Kitchen Flooring 101
kitchen flooring - how to choose the right material for your home

Best choices on kitchen flooring- Keeping the good and getting rid of the bad and ugly

Kitchen floors take a daily beating and you want something that holds up to wear and tear. You also want something that looks good, feels comfortable, is easy to maintain and won’t break the bank, right?

First see what flooring you’ve got and think about how you’ll replace it

Before we get to the different types of flooring let’s see what you have, how it’s installed and the set up for the new install-

  • Are you gutting the kitchen? If yes then use whatever you want as a floor- except carpet- don’t go there! Yuck!
  • If you’re not removing the cabinets- does your flooring go underneath them? If it does then you’re looking at laying something over the exposed floor. You’re not going to remove the cabinets to remove the flooring then replace the cabinets, nor are you going to carefully cut the flooring out around the cabinets.
  • Just a note- asbestos was used as a flooring tile and can still be found in older houses.
    An 8″ x 8″ tile is suspect and should be tested before you start ripping it out!

Fixed vs Floating flooring


You may think when I’d start with tile vs wood vs vinyl, but first you should consider how the floor will be laid. Floors will either be fixed onto a subfloor by nailing or an adhesive like glue or mortar, or floating. Floating floors are only sitting on the subfloor. The subfloor is usually plywood that is glued and screwed into the floor joists. Never nailed because nails pop out over time. The subfloor may also be concrete or even the flooring you’re covering. Tile, hardwood and some cork and linoleum are affixed to the subfloor. LVP (luxury vinyl plank), sheet vinyl, engineered, and laminate flooring are attached to each other piece but sit on top of the subfloor.

This is very important – cabinets may sit on flooring that is attached to the subfloor but not on floating floor. Floating floors must be able to move with changes of temperature and humidity or the can buckle and pop at the seams. Affixed floors can be put down prior to cabinet install. It may cost you more for the materials you don’t see, but because the installer doesn’t have to work around the cabinets the labor cost may be less and there is less chance of damaging the cabinets. Floating floors are put in after cabinets go in, but prior to installing the appliances. Make sure on any install the flooring under the appliances is level with the rest of the kitchen or when it comes to replacing the dishwasher you’ll have to remove flooring in front of it like I did. Tile, mortar, wire lath, and more mortar. We should have removed the laminate countertop and replaced it with something that wasn’t orange and gold. That’s a whole ‘nother story.

Ok, so what kitchen flooring materials are there?

Tile- ceramic, porcelain, and natural stone

Ceramic, porcelain and stone tiles are very durable and have been used for thousands of years. They come in an overwhelming variety of colors, shapes and prices to fit any budget. Tile can stand up to abuse, is easy to clean and be mixed and matched to create custom designs.
Porcelain tile is fired at a higher temperature and is denser than ceramic and is more waterproof. Tile can be low in materials cost and higher in labor especially more intricate designs. Newer formats such as 12″ x 24″ vs 12″ x 12″ will give a more modern look.

Drawbacks for tile are- It can be hard on knees and hips if you stand on it for any length of time. If you drop something breakable on it chances are it will break. Tile can be slippery especially when wet. The Lifeproof line of tile has rougher texture that makes it safer. I would never recommend a polished tile for a floor unless you want to break a hip or enjoy walking on ice. Natural stone needs to be resealed to protect it from staining and make it easier to clean. Frequency of resealing depends on wear and how vigorously you clean it. The same is true with the grout. Luckily these days the fashion in grout is thinner lines and the formulas have more stain and mold resistance than ever before.

Solid hardwood floors

Solid wood flooring is becoming more popular as a kitchen floor. It is a fixed flooring. It fits any style decor and can be refinished a couple of times to update the look or clean up wear. Its can come unfinished or prefinished. It is more comfortable to stand on and less likely to break a dropped glass than tile flooring. Bamboo makes a very durable and sustainable/green hardwood floor.

Cons are – Hardwood flooring is not water and spill proof so wipe up right away. It can get scratched and gauged, though most flooring materials can. And you may not be able to match new flooring to old. The plank size varies and old flooring can take stains differently from your new hardwood floor.

Vinyl floorings

These are types of resilient flooring. We’re not talking about those individual stick down tiles, thought they are still available. Vinyl will either be in planks or sheets. Plank flooring is a floating application and will be a tongue and groove (click installation) or have sticky flanges that overlap plank to plank. They can come in different thicknesses- thin similar to the sticky flange kind or thicker usually called LVP. LVP is getting very popular. It’s cheap and cheerful, is easy for a DIYer, and you may be able to use it right over the floor you have. Great for updating a kitchen for resale or if you don’t want to rip out the cabinets.

Don’t overlook sheet flooring either. (I’m lumping all sheet flooring with vinyl.). It’s a quick and budget friendly alternative. And it isn’t your granny’s patterns or durability. It should be installed by professionals. Sheet flooring maybe glued down all over, around the perimeter, or not at all depending on the area.

Linoleum

Another type of resilient flooring is linoleum. Like bamboo and cork, linoleum is a eco- friendly flooring. It’s made from linseed oil, wood flour, and resins. Linoleum isn’t restricted to midcentury or cottage decor. It comes in oodles of colors and can be designed with colors cut and inset into the field in any design you want. It’s easy to clean and static free so pet hair doesn’t stick to it. Its wear and water resistant. Marmoleum is a brand of linoleum and comes as sheets, tiles and click flooring.

Linoleum can be more expensive than other resistant or click flooring options. It is harder to find and find a good installer. Linoleum can fade over the years and should be sealed or waxed and buffed.

Marmoleum is on the short list for flooring when we finally redo the kitchen. It’s comfortable to stand on which is great for older cooks. It’s not plastic and is sustainable and supposed to be good for folks with allergies. And we have an older house with wonky floors which makes tiling and hardwood more costly.

Engineered and laminate

Engineered flooring has a thin, about 1/4″ thick, layer of wood, cork or bamboo material applied to a substrate. They are floating floors. If it’s wood it can be carefully refinished once. Laminate flooring is similar, but instead of a wood layer it has basically a photo of the material it’s imitating. Maintenance is sweep and damp mop. Because they may be built on layers that aren’t waterproof, water and spills can be a big issue. And with only the depth of a photo with a think coating on it, laminate’s life span is limited. They have been replaced in popularity by LVP.

Cork

Cork is a great material for flooring. It is sustainable- only bark is harvested and it will grow back too be harvested again and again. It can self heal from minor cuts. Its comfy to stand on. It can come as glue down tiles or engineered click flooring. (Even though its glue down don’t use under the cabinets.) It reduces sound and sound transference. It’s warm underfoot even with out underfloor heating. Cork is naturally antimicrobial and resistant to mold and bugs.

However- and you knew this was coming- it is susceptible to scrapes and gauges, so cleaning is extra important. It should be resealed or waxed. And it can change color over time. It also has pattern textures that are quite busy.

Concrete

Concrete can be stained, etched or stamped, ground down to make terrazzo, or epoxied. It stays cool which is great in hot climates. It can look industrial or midcentury. Concrete can have heating elements embedded into it for heated flooring.

Draw backs are- Concrete can be cold and hard to stand on. It’s porous so should be sealed. If you have to patch it it may never match the original. It isn’t a DIY job, you’ll need a professional to do the floor.

So, what do I think?

The variety of tile, the comfort of LVP, the sustainability of bamboo, cork, or linoleum? The cost of the materials, DIY or hire, the length of time you’ll be in the home and if you’re doing this to help sell the house are all important factors for your decision. Not to mention budget.

  • I recommend a floating floor for a quick -maybe DIY- fix.
  • I recommend a resilient flooring like linoleum or vinyl, or cork if you spend time in the kitchen or have knee, hip, or joint pain.
  • Remember with any surface the material square foot cost is just that. Labor for tiling and hardwood is higher than for floating floors, because there is more labor involved.
  • Your situation may make some materials wrong for your application.
  • Re ^ – talk to salespeople. If you feel they don’t know what they’re talking about find another one. Shop around. Find out about warranties on materials and labor.

My mid-century modern dream home has terrazzo floors- heated of course. With a drain in the middle so I can just hose off everything. My Scandi dream home has wide planked old bleached oak floors. Or Marmoleum in my dream craftsman cottage……

Different options for different styles.

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