets that seem to prioritize everything but the floor? There’s no single hands-down winner but a number of considerations should be weighed before you replace your floor. We asked several experts to share their thoughts. Here’s what they had to say about common kitchen floor choices.
“Real” wood. Traditional wood boards are the hands-down winner for upscale homeowners for use in most rooms in their house, including the kitchen. They reflect a time-honored pedigree and usually will last a lifetime if a good species is selected and proper finish and installation are done. To use real wood in the kitchen raises several caveats, however, says Paul Kazanofski, founder of Revision Homes LLC, which transforms distressed homes and is based in Nashville. “Wood flooring will dent, scratch and scuff when installed in a high traffic area,” he says. That, however, can be offset by going for a rustic wood board that’s been hand scraped or distressed. He also advises going with a lighter or natural tone that won’t show as much dirt, debris or damage and a species such as ash or oak that’s tougher versus something soft like pine. For care, it’s important to use a quality finish. And because you may need to sand and refinish the boards over time due to accidents, including water, and wear, he suggests a selection that permits that and has at least a 3 ¼ inch top that can be sanded multiple times over the course of its life. Prices vary depending on the species and finish but often run from $1.50 up to $5 or $6. Be aware, he adds, that wood is classified in different grades, with a utility grade that shows more flaws but is also the least costly. Width and length are a matter of personal preference with more homeowners now favoring wider and longer boards, but that may easily change, along with color favorites.
Reclaimed wood. Using older salvaged boards has become fashionable, including in the kitchen, whether it’s a country or modern home, says Craig Margolies with The Hudson Company, which has showrooms and factories in Pine Plains, Brooklyn, and New York City, NY. The company offers both reclaimed and traditional wood boards and paneling. How durable the boards are depends on the species and finish, with a choice like oak being much tougher, Margolies says. Wear adds to the look and feel of the boards, what’s termed “patina.” Cleaning depends on both the wood and finish. In general, it’s wise to sweep a kitchen floor with reclaimed boards regularly. Prices for unfinished boards may run between $8 and $15 while prefinished may run from $13 on up. Two caveats: Some firms like Hudson custom fabricate their reclaimed boards, which means a longer lead time is required, often between four and eight weeks versus buying them directly off a showroom shelf. It’s also important to hire an installer skilled in working with these boards because of their inherent imperfections.
Engineered wood. For greater durability, some experts recommend engineered boards that consist of a top layer of ¼-inch solid wood that is bonded to a birch plywood “backer” that enhances stability so the top layer can’t move or buckle as weather conditions change or if it comes in contact with any moistness. Prices typically run the same as “real” wood and vary by species and finish. These days, many home owners favor more natural, lighter looking tones—even some veering toward light gray and white, wider planks of at least 7 inches to 8 inches, and longer lengths of 14 feet or so, Kazanofski says. The big limitation with this choice is that the top layer is relatively thin so it can’t be sanded, though damaged pieces can be popped out and new ones laced into the floor. Getting an exact match may be tough, Kazanofski says. Prices generally run from $1.50 up to $10 a square foot but vary by finish, which may be selected in a dull natural look to semigloss and high gloss.
Ceramic tile. Among the best options for the kitchen in an entry-level or starter home—or any home—is ceramic tile, which is highly affordable and durable, made of sand, natural products and clay, and either left unglazed or glazed. It’s less likely than wood to get damaged, won’t require great maintenance and comes in myriad of colors, shapes and patterns, says Sharon Restrepo, a broker and investor whose firm 32 West Realty in West Palm Beach, Fla., buys, fixes up and sells homes. These days, the less pattern and the more neutral the palette the better, she says. Generally, the cost runs about $2.50 to $5 a square foot. And if a tile is damaged from a leak or flood, it usually can be easily and affordably popped out and replaced, says Restrepo. A fancier, more costly variation of ceramic tile is porcelain tile, which is also more durable since it has a lower water absorption rate than ceramic. With either of these tiles, preparation of the floor to lay them is key to the look and longevity. The floor must be leveled so the tiles lay flat and proper screws must be used to attach tiles to a backer board so the top surface and grout won’t crack, says Kazanofski. One caution is that dropping something onto these hard surfaces can easily cause it to break.
Vinyl tile planks. These have gained in popularity of late because they resemble so closely wooden boards yet are far more durable since they won’t dent or mar as much and are easier to replace if there’s damage such as a leak. They are especially appealing in a kitchen or bathroom because they aren’t hurt by moisture and water spills. The costs, however, are similar to wood, often running from $1.50 to $2.50 and up to $4 or $5 a square foot. They are also available in a wide range of widths and lengths. This option also requires that the planks be attached to a cement board, which is screwed to a subfloor, Kazanofski says.
Natural stone. While stones of different variations—travertine, limestone, marble—represent a more natural choice than manmade ceramic and porcelain tiles, they are more expensive to purchase and install since they’re far heavier. Also, because they are natural, they often consist of Mother Nature’s imperfections including discoloration and a lack of consistency from one tile to the next, which some may like but others won’t, says Restrepo. The cost of these choices may start at $3 to $15 a square foot depending on the specific stone and where you shop.
Cement. Originally used for countertops to give a kitchen, bathroom or almost any room an industrial, edgy look, it’s now used by some for floors, often with color added or decorative motifs such as swirls for a distinctive look. The cost usually runs between $7 and $10 a square foot, says Restrepo.
Cork. While cork is very soft on the feet and offers a lot of give, it does have a tendency to bubble if it gets wet and isn’t as durable as other surfaces, says Kazanofski. It’s very affordable, however, running between $2.50 and $3.50 a square foot. It’s also sustainable.
Linoleum. Despite being out of favor in recent years, linoleum—which many boomers associate with their parents’ and grandparents’ homes—is making a comeback and for several reasons. It’s recognized as a highly durable choice even if it gets wet and it is easy to clean and easy to install. “It comes on a roller and can be put down in 1 ½ hours or so, depending on room size,” Kazanofski says. But it’s fashionable again due to newer hip patterns and colors. Expect to pay between $1.25 and $3.50 a square foot. One downside is that it can easily rip if something sharp comes into contact with it and an area can’t be cut out and replaced.
Before you choose, know these four final tips:
1.) Buy extra boards, tiles, planks—as much as an extra box, in case damage occurs. That way, you’ll have an easier time matching color, pattern, shape, and size since manufacturers may discontinue what you originally selected.
2.) Ask about the cost of installation since it’s usually extra and can vary greatly from product to product and city to city.
3.) Find the right cleaning agent and method for your floor choice. You want to be sure you avoid causing abrasion, buckling, and discoloration.
4.) If you desire an electric heating mat underneath your choice, ask if it’s advisable.