How can I find cheap but durable flooring?
June 16, 2012 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Any advice on getting the cheapest possible decent quality flooring? How to shop for it?

We're preparing to talk to the contractor about installing flooring. I'm looking to pick something that is cheap, but that also will be somewhat durable, fairly attractive for when we sell the property, and not awful for the environment or health.

Cheap: what's in the scope/budget now is $.79/SF laminate at Home Depot. But we already installed that in the upstairs and would now like to get something one step better for the main floor. But anything above that price comes out of our tiny household monthly budget. This unit is 775 SF, so something $1.79/SF is an extra $775, which is basically what I'm thinking. (I'm assuming the underlayments' costs would be the same.) We also can't pick something substantially harder to install.

Durable: this is a rental, and we'd even like to allow dogs. Alternatively, I suppose we may just have to get one thing now and plan to replace it.

Attractive: We like the look of wood.

Not awful: No carpet. No vinyl. Ideally low-VOC.

Also, any tips on sales or coupons? Any tips on comparison shopping online? I have found online sources hard to use, either not giving a good sense of how the product looks, or not listing a price. But with my work schedule, it's hard to get to stores. I'm in the SF Bay Area.

I think the question likely boils down to: what is the cheapest low-VOC laminate that looks like wood (or another flooring option under $2/SF), and how do I find it?
posted by slidell to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Hardwood Utility Flooring. You'll need to put in a little more work to fill in the knots, and you'll have to buy some extra because some of it won't be suitable to install, but it's a great deal.
posted by percor at 8:13 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

You do not want wood flooring if you are going to allow dogs. Especially so if this is a rental.
posted by wongcorgi at 9:20 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

You know, wood floor pricing in the last two years has gone low. I would talk to the hardwood floor vendor and tell him what your per price per sq foot is and that you are open to wood options. I was able to get Brazilian cherry flooring meeting my price specs, to my utter surprise, this way. Price it around and see what the vendor can do with the various wood mills and suppliers. Your contractor should be able to get you a meeting with the flooring vendor and if not, that is something to consider.

Woods go through fashion cycles so what was the thing and uber expensive before becomes quite an accessible item later.

I know this due to having put an extension on my house and being able to talk with the subs and having a great project manager.
posted by jadepearl at 9:39 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unless it's prefinished, hardwood flooring is a lot more expensive to install.
posted by jon1270 at 9:51 AM on June 16, 2012

Best answer: Home Depot sells decent-looking faux-wood laminate for about a buck a square foot. Don't use real hardwood, or even engineered hardwood, if you're going to allow pets.

One thing to consider is that when you've got the floor up, go over the subfloor with a box of screws and re-anchor it down to the joists; squeaky floors are from badly-anchored subfloor, not from cheap vs. expensive surfaces.
posted by mhoye at 9:51 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had hardwood and dogs. The floor was fine; the door was another story.

Kitchen & bathrooms: Commercial vinyl tile is very cheap, durable, easy-to-clean, but toxic to produce. Your laminate upstairs is probably similarly so. Cork laminate is not too bad. Real glue-down cork is nice, quiet, warm underfoot, and may be okay with dogs. It does need a coat or so of varnish.

A friend used plywood, not sure what grade, cut it into large squares and used it as flooring, again, varnished. Looked great.
posted by theora55 at 10:28 AM on June 16, 2012

Go to a builders salvage place and see what kind of ceramic tile you can get. Another option is to stain concrete. If you have concrete floors. The stains ate beautiful and it's a relatively easy DIY project.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:41 AM on June 16, 2012

Best answer: Definitely see if there's a salvage/resale place in your area (there's a Habitat for Humanity ReStore here, for example.) I have some friends that have gotten some fantastic deals that way.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:52 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Think about bamboo. Likely only in your budget at someplace like Lumber Liquidators.

Also, as a data point, my 35-pound dog has done zero damage to our hardwood floors in six years.
posted by purpleclover at 11:57 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We got some really nice laminate flooring at a severely discounted (~70% off) price because it was discontinued and you had to buy the (remaining) whole lot. It's held up very well to the two very active dogs we have.

We got lucky, in that the lot they were selling was only very slightly more than we needed. It wasn't exactly what we wanted in terms of color or style, but we couldn't quibble with the price.

Anyway, if time is on your side this is what you want to shop for - discontinued stock or custom returns in about the size you are looking for. We were at Home Depot and Menards and some other places every week or so for a few months when we found this deal.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:11 PM on June 16, 2012

Best answer: What's your subfloor? If it's wood, you could consider finishing that instead.

Also, are you physically in a position to do a bit of manual labour? You could save about half (or more) of the cost of putting laminate in if you install it yourself. I had never ever done any handyman type project before (I didn't even know how to use a saw!) and I installed laminate in four rooms last year over three weekends. It looks better than my neighbour's, who did it around the same time and hired someone. (They took some shortcuts that I didn't, and didn't pay as much attention to things like spacing out identical boards so that they weren't in the same line of sight, etc.)

If you could possibly swing it, I'd pay extra to get nicer laminate, and save those costs by installing it myself.
posted by lollusc at 7:28 PM on June 16, 2012

Another possibility, if you are considering a brand and colour of laminate that is very popular, and you are in a big city:

Almost everyone who installs laminate buys too much. Many people then sell the extra through classified ads, or on ebay. If you are willing to take your time and pick up a few boxes from one person, then a few more from someone else, etc, you can get good stuff very cheaply.
posted by lollusc at 7:31 PM on June 16, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all. I capriciously marked as best answers comments with ideas I may specifically use and didn't already have in mind.
posted by slidell at 10:20 PM on June 16, 2012

Response by poster: Oops, I was still revising that and meant to say:

Thank you all. I capriciously marked as best answers those comments with ideas I may specifically use. If anyone can recommend some specific flooring that I might be able to find in our price range, I'd happily take suggestions.
posted by slidell at 10:35 PM on June 16, 2012

Just to ask - is tile completely out? Here in the tropics, tile is used frequently. We went with large slabs of slightly uneven chalkboard black tiles set in a staggered pattern and are very happy with it. We had considered laminate, linoleum and wooden parquet, but tile was cheaper and more durable. With laminate and parquet, we had serious concerns about pets scratching it up (and moving furniture), sun-fading and most damning of all, liquid damage. One incontinent pet and you can end up with expensive repairs or a stinky floor. Tile, especially outdoorish tile, can look really good with a rug thrown about here and there. The maintenance is minimal.

Linoleum was seriously considered, but it had a far more limited range than tile and would need to be replaced after a decade or two, while tile is hardier. My mother had her kitchen done in a natural wood plank pattern lino, and I only realised after several weeks that it wasn't wood because it looked so good. I think the prices can be pretty cheap too. Lino was also much more environmentally friendly - I wasn't thrilled with the green reports on parquet and laminates.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:00 AM on June 17, 2012

I just want to say that I hatehatehate our laminate flooring. It seemed like a great deal and had excellent reviews and wasn't cheap and it is total garbage. If any liquid spills on it and you don't have a rag in-hand, literally to wipe it up, the liquid will seep between the cracks, get underneath the lamination, and produce wonderful swells and bumps. Magical, really. God forbid an animal pees on it, the smell will stay forever.

It scratches easily but unlike real wood cannot be "fixed" except by replacing the plank, which requires an every fucking board up to that spot to be pulled up. Did I mention that pulling up the planks can super easily damage the tongue-and-grooves that hold laminate flooring? Yeah.

Also, because the planks are not held onto the ground at all (they need to be able to expand/contract some and are a floating floor,) you will get flex, I don't care how flat you think the floor is.

Do you live in a climate with high humidity? Because if you do, then planks will swell in the summer and buckle. Yeah, yeah, they talk about having a gap between the wall and the planks so there is room for expansion, and we do. We had the floor "professionally" installed. I live in NJ and we have central AC and the planks still buckle.

DO. NOT. BUY. LAMINATE. I promise you will regret it. Our floor was a $5k huge mistake and I'll never live it down.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:10 AM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I guess I should add that on the sections of floor that aren't buckled, don't have swelling, and aren't scratched, our laminate flooring looks very, very nice.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:11 AM on June 17, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks again. To reply, I'm not sure we have the right subfloor/joist structure for tile. We probably have too much deflection. Too bad. Tile is beautiful.

Thanks for the cautions about laminate. I'll give them some thought and see what alternatives we have. I have had good experiences with laminate myself, as our last apartment had laminate in the kitchen that was 15 years old and had held up really well. I've been starting to look at a laminate brand called Mannington if anyone has had specific experiencs with them. It's good to know to be careful.
posted by slidell at 1:45 AM on June 18, 2012

Response by poster: Insane Penguin, do you remember what kind you installed, and the thickness?
posted by slidell at 10:07 PM on July 3, 2012

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