Our floors work hard for us. They endure endless footfalls, scrabbling pet claws, pulled furniture, spilled drinks and so much more.
Given all that our floors bear, it makes sense to use the best materials possible in high-traffic areas. But flooring experts have different opinions on what works best in those extra-busy spots. And, to a certain extent, the best choice depends on your lifestyle and personal preferences.
“Every situation is unique and presents its own issues,” says Jeff Bettger, who works in sales and project management at Bella’s Flooring in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood.
Wood flooring, for instance, gets a thumbs-down in the durability department from Consumer Reports, which notes that wood can scratch or dent easily. But Bettger is decidedly pro-wood, even in areas with high foot traffic. “I am a hardwood snob,” he says.
Bettger walks the walk: Most of the floors in his own home are made from oak.
Despite these differences of opinion, experts’ top recommendations largely fall into three categories: tile, porcelain and stone; luxury vinyl; and hardwoods.
Tile, porcelain and stone
Tile and porcelain are the top recommendation from both Consumer Reports and the floor-review site Floor Critics, thanks to their durability, scratch resistance, versatility and ability to withstand water.
“Tile and stone are the best bets for areas prone to water, like a basement,” says Floor Critics editor Fortino Rosas. “If I had to choose one type of flooring for high-traffic areas, I would choose tile.”
“An entryway is definitely a good place for tile,” Bettger says. Tile is waterproof, and therefore able to handle any water coming in through an open door — a good feature for a rainy place like Seattle.
“Having a hard surface in an entryway is really smart,” Bettger says. “When you walk in in your wet shoes, you don’t want a wet carpet.”
The waterproof nature of tile is one of its biggest assets, Rosas says.
“In wet areas, we suggest going with the highest-quality floor you can afford,” he says. “You may spend a little more, but the [return on investment] in the long run will be higher if any accidents happen, as the cost to replace a damaged floor will be greater than the upfront cost of quality tile.”
Rosas also praises tile for being easy to maintain and clean, as well as resistant to mold and bacteria.
One drawback to keep in mind, though, is that tile can “appear cold and uninviting,” according to Consumer Reports. Floor Critics notes that tile “is not always the most comfortable flooring to walk on.” And it can chip or crack if something heavy is dropped on it.
Luxury vinyl is another highly durable option for the busiest spots in the house. It is generally available as either planks or tiles.
Beverly Ivey, the co-owner of Pacific Northwest Flooring in the Lake City area of Seattle, calls luxury vinyl “the best for high traffic, especially if you have children and pets and you’re worried about scratching.”
It also shines in areas that are going to see water from wet shoes or spilled drinks. “It’s 100% waterproof,” she says.
Ivey says luxury vinyl flooring is also easy to maintain. “Homeowners love them,” she says. “And most of them have lifetime warranties, so once they’re put in the house, you never have to worry about replacing them like you would with carpet.”
Luxury vinyl flooring is “the perfect solution” for Seattle’s damp weather, Ivey says, particularly in basements that are in danger of flooding. With luxury vinyl, “the floors can be totally flooded, and they will dry out very easily and you never have to replace them.”
George Braic, owner of Bellevue’s E C Flooring, adds that luxury vinyl flooring is available in a variety of appearances. “You can make it look like slate, like granite, like wood, like anything you want,” he says.
Bettger says his customers tend to choose vinyl plank over vinyl tile. “The vinyl plank is very, very durable, and probably a little less expensive,” he says.
Vinyl plank is also scratch-resistant, Bettger says, making it a good choice “if you have dogs, or people are running around with shoes on inside the house.”
A downside to luxury vinyl is that it’s made with plastic, which may raise environmental concerns for some homeowners.
Both Bettger and Braic are proponents of hardwood floors, even in high-traffic areas of the home.
“Nothing else will give you that feeling of touching the hardwood floors barefoot or in socks. It’s a nice feeling,” Braic says.
They’re especially good for homes where people remove their shoes at the door, Bettger says. “If that’s the case, I’m always biased toward hardwood,” he says.
Braic says that installing hardwood floors is an excellent investment, especially if you plan to someday sell your home.
“When you list a house for sale with carpet or vinyl, it doesn’t increase the value,” he says. “But when you list the house with hardwood floors, it will increase the value.”
Braic points out that not all hardwood floors are the same, and the “hard” aspect of the wood is an important consideration.
“For the Northwest, I recommend oak,” he says. “I recommend white oak versus red oak [because] white oak is harder than red oak,” and therefore more durable.
Bettger agrees: “The classic Northwest look is the 2¼-inch white oak,” he says, referring to the width of the wood planks.
It’s true that wood can scratch or dent more easily than other flooring options, and Floor Critics’ Rosas advises against using it in areas that may get wet. But unlike many other types of flooring, wood can be refinished. A solid hardwood floor can be refinished five to seven times, while engineered wood can usually be finished once or twice, according to Floor Critics.
What about carpets?
Carpet generally gets low marks for high-traffic durability. But Bettger says that its comforting feel underfoot makes it appealing for areas that aren’t likely to get wet.
“It can feel plush and nice,” he says, making carpet a suitable choice for interior rooms, such as bedrooms.
Furthermore, carpet has improved in recent years, Bettger says. He recommends Shaw carpets with R2X stain protection and a waterproof backing.
Finally, don’t overlook the importance of proper installation.
“Many flooring horror stories we hear are due to the floor not being installed properly,” Rosas says. “Some brand warranties will be voided if not installed by a certified installer. We suggest spending time choosing the right installer.”