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Kitchen Flooring

Advice Before This Costly and Difficult-to-Reverse Choice

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Kitchen Floor Pictures - Armstrong

Kitchen Floor from Armstrong - Mesa Canyon Shadow

© Armstrong
Homeowners are obsessed by kitchen flooring.

And for good reason: it gets more traffic, more moisture, and more attention than any other type of flooring in the house, with the possible exception of bathroom flooring.

Sizing Up Your Kitchen Floor

As of 2005, it was reported by ABC News that the average home was about 2,350 square feet, with kitchens reaching an average of 300 square feet. The kitchen has grown in importance in the last couple of decades. No longer is it just a place for Mom to put on her apron and pearls and bake apple pie. Now, it's a multi-purpose family gathering place for anyone to put on the chef's hat.

How size affects your choice:

  1. Costlier Materials - Few homes have the same type of flooring in every room of the house. You can likely install less expensive flooring in low-traffic places (guest bathrooms and bedrooms, home offices, etc.), which will ramp up your purchasing power for more expensive kitchen flooring.
  2. Yet Still Small - Despite the supposed 300 sq. foot "average" stated above, most U.S. homes still have smaller kitchens than this. And more recently, kitchen designers have been striving to down-size the kitchen since the boom times of the 2000's. I estimate average kitchen size to be around 100-200 square feet.
  3. Remember the Counters? - A kitchen may measure out to 180 square feet--but you won't be using 180 square feet of flooring. Kitchen base cabinets and islands take up a significant amount of floor space.

Does Kitchen Layout Count?

The layout of the kitchen should have minimal impact on your choice of flooring materials. If you are installing the flooring yourself and are not completely confident about your installation skills, you'll want to eliminate as many obstructions as possible, as well as any place where you need to cut your material at unusual angles.

For example, the simple corridor-style or galley kitchen provides a perfect "canvas" for the DIY floor installer to practice his or her skills. You're essentially laying a rectangular floor that has no obstructions to complicate matters.

Which Flooring Material Holds Up Best to Moisture?

Kitchens rank second to bathrooms in terms of potential problems with moisture. While you cannot expect large quantities of water to flood your kitchen, there may be semi-emergency instances where this does happen.

I would call a burst pipe an "emergency" that requires the intervention of a plumber (and which happens very rarely). But even very fastidious cooks will encounter a leaky garbage disposal; leaky faucet or fridge water feed; spilled pan of water; leaky defrosting freezer; and so on. You need to be ready for this.

Purely in terms of moisture, the best kitchen floors are, more or less in order:

  1. Sheet vinyl
  2. Tile vinyl
  3. Ceramic tile
  4. Linoleum
  5. Engineered wood flooring
  6. Laminate flooring

Stain Resistance, Durability, and Comfort

Three more aspects to consider: how well the flooring resists stains; its durability when subjected to constant kitchen traffic; and comfort "under foot" for the cook.

Natural stone such as granite and marble--though being millions of years old and forged within the Earth--perform poorly in the kitchen. They stain easily and need to be constantly sealed. Also, natural stone is a hard substance that is tough on the cook's legs and back. Practically anything breakable dropped on natural stone will break.

Ceramic tile is highly resistant to stains, though its grout needs frequent sealing. It is durable, but it is also hard under foot.

Sheet and tile vinyl, as well as linoleum, provide a high degree of resistance to moisture, traffic, and breakage.

Green Kitchen Flooring

Want to be eco-conscious? Introducing the "green" aspect can easily run counter to some of your other desires.

King County (WA) Solid Waste Division gives a thumb's down to vinyl flooring and conventional laminate flooring as the least "green" flooring choices. As the most green flooring, King County ranks as best: sustainable wood, recycled ceramic tile, salvaged stone, and laminate flooring with recycled content.

What's the Best?

My vote is for kitchen floor tile, resilient or ceramic. Sheet resilient flooring (i.e., vinyl) is too difficult for most DIYers to install, driving up costs. But most tile resistant floor can be installed over existing flooring. Ceramic kitchen floor tile requires a better base than resilient (subfloor and/or backerboard) and a steeper learning curve, but is still DIY-possible.
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