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Cheap Flooring

When the Objective is a Cheap Floor that Works and Looks Fine

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In the cacophony of voices coming at you over the TV, radio, and Web, rarely do you hear anyone bring up the issue of cheap flooring. Why should they? After all, it benefits them if you buy the $22/square foot engineered Brazilian Cherry with WearGard (extra, of course).

Let's look at some of the least expensive ways of flooring your home:

1. Rustic Grade Wood Flooring: The Cheapest Wood Floor Imaginable

Utility Grade Wood Flooring
© Lee Wallender; Licensed to About.com
This stuff is fantastically cheap--and no one knows about it. Ask the employees and they'll scratch their head and say, "What? Never heard of it." It's alternately called utility grade, builder grade, or rustic grade, but one thing is certain: it's 100% solid wood flooring.

Tip: Many of the boards will be split or splintery. After all, there is a reason it is called utility grade--it's often used in workshops. I would hesitate to use it in your finest room. But it will work in lesser-trafficked rooms, especially if your house has more of a rustic or cabin-y feel.

My Pick: While I've had my ups and downs with Lumber Liquidators, they are good for this type of flooring. Expect rock-bottom prices, but don't be too finicky about consistent quality.

2. Solid Color Vinyl Floor Tiles - Good, Dependable 12" x 12" Squares

Armstrong 12" Solid Color Square Vinyl Tile
© Armstrong
Vinyl floor tiles are among the cheapest materials for your house. Not only are the materials cheap (between $.50 and $4 per square foot), but when you self-install, your installation costs $0.00.

Tip: Solid color vinyl floor tile is cheaper than fancy patterns and stone-look or wood-look tiles. Lest you think solid colors are boring, there are many ways to create unique patterns from solids, such as using one solid for the field tile and another for the borders, making it fancy at no extra cost.

My Pick: Avoid the no-name brands and stick with major flooring companies. Shop Direct - Armstrong Solid Color 12" Vinyl Tile

3. Luxury Vinyl Flooring - Simulate the Look of Sky-High Expensive Wood Plank

Vinyl Plank Flooring Bamboo
© Trafficmaster
Don't be put off by the word "luxury." It's largely a marketing ploy to get you to pay higher prices for vinyl flooring. That said, luxury vinyl flooring (LVF) tends to be thicker and look more realistic than conventional vinyl flooring.

Tip: Get the look of wide wood plank flooring for 75% less than real wood plank--when you install the vinyl version. Not only that, but you can install this flooring yourself--no need for expensive wood floor installers because it is a floating floor. As a floating floor, planks attach to adjacent planks, not to the sub-floor.

Read this cautionary tale about clearance luxury vinyl. It's all about when the word "clearance" really means that not only is the line being closed down, but the store wants to clear the flooring out because nobody likes it.

My Pick: This bamboo vinyl plank floor from TrafficMaster is about half the price of real bamboo floor. Shop Direct - TrafficMaster Vinyl Plank Floor - Wide Wood Plank Bamboo

4. Stone-Look Luxury Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl Plank Flooring - 36" Planks Comprised of Three 12" Squares
© TrafficMaster
Once again, LVF will be more expensive than conventional vinyl. But if your aim is laying a stone floor, LVF will be vastly cheaper than both real stone and the cost of hiring professional tile installers.

Tip: Install the type of LVF shown and cut your installation time by 60%. How? It's vinyl flooring, but it's not separate 12" squares. Nor does it strive to duplicate wide wood plank flooring (see above). It's three 12" squares strung together into one plank for simple installation.

My Pick: Shop Direct - TrafficMaster Vinyl Plank Flooring

5. Cheap Laminate Flooring

Bruce Teak Laminate Floor
© Bruce
Since when did laminate flooring become expensive? The marketplace is flooded with cheap laminate flooring--if you dig deep enough.

Tip: Cheaper laminate flooring can be had if you eschew extras like attached underlayment, special embossing, and unusual dimensions.

My Pick: Shop Direct - Shop Direct - Bruce Laminate Flooring Teak

6. Ceramic Tile - A Long-Standing Tradition of Cheap Flooring

Ceramic Bathroom Tile
© American Olean
Ceramic floor tile is truly schizophrenic. It can range from amazingly cheap to prohibitively expensive.

Tip: As with vinyl floor tile, stick to solids and conventional dimensions. With smaller tiles, your spectrum of design possibilities opens up.

My Pick: American Olean - Salt and Pepper Bathroom Tile

7. Carpet Tiles - Self-Install and Save

Carpet Tile Squares
© Shaw
Carpet tiles are not the cheapest flooring around--wall-to-wall roll carpet has that distinction--but with carpet tiles you can easily install by yourself. And yes, even when carpeting companies advertise "free installation," you're still paying for it one way or another.

Tip: Unlike roll carpet, which requires specialized tools like a carpet stretcher, carpet tiles require little more than a square, a chalk snap line, utility knife, and a measuring tape. It doesn't get much easier than that.

My Pick: Shop Direct - Shaw Carpet Tiles
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