Flooring

“Keep your feet on the ground” is good advice for anyone–unless, of course, you’re inside, in which case you can only keep your feet on the ground if you happen to live in a sod shanty.

Otherwise, you’re going to have to keep your feet on some kind of flooring: and most likely, that flooring is going to be either carpet or “vinyl.”

Carpets, of course, have been around for a long, long, time, and for most of that time, they’ve been woven from wool or some other natural fiber. But these days, weaving is passé. Instead, more than 80 percent of North American carpets are tufted.

In tufting, hundreds of zigzag rows of yarn, dyed or undyed, are stitched into a roll of carpet backing. The yarn may then be dyed (or dyed again), before it’s washed and glued to a second piece of backing.

The height and density of the yarn loops determine the texture, or “hand” of the carpet. The most popular style is “saxony,” in which all of the yarn loops have been sheared off. “Plush” carpets are similar, except the yarn stitches are closer together, giving you more fibers per square centimetre and, therefore, a softer feel. “Berber” carpets contain unsheared loops of yarn of different heights, which gives the carpet a nubby texture.

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, wool was the fabric of choice for carpets, because it is naturally soil-resistant. (It’s a good thing, too, since sheep are notoriously bad about vacuuming themselves.) Most yarns used today, however, are synthetics, either nylon, polyester or polypropylene (also known as olefin). Nylon is the most popular, and the strongest fiber that’s normally used in homes. Olefin, which is even stronger but has a rougher texture, is most often used in high-traffic, commercial buildings.

Carpet-cleaning is a major industry all by itself (it must be, judging by the number of calls I get from carpet cleaners), and for good reason: the most important thing you can do to preserve your carpet is vacuum it weekly and clean it regularly. That’s because dirt does more than just make your carpet look grungy: it also acts as an abrasive. The particles, ground under foot, wear away at the fibers, destroying the pile.

The difficulty of cleaning carpet is one reason you seldom see it in the bathroom or the kitchen. Instead, you’re more likely to see what is commonly called “vinyl” flooring–although it should be called “resilient” flooring, because it almost certainly isn’t pure vinyl (polyvinyl chloride, or PVC). Some of it, maybe even most of it, may be clay, gypsum or other some other filler. That’s because pure vinyl floors, though very soft and comfortable to walk on, are also expensive.

Many people still refer to all vinyl floors as “linoleum,” but true linoleum–made from finely ground wood and linseed oil–hasn’t even been manufactured in North America for years. It has to be imported from Holland.

Vinyl–excuse me, “resilient”–flooring consists of several layers: a backing, a cushion layer, and a wear layer. What makes vinyl flooring attractive is the fact that it can be decorated with a vast number of patterns. How those patterns are applied has a lot to do with both the price and the look of the flooring.

The traditional method is rotogravure, in which the pattern is printed right on the backing with a huge printing press. A more expensive method is the inlaid pattern, which might be built up over several layers. To get an inlaid pattern, vinyl granules and sometimes bits of quartz ore granite are laid over a printed surface. An inlaid pattern is less apt to wear away in high-traffic areas; it also looks more like the granite or marble it’s often meant to imitate.

The wear layer goes over top of the pattern: it’s usually either clear vinyl or harder and longer-lasting urethane. The thicker the wear layer, the more expensive the vinyl.

Resilient flooring that has a wear layer is also called “no-wax.” (In fact, my landlady specifically forbade me to wax the kitchen floor.) Floor wax is really just a wear layer that’s applied after the fact. A top-of-the-line vinyl floor only requires regular sweeping or vacuuming and occasional damp-mopping (again, grit is the enemy).

Ugh. “Sweeping,” “vacuuming,” “mopping.” Now that I’ve crossed over into talking about housework, I’m afraid I’m going to have bring this column to a close.

Some things are just too horrible to write about.

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