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Kitchen Flooring Essentials

Floored by all the flooring options out there for kitchens? From laminate to vinyl, here's a primer on what's available.

A refinished hardwood floor speaks the language of history.

Appearances are important when it comes to new floors, but don't choose a material based on looks alone. Narrow the choices to a few contenders and then take a trip to a flooring store or home center for a test drive.

"Most of your activity in the kitchen is done while standing. So, I would look for something that's easy on your legs," says Sara Ann Busby, vice president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association and owner of Sara Busby Designs, a kitchen remodeling company in Elk Rapids, Mich.

Go ahead, take off your shoes and stand on the floor in your stocking feet. Is it comfortable? Now put your shoes back on and go for a walk. How does the floor sound? Today's kitchens are more open and bigger than ever, and that can make noise a problem. "A hard surface can be not only hard on the legs, but awfully noisy," Busby says.

Because the kitchen is typically the busiest spot in the house, you will want a floor that wears well, too. Children, pets, heavy foot traffic and kitchen spills can all take a toll, so when weighing flooring options, think about a floor's durability and ease of maintenance.

Here's how the various options stack up:

WOOD
Wood fits a variety of decor styles, is warm underfoot and easy on the legs, and is a quiet floor option. The maintenance and durability of a wood floor depends greatly on what species of wood is being used and how that wood is finished. One of the worries with wood is that it may scratch, but remember that wood floors can always be sanded and refinished.

LAMINATE
For homeowners who like the look of wood, but want a floor that is extremely durable and requires little maintenance, laminate is an option. Laminate is factory-finished, and it can be put in over an existing floor, making installation a snap. While laminate has its advantages, it lacks the warmth typically associated with natural wood and some people may find it noisy.

CERAMIC TILE
Ceramic tile allows for a great deal of customization in terms of colors and patterns. Though tile is easy to clean with a damp mop, the surrounding grout can be difficult to maintain. Busby recommends using the largest tiles possible to minimize grout lines. Ceramic tile can be hard on the legs (and even harder on dropped dishes!), doesn't help with sound control in a kitchen and can be cold underfoot.

VINYL
For the budget-minded remodel, vinyl sheeting or peel-and-stick tiles can be a good bet. Vinyl is easy to install and is available in an endless array of colors and patterns. One of the drawbacks to vinyl floors is that the edges can curl.

GREEN OPTIONS
"The Green movement in this country is taking off," says Everett Collier, president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Nowhere is that more apparent than in residential flooring options.

Believe it or not, linoleum, synonymous with the 1950s, is making a comeback due to its green appeal. Made from linseed oil, cork dust, wood flour, tree resins, ground limestone and pigments, it is environmentally friendly.

Bamboo, another green option, provides the look of wood, but is made from bamboo grass, a rapid-renewable resource. If you choose bamboo because it's eco-friendly, make sure the factory finish is formaldehyde-free.

Cork flooring, which is made from the bark of cork oak trees, is a harvested resource and therefore also eco-friendly. Available in sheets and tile, cork is soft and warm underfoot and is extremely quiet. Properly sealed, cork can withstand moisture and can be vacuumed and damp mopped. Minor dents seem to pop out; however, deep scratches will permanently damage the floor.

Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to each type of flooring. The key is to weigh the pluses and minuses and choose the material right for your kitchen

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