Interior Finishes Comparison
December 1, 2006 2:26 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for more information on the features (pros & cons, price range, etc.), of various building/interior finish materials.

My wife and I are about to buy our first home and because of the market here, we are likely going to look at houses that need some remodeling. I have watched a million design shows and so I know that there are lots of different products to choose from when redoing the interior of a house. What I have not been able to find are good comparisons of the features of the various materials. I have looked a lot online and haven’t been able to find anything that does this type of comparison.

I would love to get people’s own assessments of various materials, or links to online resources, or even books (I am willing to buy a couple of books if they have what I want).

For instance, when redoing your floors you can choose from hardwood, laminate, ceramic tile, vinyl, stone, carpet, concrete, etc. What I would like to find is a resource that describes each of these materials with the pros and cons, and approximate price ranges.

Other materials that I am interested in include (but are not limited to):
Types of doors (hollow, solid core, etc.)
Interior hardware (like door handles)
Lighting (fluorescent, halogen, track, cans, pendants, etc.)
Counters (wood, laminate, tile, granite, quartz, solid surface, concrete)
Bathroom fixtures (e.g. wall mounted versus counter mounted faucets, under mounted sinks versus type that sits on counter)
Kitchen Cabinets (IKEA, Home Depot, semi-custom, fully custom)
posted by bove to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There are a lot of sites of questionable value out there that deal with this kind of information, so Googling for it is tough—I went through the same sort of thing about a year ago, when I embarked on a major renovation. I didn't find anything like what you're looking for.

There are two offline resources you should draw on: Home Depot (or equivalent) and a good contractor. A residential architect would also be a good person to talk to.

You'll need to do some legwork. I found that I was able to do some research (say, on lighting) online, and got a lot of ideas by looking at various websites, but hard pricing information I mostly got from local retailers or my contractor. And with a lot of this stuff, you really need to touch it to know whether you like it. Get a good notebook and write down everything in it. Start a material-samples box.

One website you might want to check out is apartment therapy—you may be able to contact the people behind that for a better lead than I can give you. And it's good reading.
posted by adamrice at 3:53 PM on December 1, 2006

consumer reports has tested kitchen cabinets (ikea actually came out VERY nicely, especially compared to home depot etc.) but you have to subscribe. it is worth the money though.

otherwise, you will definitely need to do some legwork. there is no one site with comparisions, etc, the way you're describing.

the other issue is that personal opinion plays a huge factor in all of these decisions. for example, I would never ever consider vinyl replacement windows a good idea for my house, but my brother is freaking thrilled to pieces with his new windows. different items are best for different applications, and people have very strong opinions about finishes and finish work.

I reccomend checking out the community at, and also the forums. if you're looking at an older house, also check out, though some folks there are much heavier on the restoration versus the remodeling aspect of houses.

personally, I wouldn't rely on anyone at Home Depot for opinions on quality. considering the runaround I got when looking for window glazing ("what? like to frost the windows, huh?" yeah, no. to hold the damn glass in. "oh, it's in the trim aisle." yeah, no, it wasn't.) usually there's like one person there who knows their stuff, but even then, they're just going to reccomend whatever the store sells. instead, go find your local lumberyard that's not a big box, one that sees a lot of woodworkers, etc, and ask them.
posted by kumquatmay at 6:06 PM on December 1, 2006

I really like Dwell magazine. It has lots of stuff like this, and usually has info on both the really high end stuff you can't afford, and the more reasonable stuff you would actually consider buying.

If you want to see what various finishes look like, you could always start visiting model homes in your area, which are usually set up to show off various finishes the builder can provide. Won't give you an idea of how things look in an older house, but at least lets you see what things like flooring options and cabinetry will look like on a larger scale
posted by drmarcj at 7:43 PM on December 1, 2006

I don't have any particular resources to give you at the moment, but here are some thoughts from personal experience in real estate and in building houses:

In the main areas of the home, wood is great - easy to keep clean, looks classy, doesn't wear like carpet. I personally like a distressed look, so you don't have to worry about every little ding on the finish when something hits the floor. It does cost more, but a great place to spend a little. Another option (that I have in my home) is tiling the main areas. Same pros: looks nice, cleans well. Cons: potential breaks, grout can chip/stain, and the floor does feel cold (radiant floor heat is wonderful, but expensive - in a master bathroom, it might be a possibility). Large tiles look better in a large space, and setting them diagonally in a room can help you avoid lines being out of whack with the walls (but it does take more labor).

I'll post more on the other details in a bit.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:34 PM on December 1, 2006

I have found with almost all building materials you truly do get what you pay for (big exception being Ikea cabinetry -- incredibly good value, but get someone who knows their way around a toolbox to install them).

Here's an off-the-wall idea: find a general contractor you trust who has a good breadth of experience (small homes, large homes, commercial, remodeling, new construction, historic preservation, etc) and offer to pay them an hourly rate strictly as a consultant. When you have questions about materials, prices, repairs, even hiring subcontractors (plumbers, electricians, painters), just call him/her up and add the time to your bill. You could even get him/her to do occasional site visits/Home Depot runs with you, to make sure you are getting what you need. It could get expensive, and you'll need to find a GC who is willing to work outside the box, but it could be very rewarding.

One bit of advice: especially in the kitchen, get a sink that is mounted underneath the counter, with a simple hole cut in the material for the opening (this rules out some counter materials, BTW) -- no lip around the sink makes cleanup much easier.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:40 PM on December 1, 2006

I'm in flooring.

Carpet is cheapest to install usually. I don't like it because its bad for allergies and its the filthiest of all the flooring out there. Any dirt/nasty stuff just sinks right in and gets absorbed into the fibers. Unless you get regular (every 6 mo.) carpet cleaning, you are going to have a dirty floor, even though you may not see the dirt, its there in large quantity. Personally, I would never install carpet in a house of mine unless that was the only option.

Laminate is what I work with every day. Its great stuff, in the right place. Don't put it in the bathroom, or the kitchen, or anywhere else where it might have a lot of exposure to water. Leave those areas for Ceramic tile. Laminate is typically cheaper than wood and more expensive than carpet, and I don't know how it relates to Tile. The finish on laminate is going to be stronger and more durable than the finish on real hardwood. It is also much easier to repair than hardwood if a board (or 10) gets scratched or messed up if you drop something. This is the one floor that has a unique property of being a "floating floor" - the wood is not fixed to the subfloor. It just "floats" on top. This is because the wood will expand and contract with moisture. If you decide to do laminate, have a moisture test for your slab. Make sure it is within or very close to the maximum allowed moisture content by the manufacturer of the laminate. This is usually somewhere between 3 to 5 pounds per 1000 sq feet of hydrostatic pressure (I think thats what its called). Some issues you may have with laminate are if the foundation or subfloor is not very level, you can have "waffling" where the floor is springy near high/low spots. This can be annoying, but if you have a good installer he can fix this before its a problem. Also, make sure the subfloor is swept well before installation, because little rocks or dirt can cause cracking sounds and waffling sometimes. Usually, however, a nice moisture barrier/thin pad will alleviate any issues related to rocks/dust. If you want some laminate that looks a lot more like wood, I just installed some of Mannington's "Revolutions" laminate and it was really nice. The material was very good to work with, had an almost handscraped hardwood look to it. Loved it. Avoid "Bruce" brand laminate like the plague. Another good point in laminates favor - if you live in California or another area where the foundation is subject to settling or cracking (earthquakes/tremors) then laminate can be a nice solution, because Ceramic Tile will crack, hardwood can seperate, but laminate will just float over the top and won't break a sweat.

Wood is probably the most expensive but visually is 'nicer'. The finish is not as good as laminate and if you move heavy furniture over it or drop something on it its easy to dent and scratch.

Ceramic is great stuff for bathrooms and kitchens, and sometimes for main areas of the house like living and dining rooms. Again if you live in California or other quake areas, limit your tile usage to smaller areas like single rooms rather than whole house coverage. I am going to replace about 1500 ft of tile with laminate because of this. Almost the whole house was done in tile, 3 times, and its broken every time. If you live in a border state tile is probably quite cheap to get installed, since its used so prolificly in Mexico, many installers are very good at it and come to the U.S. with plenty of experience.

Ok, I'm done.
posted by farmersckn at 11:14 PM on December 1, 2006

Check out It's a community of folks who, to varying degrees, are building, remodeling, restoring, or just fixing up their fixer upper.
posted by friezer at 3:36 PM on December 2, 2006

actually, you can get hardword and cork flooring in floating variations as well, and you don't need to completely replace pieces of the floor to repair scratches or dings (light sand, reapply finish, voila).

just goes to show, personal opinions vary greatly!
posted by kumquatmay at 3:46 PM on December 3, 2006

Price ranges are best found at the home improvement store. If you visit the library there are usually a good range of DIY books that explain the differences between various types of materials. That would be my first source of info.
posted by JJ86 at 7:44 AM on December 4, 2006

Thanks for all of the advice so far. I have checked out most of those blogs and websites mentioned. They are not exactly what I am looking for, but the consensus seems to be that what I am looking for doesn't exist. I did find some books on Amazon that I am probably going to get. They are:

Interior Materials and Surfaces

Material World


Hopefully they will have some of what I am looking for. It is an interesting phenomenon. If I want to research all sorts of consumer products there is a wealth of definitive information on the web, but for stuff like this there are very few comparisons available. Most of what is out there is like the stuff on houseblogs where people are talking about one specific material they are working with.
posted by bove at 9:08 AM on December 4, 2006

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