Interview with a Flooring Specialist

Let an expert help you make flooring decisions.

Gail Russo has been in the flooring business for over 20 years. We chatted about how she stared out in the business as a manager of a small "mom and pop" store. This required her to be involved in all aspects of the business, including designing, measuring, ordering, scheduling and tracking all aspects until install.

Today she compliments her knowledge and experience by attending as many informational and technical seminars as possible. She is currently employed by Carpetland USA, where she now works mainly with new home buyers in designing their flooring.

Flooring Trends

LovetoKnow: What trends do you see in flooring in the current market?

Gail Russo: The trend, for the last ten years or so, has been toward the use of more hard floors-wood, laminates, tile, etc. We are seeing manufacturers come up with more options in this area. In wood, more exotic wood-- Brazilian Cherry, Tiete Chestnuts and the like. In tile, we see a swing toward more natural products-stone, glass and metallics. Vinyl manufacturers have brought out some groutable luxury vinyl tiles, which give the appearance of ceramic but are warmer and more forgiving.

LtK: As people pick flooring for high-traffic areas, what do you recommend and why?

GR: Depending on the use of the area, I make different recommendations. If the area lends itself to wood, I do recommend the exotics. They are anywhere from 7-30 percent harder than oak and the visuals are spectacular. Now if there are 5 children and 3 dogs in the house, I may recommend a laminate (wood-look) floor as they are less apt to scratch than a wood floor. If the homeowner likes the European look of tile, I love to decorate with the tile. Remember, flooring is a design product, and while durability is certainly key, fashion also should be.

LtK: What do you suggest for people who want to add warmth to basement or concrete floors?

GR: Carpet will always add warmth to the room due to its insulating capabilities. There are, however, other options. If money were no object, a homeowner could tear up the floor and put radiant heat right into the floor. Barring such an extensive remodeling project, the fastest and easiest way to add warmth is to install a heated flooring system. These can be used to heat the entire floor or just portions of the room. While this is most common under tiled floors, there are manufacturers whose products can be used under carpet also. These systems basically consist of an electric matting that is hooked up to a thermostat and can be programmed to turn on and off as needed.

Carpet and Wood Floors

LtK: What's the difference in carpet padding and why does it make a difference?

GR: Carpet pad is the foundation for your carpet. It supports the yarns, absorbing the shock of foot traffic. Padding comes either as a prime urethane foam or as ground up, recycled foam. Prime urethane pads are made specifically into pad for first-time use on your floor. They will typically hold up longer and provide better support to the yarn system.

A cheaper alternative, rebonded padding, is made from ground up materials, typically car seats, mattresses, recycled carpet padding and furniture. Since the grind is never the same, rebond pad tends to have hard spots and voids in the material. A blend of the two combines the superior performance of a prime urethane and the cost savings of a rebond.

LtK: The popularity of wood floors brings up another question. Should people go with real wood or a wood look-a-like?

GR: Wood floors are definitely softer than laminate. They will be more apt to indent and/or scratch. On the other side of the coin, wood can be sanded and re-coated or have a board replaced. Laminate will be more scratch-resistant but more difficult to repair if it does scratch. Most laminates are click-together and many manufacturers claim you can "just unclick back to the damage, put in a new board and re-click." If only it were that easy. Remember you have door casings you've gone around, baseboards, etc. Wood is always easier to repair.

Innovations and the Future of Flooring

LtK: What, in your opinion, is the best innovation made by the flooring industry in the last 10 years?

GR: For many years, the carpet manufacturers were mainly concerned with durability. The introduction seven years ago of Dupont's Tactesse yarn revolutionized the industry. This yarn is 30 percent softer than previous yarn without giving up any of the resiliency in the yarn. Customers can now have durable carpet that isn't hard as a rock.

LtK: What effect, if any, has the Internet had on the flooring industry?

GR: The Internet has, at times, been a useful tool in the education of the end consumer. I always enjoy working with a well-informed customer. The drawback to the internet is that every situation is different. Not all products work equally well in all applications. That is where the informed salesperson comes in. They ask the right questions to determine what product will meet each individual customer's needs. The Internet doesn't always offer that option.

LtK: What excites you most in the future of flooring?

GR: Most manufacturers have finally begun listening to the input of the dealers. There are councils that meet to discuss style, performance and customer preference. Dealers are now able to interact with the supplier whereas, in the past, manufacturers relied only on their own marketing division. The end result is the ability to develop products that are truly what the customer wants.

Interview with a Flooring Specialist