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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 25, 2006

Kitchen flooring should fit your lifestyle

By James and Morris Carey
Associated Press

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New flooring can be an excellent means of giving your kitchen a new look. The choices for kitchen flooring are almost endless, depending on what best suits your sense of style and your pocketbook.

Style and budget aside, upkeep and lasting quality are the factors that most influence what ends up underfoot in the kitchen.

When it comes to wear and tear around a house, few finishes are subject to the kind of beating that a kitchen floor must withstand. Endless traffic from appliance to appliance and falling food and the occasional table scrap slipped to the dog are just a few of the day-to-day events that can give a kitchen floor a real run for its money.

Shopping for new kitchen flooring can be a chore. Most people begin by searching for a product that they've seen in a showroom, a model home or decorating magazine. Not a bad place to begin, as long as you realize that these floors are generally viewed under the best of circumstances without "real life" conditions. For example, the flooring needs for a growing family with children and pets are substantially different than those of a couple of pet-free empty-nesters.

Tip No. 1: take a serious look at your lifestyle before choosing new kitchen flooring.

More than ever, consumers are looking for the best of all worlds a floor that looks good, doesn't cost an arm and a leg, is easy to maintain and will last forever. When you find it, let us know, because we've yet to discover such a finish.

However, we can say that today's options are greater than ever. So vast are the options that space will only permit us to touch upon some of the most popular options, which should give you a head start.

All things considered, the product that offers the best bang for the kitchen-flooring dollar is sheet vinyl. It is kid- and pet-friendly, and "no-wax" sheet vinyl is among the easiest to maintain.

As is the case with most building products, there are good, better and best levels of quality from which to choose and flooring is no exception.

Therefore, if sheet vinyl makes the final cut for your kitchen, kick it up a notch with a better-quality product such as an inlaid or vinyl-backed product. You'll pay more for the goods up front, but you'll spend less over the long haul.

Vinyl tiles are an especially popular finish in "retro" style kitchens. Don't confuse these with the cheap peel-n-stick tiles that are best left on the shelves of your local home center. These tiles are installed with the appropriate adhesive with thought given to both color and pattern.

Vinyl-clad cork and a range of other vinyl tile finishes are available for style-conscious consumers who like the look and feel of vinyl. Unlike sheet goods, vinyl tiles can be relatively expensive both in terms of material and the labor to install them.

Floating floors continue to grow in popularity as an option. As the name implies, a floating floor is neither nailed nor glued to the substrate. Instead, the material planks or tiles is installed over a foam pad. Most floating floor styles consist of tongue-and-groove construction for easy do-it-yourself assembly.

Although a floating floor can be installed over a wood subfloor, they are particularly popular over a concrete slab due to their ability to "give." Though touted by some manufacturers as "indestructible," a floating floor plastic or wood can be scratched or gouged, which could mean selective replacement, which is neither easy nor cheap. And unlike its hardwood counterpart, blemishes can't be filled, sanded or finished.

In addition, water from above or below the floor can damage the veneer or the core. This may not be a good choice if you have little ones or pets.

Natural wood flooring still ranks as one of the most popular finishes for a kitchen floor. It is warm, durable, and easy to keep clean and is available in a host of colors, patterns and finishes. Traditional options such as oak, cherry and maple have been joined by new "eco-friendly" choices such as bamboo and cork that come in both tile and planks.

Appearance aside, there are many material options to consider. There are planks and tile, solid and "engineered" material, and pre-finished versus finished-in-place. The decision to use tile or planks is primarily an aesthetic choice. The other choices have more to do with budget, the type of substrate and anticipated lasting quality. Solid material can only be installed over a wood subfloor (or atop a slab that has been covered with a plywood underlayment) which can create a floor transition problem.

As with a floating floor, wood and water don't mix. Therefore, you can end up spending a pretty penny to repair damage resulting from a leaking dishwasher or defrosting freezer. One advantage that solid wood flooring has over its engineered counterpart is that it can be sanded and finished many times where the engineered products veneer will withstand only finite refinishing.

When it comes to abrasion resistance and design possibilities, it's hard to beat tile. Tile is an especially popular choice over a concrete slab due to the stable base that it provides. In contrast to installation over a wood subfloor, no mortar bed is required and deflection isn't an issue.

By the same token, floor tile can be the object of cracks and chips from shifting foundations and/or the occasional falling pot or pan. Tile is available in a wide range of materials (ceramic, porcelain, granite, slate, etc.), sizes, shapes, colors, patterns and finishes.

An increasingly popular finish for people with concrete floors is an acid stain finish. Acid stain is not a paint or coating. Rather, it's a coloring process made with water, acid and inorganic salts, which react with minerals present in the concrete. It gives concrete a mottled, multicolored, marble-like look in a range of beautiful (mostly earth tone) colors.

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