Two primary requirements for a kitchen floor are moisture resistance and durability. Resilient flooring, ceramic tile, and properly sealed hardwood or masonry are all good candidates. Resilient flooring is the simplest (and usually the least expensive) of the four to install; the other three are trickier. Tinted concrete is also catching on in high-tech sur-roundings. And don't rule out carpeting, especially the newer stain-resistant industrial versions.

Planning checkpoints
Confused by the array of flooring types available today? For help, study the flooring comparison. It's also a good idea to visit flooring suppliers and home centers; most dealers are happy to provide samples.

Beyond aesthetic considerations, you need to weigh the physical characteristics of flooring materials. Kitchen floors take a lot of wear and tear. Is your choice water resistant, durable, and easy to maintain? Is it hard to walk on, noisy, or slippery?

What about subflooring?
Don't make any final flooring decision until you know the kind of subfloor your new flooring will require.

With proper preparation, a concrete slab can serve as a base for almost any type of flooring. Other subfloors are more flexible and not suitable for rigid materials such as masonry and ceramic tile unless they are built up with extra underlayment or floor framing. But too many layers underfoot can make the new kitchen floor awkwardly higher than surrounding rooms. If in doubt, check with a building professional or a flooring dealer.

Comparing Floors

Resilient
Advantages. Generally made from solid vinyl or polyurethane, resilients are flexible, moisture and stain resistant, easy to install, and simple to maintain. Another advantage is the seemingly endless variety of colors, textures, patterns, and styles available. Tiles can be mixed to form custom patterns or provide color accents. Old-fashioned linoleum and cork are back as premium-grade materials.

Sheets run up to 12 feet wide, eliminating the need for seaming in many kitchens; tiles are generally 12 inches square. Vinyl and rubber are comfortable to walk on. Prices are generally modest, but you'll pay more for custom tiles or imported products. A polyurethane finish may eliminate the need for waxing.

Disadvantages. Resilients are relatively soft, making them vulnerable to dents and tears, though such damage can often be repaired. Tiles may collect moisture between seams if improperly installed. Some vinyl still comes with a photographically applied pattern, but most is inlaid; the latter is more expensive but wears much better.

Ceramic tile
Advantages. Made from hard-fired slabs of clay, ceramic tile is available in hundreds of patterns, colors, shapes, and finishes. Its durability and easy upkeep are definite advantages.

Tiles are usually classified as quarry tile, commonly unglazed (unfinished) red-clay tiles that are rough and water resistant; terra-cotta, unglazed tiles in earth-tone shades; porcelain pavers, rugged tiles in stone-like shades and textures; and glazed floor tile, available in glossy, matte, or textured finishes and in many colors.

Floor tiles run the gamut of widths, lengths, and thicknesses -- 8-inch and 12-inch squares are most plentiful. Costs range from inexpensive to moderate; in general, porcelain is most expensive. Purer clays fired at higher temperature are generally costlier but better wearing.

Disadvantages. Tile can be cold, noisy, and, if glazed, slippery underfoot. Porous tiles will stain and harbor bacteria unless properly sealed. Grout spaces can be tough to keep clean, though mildew-resistant or epoxy grout definitely helps.

Hardwood
Advantages. A classic hardwood floor creates a warm decor, feels good underfoot, and can be refinished. Oak is most common, with maple, birch, and other species also available.

The three basic types are narrow strips in random lengths; planks in various widths and random lengths; and wood tiles, laid in blocks or squares. Wood flooring may be factory-prefinished or unfinished, to be sanded and finished in place. "Floating" floor systems have several veneered strips atop each backing board. In addition, you'll now find "planks" and "tiles" of high-pressure plastic laminate that look surprisingly like the real thing.

Disadvantages. Moisture damage and inadequate floor substructure are two bugaboos. Maintenance is another issue; some surfaces can be mopped or waxed, some cannot. Bleaching and some staining processes may wear unevenly and are difficult to repair. Cost is moderate to high, depending on wood species, grade, and finish.

Stone
Advantages. Natural stone (such as slate, flagstone, marble, granite, and limestone) has been used as flooring for centuries. Today, its use is even more practical, thanks to the development of efficient sealers and surfacing techniques. Stone can be used in its natural shape -- known as flagstone -- or cut into rectangular blocks or more formal tiles. Generally, pieces are butted tightly together; irregular flagstones require wider grout joints.

Disadvantages. The cost of masonry flooring can be quite high, though recent diamond-saw technology has lowered it considerably. Moreover, the weight of the materials requires a very strong, well-supported subfloor. Some stone is cold and slippery underfoot, though new honed and etched surfaces are safer, subtler alternatives to polished surfaces. Certain stones, such as marble and limestone, absorb stains and dirt readily. Careful sealing is a must.

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Ideas for Great Kitchens



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