One nice thing about modern living is cleanliness. Most homes are now constructed so that we can, with a little effort, maintain a fairly dirt-free environment for ourselves. The one interior area of your home that is most exposed to the soil and filth of the outdoors is the flooring. This is thanks to people and pets. People and pets roam around outside and tend to step into messy stuff then track it into the house and onto your floor. Because of this, at our house have adopted a shoes-off policy. We have a nice bench area outside the front and back doors where all shoes are removed before coming into the house. Even my dog has to take shoes off first. It works. And it keeps the crud out where it belongs and not on our floor. If you have not adopted a shoes-off policy yet, I strongly recommend it.
There are a wide variety of material choices available for the floors of your home. Below are a few of the most common types. I will continue to add to this list in the future.
Hardwood Floors are beautiful and feel nice underfoot. They have an imperceptible slight “give” to them, making it easier to walk on them for any length of time compared to stone or concrete or tile. Hardwood flooring comes in the original form of thick unfinished planks or a thinner, prefinished, composite flooring material that closely resembles the original-but not quite. Real hardwood floors are ¾” thick planks anywhere from 2” to 6” in width that require sanding and finishing on the site. Wood floors respond noticeably to changes in humidity in your home. New flooring should never be installed until it has had time to acclimate to the new location. Especially during winter months, the individual planks or pieces expand and contract as water content changes. Expect some shrinkage around heat vents or any heat-producing appliances, or during seasonal weather changes. Wood floors are usually made of species that are very hard and that resist dents and dings. Even so, placing heavy furniture or dropping sharp objects on hardwood floors can result in damage. I will never forget rolling a grand piano a short distance across my new living room floor years ago and leaving a nice indented trail. Don’t make that mistake. Install proper floor protectors on furniture legs placed on hardwood floors. Protectors will allow chairs to move easily over the floor without scuffing. Never move any furniture even with protectors until the floor is immaculately clean and free of any grit. This may be difficult but try to keep high heels under control and in good repair. Heels can apply over 8,000#/psi on the floor. That’s enough to damage hardened concrete and it will certainly damage your wood floor. Use protective mats at the exterior doors to help prevent sand and grit from getting on the wood surface. Sand grit is a wood floor’s nemesis. The rubber backing on some area rugs or mats can cause yellowing and warping of the floor surface. Wood floors subjected to water leaks can “cup” or “warp”. Cupping is caused from high humidity levels causing the flooring to swell and subsequently bend up at the edges. If caught early and dried out, this occurrence may diminish 6 – 12 months after normal humidity is maintained. Cupping that remains in excess of 1/16 of an inch over a 3-inch span measured perpendicular to the long axis of the plank will need to be replaced or repaired. Warping will occur if the floor repeatedly becomes wet or is thoroughly soaked even once. This condition may level out in 6-12 months if the wet conditions are removed and drying is applied. Slight warping in the area of heat vents or heat and moisture producing appliances (i.e. dishwasher) is also common. Shrinkage is another problem that can happen if the floor is installed in a swelled condition, this results in separations between the floor planks. If these exceed 3/16 inch the floor may need to be replaced. Gaps that do not exceed 3/16 of an inch may close up within a year or two months so be patient. This is fairly common in homes that experience significant shifts in humidity. Wood floors must be installed with a slight gap around the perimeter of the floor so that when humidity levels change and the wood floor swells the floor will not buckle.
- Do not wet your hardwood floor. Soaking wood floors with water causes the wood to expand and can possibly damage the floor. Instead, when floor finishes become soiled, lightly “damp-mop” with a mixture of one cup vinegar to one gallon of warm water. When damp-mopping, squeeze all excess water from the mop first.
- Do not use cleaners that contain wax or similar finish enhancers. These materials will make future refinishing more difficult and costly. Water drops often (from wet shoes or boots) will leave a white, filmy appearance on the finish from moisture, this condition will clear up and fade shortly once the spots are mopped up and the area has a chance to dry.
- Avoid exposure to direct sunlight as it can cause irreparable damage to hardwood floors. To preserve the beauty of your hardwood floors, install and use window coverings in these areas.
- 1x per week: Gently sweep the floors on a daily basis or as needed. I like to use a janitor sized dust mop. Never wet mop a hardwood floor.
- 4x per year: clean with a Bona X type wood floor cleaner.
- Every 2 years: Inspect finish and assess for possible recoating.
Resilient FlooringResilient flooring is the terminology used for vinyl flooring tiles or sheet material. These are tough, water-resistant materials made for heavy use which makes them ideal for kitchens, bathrooms and laundry areas. Resilient flooring comes in a jillion colors and patterns. Although resilient floors are designed for minimum care, they do have maintenance needs. Some resilient floors require regular application of a good floor finish. This assures you of retaining a high gloss. Wipe up spills and vacuum crumbs instead of washing resilient floors frequently with water. Excessive amounts of water on resilient floors can penetrate seams and get under edges, causing the material to lift and curl. Water trapped beneath the flooring material can foster mold and dry rot. Moving heavy objects across resilient floor covering can result in tears and wrinkles in the surface. Install coasters on furniture legs to prevent permanent damage. The resilient flooring installed in your home maybe the no-wax type. A “no-wax” finish means a clear, tough coating has been applied that provides both a shiny appearance and a durable surface. However, even this surface will scuff or mark. Use acrylic finishes if you scrub or buff. Any brand or type of resilient flooring may separate slightly due to shrinkage. Seams can lift or curl if excessive moisture is allowed to penetrate them. Seams are sealed at the time of installation. Correct gaps in excess of 1/16 inch where resilient flooring pieces meet or 1/8 inch where resilient flooring meets another material by filling with a seam sealer. Correct any curling at seams by having a vinyl installer make a repair.
- Follow the manufacturer’s specific recommendations for care and cleaning.
- Do not slide heavy objects across this floor material without pads or protectors.
- Wipe up spills right away and damp mop the surface with on a regular basis to keep clean.
- Avoid soaking floors with heavy amounts of water, especially around tubs and showers.
- Raised nail heads are the result of movements of the floor joist caused by natural shrinkage and deflection. If a nail head becomes visible through resilient flooring, place a block of wood over it and hit the block with a hammer to reset the nail. Frequent scrubbing or electric buffing is harder on floors than regular foot traffic.
- If you damage the resilient floor, you can have it successfully patched by professionals.
1x per year:
- 1x per year: Inspect the flooring for seam separations greater than 1/16 inch and fill those joints with special caulking.
Inspect for open joints, swelling at seams especially at junction areas around tubs and showers.
TileNatural stone, ceramic and porcelain tile has been around for thousands of years. Tile is one of the most durable and easy to maintain floor and counter coverings. Porcelain tiles are harder, denser, more water resistant and more expensive than ceramic tiles. Contrary to popular belief, tile and grout surfaces are not waterproof. The ability to use tile in wet locations is made possible by adding a waterproof layer beneath the tile. In showers the water proof layer is called a “pan”. On an exterior deck, the resistant layer is called “waterproofing”. Tile can crack or chip if abused. To clean your tile, simply vacuum or wipe down when needed. Occasionally, a wet mopping with warm water may be appropriate. Avoid adding detergent to the water. If you feel a cleaning agent is required, use a mild solution of warm water and ammonia, or use a vinegar and water solution. Rinse thoroughly. The ceramic tile installed on walls or countertops in your home may be washed with any nonabrasive soap, detergent, or tile cleaner. It is recommended to dry tile after every use as hard water can leave a calcium residue on the surface that can build up and become unattractive. Avoid abrasive cleaners as they will dull the finish further. Clean any grout that becomes yellowed or stained with a fiber brush, cleanser, and water. Safe grout cleansers and whiteners are available at most hardware stores. Expect slight separations to occur in the grout between tiles. Grout is for decorative and joint filling purposes only; it does not hold the tile in place nor does it waterproof the installation. To allow for slight movement between the materials, use matching caulk between hard fixtures and tile instead of grout.
- 1x per year: Check for cracked or loose tiles. Tap on the tiles with a golf ball. If the sound is hollow, the tile has come loose. This is likely caused by shrinkage or movement of the subsurface. In exterior applications it can be caused by moisture getting under the tiles and freezing. Broken tiles are difficult to repair. Surrounding grout must be tediously removed, then prying them out requires extreme care not to break adjacent tiles. Once removed you must find a matching piece.
- 1x per year: Inspect grout lines for voids, stains, mold etc. If this occurs, the best remedy is to remove and replace these areas with premixed grout from a hardware store. Follow directions on the container.
- 1x per year: If you have a porous natural marble tile, it is recommended to have it inspected and professionally cleaned and sealed on a regular basis depending on the frequency of use. Consult with a professional firm with a good reputation for this.
Natural stone is likely the oldest form of material used by humans to prepare, present and consume food. Bowls and flat slabs are formed relatively quickly by grinding grains with other rocks. Some communal food preparation areas left by native Americans are still found in wilderness areas around the US. Yosemite National Park has a few places where many grinding areas are found together carved out of enormous granite boulders. Flat pieces of rock were also drafted into service to make finer flours. Because stone is abundant, long lasting and easy to clean it turns out to be a great food preparation surface.
Because of its abundance and durability, stone has been quarried, used and worked by humans for thousands of years and on every continent. Natural stone counter materials are created by quarrying large stone blocks and slicing them into 2-3cm thick slabs. For today’s homeowner, stone slab options available now include marble, quartzite, granite, slate and engineered stone like Caesarstone or Silestone. These slabs can create one-piece countertops as large as 6’x10’ and even larger by joining “book-matched” slabs with precision joinery. By precision joinery, I am referring to computer aided cutting machinery that can essentially finely cut and shape stone like butter. Hard butter that is. Once in place, a stone countertop is an installation with very long life. To reduce maintenance, sealers are recommended for most natural stone countertops in order to prevent stains from getting into the pores of the material. A glass top can also be used on very porous stone like marble to help protect it from damage.
In selecting stone for use in your home it is good to know the characteristics of each type:
Marble: Marble is gorgeous and silky in appearance and its attractiveness makes it highly sought after for luxury living. Unfortunately, marble is also softer and more porous than other stone materials making it easy to damage and will absorb staining liquids. Its composition is calcium rich and etching by acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes and juices is also a problem. Marble can be sealed to help prevent stains, but the treatments are expensive and short lived, requiring frequent reapplication to be effective. Because of these characteristics, marble is recommended for bathrooms, showers and tabletops that are not subject to cutting and cooking.
Granite: Granite is a grainy appearing igneous rock formed by the slow crystallization of magma within the earth’s crust. It is hard and massive with few cracks. In the commercial world of countertops and stone features, a granite is a rock with visible grains that is harder than marble. Gabbro, basalt, pegmatite, schist, gneiss, monzonite, anorthosite and diorite are all considered “granites”. Granite is hard, scratch resistant, polishes to a high gloss and is not affected by food acids. Most granites are non-porous and yet all can benefit from a sealer to prevent stubborn stains that might occur during the cooking process. Granites come in an unending array of natural colors and patterns making every installation unique and one of a kind.
Quartzite: Quartzite is an extremely hard, metamorphic rock that was once pure quartz sediment. These sediments were subjected to extreme pressure and heat from within the earth’s crust through tectonic forces. Quartzite material has a sandy, fine grained appearance with glassy/shiny areas embedded in the structure. Many quarry’s have found attractive versions of this material with striking colors and veins that produce unique and gorgeous patterns ideal for architectural applications. Resistance to abrasion, low porosity and acid resistance make this material highly suitable for kitchen use. Quartzite surfaces also accept “honing” or “leathering” treatments that add a soft and unique feel to their surfaces. Treat these countertops with sealant as you would granite.
Engineered stone: This material is improperly named but is widely known in the industry as “Quartz”. This is because the primary ingredient is crushed quartz. Engineered stone is manufactured by combining crushed quartz pieces with a resin to strongly bind them together. The resulting material is hard, durable and can be made in large formats with extremely uniform appearance. Depending on the resin used to bind this material together, it’s resistance to heat and UV light can be variable. Check with the manufacturer for warranties on heat resistance and the effects of UV light over time. Quartz tops are durable, scratch resistant and not subject to normal kitchen stains. Quartz slabs can be made in a stunning variety of colors and patterns.
- If you have stone countertops, determine what kind of stone material it is made from.
- 1x per year: Clean, hone and seal marble countertop materials and inspect and re-caulk around joints, sinks and other dissimilar materials.
- Every 2 years: Clean and seal granite and quartzite counter top materials and inspect and re-caulk around joints, sinks and other dissimilar materials.
CarpetThe craft of carpet making is as ancient as weaving and carpets and rugs are made in a very similar fashion to making cloth. Bits of yarn or fabric threads are attached to a grid of strong woven threads or twine. There are several kinds of material commercially available in carpet today including wool, polyester, nylon and blends. These can come be had in an infinite, multitude of colors, textures and patterns. Carpet usually comes in 12-foot widths, making seams necessary in large rooms. Dense and uniform carpet texture will make any seams more visible. Carpet styles with low, tight naps result in highly visible seams. Seams are very visible when the carpet is first installed and with time, use, and vacuuming the seams become less visible. You can add years to the life of your carpet with a little knowledge and regular care. Carpet wears out because dirt particles filter down to the lower levels of the carpet where it is beyond the suction of the vacuum. These particles wear on the fibers like sandpaper and dull the carpet. After a while, these particles and even find their way past the base of the carpet and into the pad, where it will wear eventually destroy the pad. Vacuuming carpets regularly helps, but the best idea is to keep the dirt off of the surface of the carpet altogether. For cleaning, some makers suggest twice each week lightly and once a week deeply. I think unless you have a football team practicing on the floor that may be a bit much. Heavy traffic areas certainly require more frequent cleaning. A light vacuuming is defined as three passes; a deep job may require seven passes. A vacuum cleaner with a beater-bar agitates the pile and is more effective in bringing dirt to the surface for easy removal. Vacuuming high-traffic areas daily helps keep them clean and maintains the upright position of the nap. Wipe spills and clean stains immediately. For best results, blot or dab any spill or stain and avoid rubbing. The idea is to absorb the moisture out from the depths of the carpet and pad where it can become a mold issue. For bad stains, test any stain removers first on an out-of-the-way area of the carpet, such as in a closet, to check for any undesirable effects. Have your carpet professionally cleaned regularly, usually once a year. Edges of carpet along moldings and stairs should be held firmly in place. In some areas, metal or other edging material may be used where carpet meets another floor covering.
- Recommend a shoes-off policy on the carpeted areas of the home.
- If you have kids or pets, keep some absorbent pads and pet stain remover available in case it is needed.
- Make a list of the various carpets and padding types (makers, colors, weights etc.) in your home for future reference. Refer to the various manufacturers recommendations for additional information on the care of your floor coverings.
Common Issues and Troubleshooting
- Furniture and traffic may crush a carpet’s pile fibers. Frequent vacuuming in high-traffic areas and glides or cups under heavy pieces of furniture can help prevent this. Rotating your furniture to change the traffic pattern in a room promotes more even wear. Some carpets resist matting and crushing because of their level of fiber, but some matting or crushing will occur.
- Heavy traffic areas such as halls and stairways are more susceptible to wear.
- All carpets will slowly fade in color due to sunlight and other natural forces in the environment. You can delay this process by reducing sunlight exposure with window coverings.
- If interior doors are kept closed while the air conditioning is operating, air circulation from the closed room flows through the small space at the bottom of the door. This forces the air over the carpet fibers, which in turn act as a filter, catching particulate pollution. Over time, a noticeable stain develops at the threshold.
- Pilling or small balls of fiber can appear on your carpet, depending on the type of carpet fiber and the type of traffic. If this occurs, clip off the pills.
- Rippling wall-to-wall carpeting, high humidity may cause rippling. If the carpet remains rippled after the humidity has left, have a professional re-stretch the carpeting using a power stretcher.
- Household traffic causes pile fibers to assume different angles; as a result, the carpet appears darker and lighter in these areas.
- New carpeting, especially pile, sheds bits of fiber for a period of time. Eventually these loose fibers are removed by vacuuming. Shedding usually occurs more with wool carpeting than with nylon or other synthetics.
- Sharp-edged objects can grab or snag the carpet fiber. When this occurs, cut off the snag. Occasionally you may find small tufts of fiber sprouting above carpet surface. Simply use scissors to cut off the sprout. Do not attempt to pull it, because other fibers will come out in the process.
- Take care of any kind of burn immediately by first snipping off the darkened fibers, then use a soap free cleaner and sponge with water. If the burn is extensive, replace the damaged area.
- No carpet is stain proof. Although your carpet manufacturer may designate your carpet as stain-resistant, some substances can still cause permanent staining. These include hair dyes, shoe polish, paints, and India ink.
- Some substances destroy or change the color of carpets, including bleaches, acne medications, drain cleaners, plant food, insecticides, and food or beverages with strongly colored natural dyes as found in some brands of mustard and herbal tea. Pretest any spot-removal solution in an inconspicuous area before using it in a large area. Apply several drops of the solution, hold a white tissue on the area, and count to ten. Examine both tissue and carpet for dye transfer and check for carpet damage.
- Cooler temperatures outside often contribute to static electricity inside.
- 2x per week: Light clean vacuum.
- 1x per week: Deep clean vacuum.
- 1x per year: Inspect edges and seams to make sure that edges are firmly held in place and there are no gaps. Inspect heavy traffic areas for wear and the need for any change to housekeeping protocols.