The economy may be keeping a lid on spending, but when it comes to flooring, it's driving trends. That's because today’s cost-conscious consumer is more demanding of value than ever.
"There’s definitely been a shift from spending to savings," says Chris Davis, the president and CEO of the World Floor Covering Association. "But that doesn’t mean consumers aren’t buying flooring: it means they're looking for value and comfort. They might not be moving up right now, but they’re still into feathering the nest."
Flooring manufacturers are getting the message. As a result, they're keen on providing more bang for the buck — reining in high-end marketing and concentrating on products that are sensible, low-maintenance and easy on the budget.
That means bringing more innovation and variety to the perennial low-cost champs: resilient vinyl and carpeting.
Choices for resilient vinyl flooring include a spectrum of styles, colors, textures and patterns. Add in vinyl's easy-to-clean characteristics, comfort under foot and family-friendly stain-resistance, and the result is increasing popularity with value-hungry shoppers.
The demand continues for the "luxury vinyl" segment — top-quality resilient flooring with lookalike qualities that are increasingly difficult to distinguish from stone, wood plank and ceramic tile. As shown above, what looks like a wood floor, is acutally vinyl. At $4 to $5 per square foot, luxury vinyl products sit at the middle of the flooring price range. Nevertheless, the ability of these products to mimic traditional high-end materials, such as tumbled marble and exotic hardwoods, puts extraordinary good looks at the feet of ordinary homeowners at a fraction of the cost.
Carpet remains the market-share leader, accounting for more than 60 percent of retail flooring sales. Manufacturers’ response to the stagnant home market has been to provide more fashion-oriented options at all prices.
"The variety of carpets these days is nothing short of amazing," says Davis. “Pattern, design, colors, interesting cuts, the whole feel of the material. There’re more wow-factor choices than ever."
If there’s a growth category in flooring, it's the green market. Although the notion of green flooring has been au courant for years, demand for commercial flooring that complies with LEED standards has helped lower prices for green residential flooring as well. That translates into more new products and more consumer acceptance.
Most flooring manufacturers are jumping on the green bandwagon, adding lines that boast high recycled content and raw materials obtained from sustainable sources. Among our favorites:
- Wood flooring certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) comes from forests that are managed with strict standards of sustainability and environmental responsibility. Beautiful woods such as tigerwood and Brazilian cherry are available as engineered planks at reasonable ($7 to $8 per sq. ft.) prices.
- Nontoxic cork is taken from bark of the cork oak tree. It's used to make cork flooring and is a key ingredient in eco-friendly linoleum. Cork is a sustainable material, meaning the bark grows back and can be harvested repeatedly. Corkoleum, from US Floors, combines the best attributes of natural cork in its linoleum products.
- Further proof that wine is beneficial: The Vintage Barrel Collection, from Fontenay, is a fully reclaimed-wood flooring product made from white-oak wine barrels.
- Carpet industry leaders such as Mohawk Industries continue making inroads into the green market by producing carpeting that features fibers made with corn sugar instead of nylon. Several manufacturers feature lines of carpeting with fibers made from 100 percent postconsumer food and drink containers.
- Engineered wood floors from Magnewood eschew plywood base construction in favor of wood pulp mixed with stone dust to produce an extremely stable substrate composed of 75 percent recycled material.
The new flooring buzzwords are "antimicrobial" and "antibacterial." Leading the way is cork, which is supposed to possess natural antibacterial properties. Tile from Stonepeak Ceramics uses sunlight to activate a chemical on the tile's surface that oxidizes germs and "speeds up the decomposition of pollutants," substantially (we're supposing) extending the five-second rule.