- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

The cozy feel of carpeting underfoot seems to have given way to hardwood, ceramic tile, marble and laminate floors. When it comes to remodeling projects and new home construction, hardwood and ceramic stand out as the crowd favorites among hard flooring surfaces.

Realizing the market demand, home builders often entice buyers with features like hardwood foyers and ceramic tile bathrooms. New floors are also often first on the to-do list when renovating rooms.

Industry experts say that upgraded flooring can completely change the feel of a room. However, making a decision on a hard surface floor in which to invest can be an arduous process.

Hardwood floors certainly lay claim to the adage that everything old is new again. Owners of older homes pull up their carpeting to gleefully find hardwood floors that had been covered some time ago.

Rob Menefee, president of Abbey Carpet and Floors with offices in Woodbridge, Fairfax and White Plains, says in this area, hardwood is still more popular than ceramic tile.

Two distinctly different types of hardwood floors are available: solid wood floors cut from solid pieces of wood and installed as planks or strips, or engineered wood floors comprising a thin wood veneer over plywood. Most engineered wood flooring is available in tongue-and-groove wood strips.

Mr. Menefee says oak is the most popular type of hardwood, but other popular woods include maple, birch, ash and pine.

“Sales in both wood and ceramic tile are growing,” says Al Maghes, president of the North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors, who adds that carpet sales have shrunk significantly over the last 10 years.

“With wood, it’s a green story; it’s a renewable resource, so there’s been lots of interest,” Mr. Maghes says. Mr. Menefee agrees that more buyers are leaning toward environmentally safe products.

“Mold is a big issue, and wood and ceramic are more environmentally clean,” Mr. Maghes says.

Carpet is haunted by an anti-hygienic image in both residential and commercial markets, according to statistics compiled in the 2008 United States Floor Report. Wood floors continue to gain consumer desirability, according to the report. Wood has the edge in fashion, new lower-cost products and imports. In addition, the report found that new glueless installation systems, borrowed from laminate flooring, continue to grow in popularity.

While Mr. Maghes agrees that the outlook for wood flooring is very good, he says the building industry slowdown has been felt by the floor industry.

“There is not a lot of new construction,” he says, “and 60 percent of wood sales are in new construction, so we’ve seen a skirt from use in new construction to more remodeling.”

While ceramic tile falls second to wood floors, the recent U.S. Floor Report found that ceramic flooring will also continue to see growth. New thinner, more durable porcelain products can be used both on walls and floors, according to the report, and manufacturers are trying to develop simpler and less costly methods of installation.

The Tile Council of North America breaks ceramic tile into two types: Quarry tile, which is made by extrusion from natural clay or shale, and pressed dust tile, which includes most mosaic tile, wall tile and floor tile. Both types of tile may be glazed or unglazed. Most floor tiles are between 12 to 18 inches.

One of the advantages that ceramic tile floors have over hardwood is the ability to add warmth to cold feet with heated flooring. Under-floor heating systems help promote sales even more in colder climates and expand the market for ceramic tile, the tile council reports.

“Ceramic tile accounts for 20 percent of the floor sales, and it’s growing vastly,” Mr. Maghes says. “I suspect it to have grown more in the next five to 10 years.”

Mr. Menefee says ceramic tile is relatively maintenance-free, other than keeping the grout clean. He says that one of the biggest mistakes people make with flooring is not taking the time to keep it well-maintained.

Deciding where in the house to install one of the hard-surface floors is another decision.

K. Adrian Hunnings, an officer with the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors and manager/associate broker with the Bethesda and Chevy Chase office of Weichert, Realtors, says homeowners generally put ceramic floors in the kitchen and bathrooms.

“As far as hardwood floors, in many homes they can be found throughout the house, including the den, dining room living room, bedrooms and entryways,” Mr. Hunnings says.

He says hardwood floors are definitely a popular amenity, but that some buyers look for ceramic tile.

Real estate agents say homeowners can’t go wrong with either choice, especially when it comes to resale. Homeowners who splurge on upgraded floors can add value and make a home more desirable to potential buyers, Mr. Hunnings says.

“A buyer who isn’t looking to renovate or make a lot of changes will be attracted to nice-looking floors that have been well-maintained,” Mr. Hunnings says. “If you have carpet that is outdated and worn, you should consider hardwood or ceramic floors that help accentuate a home’s amenities such as floor- to-ceiling windows or matching crown molding and window trim.”

Mr. Hunning advises floor shoppers to consider their budgets and not give in to trends that they may not be happy with down the line. He says it’s important to make sure people are getting the floor they want to see and walk on every day.

“Things to consider about the type of style you’re considering are what kind of maintenance it requires,” he says. “Does it match your furniture? And if you plan on selling your home soon, will the floors be eye-catching to potential buyers?”

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