There’s no home decorating challenge quite so frustrating as old, worn-out floors. You can paint the walls, add accessories, and even replace furniture on a budget, but replacing an entire floor is a much bigger – and costlier – job.
That doesn’t mean you just have to live with your ratty old carpeting or scuffed-up vinyl. These days, there are lots of different flooring options, including several that are very affordable. Vinyl, laminate, and ceramic tile can all cost as little as $1 per square foot.
However, you can’t just pick up one of these cheap flooring choices at random and expect it to work in any space where you plunk it down. Each type of flooring has advantages and disadvantages, and a type that’s ideal for one room could be a terrible choice for another.
So before you get started on your flooring project, it pays to do a little research on the different kinds of flooring and learn about their costs and benefits. Then, you can find a floor that fits both your space and your budget.
It’s important to save up the money ahead of time or use the equity in your home to pay for flooring updates. You can get a home equity line of credit from a site such as Figure.com and get approval the same day.
Types of Flooring to Consider
No one type of flooring is ideal for every room. For example, hardwood is consistently popular because of its warm, classic look, but it doesn’t hold up well to moisture or rough treatment. Here’s a look at the pros, cons, and costs of several popular types of flooring, as well as some ideas about where they can work best.
Solid wood has been one of the most popular types of flooring in the U.S. for decades. Its construction is about as simple as you can get – wooden boards or planks about 0.75 inches thick, which are installed by nailing them to a wooden subfloor.
Solid wood flooring comes in either strips, which range in width from 1.5 to 2.5 inches, or planks 4 to 8 inches wide. It can be made from many kinds of wood, from domestic species such as oak and maple to exotic varieties such as Brazilian cherry or purpleheart.
Wood flooring can be sold either finished or unfinished. If you choose unfinished flooring, you will need to sand and finish it after installing it. According to Consumer Reports, prefinished wood flooring typically costs less and involves less work. Also, the factory-installed finishes are usually more durable than anything you could do yourself.
Wood is a renewable resource, but it isn’t always harvested in sustainable ways. Cutting trees without planting new ones in their place, or cutting them faster than new ones can grow, contributes to global warming. If you want to be sure your wood floors come from sustainably managed forests, look for flooring certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or the SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative). You can also look for reclaimed wood flooring, which has been recovered from old buildings that have been torn down, but it’s much harder to find and can be more expensive.
People love solid wood flooring because it looks great in any style of home with any decor. It’s also very long-lasting since it can be refinished up to five times to remove surface scratches. Experts say adding hardwood floors can increase the resale value of your home as well.
Wood floors are fairly easy to clean; just sweep them regularly and mop up all spills promptly. And installing them yourself is a reasonably easy DIY project, allowing you to save money on the job.
The biggest downside of hardwood floors is that they don’t stand up well to rough handling. They can warp if they’re exposed to moisture for a long time, making them a bad choice for bathrooms or laundry rooms. They can shrink and swell due to changes in temperature, and they’re vulnerable to scratches and dents. As a result, they need to be refinished as often as once every 10 years to maintain their looks, according to Consumer Reports.
Wood flooring is best for spaces that don’t get lots of traffic, such as living rooms, halls, and bedrooms. Consumer Reports recommends it as the overall best choice for living rooms, dining rooms, and family rooms. Some people use it in kitchens, but Consumer Reports advises against this, saying that wood flooring can’t handle the onslaught of dragging chairs, dropped cans, or grit-covered shoes
According to HGTV, wood flooring typically costs $3 to $8 per square foot. However, choosing exotic wood can raise the price to as much as $14 per square foot. If you have your wood floors professionally installed, it will add $5 to $12 per square foot to the price.
2. Engineered Wood
Engineered wood flooring looks just like solid wood, but it’s made in a different way. It has a thin veneer of natural wood on top, showing the grain, with layers of less expensive plywood underneath. That makes engineered wood both cheaper and sturdier. Some types of engineered wood have even more stability with backing made from recycled wood fiber mixed with stone dust.
Like solid wood flooring, engineered wood comes in a wide variety of wood types, patterns, and board widths. Engineered wood can be nailed down like traditional wood flooring, glued down, or installed as a “floating” floor on top of a foam or cork underlayer. Some engineered wood flooring comes with a special tongue and groove system that clicks into place to form a tight seam without glue or nails.
Engineered wood floors can give you the look of solid wood at a marginally lower price. That makes it easier to afford exotic woods such as tigerwood or Brazilian maple, which are more resistant to scratches and dents. They’re more stable than solid wood and less sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, making them a reasonable choice for a basement room, unlike solid wood.
Many types of engineered wood flooring can be installed directly over a concrete subfloor, something that isn’t always possible with solid wood. Some are even flat enough to install on top of old hardwood floors, saving you the work and expense of ripping out the old floor before installing the new one. And the clickable type of flooring is especially easy to install yourself, saving you even more on installation costs.
Like solid wood, engineered wood can scratch and dent easily. It’s less durable than hardwood over the long run because it can only be refinished one to three times. After that, you risk wearing through the veneer to the plywood underneath.
Engineered wood can work well in all the same spaces as solid wood. In addition, it’s suitable for basements and enclosed porches. Consumer Reports calls it the second-best choice for a living area, next to solid wood.
HGTV says the price of engineered wood is “comparable” to solid wood. However, DIY Network says it’s a bit cheaper at $2 to $7 per square foot. Consumer Reports found an average price of $4.32 per foot for engineered wood flooring, as compared with $5.85 for solid wood. Professional installation will cost about the same as for hardwood.
Bamboo is a fast-growing grass that can produce flooring with the look and feel of hardwood. It’s become popular recently as an eco-friendly alternative to wood flooring, but experts caution that it isn’t always a greener choice.
Just like hardwood, bamboo flooring is available in both solid strips and engineered planks. It comes in several different patterns that show the grain of the grass in different ways. Flat-grain bamboo flooring has darker stripes across the boards, showing the nodes in the bamboo; vertical-grain bamboo flooring has long, narrow strips packed tightly together; and end-grain bamboo has lots of little short strips.
HGTV describes bamboo flooring as “tough and durable.” Like engineered wood, it’s available in forms that are easy to install. Also, many people consider it a more eco-friendly alternative to wood flooring. According to Slate, bamboo grows much faster than most trees, absorbs carbon from the atmosphere more quickly, and can grow in a variety of climates.
Although bamboo is a renewable resource, most bamboo planks are made in and shipped from Asia, which adds to their carbon footprint. Also, many bamboo farmers rely heavily on fertilizers and pesticides that harm the environment. And finally, some bamboo flooring manufacturers use glues high in harmful formaldehyde. Slate concludes that you need to do careful research to be sure the bamboo flooring you’re considering is truly greener than hardwood.
In addition, bamboo flooring varies in durability. The cheaper varieties are vulnerable to scratches and dents, just like wood flooring.
Bamboo flooring works in all the same places as wood. It’s suitable for living areas, hallways, and bedrooms. However, it may not be sturdy enough to use in a kitchen or mudroom.
According to HGTV, bamboo flooring costs about the same as wood at $3 to $8 per square foot, but installation can be a bit more expensive at $7 to $12 per foot.
4. Ceramic Tile
Ceramic tile is made from a mixture of clay and shale that’s fired in a kiln like pottery. It’s a hard material that comes in a huge variety of colors, shapes, and patterns. HGTV warns that not all ceramic tiles are tough enough for flooring, so it’s important to make sure the ones you buy are rated for use on floors.
There are four main types of ceramic tile:
- Glazed Ceramic. This type of tile has a glass-like coating that can give the tile virtually any color or texture. Glazed ceramic tile is practically maintenance-free.
- Porcelain. This tile is fired at very high temperatures, making it extra-hard and durable. It’s available either glazed or unglazed. Both types are stain-resistant and work well in outdoor rooms.
- Quarry Tile. This unglazed ceramic tile has a slightly rough texture, making it more slip-resistant than glazed tile. However, it’s not available in as wide a range of colors.
- Terracotta. This unglazed tile comes only in earth tones. It’s less durable than other tiles and needs regular sealing to prevent stains.
Tile comes in many colors and shapes, so it can fit in with any style of home. Thanks to modern printing technology, it’s also possible to create ceramic tile with virtually any pattern. It can mimic the look of natural stone or even wood, though it won’t feel like wood underfoot.
Tests at Consumer Reports found porcelain tile to be the most durable type of flooring, resistant to scratches, dents, and moisture. It’s also very easy to clean. Glazed ceramic and porcelain tile require very little maintenance, though other types need more.
Tile feels cold and hard underfoot, and it makes footsteps sound louder. Glazed ceramic tile can also be slippery unless it’s coated with a special anti-slip finish.
Durability varies depending on the type of tile you choose. Terracotta tile requires regular sealing. Glazed tile is easy to clean and maintain, but the lines of grout between the tiles can stain if you don’t seal them regularly. And although tile is a durable material, it’s not that easy to fix if a single tile happens to crack.
Consumer Reports says porcelain tile is the best choice for high-traffic areas, such as kitchens and mudrooms, as well as for wet rooms such as baths and laundry rooms. It’s also ideal for an enclosed porch or sunroom.
Because tile comes in so many styles and sizes, it varies widely in price. It’s possible to pay less than $1 per square foot per tile or as much as $100 per foot for some specialty tiles. However, Consumer Reports says the average price it found for porcelain tiles was just below $5 per square foot. Professional installation adds $4 to $12 per foot, according to HGTV.
Laminate flooring is constructed much like engineered wood, with a thin veneer over layers of plywood or compressed fiber. However, the top layer is not wood but a photograph under a clear plastic coating. That means laminate can look like wood, stone, tile, or just about any other material.
Laminate comes in either planks or tiles. Most of them are floating floor systems, which you can install right over your old flooring with no glue or nails.
Laminate can mimic the look of wood or stone for much less money. It’s also easy to clean and requires very little maintenance. It’s a hard material that resists scratching and scuffing better than real wood.
Laminate is easy to install over an existing floor, saving you time and money on your flooring project. Consumer Reports says the material is easy to install yourself, but HGTV cautions that it takes “patience and ingenuity” to fit the planks around corners and through doors.
Like tile, laminate can be slippery when wet. Also, if water stands on it for any length of time, it can get in between the layers of the material, causing the planks to warp. Unlike real wood, laminate can’t be refinished when it wears out, only replaced. That can make it a less cost-effective choice than wood or tile over the long term.
Laminate is a good material for high-traffic areas, such as kitchens, foyers, and playrooms. Consumer Reports says it’s also a reasonable choice for basements as long as they have no problems with leaks or standing water. It’s best to avoid this material in wet rooms, such as bathrooms and laundry rooms.
Laminate can cost anywhere from $1 to 7 per square foot. If you don’t install it yourself, add another $2 to $5 per foot for installation.
Vinyl is a type of resilient flooring, a flexible material that feels a bit softer underfoot than rigid wood or tile. It’s made from a layer of PVC (short for polyvinyl chloride) plastic over a layer of felt. Cushioned vinyl has a thin layer of foam as well, making it more comfortable to walk on. Thicker vinyl flooring can have a textured surface to make it look like wood or stone.
Vinyl flooring comes in several forms. Sheet vinyl is a large sheet of flooring that you unroll, cut to size, and glue to your subfloor. You can also buy click-style vinyl planks, similar to engineered wood or vinyl tiles, that you glue in place one at a time. Some vinyl tiles come with a peel-and-stick backing, so you don’t need to add any adhesive before laying them down.
Vinyl is a tough material that stands up to both moisture and heavy traffic. It’s comfortable to walk on and warmer on bare feet than tile. It’s also inexpensive and durable; according to HGTV, a good-quality vinyl floor can last 20 years.
Like tile, vinyl comes in a wide range of colors and patterns. It can convincingly simulate the look of almost any other material. A flooring dealer interviewed by Consumer Reports says customers often assume the luxury vinyl planks on her showroom floor are real wood.
Plank vinyl and peel-and-stick tiles are easy to install, though sheet vinyl can be difficult. You can install vinyl over an existing vinyl floor as long as it only has one layer. Plank vinyl is also easy to repair – just remove and replace a damaged plank – and all types of vinyl flooring are very easy to clean.
Vinyl flooring varies in quality. You’ll have less choice of color and pattern with cheaper types, and they often have a fake look. Although vinyl is more durable than it used to be, Consumer Reports still found it’s more likely to scratch than any other type of flooring. Also, if you install it directly over a subfloor with no underlayer, it can have a hollow, echoey sound when you walk on it.
One of the biggest complaints about vinyl is that it’s not eco-friendly. According to the State of New Jersey Department of Human Services, PVC is “a major source of phthalates,” plastic softeners that have been banned in toys because they harm children’s health and development. When Consumer Reports tested vinyl flooring for phthalates, it found only low levels in the air and on the floor surface, but it still warned that parents of toddlers should use caution with this material.
Vinyl is appropriate for kitchens, baths, and other wet rooms. It’s also suitable for rooms that get a lot of traffic, such as mudrooms. Consumer Reports recommends it as the best choice for a basement since it can tolerate moisture and doesn’t feel as cold as tile.
Vinyl is an inexpensive flooring, costing $1 to $5 per square foot. Consumer Reports says the average cost for the vinyl planks and tiles it tested was $3.41 per square foot. Installation adds another $1 to $2 per foot, according to HGTV.
Linoleum is another type of resilient flooring that’s been around for nearly 150 years. Unlike vinyl, it’s made from natural, renewable materials, including cork powder and linseed oil. For decades, it mostly disappeared from homes as vinyl became more popular. However, concerns about the chemicals in vinyl flooring have revived interest in this old-fashioned alternative.
Like vinyl flooring, linoleum is available in sheets, tiles, or laminated planks that you can install as a floating floor. Some linoleum comes with a protective coating to reduce wear and prevent stains; other types need to be refinished every couple of years.
Linoleum flooring is even more durable than vinyl. According to the DIY Network, a linoleum floor can last up to 40 years with proper care.
Like vinyl, linoleum feels soft underfoot and comes in a wide range of colors and styles. However, unlike vinyl, it’s an eco-friendly material that produces no harmful emissions. It’s also easy to install if you choose snap-together flooring.
Although linoleum stands up well to normal wear, it’s vulnerable to denting from high heels and tears from sharp objects. It can also fade or turn yellowish in rooms that get a lot of sunlight. However, a protective coating can help prevent these problems.
Linoleum isn’t as water-resistant as vinyl, so it’s not suitable for bathrooms or laundry rooms. It’s also stiffer than vinyl, making sheet-type linoleum very difficult to install yourself. Coated linoleum is low-maintenance, but uncoated linoleum needs regular waxing to maintain its sheen.
Linoleum flooring is a good choice in living spaces such as dens, kitchens, and family rooms. It can also work well in a bedroom or basement that doesn’t have any moisture problems.
Linoleum is a bit more expensive than vinyl at $2 to $5 per square foot. HGTV says it costs a total of $7 to $12 per foot installed.
Another type of resilient flooring is made from cork, the bark of a particular type of tree. You can harvest this bark every eight to 10 years without killing the tree, making cork a sustainable material. The bark is boiled, ground up, compressed into sheets with a resin binder, and baked in a kiln. Some types of cork flooring have a veneer of natural cork bark over a backing of either compressed cork or high-density fiberboard.
Cork flooring comes in two forms. You can buy tiles that you glue down to install or planks that typically have a click-lock edge and can be installed as a floating floor.
Like other resilient flooring, cork is warm, quiet, and soft underfoot. It has a natural look and is slip-resistant. It’s also an eco-friendly choice made from renewable resources and produced in a way that creates next to no waste. Both cork tiles and click-lock planks are easy to install yourself.
Cork is vulnerable to moisture, tears, and dents. Although most cork flooring comes prefinished, it still needs to be resealed every year with wax or polyurethane to protect it from stains and water damage.
Cork can work in bedrooms, kitchens, playrooms, and living areas. It’s not suitable for wet rooms such as bathrooms or high-traffic areas such as mudrooms.
HGTV estimates the price of cork flooring at $2 to $6 per square foot. Installation costs another $3 to $5 per foot.
Wall-to-wall carpet is a perennial favorite for bedrooms and living areas. It’s made by pulling soft fibers, such as wool or nylon, through a woven backing, then gluing on more layers of backing to strengthen the material. You install it by nailing it down over a layer of padding, which adds cushioning and prolongs the life of the carpet.
Carpet comes in a wide variety of colors, textures, and materials. It can be made from:
- Wool, a durable material that naturally resists moisture and stains
- Nylon, a strong, wear-resistant synthetic material that lasts a long time and can be recycled at the end of its life
- Acrylic, a synthetic material that’s resistant to mildew, crushing, and insect damage
- Polyester, a moisture-resistant synthetic fiber that can be dyed to produce bright colors but is vulnerable to staining
- Polypropylene, a plastic highly resistant to moisture, mildew, and stains, which can be used both indoors and outdoors
Carpeting varies in thickness and fiber density. In general, the higher the density, the more durable the carpet will be.
Many people like carpet because it feels soft and warm underfoot. It’s also quiet, slip-resistant, and fairly easy to install.
Carpeting is more difficult to clean than hard flooring. Even with regular vacuuming, it can still harbor dirt that only steam cleaning can remove. It’s also vulnerable to staining. The soft fibers of a carpet can harbor allergens such as pollen and pet dander, making it a bad choice if anyone in your home suffers from allergies.
Carpet is most appropriate for areas such as bedrooms and living rooms, where less dirt gets tracked in and nothing is likely to be spilled on it. Polypropylene carpets can also work in outdoor spaces such as enclosed porches.
Carpeting varies widely in price from $2 to $12 per square foot. HGTV says to add an extra $0.50 to $2 per square foot to the price for padding and installation. As this cost guide from Fixr shows, carpet is usually less expensive than traditional hardwood flooring.
Ways to Save on Flooring
Inexpensive flooring types such as vinyl and laminate can fit nearly any budget. However, if you’ve got your heart set on a pricier kind of flooring, there are ways to make it more affordable. Here are some strategies that can help.
1. Be Flexible
Before you decide you just have to have that exotic hardwood or high-end tile, make sure you’ve looked at all the alternatives. There’s a good chance you can find a cheaper product that offers most of the same benefits. For example, maybe you can find a budget-priced tile or laminate that gives you the look you want for less.
2. Check Samples
Before you make your final decision about flooring, buy a small sample to take home with you. Even if a product looks great in the showroom, you have no way of knowing how it will look with your decor and lighting until you see it in your space. Spending a few bucks on a sample ahead of time could save you from spending hundreds or thousands on a flooring project you won’t be happy with.
3. Shop Reuse Centers
Check out reuse centers, such as Habitat for Humanity ReStores, for deals on flooring. Stores like these often carry tile, wood, or sheet vinyl either left over from building projects or salvaged from old buildings.
4. Shop Online
Another way to save on materials is to shop at overstock websites, such as Lumber Liquidators. These sites buy up excess flooring materials from manufacturers and sell them to the public at costs lower than most retail stores. For example, prices for solid maple flooring at Home Depot range from $4.10 to $7.80 per square foot; the same type of flooring at Lumber Liquidators costs $3.10 to $6.20.
When shopping for flooring, don’t be afraid to negotiate over the price. Most stores that sell flooring are willing to bargain a little in order to make a sale. To negotiate effectively, do some research ahead of time to see what the same product costs elsewhere. Look for small flaws in the product you can use as an excuse to ask for a lower price. Be polite but persistent; if the salesperson you’re talking to can’t give you a discount, ask to speak to a floor manager.
6. Install It Yourself
Depending on what material you choose, you could cut the cost of your new floor by more than half if you DIY the installation rather than hiring a professional. Of course, you should only choose this option if you’re confident you have the skills to do the job right. You can search for tutorials online to learn about the job and figure out whether it’s within your abilities.
7. Do Your Own Demo
Even if you can’t install your new flooring yourself, you can save some money by ripping out and disposing of the old flooring instead of paying your contractor to do it. It could save you around $2 per square foot on labor costs, according to Homewyse.
8. Find the Right Contractor
If you decide to hire a professional to install your new floors, make sure you find the right contractor for the job. Make HomeAdvisor your first resource. They’ll give you a list of qualified contractors in your area. Get quotes from several different contractors and check their licenses, reviews, and references. That way, you can be sure you’re hiring someone who will do the job right for a fair price.
Paying for a Flooring Purchase
If you’ve tried every trick you can think of to lower the price and you still can’t get the cost of new flooring to fit within your budget, you have two options: save up or finance. Each choice has its own pros and cons. Saving up means you’ll have to wait longer for your new floor, but you won’t have to take on any new debt. If you finance, you’ll get to replace your floor sooner, but you’ll pay more for it in the long run.
Ways to Save Up
Saving for a flooring project, like any other savings goal, is a step-by-step process. The steps are:
- Set Your Goal. Figure out how much money you’ll need for the new floor of your dreams, including materials and labor. Then, set a target date by which you want to raise this money and start the project.
- Do the Math. Divide the total budget by the number of months between now and your target date. The result is the number of dollars you need to save each month to meet your goal.
- Look for Savings. If you can’t figure out how to save that amount of money each month, comb through your household budget looking for expenses you can trim. Consider cutting out extras such as cable TV, bottled water, a gym membership, or coffeehouse drinks – at least until you reach your goal.
- Create a Savings Plan. Setting up an automatic savings plan is a good way to make sure you don’t touch the money you’re saving up for your flooring project. Create a separate savings account and automatically divert a portion of each paycheck toward it. You could also use a savings app such as Acorns. It analyzes your spending and automatically saves the perfect amount for goals you set up.
- Boost Your Savings. To reach your goal faster, steer any extra cash that comes your way toward your flooring fund. Toss in your tax refund, the proceeds of a garage sale, or whatever spare change happens to be in your pockets at the end of each day.
Ways to Finance
If you prefer to finance your flooring project, there are several good ways to do it. Putting the entire purchase on a credit card is not one of them; you’ll pay much higher interest than you need to, and it could take months or even years to pay off the balance. Instead, consider loan products with lower rates and regular payments.
Home Improvement Loans
A home improvement loan is a type of personal loan used to pay for home repairs or renovations. You can use a company such as Credible to receive rates from several personal loan issuers. Once you choose a company, the lender gives you a lump sum for your project, and you pay it back in monthly installments over two to seven years. These loans are unsecured, meaning they require no collateral, and they have fixed interest rates, so your monthly payment will always stay the same. The approval process is fast, usually taking less than a week.
Home improvement loans often have lower fees than other types of home loans, such as home equity loans or HELOCs (discussed below). However, their interest rates are generally higher. According to ValuePenguin, a typical interest rate for this type of loan can be anywhere from 10% to 32%.
Home Equity Loans
When you take out a home equity loan using a company such as LendingTree, you use the equity in your home – that is, the portion of the house that’s paid off – as your collateral. The more equity you have, the more you can borrow.
As with a home improvement loan, the bank gives you a lump sum upfront, and you pay it back in fixed monthly installments. However, you usually have longer to pay back this type of loan – at least 10 years and sometimes as long as 20.
Interest rates are also lower. The average rate for a 15-year home equity loan is 5.76%, according to ValuePenguin. And if you use your loan for home improvement purposes, such as installing a new floor, the interest is tax-deductible.
The big downside of a home equity loan is that it puts your home at risk. If you’re unable to pay off the loan as scheduled, the bank could foreclose on your house.
A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, is a home equity loan with a twist. Instead of getting a lump sum and paying it off in installments, you get a pool of cash that you can draw from as needed. Figure.com is one of the leading HELOC lenders.
You can take out any amount up to your credit limit, pay it off, and draw it down again, just as you can with a credit card. However, a HELOC has a time limit. The “draw period” during which you can borrow money is usually five to 10 years. When that ends, you have a repayment period of 15 to 20 years to pay off whatever amount you still owe in regular installments.
A HELOC can be more convenient than a home equity loan since you can tap into it for various projects throughout the draw period without having to apply for a new loan each time. However, it’s also less predictable. HELOCs are variable-rate loans, so if interest rates rise significantly, so will your payments. The average interest rate for a HELOC is 5.51%, according to ValuePenguin, but there’s no guarantee it will stay that low.
The nine flooring options listed here are the most popular choices, but they’re not the only ones. Look through home decorating magazines and websites, and you’ll see a variety of other flooring types, such as stone tile, stained concrete, terrazzo, and rubber flooring. So if you’ve looked at all the standard options and nothing quite fits your taste and budget, don’t hesitate to branch out.
Another possibility to consider if you’re on a tight budget is refinishing or painting your old floors. Refinishing a worn-out hardwood floor is a lot cheaper than replacing it, even if you have to hire a professional to do it. And painting is a reasonable DIY project that can work on old wood floors, concrete, laminate, or even vinyl. Check out tutorials online to learn how.
What’s your favorite type of home flooring? What do you like about it?