Despite the rising popularity of flooring materials like tile, wood, and laminates, carpet is still a front-runner when it comes to the material of choice for many rooms of the house. With the advances in technology and the variety of textures and colors available, selecting carpet can seem a huge undertaking.
There are many advantages to carpet. Not only is it a foundation of decorating and one of the easiest ways to personalize your home, but it also absorbs sound, insulates against the cold, cushions feet and adds safety by preventing slips and falls and protecting dropped objects from being damaged.
The World Floor Covering Association, an industry lobbying group that also conducts marketing research and provides education, says other advantages of carpet include the fact that it can hide many subfloor irregularities; it can go over a variety of substrates and on all grade levels (even concrete slabs in basements); and it's economical and installation costs are generally less than some hard-surface products.
Carpet, which generally costs from $1 to $5 a square foot, is the most effective way to change the entire look of a room, says the Carpet and Rug Institute, a ational trade association consisting of manufacturers and suppliers of raw materials and services to the industry.
Carpet's popularity in homes is strong. WFCA's Director of Technical Services Jon Namba says an independent survey from manufacturer shipped goods conducted in 2002 indicates that consumers are choosing carpet for their homes 69 percent of the time.
"Today's shopper is looking for freshness and innovation ... there are literally thousands of different 'looks' on the market today," says Pam O'Toole, carpet fashion coordinator to CRI.
Today's carpet technology offers construction that creates visual texture, which the CRI says increases the perception of quality and value and offers a contrast to smoother elements like furniture surfaces, walls, and counters.
But carpet also has its disadvantages - it is more susceptible to water damage, it may need to be restretched at some point, stains can be difficult to remove, and pet odors can linger. However, the carpet industry says there are a number of products on the market to overcome stains and mask odors.
With the wide range in cost, color, texture and durability, how do you choose the best carpet to fit your home's needs?
1. Before you buy, ask yourself how the area will be used. Experts recommend that if there will be heavy traffic (usually the family room, hallways and stairways), choose the best carpet you can afford.
2. CRI says to look for performance rating guidelines that offer guidance on choosing the carpet that will perform best for various traffic needs. Most guidelines are based on a 5-point scale, with the number 4 or 5 rating being best for the highest traffic areas, and a 2 to 3 rating for areas with less traffic.
3. Select a color that unites your decorative elements and creates the atmosphere you desire. Look for a common color in your furniture and draperies and choose a carpet with a similar hue. Popular choices include environmental colors like blues, deep greens, rosy quartz, and stony neutrals. For those set on light-colored carpet, new stain and soil resistant technology makes today's carpet much easier to clean. Medium and darker colors, tweeds, and textures will help disguise soil in high traffic areas.
4. CRI recommends choosing carpet with a high density; a tighter twist for enhanced durability; a shorter pile height; and a shorter, tighter yarn loop.
5. When weighing cost, ask yourself how long you expect to keep your carpet before replacing it. A better grade of carpet will last longer than one of lesser quality. Cost is based on many factors including fiber, construction, quality, and design. Ask your retailer to give you a complete cost estimate that includes cushion, installation, moving furniture, hauling off old flooring materials, and any special needs that you may have. CRI says a high-quality, professional installation can extend the life of your investment.
6. Ask your retailer to help you select lower emitting carpet, cushion, and adhesives.
One of the drawbacks of carpet is that new carpet can be a source of chemical emmissions, and symptoms may include eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches; skin irritation; shortness of breath or coughing; and fatigue, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
So before your new carpet is installed, ask the retailer to unroll and air out the carpet in a clean, well-ventilated area, and try to leave your home during and immediately after carpet installation.
When you return, open you doors and windows. During and after installation, use window fans and room air conditioners for 48 to 72 hours after the new carpet is installed.
Also keep in mind the cost of keeping carpet clean. You should get it professionally cleaned or rent appropriate cleaning equipment at least once a year. That typically costs anywhere from $100 on up, depending on the size of your house and where you live.
So if you decide that you're ready for carpet, you can even do some online viewing of how certain colors will look in various rooms of the house. For more design ideas, check out these two websites: