Flooring that stands the test of time

Susanne Clemenz | Improvement Center Columnist | January 17, 2013

In 1947 after 23 years of commercial salmon fishing Rudy Franulovich designed a new, state-of-the-art boat, the St. Bernadette, that could handle whatever gales and rough seas the Gulf of Alaska could throw at him. He captained that boat safely and securely for 17 years until his retirement. In 1953 he applied the same "tight ship" planning when he designed the Anacortes, Wash., home that he and wife Katy lived in for the rest of their lives. His attention to detail included decisions about flooring that would stand the test of time. In 1995 when the home was sold, none of the original flooring needed to be replaced yet.

Is it still possible to buy flooring within a budget that can last decades?

Flooring to weather life's changes

Prices for whole-house flooring today are roughly what an entire house cost in the 1950's when Rudy and Katy built their home. Prices for non-beachfront, non-acreage homes back then ranged from $6,600 in Joplin, Mo., to $11,200 in Lowell, Mass., to $14,500 in Chicago, Ill. Spending similar amounts on flooring today can be a repeatable expense or a one-time deal, depending on how you analyze and prioritize your needs and funds. Rudy Franulovich took family lifestyle, product life expectancy and budget into consideration when he chose to make flooring a one-time investment.

Choose flooring for its life expectancy

If you're worried that practical flooring means sacrificing aesthetics, fear not. There are beautiful styles in every type of flooring, so you can let your mind lead your heart and still be thrilled with the outcome.

The manager of East Flag Upholstery & Carpet in Flagstaff, Ariz., for almost 30 years says that a recent change in buying habits prompts customers to tailor their selections based on the expected wear each floor area experiences. Like the Franuloviches in 1953, today's customers favor hard surfaces like tile, engineered wood, or high-quality vinyl planks/tiles in entrances, halls, kitchens, baths, laundries, and often in dining rooms. Carpet or area rugs are often chosen for lighter use areas like living rooms, bedrooms, and sometimes family rooms.

About 15 years ago carpet manufacturers began responding to this loss of market share by engineering high-tech carpets made from recycled plastic bottles or a new fiber from DuPont, Sorona®. According to a technical representative at Mohawk, their SmartStrand carpets with Sorona® have multiple lifetime-resistance warranties as well as 25-year warranties regarding fading, abrasive wear, texture retention and defects. Mohawk's polyester and nylon carpets can have 10- or 20-year warranties that don't cover as many hazards. But a bonus is that using Mohawk's SmartCushion pad under any of their carpets extends the warranties by 10 years.

Shaw's ClearTouch PET polyester carpets have 25-percent, recycled bottle content and a warranty covering 10 years for texture retention, abrasive wear, and quality; 15 years for soil; and a lifetime warranty for stains, including pet urine stains. Compare today's carpet warranties to the minimal "manufacturer's defects" warranties of yesteryear, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that carpet nowadays is durable and dollar-wise.

Consider your household's lifestyle

In 1953, Rudy and Katy thought ahead. Their home's open-door policy meant 30 or more family and friends -- usually wearing wet shoes -- trampled their floors weekly, especially the finished downstairs. The main floor at ground level had porcelain tiles for the entry, kitchen and bathroom and beautiful, tough Karastan wool carpets for the bedrooms, low-use hall, and living areas.

Their finished basement, where 98 percent of daily activities took place, had sealed, low-gloss cement floors except for an area rug by the TV and wool carpeting in the bedroom. When Katy passed, the house sold with all of the original flooring intact after 42 years of use. Everyone in town knew how well Rudy had chosen his construction materials.

Optimize your flooring budget

During the manager's three decades at East Flag Upholstery & Carpet she's noted that the cost of flooring relative to the cost of building or remodeling has remained fairly constant. Of course the sizes of U.S. homes have increased from a median of 1,250 square feet in 1973 to 2,169 square feet in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Their statistics also show that the median home sale price in 1973 was roughly $33,000, and in 2010, about $220,000.

Pinning down the costs of today's median home's flooring is a bit trickier, since costs vary by what flooring choices are made; however, a hypothetical example can help:

  • Assume today's 2,200 sq. ft. home has half carpet, half engineered wood. Carpet, pad, and installation, according to East Flag Upholstery and Carpet in Flagstaff are roughly $6/sq. ft. x 1,100 sq. ft. = $6,600.
  • Engineered wood flooring and installation at about $9/sq. ft. x 1,100 sq. ft. = $9,900. So a ballpark figure in Flagstaff, per East Flag's input, is $9,900 + $6,600 = $16,500.

Porcelain tile in Flagstaff, per East Flag manager, averages about $6/sq. ft.; high quality vinyl planks or tiles, about $6/sq. ft. with variations in quality affecting those prices up or down. So for what you might pay today in flooring costs, you could have bought a whole house in Chicago in the 1950s!

Despite the current sluggish economy, "spend as little as possible on everything" is a shortsighted view when it comes to renovating a home you expect to live in for at least a couple of decades. Thinking "cheap" could end up costing you more in the long run. Some upgrades like major appliances without a doubt need replacing every 10 years, but flooring, if chosen well, could last you the rest of your lives, as it did the Franuloviches.

About the Author

Suzanne Clemenz designed her passive solar home and remodeled two others. She worked with architects and contractors on floorplans, electrical, painting, windows, flooring installations, flood prevention walls and stonework, major drainage issues, an irrigation system and landscaping.She also completed real estate school.