Homebuyers staring at page after page of a builder's design options are oftentimes hard-pressed to make heads of tails out of some of the less-than clear terminology, as well as the meaning of each upgrade selection. Nowhere is this more confusing than in carpet choices for your new home.

Most production homes in the U.S. come with a standard carpet. Jim Haun, territory manager for Mohawk Industries' northern California division, defines standard carpeting in broad-based terms. "Included carpets in many new homes have a minimum weight requirement of 25 ounces of face yarn tufted into the carpet, and are usually 100% nylon. Stain resistance is usually not a built-in feature of the standard carpet, but buyers may have stain resistance chemicals applied when having the carpets professionally cleaned each time," he says. Most builders offer a more limited selection of colors and usually only one style of included carpeting, and a 5-year warranty for these carpets is not unusual, according to Haun. He also mentions that with meticulous care, even a standard carpet may last up to 15 years, so buyers may not count it out completely.

It is customarily recommended by most design professionals to at least upgrade the carpet pad beyond the builder's included levels, however. Even though the FHA-required rebond or rubber pads carry a 5 ½ lb. weight, heavier, thicker pads prolong the life of the carpeting by preserving its backing and making impact less stressful.

The lower upgrade numbers in a builder's design center selection will offer more weight by including more yarns per square inch. They generally offer a stain additive, which has been sprayed on at the carpet mill. Because the plusher varieties of carpet show footprints more readily, tighter weaves, such as Berbers and textured carpeting have become popular over the past decade or so. No carpet, other than a closed-loop Berber, however, is footprint free, however, even though some varieties minimize these tendencies. Berber carpeting, according to some homeowners, however, lacks the warmth and cushiness of other varieties, can "mat" easier, and tend to show seams over time, especially if improperly installed.

Higher upgrades of carpets offer more color and styles, and can carry 10-15 year wear warranties, some with stain resistance built into the yarn itself. Most are manufuctured by what Haun dubs the "Big Three," companies' Dupont, Monsanto, and Allied, with carpet names that have become household words, like "Stainmaster," "Wear-date II," and Anso Crush Resistor." Popular varieties include frieze, textured, Saxony, Berber and cut-Berber.

Surprisingly enough, back in the '40s and '50s, FHA would not grant loans to buyers unless their homes had hardwood or tile floors throughout. Carpets were considered as being "attached" and could only be installed over these surfaces. Now we enjoy "wall-to-wall" carpeting that is installed over sub-floor or concrete foundations as a rule, and lenders do not hesitate to make loans on properties with a variety of flooring options.

In many new home purchases, carpeting can represent the largest financial percentage of upgrade additions to the buyer's bottom line. For that reason, buyers should reflect on how much wear they may demand from their carpet choices. Families with young children may not opt to make the early expenditure on the plusher, more elegant type of carpeting, unless they plan to make a firm commitment to regular carpet cleanings and consistent care, planning instead, to change out the carpeting when their families are older. Couples, singles and empty nesters may, on the other hand, may commit the lion's share of their upgrade dollars to an elegant carpet.

It is important to note that should you, as a buyer, not accept the standard carpeting your builder has to offer (although some will install it anyway), and you opt instead to go to a home improvement store or carpeting professional, you may encounter builder warranty issues later on if, for any reason, carpeting must be pulled up for structural repairs and becomes damaged in any way. Homebuilders generally steer clear of any guarantees unless they installed it themselves, as part of your new home warranty. You must weigh your decision to, perhaps, get a "better deal" through another source, against this prospect. This is not unique to carpeting, however. Tile and hardwood installed by entities other than the builder's own sub-contractors are not replaceable as well.

For advice and general information on carpeting, visit www.hometime.com.

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