The lifespan of flooring: Is it measured in footsteps?

Rob Sabo | Improvement Center Columnist | February 25, 2013

Flooring is one of the most important investments you can make in your home. It's something you are going to see nearly every day, so it pays to have aesthetically pleasing flooring throughout your residence. And since many types of flooring are built to last the lifetime of your home, the choice of materials is even more relevant to your long-term enjoyment.

Life expectancy of popular floor materials

flooring longevity chart

Floor covering options today include time-proven materials -- vinyl, carpet, hardwood -- and stone, such as marble, granite or slate. Engineered wood and bamboo flooring are relative newcomers to the residential and commercial building markets.

Before you consider replacing that outdated and worn shag carpet or scuffed linoleum, take into account factors such as the function of the space, traffic levels, ease of maintenance and service life. Of course, pricing also plays a factor when you are installing new flooring.

Floor materials are designed to last between a decade to more than 100 years. Some of the most popular materials include these:

  • Natural wood. There's a reason why so many old Colonial homes still have their original wood floors -- natural wood is one of the most durable surfaces available, the National Association of Home Builders says. Wood also can be sanded and refinished to bring luster back to old, scuffed surfaces. There are more than 50 species of wood flooring sold today that cover a wide range of styles and price points, according to the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). Four of the most popular species are maple, walnut, ash and oak. More exotic choices include teak and bamboo.
  • Natural stone. Slate, granite and marble also can last more than a century, says the NAHB, but if it lacks routine maintenance to seal the surface it can degrade over time. Natural stone flooring can make a dramatic statement due to its wide array of color choices, and it's also water-resistant and fairly easy to maintain.
  • Engineered wood. These materials are made with between three to nine layers of wood veneer, the NWFA says, and are designed to last 50 or more years depending on care and foot traffic. Engineered wood can be sanded and refinished, but it's not recommended you re-surface engineered wood products very many times.
  • Carpet. Carpet is one of the most popular floor choices, especially in track homes. Carpet provides warmth and beauty to a home, and it also dampens noise and softens falls, says the Carpet and Rug Institute. This material is designed to last between eight to 10 years, the NAHB says, but certain types are much more durable than others. Fibers can be made from nylon, olefin, polyester, wool or triexta.
  • Linoleum. Lifetime expectancy is 25 years or more. Though linoleum doesn't quite match the beauty of other types of materials, it remains one of the most popular building materials on the market due to its cost savings, design versatility and sustainability, the Resilient Floor Covering Institute says.
  • Tile. Installed and maintained correctly, tile can last 75 years or more, per the NAHB report.

Floor covering costs

Choosing the proper type of floor covering isn't necessarily all about the money. Key considerations include durability and lifespan, maintenance, installation and water or chemical resistance.

The World Floor Covering Association gives the following prices for installation of different types of floor coverings (per square foot):

  • Carpet: between $2 and $15
  • Linoleum: $2-$9
  • Wood: $6-$15
  • Tile: $4-$12
  • Stone: $8-$50
  • Engineered wood: $4-$18

As you can see, prices vary greatly within each category depending on the quality of material and difficulty of installation.

Pros and cons of popular floor coverings

Each type of material has inherent benefits and slight drawbacks. Carpet is soft, quiet and warm underfoot. However, it can stain and show wear.

Stone flooring is timeless and durable, but it's expensive, difficult to install and repair, and it can be cold to the touch in wintertime.

Tile also is durable and comes in a wide array of textures, colors and shapes, but it can show stains in between grout lines, and it's prone to breakage from heavy objects.

Wood floor covering is long lasting, warm and rich aesthetically, but it's vulnerable to moisture and can scar or scratch. It also expands and contracts, which can cause warping or gaps.

Engineered wood is easy to install, and since its pre-finished it's more durable than other types of wood floor coverings. It's drawbacks are that it only can be re-finished once or twice, and off-brands may be poorly constructed.

Linoleum is more durable than vinyl floor covering, and it can be hand cut to form intricate patterns; however, it can't be left wet and it's prone to scuffing if it's not polished regularly.

If it's time to replace your flooring, consider this rule of thumb: install a floor covering with a lifespan that suits your needs or is similar to the life expectancy of the space for which it's intended. Tastes can change and children will grow up, but your common living areas might stand the test of time -- and the patter of many feet.