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New flooring adds style and value from the ground up

If you want to update your home without investing a significant amount of time or money in a large-scale or potentially risky remodeling project, consider starting with a new floor. At a time when groups like Consumer Reports and Remodeling Magazine warn of an epidemic of home over-remodeling, a new floor is an excellent way to boost value and add a bit of style to your space without overdoing it. The trick is to select the right flooring for your taste, budget and market.

New flooring options: beyond carpet

When it comes to flooring materials, your options (and their associated costs) are seemingly limitless. The following styles are among the most popular alternatives to carpeting. Note that average costs refer to materials alone; installation can vary tremendously based on material and location. For installation estimates, contact a local contractor for a personalized quote.

1. Solid wood

Solid, natural hardwood floors run the gamut from warm and traditional to sleek and contemporary. Most types of wood are susceptible to scratching, warping and fading and must be refinished every few years. Average cost: $8 to $20 per square foot.

2. Engineered wood

Engineered wood flooring applies a thin veneer of real wood over plywood. This design allows for unique patterns or borders, but tends to have a shorter lifespan than solid wood. Average cost: $5 to $20 per square foot.

3. Plastic laminate

Plastic laminate emulates real wood by applying a realistic wood photo over fiberboard, followed by a clear protective layer. It is more affordable and rugged than solid or engineered wood, but offers less realism and longevity. Average cost: $1 to $7 per square foot.

4. Stone tiles

Natural stone tiles offer a beautiful, but potentially expensive finish to any room, though they retain their value better than many other materials. Average cost: $6 to $20 per square foot.

5. Ceramic tiles

Ceramic tile flooring is classic and wear-resistant, but can be difficult to maintain. Average cost: $5 to $15 per square foot.

6. Vinyl

Vinyl flooring is a budget-friendly alternative to natural wood or stone materials. It is dent-, fade- and scratch-resistant, but doesn't offer a solid return on your investment. Average cost: $1 to $5 per square foot.

7. Linoleum

Linoleum flooring is constructed of linseed oil and wood. Like vinyl, linoleum flooring is affordable, rugged and available in a plethora of colors and designs, but does not add much to your home's overall value. Average cost: $2 to $4 per square foot.

The right new floor for your home and budget

When it comes to home remodeling, homeowners should be wary of over-spending and over-designing--and flooring is no exception. In most cases, solid or engineered wood or natural stone that is properly maintained retains its value much more than vinyl or linoleum.

In some cases the more upscale materials are prohibitively expensive, and in some neighborhoods improvements in that price bracket are considered excessive and would not produce the desired return on investment. If your goal is to boost your home's value as cost-effectively as possible, consider meeting with a local realtor to determine which materials are most appropriate for your market and price point.