Installing a new floor is a major home improvement project that could cost big bucks. Not all flooring products are created equal, and there are flooring options that provide value while being less expensive.
Cheap Flooring Products
Most solid hardwood flooring options cost about $5 to $15 per square foot plus another $4 to $8 for installation. That could be an expensive project, but hardwood is one of the most desirable flooring materials available — so many manufacturers go to great lengths to make their nonwood products look like wood.
Porcelain tiles cost about $5 to $10 per square foot, and installation can add up to $15 per square foot. Both porcelain and ceramic tiles are classic flooring materials. Real wood and real tile provide good baselines when looking for cheap flooring alternatives.
Vinyl Sheet Products
Although usually thought of as kitchen or bathroom flooring, vinyl sheets come in a range of colors and embossed textures. Products consist of a layer of material with color that goes all the way through, so scuffs and scratches are easy to repair. A protective top layer makes cleanup easy. Damp mopping is all that is needed to keep the floor looking good.
Vinyl sheets are 12-feet wide or larger, making them difficult to handle for an inexperienced homeowner. Seams between sheets are usually heat welded, which can get tricky for the novice. But even if you have a pro do the work, the product is only about $4 per square foot installed.
Standard Vinyl Tiles
These tiles are more substantial than the typical vinyl sheet product. The composition is similar, including colors that go all the way through the material, although tiles offer more colors and patterns.
The 12-inch or 24-inch-square tiles are often glued in place. Some products have a peel-and-stick adhesive on the back of the tile, making them a good DIY project. Prices range from $1 to about $3 per square foot for the materials and $4 to $7 installed by a professional.
Keep in mind that some vinyl products can outgas harmful pollutants. The Resilient Floor Covering Institute recommends using products that are FloorScore certified, indicating they meet the strictest clean-air emissions standards.
Linoleum Flooring Products
As with vinyl flooring, linoleum comes in sheets and individual tiles. Unlike vinyl, linoleum is a completely natural product that consists of linseed oil, cork dust and other biodegradable materials. Older linoleum had the reputation of yellowing over time, but newer products are treated with a protective coating.
Linoleum is a little more expensive than vinyl, costing about $3 to $4 per square foot or $4 to $6 installed. Most products are glued in place, but some are available with the click-in-place option.
Laminate Flooring Products
Because it can be made to look like pretty much anything, including real wood and natural stone, laminate flooring is a popular alternative to the real thing. The material is fiberboard covered with a design layer that is topped with a protective coating. Damp mopping is all that is required to keep the floor looking like new.
Laminates caught on because of their easy installation. Most manufacturers offer click-in-place products where each panel clicks into the next. There is no nailing, no gluing and, aside from some cutting, very little construction mess. Laminate flooring runs about $1 to $3 per square foot or $3 to $6 installed.
Luxury Vinyl Flooring
Luxury vinyl tiles and luxury vinyl plank flooring may be the hottest products in the flooring industry right now. They are vinyl, but are thicker than the standard vinyl tile. They are multilayered products with a look that can mimic wood or natural stone. They are durable and waterproof, so they can be installed anywhere in the house.
Some products can get into the $5 and $6 range per square foot, but luxury vinyl in the $2 to $4 range is available. Pros charge $7 or $8 for installation. Many products use click-in-place installation geared toward the do-it-yourselfer.
Environmentally Friendly Bamboo
Although it is often lumped in the wood flooring category, bamboo is really a grass that can regrow in about five years compared with 20 for typical wood flooring. Depending on how the bamboo is milled, it can look like a typical wood floor or have the distinctive look of natural bamboo.
Bamboo flooring costs about $2 to $7 for the materials. That goes up to $6 to $11 for installation by either nailing or gluing. Some products have the click-in-place technology, making bamboo flooring a possible DIY project.
Environmentally Friendly Cork
Cork flooring comes from a sustainable resource. The material is made from the bark of the cork tree, which can regrow in about six years after harvesting. It is comfortable on which to walk, making it a good choice for kitchens and other work areas. The flooring is not waterproof, and it may not be a good choice for bathrooms and other wet areas.
Available in tiles and planks, the material costs about $3 to $8 per square foot. Professional installation will cost about $6 to $10. Many cork floors require a glue-down installation, but products with click-in-place installation are available.
Individual Carpet Tiles
While average homeowners cannot install wall-to-wall carpeting on their own, they can tackle a project that involves carpet squares. Some carpet tiles are glued down, but many come with a peel-and-stick adhesive on the back of the square. The tiles can be all one color, or they can be different colors to create checkerboard and other designs.
Carpet tiles cost about $1 to $5 per square foot. Unlike other carpeting, tiles cannot be installed on padding, so the feel will be different. Because they are installed directly on the subfloor or plywood underlayment, the surface must be clean and flat.
Engineered Wood Flooring
If you must have real wood but the cost of solid hardwood scares you, consider engineered wood. This product is made of thin plies of wood that are bonded together like plywood. The top ply is a wood species you would find on a solid wood floor, such as oak, walnut and the like. Engineered wood is more dimensionally stable than solid wood, and unlike solid wood, it can be installed in rooms below grade.
Engineered wood costs $3 to $5 per square foot, which maybe is not cheap but certainly cheap-ish when compared with solid wood. Pro installation will run $5 to $10 per square foot installed. Some products have click-in-place technology for easy installation.
Interior Concrete Flooring
If you have a concrete slab, you can top it with a 1/2-inch-thick layer of quick-setting concrete to create a distinctive-finish flooring. Concrete is not for everyone, but many designers are using the material in unique ways. Once installed, sweeping and mopping messes using a mild cleaner is all that is needed.
A thin layer with a simple finish, such as polishing or one-color stain, will cost $2 to $6 per square foot. This is not a DIY project. Going beyond the minimum with elaborate stains, etching the surface and other designs will drive up the cost quickly.
Fran Donegan is a writer and editor who specializes in covering remodeling, construction and other home-related topics. In addition to his articles and blogs appearing in numerous print and digital media outlets, he is the former executive editor of the consumer magazine Today's Homeowner and the managing editor of Creative Homeowner Press, a book publisher. Fran is the author of two books: Paint Your Home (Reader's Digest) and Pools and Spas (Creative Homeowner Press).