Home & Garden

‘Professor Lonnie’ Explains Flooring 101

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Flooring has changed dramatically over the past decade or so, with an amazing array of new technologies and products for your home. Lonnie Presson, owner of Lonnie’s CarpetMax, points out the best.

Lonnie Presson, owner of Lonnie's CarpetMax, in Rockford, shows off a brand of new, super-soft carpeting.

Years spent working as a carpet installer had taken a toll on his knees and back. So Lonnie Presson took a leap of faith, in 1986, and opened his own flooring store.

“Flooring was all I knew, and I loved it, so that’s what I did,” he says. “Carpet was king, in those days, and the main decision customers made was loop, pile or shag.”

Since then, Presson has witnessed the flooring industry burgeon, and his local showroom with it. He tracks every flooring development with keen interest, tours carpet mills and flooring factories, and holds key positions in national flooring associations. If local colleges were to offer a degree in flooring technology, Presson would be the head professor – and he’s just as enthralled with the flooring industry today as he was when he began this journey.

“It really is amazing to see how technology has changed the flooring industry over the past few decades,” says Presson, whose showroom is at 6551 E. Riverside Blvd., Rockford.

New technologies have made products available that were once unimaginable: virtually stain-proof carpet in any color, thanks to solution-dyed nylon; engineered wood that’s even stronger than solid hardwood; Laminate and luxury vinyl flooring that, thanks to digital photography, is nearly impossible to distinguish from real wood or stone; tough UV-dried finishes that never need waxing; even carpet padding that breaks down pet odors.

“There’s a lot more to know about flooring these days, but making a good choice also just comes down to what you like.”
Northwest Quarterly asked “Professor Lonnie” to bring us up to date. First, we wanted to know which residential flooring categories are growing fastest.

“It’s truly a very evenly mixed market,” says Presson. “Laminate was overtaking other flooring types for awhile, but now it’s leveled out. The new luxury vinyl, in tile or planks, is an up-and-comer that’s here to stay. Ceramic and stone tile, and wood floors, both solid and engineered, continue to be popular. And there will always be a demand for carpet, especially in our climate.”

Carpet

No flooring has improved more in quality over past decades than carpet, says Presson, and none is easier to maintain.

“It amazes me how inexpensive carpet still is, compared to everything else, given all the science that has gone into making better fibers,” he says. About 90 percent of that fiber is still made in the United States, mostly using synthetic materials derived from petroleum, most commonly nylon, olefin, polyester and triexta. “All carpet looks nice when it’s new, but the fiber type, density and twist will play a role in how it wears over time.”

Presson says nylon fiber is still considered the best, and “nylon 6,6” is the most durable. PET polyester, though slightly less durable than nylon, offers excellent stain resistance and is partially made with recycled materials. Olefin is more affordable than nylon or polyester, resists stains well and is super colorfast, but may crush faster in heavy traffic areas.

Carpet shopping can be confusing because various brand-name manufacturers, like Shaw, Mohawk and Beaulieu, use various branded fibers, like SmartStrand triexta, Tactesse and Luxerell nylon, with various brands of soil repellant, like Teflon, Scotchgard, R2x or LotusFX, which is not the same as built-in stain protection (STAINMASTER, Sorona) or static protection.

“Ultimately it’s hard to go wrong with a good STAINMASTER nylon carpet of any brand,” says Presson. STAINMASTER and Sorona differ from stain repellants because they’re proprietary technologies which literally fill the open spaces inside carpet fibers with a clear, colorless dye so that stains have no place to penetrate.

Even a STAINMASTER nylon 6,6 carpet wears better if its density is higher. In carpet, density refers to two things: The “face weight” of the yarn itself and the “stitch rate” – how close the yarn tufts are to one another. You can check stitch rate density by pressing your fingers into the carpet to touch the backing, or by bending a carpet sample into a “U” shape to see how much backing shows. The Carpet and Rug Institute, a non-profit trade association, recommends carpet with a face weight of at least 35 to 45 ounces and a stitch rate of at least seven to eight tufts per inch.

Finally, the “twist” of a carpet refers to how tightly each bundle of yarn is twisted. Bundles that easily untwist may result in carpets that start to look fuzzy with wear.

“Carpet quality has become so good that manufacturers have become a little desperate to market anything new about it,” says Presson. “In recent years, they’ve developed super soft carpet fibers that have a really nice, silky soft feel to them. It’s like bundling soft baby hair into each tuft instead of horse hair. These carpets are just as durable. We’ve had absolutely no problems with the soft fibers like Tactesse, Luxerell, SmartStrand Silk and the new STAINMASTER TruSoft.”

If all the branding and marketing efforts are difficult for consumers to keep straight, imagine how Presson feels.

“It’s aggravating, because the same exact carpet branded under two different names may have two different warranties,” says Presson. “But the truth is, your warranty is only as good as the carpet store you buy from. That’s why I tell people standing in front of me that ‘you’re looking at your warranty.’ It pays to shop from a store that will still be here in five years. I get calls all the time from people who ask me to help them out because the store they bought their flooring from folded.”

No matter what carpet you buy, Lonnie offers this advice: “The best thing you can do for any carpet is to clean it regularly – at least every 18 months, depending on the wear it gets – using hot water extraction method. Dirt is the biggest enemy of all flooring types, and carpet is no exception.”

Laminate & Luxury Vinyl

Few flooring types have benefitted from technology as dramatically as laminate, once held in low regard by Presson.

“I used to talk customers out of buying it – I hated how it looked back then,” he says. But digital imaging revolutionized laminate, which is a processed wood product made by layering a printed image over core board and a backing. Gone was the distinctly artificial personality that once left Presson cold. “These days even I have to look twice to figure out if a piece of laminate is really a piece of wood or stone.”

And laminate remains an important problem solver. Unlike solid wood, which should be nailed into place and won’t wear well in moisture-prone rooms or basements, durable laminate floats over a pad. With a factory-applied UV dried surface coating, laminate resists spills and is easy to clean.

For the same reasons laminate has become so popular, new luxury vinyl tiles and planks are eagerly embraced by today’s homeowners. The precision of digital imaging makes it hard to distinguish a luxury vinyl “wood” plank from real wood, or a vinyl “stone” tile from the real thing. Yet vinyl is warmer to the touch, easier on the back and easy to install and maintain.

“The new luxury vinyls are softer and not so heavy,” says Presson. “They have unique colorations with detail that make them incredibly beautiful.” Presson carries many kinds in his showroom, such as the DuraCeramic, DuraStone and DuraPlank lines by Congoleum. They offer added benefits like built-in Scotchgard, antibacterial properties and the trendy 16-by-16-inch large format size. They can be installed with our without grout.

Wood

Technology is great, but some people want to know that their wood floors are real wood and their stone floors are real stone. Their options in hard surface flooring have never been greater.

With wood flooring, the first step is to decide whether solid or engineered wood is the most appropriate for the space. Generally three-quarters of an inch thick, solid hardwood must be installed on or above grade and must be nailed down. Moisture can cause it to warp or buckle, so it’s not a good choice for basements, bathrooms or some kitchens. Boards must be laid perpendicular to floor joists; heights on door jambs, shoe moldings and baseboards must be considered; and a gap must be left along walls to accommodate expansion in humidity. In spite of all these things, “Rockford is a solid oak hardwood town,” says Presson. “It’s what people here like best, and the fact that so many old homes still have beautiful, original oak floors tells you how it stands up.” Solid hardwood floors can be refinished more times than engineered wood floors, which have a relatively thin top layer of real wood.

Other wood flooring species include maple, birch, walnut, pecan, pine, cherry, teak and bamboo. Presson is a fan of bamboo, which offers a clean, distinctive look. “I like how it looks and wears, and you can find it for $7 or $8 per foot because the plant re-grows within 10 or 11 years,” he says.

Presson cautions homeowners to buy wood flooring only from reputable stores because inferior products sold on the Internet often end up causing expensive problems. And for most people, hardwood installation is not a good do-it-yourself project.

An excellent alternative to hardwood is engineered wood, made from thin layers of compressed wood, the grain of each layer running in a different direction than the one above and below it. If the wood gets moist, expansion is minimal and uniform in all directions. Unlike solid wood, engineered wood can be glued down or floated. Boards can run in either direction from joists. It’s sold in three-eighths or five-sixteenth inch sizes, so it fits better under doors jambs. And because the surface is real wood, it’s impossible to distinguish from solid wood when looking down at it.

Both solid and engineered wood come in high-gloss or satin finishes, and the finish takes the brunt of wear. “Hand-scraped” wood is intentionally dinged up at the factory to simulate worn wood and disguise inevitable damage.

“People need to understand that wood floors are not indestructible,” says Presson. “You wouldn’t walk around on your wood furniture with high heels or let puddles of water stand on it. Wood is wood. But the urethane finishes applied at the factory are really good and will hold up well with reasonable care.” Keeping pets’ nails trimmed, placing pads under furniture legs, mopping up spills quickly and cleaning the floor often will help.

Ceramic & Stone Tile

Other hard surface floors remain popular, too. Ceramic and stone tile flooring have been used throughout the world for thousands of years because of their durability and beauty. Most ceramic tile is less expensive than stone and the variety is endless; styles mimic the richness of marble or granite, the metallic sheen of copper or stainless steel and the sparkle of glass.

Still another option is manufactured stone, made from natural stone chips suspended in a non-porous binder such as cement, epoxy, resin or polyester.

From a style standpoint, ceramic, porcelain, fabricated stone and natural stone tile look equally at home in Old World and contemporary decórs.

“Ceramic and porcelain tiles are easier to care for than natural stone,” says Presson. “That’s because stone is a natural product, which means it’s more porous.”

Presson is convinced that the demand for natural stone is here to stay, particularly in high-end homes. That’s why he opened Lonnie’s Stonecrafters, 2529 Laude Dr., Rockford, in 2004. Led by experienced stonecrafter Rick George, the store sells natural stone used primarily in kitchens and bathrooms.

Those who choose to invest in a solid stone floor will find that “it lasts a lifetime and then some,” says Presson. Think of palaces and castles still standing after centuries.

Three main rock types are used in stone flooring: sedimentary, such as travertine or limestone; igneous, such as granite; and metamorphic, such as slate and marble. For all stone floors there are options in finishes, like acid-washing, which takes the shine off polished stone; flame finishing, which heats surface crystals until they explode and leave behind a rough texture; or polishing, which results in a glassy, mirror-like finish.

When investing in a tile floor, be sure to hire professional installers who use top-notch materials.

“The difference among tile-setting materials can be like night and day,” says Presson. “That’s why I insist that we furnish all the material for the base that the tile sits in. You have to be very precise about mixing the materials, too, or you risk causing strength failures, and then moisture can seep in.” It’s also crucial to have a strong and level subfloor.

“It’s important that you really like the tile you put down, because taking out a tile floor is a big deal,” says Presson. “You don’t want something that will go out of style in a couple of years.”

We’re fortunate that new technologies have made flooring more durable, low-maintenance and beautiful than ever before. We’re also fortunate to have one of the top flooring professionals in the nation nearby to answer questions and ensure that something good is underfoot in your castle.

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