The Bottom Line

Section 1: The Basic Touch

The Bottom Line

Success Indicator: You will learning to make the best choice of flooring for your room.
Life Skills Practiced: Wise use of resources, decision making, and planning.
Project Skills Practiced: Selecting the appropriate floor for a room.

Helper's Guide to Section 1: The Basic Touch

Hard Surface Flooring Characteristics

Type Characteristics Durability Cleanability

Tile, Stone,etc.

  • Slate
  • Marble
  • Granite
  • Resin
  • Terrazzo
  • Ceramic
  • Porcelain
Many types of tile and stone tiles.
Many sizes, shapes and colors.
Durable although can chip or crack.
If colored all the way through, it doesn't show scratches and chips as much as surface coated colorant tile.
Surface coatings and sealants can wear off.
May be difficult to repair
Easy to clean unless textured or rough surface. Glazed tile has an outer coating making it easier to clean but can be slippery
  • Slate is durable but more expensive. It can flake off small pieces and may have a rough texture making it harder to clean in heavy traffic areas. Must be sealed to resist stains.
  • Marble is harder to maintain and can stain. Acid (soda, drinks, etc.), oils and metals can stain marble. Marble is more porous than granite and some marbles can stain easily. Use a sealer made for marble and reapply on regularly basis - every 9 to 12 months.
  • Granite is more stain resistant and more durable than marble because of the quartz in granite. Needs to be sealed and reapplied regularly.
  • Resin can be very durable. It is a synthetic surface or tile.
  • Terrazzo is usually made of marble chips mixed with a portland cement binder and/or epoxy. When hardened, the surface is ground smooth and polished. It is hard, smooth and easy to clean but more expensive. Terrazzo is very durable.
  • Ceramic tile is made from clay or shale fired at high temperatures to provide good abrasion resistance and a high degree of resistance to moisture. Durable and easy to care for. Ceramic type can be glazed, ceramic mosaic, quarry or paver tile.
  • Glazed tile is made of clay hardened with heat. It has an outer coating making it easier to clean but can be slippery. The glazing may be two or three coats. People are less likely to slip on textured or non-slip tile versus smooth tile. Glazing adds strength and seals pores to make in water resistant and to resist stains.
  • Porcelain tile is ceramic tile with a water absorption rate of less than 0.5 percent. They can either be unglazed or glazed. The tile hardness is rated from zero to five test for surface abrasion resistance of glazed tile. Coated with durable urethane to make them easier to clean and protects them from stains. Strong and hard but may be brittle.
  • Solid
  • Laminated
  • Veneer
Many types, sizes and construction. Some surfaces are photos of
wood with a clear plastic covering.
Some floors come pre-finished with durable coatings, but can wear off overtime.
Solid wood is generally more expensive but can be refinished several times.
Veneered wood, if damaged is more difficult to repair or refinish.
Laminated "wood like" cannot be refinished or easily repaired.
Wood floors can be vacuumed, dusted or swept.
Damp wipe if needed or use wood cleaners designed for the type of floor. Easy to remove most soil and dust.
  • Factory finished floors are usually better quality than those finished on site as the environmental conditions are more easily controlled. Finishes may be polyurethane (low to high gloss), urethane (high gloss) or acrylic-impregnated (low gloss) making them water-resistant. These finishes should not be waxed. Other finishes are oil and wax finishes.
  • Plastic laminate is typically made of fiberboard covered with a photo reproduction of wood grain or other material. A top layer of plastic protects the photo. It cannot be refinished if damaged or worn.
  • Sheet
  • Tile
Many patterns and construction types Varies with quality of flooring, thickness of surface coating and if pattern or colorant goes all the way through the vinyl (called inlaid). Surface gouges show and are harder to repair. Resists moisture and many stains and grease. Easy to clean unless textured or rough surface or embossed pattern. Damp wipe or use floor cleaners as indicated by the manufacturer.
Easy to remove most soil and dust.
Can be cut or scratched.
  • Sheet
  • Tile
Natural linoleum is made from renewable materials such as linseed oil, pine rosin, limestone dust, and jute, and wood and cork flour. Very durable. Doesn't show cuts as easily as vinyl. Easy to clean if sealed with acrylic coating and occasionally resealed. May stain if not coated with sealer or polish.
Concrete Polished concrete with colorants added are available. Color or texture is added for design. Durable. Concrete can crack over time. Surface sealants or coatings can wear off. Easy to clean if sealed and smooth. Concrete can be painted or stained if properly prepared and the correct type of paint or stain is used.

*The above-mentioned materials are only a few examples of the hard surfaced or resilient flooring available.

Printable Version of this Chart (721 KB PDF)


Carpet Selection

By Shirley M. Niemeyer, Extension Specialist, Housing & Environment. Adapted in part from a publication written by Carol Jo Thompson for Montana State University Extension. Adapted here with permission of MSU.

Carpet cost, installation and measuring are discussed here, along with labels and special considerations for carpet buyers.

Carpet can be a large furnishing expense, so carefully examine the possibilities before making a purchasing decision. Consider cost, installation, measurements, labeling, color, traffic or activity level, acoustics and energy.

Cost and Durability

Good budget-priced carpeting usually lasts up to five years; medium to top-priced carpeting usually lasts 10 years or more. Carpets in the higher price ranges are usually better constructed, have denser face yarns (surface), and may have more colors, patterns and textures from which to choose.

In most instances you can find any carpet fiber in various price ranges, but examine the differences carefully; quality differs considerably. Make sure you determine the length of time you want the carpet to last.

The higher the resultant number, the higher the carpet pile density. The denser the carpet, the more durable it will be. Select a density suitable for the traffic level where the carpet will be used.

Sometimes you can save at seasonal carpet sales, by purchasing remnants, shopping at discount houses or by purchasing do-it-yourself carpet. Select a reputable dealer who will stand behind the merchandise you purchase.

If cost is a major factor in your selection, compromise on size rather than quality. Installation costs usually are the same no matter what carpet quality you select.


While dealing with the salesperson, ask for the carpet leftovers. You may need them to make repairs later. If you are replacing an old carpet, ask if the installer takes up the old carpet and pad. If they do, what additional charge is involved? Will they use metal threshold strips to install the carpet, or some other method? Are these part of the cost or extra?

Carpet may be installed by stretching and securing it with "tackless strips" or by gluing it directly to the floor. Tackless strips are water-resistant plywood strips containing multiple rows of pins. The strips are installed around the periphery of the area to be carpeted, and nailed or glued to the floor. They can be applied to any kind of flooring. The carpet is stretched over the strips so the pins penetrate the carpet backing and hold it securely.

Gluing carpet down is especially good for heavy traffic areas. Even temperatures and humidity levels are essential if carpet is to be glued down. Severe environmental changes can cause buckling, stretching or shrinking. Floors must be level and dry.

Some carpet tiles are available that a placed over the existing smooth floor and suction holds them in place. The backing surface provides that suction.

It often is necessary to seam carpet but, once done, it is rarely noticeable. Seams should not be placed on heavy traffic ways or turning locations. They should be close to a wall or in areas where furniture will be placed. Seams may go across a doorway, but should not run into a doorway. Find out where seams are planned for your installation. You might want to purchase a little more carpet so seams are not going to cause problems.

A good pad can extend the life of your carpet. Do not use an old carpet as padding for your new carpet. It will be worn in some areas more than in others and will not provide the support your new carpet needs.


Generally, carpet comes in 9-foot, 12-foot and 15-foot widths. Rooms of the exact same width as the carpet may require a little extra width for easier installation. Smaller or larger rooms will need trimming or piecing. This may mean some loss or extra cost, depending on the space and shapes involved. Trimmings may be pieced for hallways or closets, but be sure tuft-pile run the same direction so color is the same throughout.

Measure the room or area you plan to carpet so you know the approximate quantity of carpet you need. Include measurements for carpet extending into doorways. If the area is irregular, divide it into squares or rectangles and measure each area. Add the results to give you the total square footage. Below is an example of how this is done:

This image illustrates which measurements must be made when measuring to estimate the needed carpet as well as cost. Your first figures will be square feet. Carpet, however, is sold by the square yards. Therefore, divide the first figure by 9 to get square yards.

Your first figures will be square feet. Carpet, however, is sold by the square yards. Therefore, divide the first figure by 9 to get square yards. (414 square feet ÷ 9 = 46 square yards). Multiply carpet cost by the number of square yards to obtain the approximate cost. Padding is estimated the same way. Although you will need slightly less padding than carpet, for rough estimates use the same yardage for padding as you used for carpeting.

In some instances the price per square yard includes the padding and installation. In other cases those are additional costs. Stairs often cost slightly more than flat installations. Be sure to ask the salesperson.

The average stair has a tread 10 to 12 inches deep, a riser six to eight inches high, and is three to four feet wide. Different carpet is installed on stairs in different ways, so discuss this with the salesperson or installer. Sometimes allowing extra carpet on stairs lets you move the carpet down the stairs as wear occurs. With this in mind, estimate maximum stairway needs, using three-fourths of a linear yard of carpet per stair.

Let the store from whom you are purchasing the carpet make final measurements. Then, if a mistake occurs, they, not you, are responsible and may rectify the error.

The wall-to-wall carpeting you put in your home will not be labeled, but the sample you use in selecting it will bear a label. It will tell you the name of the manufacturer or distributor, the generic names of the carpet fibers (and, perhaps, the company trade name), the percentage of each fiber and, if imported, the country of origin and a Federal Trade Commission registration number.

Be sure all label information is written on the invoice and on any sales contract. The label information helps provide care information for the carpeting and also may prove helpful for other reasons later. In some cases, it can be useful in knowing you are receiving what you contracted to purchase, and not an entirely different piece of merchandise. Other information also may be found on the sample label that will benefit you later, so make or obtain a copy of the entire label. If the carpet is a remnant piece, as to have the fiber and care information and other label information.

Such things as whether or not the fiber has been heat set, special finishes that have been applied, the weight of the face fiber, the kind of backing(s) used and warranty or guarantee information offered by the manufacturer may be on the label. Be sure to read all the small print on the warranty or guarantee.

The construction method and materials used in a carpet, along with the padding and installation method used, determine the durability and longevity of a carpet.

Special Considerations

Special characteristics should be considered for each room, as well as each living situation, before buying. These include the activities of the space, the traffic, color, acoustical properties desired, insulation qualities needed, tolerance to sunlight or other weather conditions, and safety. Heavy-use areas need heavy-duty, durable carpeting, while lighter-use areas need only medium to low-quality carpeting.


Carpeting for work areas and heavy traffic areas usually is best if constructed in short, dense, tightly looped, one-level pile. A good moisture barrier between the primary and secondary backings keeps any moisture spills from penetrating the sub-floor, creating mildew or rot. A soil/stain-resistant finish also is beneficial. Carpeting for these spaces should be very durable and resistant to crushing and abrasion.

Private areas usually do not receive the use of other areas in the house. Any color, texture, fiber or pile height may be acceptable in these spaces. Durability usually is not critical in private space.

Entertainment areas usually receive heavy use and should have very durable floor covering with good resistance to abrasion, crushing and soiling.


When you are ready to go shopping for carpeting, take your knowledge, ideas, measurements and fabric samples, and see what the market has to offer.

Colors always should be viewed in natural daylight and in artificial light in the space you plan to use the color. Take the carpet samples home to look at them in nightlight as well as daylight, and with your belongings, not the store surroundings. The larger the sample, the easier it will be for you to make a decision.

Solid colors and light colors tend to make space appear larger, while patterned and dark colors usually make space appear smaller. Don't let those facts hinder you in doing something you really want to do, however.

Soiling shows more readily on white or light yellow carpeting. Medium colors, color blends and patterns are best for disguising signs of use between cleanings. Darker colors tend to show lint and accumulated dust more readily than light or medium colors. Selecting a color value the same as the usual soil in your locality helps keep carpet looking soil-free longer.


Carpeting can improve the acoustical and insulative value of a space. Cut pile carpeting is more effective for sound absorption than loop pile. As pile height and density increase in cut pile, sound absorption improves. For loop pile carpeting, however, pile height appears more important than density. Any padding will increase the carpet's effectiveness in reducing sound.


Carpeting can reduce heat loss through the floor. Savings may be most noticeable in extreme climates, especially if carpet is installed on an uninsulated floor over a crawl space or concrete slab. Pile density and padding are the important factors to consider here.

For insulating value, wall-to-wall carpeting constructed with a deep, dense pile having a thick, densely air-pocketed urethane padding serves you best.

Carpet used in any sun-lighted area fades less if solution- dyed. Neutral colors show the least fading, but darker colors absorb more heat into the space.

Many factors influence the carpet selection you make. Knowing what those factors are before you go shopping or make your selection will help make the process less frustrating.

Download a printable version of this document here (909 KB PDF)

Find more some videos providing more information about carpets and flooring.

Activity 1: Go Surf!

Search the Internet for more examples of floor coverings, such as the World Floor Covering Association's Virtual Room Designer. Click on the photo of a room such as a bedroom. Select various floor covering types, colors, and textures to see how each will change the appearance of the room you selected.

Carpet Construction

Carpet Care

Helper's Guide to Section 1: The Basic Touch