Nothing compares to the soft, luxurious feeling of carpet under your feet. Carpeting provides a safe, comfortable spot for kids to play and may even reduce the risk of injury during a fall [source: Carpet and Rug Institute]. Sure, carpet requires a bit of extra maintenance compared to vinyl or tile, but there's simply no substitute in terms of sound absorption, warmth and overall comfort.
With so many different colors, materials and designs available, it can be difficult to choose the best carpet for your home. Some materials may require frequent cleanings that simply won't fit into your busy schedule, others come with a high price tag and some may even have an effect on your health. The wrong carpet may wear out quickly, fade or show stains that stubbornly resist your best cleaning efforts. Protect your investment and choose the best carpeting for your home with these 10 carpet-buying tips.
Pick the Perfect Padding
Don't be tempted to skimp on carpet padding to save a few dollars. Just as a building needs a solid foundation, carpeting relies on a layer of padding for support, strength and a bit of extra cushioning. You can't see the padding, but you'll definitely spot the extra wear and tear on your new carpet if you pick an inadequate padding material.
Made from rubber or foam materials, carpet padding conceals subfloor imperfections to improve the appearance of the finished floor. It also acts as insulation to help control the temperature of your home, and it even absorbs sound to protect your privacy and eliminate neighbor noise. Most importantly, padding supports your carpet through years of use, since it prevents carpet backing and fibers from coming apart over time.
Consult your carpet manufacturer for padding recommendations and advice. Typically, high-traffic areas require firm, dense padding, while guest bedrooms and other light-traffic rooms may need less protection.
It's also important to match the padding to the type of carpet you plan to use. The Carpet and Rug Institute recommends a 7/16-inch (11-millimeter) padding with 6 pounds (2.7 kilograms) of density per cubic feet to support cut pile or cut loop carpeting. For Berber or thin loop rugs, look for a 3/8-inch (9.5-millimeter) pad or thinner, with 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms) of density per cubic foot [source: Carpet and Rug Institute].
Consider Various Carpet Styles
Carpet comes in many styles, including plush, Saxony, Berber, textured and frieze. These terms apply to its pile, which is the surface you see, created from yarn tufts that are either folded over into loops, cut straight across or both. While each style has a distinctive look, that shouldn't be your main consideration. Instead, look at how well your lifestyle meshes with a particular carpet style. Plush carpeting, for example, is made from tightly twisted pile, and is thick, soft and inviting. But it also shows footprints and vacuum tracks, and can develop something called "pooling," or areas that appear shaded because the normal direction of the carpet fibers has been reversed. Saxony, the most common type of carpeting, is similar to plush [source:Becker]. These carpet styles work best in low-traffic areas like formal living rooms and master bedrooms.
Berber carpeting, in contrast, is crafted from continuous fiber loops and is flat and dense. It can have a level loop, cut-and-loop or multi-level loop design. All of these attributes mean Berber is extremely durable and doesn't show tracks, soil and stains -- perfect for high-traffic areas, or places frequented by kids.
Textured carpeting is made from fibers cut to different heights, which causes them to reflect light. This makes it difficult to see tracks and dirt. So this type of carpeting is also great for high-traffic areas. Some Berbers are textured.
Friezes are a cut-pile carpet made from slightly twisted fibers. The look is less formal than plush, but fancier than many textured pieces or Berber. The carpet feels soft on your feet, yet its fuzziness hides footprints and dirt well
Don't Blow Your Budget
Even the most luxurious carpet doesn't have to cost a fortune. Shop around to find carpet that fits your lifestyle and budget. Always request separate pricing for materials and installation so you can make an "apples-to-apples" comparison among different suppliers.
Make the most of any budget by choosing the best carpet for each room. For example, stain-resistant products may be worth the splurge in your busy family room, but more affordable low-traffic carpeting may be just fine for your guest rooms.
Consider lifetime replacement and maintenance expenses to keep costs even lower. If you have kids or pets, try carpet tile instead of rolled carpeting. Rather than replacing the entire room after a few years of spills and stains, you can replace single tiles as needed to keep your carpet looking fresh and new.
Explore different material options before you buy to balance price and comfort. Wool represents the very best in carpet materials but also comes with the highest price tag. Nylon and other synthetics feel similar to wool but are available at lower prices. For moisture-prone areas like basements or stairways, try cut-rate options like Olefin or polyester [source: Consumer Reports]
Select Your Carpet Provider with Care
You can purchase carpet in a variety of places -- carpet showrooms, of course, but also flooring companies, furniture stores, large department stores and even online. While you can end up with beautiful carpet that's expertly installed using any of these options, your best bet is to select a reputable establishment that specializes in carpeting.
A quality carpet store will carry a large, varied carpet selection, including different fiber options such as wool, synthetics, blends, sisal, linen, jute, coir and woven vinyl. Staffers should be able to easily answer all of your questions and let you take samples home.
The quality of your carpet's installation is just as important as the quality of the carpet itself. A second-rate job can leave you with obvious seams, lumps, bumps and other issues, so look for stores that employ their own installers. This can be difficult, as most carpet dealers use subcontractors. While subcontracted carpet installers aren't necessarily inexperienced, they do tend to be less experienced and less skilled than full-time employees [source: Landry & Arcari]. If you can't find a good shop with its own installers, make sure your carpet dealer's subcontractors have worked with them for many years.
Understand Maintenance Requirements
One of the best ways to ensure you'll be satisfied with your new carpet is to stick with carpeting you can maintain easily. Homeowners with young children or dogs and cats may want to avoid hard-to-clean shag or high-end rugs. Stain-resistant carpets can eliminate the frustration associated with spills and may cut your cleaning time.
Always ask a salesperson about cleaning and maintenance requirements before you commit to buying. Find out how often you'll need to clean and what special equipment or products the manufacturer recommends. Skip carpets with extensive maintenance requirements unless you have the extra time to perform these tasks.
The type of material and carpet style you choose can also have a major impact on maintenance. Pick textured rugs to conceal footprints and vacuum cleaner tracks. In high traffic areas, look for textured Saxony, level loop or high-density loop carpets to resist dirt and make cleaning easier. You should only install cut pile and multilevel loop carpets in low- to medium-traffic areas, as both of these designs tend to trap dirt and resist cleaning efforts [source: Consumer Reports].
A Word on Warranties
Talk about mind-numbing. Carpeting carries an insane number of possible warranties, including five- and 10-year options, matting and crushing warranties, and guarantees against stains, wear and even overall appearance. In general, the better quality the carpet, the more coverage you're offered via warranties, stain protection and the like. However, never purchase a particular carpet solely because the warranty seems really great -- because most warranties actually offer little true coverage [source: Carpet Buyers Handbook].
For example, the most common warranty is a "wear" warranty. Manufacturers offering these typically define "wear" as a bald spot, while many homeowners consider a carpet to be worn as soon as it loses its original appearance. Similarly, a crushing warranty may state that if the pile height can be restored to a certain degree, there's no issue. But most carpets' pile can be restored through hot water extraction and a pile rake (even though it will be crushed again once you walk on it), so manufacturers will say the warranty doesn't apply [source: Carpet Buyers Handbook].
The most common carpet complaints aren't for manufacturing defects, anyway, but rather for improper installation. These complaints should generally be taken to the retailer; before you purchase a carpet, inquire what recourse you have if you're unhappy with the installation.
Compare Color and Patterns
With so many colors and designs available, selecting the right finish just might be the most difficult part of your carpet-buying decision. Narrow your search by choosing shades that match the overall mood or tone you want to set for each room. Try cool blues or greens to create a calm, peaceful setting, and warm reds or golden shades to make a large space feel cozier. Light colors can make small rooms feel larger and more open, so try cream or tan if you're feeling claustrophobic.
Before settling on a neutral shade, decide whether you want your carpet to serve as a focal point or fade into the background. Only go neutral if your walls, furnishings orartwork serve as focal points, as this can help you avoid a plain, monotone design.
Dark shades or patterns can hide stains, as can tweed or textured carpet designs. To make patterned rugs work with other patterns in a room, stick to designs within the same color family [source: Schmidt]. For maximum versatility, use carpet tiles to create your own patterns and designs or to add a border around the perimeter of the room.
Always ask for carpet samples of each color you're considering. Try to get the biggest samples available, and take them home to examine them in natural light before you buy. Keep in mind that sun exposure can fade colored carpeting, so choose fade-resistant products if your carpet will be in direct sunlight [source: Carpet and Rug Institute].
Treat Stairs Carefully
It's critical to select the right carpeting for your stairs, since stairs get a lot of wear, plus the carpeting has to be bent over the edges of each step. A cut-pile carpet is a better choice than a looped pile, as the spaces between the loops will tend to open up where the carpet curls over the stairs in an effect called "grinning." Looped carpets can also snag, especially at any seams or transition areas [source: WFCA].
Density is another factor to consider. If the carpet isn't that thick, you may end up seeing the unsightly backing when the carpet is curved over the steps. One test of the density is to stick your fingers deeply into a carpet sample. If you can easily separate the fibers and feel the backing, it's probably not the best choice for your stairs.
The ideal choice, actually, is a woven wool carpet. Woolen carpets are the most durable, and their woven backing helps keep each piece of yarn in place, which is especially important for stairs [source: Becker]. Unfortunately, wool carpets are pricey.
Many people are shocked to learn just how much carpet, padding and adhesives can impact air quality and health. If you've ever been around brand-new carpet or other building materials, you probably remember that distinctive "new" smell. That odor is caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs, such as formaldehyde, cause poor indoor air qualityand can contribute to a host of health problems, including asthma and allergies [source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency]. Protect your family by choosing carpet made from natural products, including wool, jute and other organic materials. Also, look for organic or chemical-free dyes to keep toxic fumes out of your home.
In addition to impacting your health, your choice of carpet can also affect the environment. Reduce your impact with recycled materials, such as carpets made from recycled water bottles. Many manufacturers also use recycled carpeting to produce new rugs, so check the recycled-content percentage before you buy. Keep in mind that nylon and other synthetics are made primarily from fossil fuel byproducts, so choose renewable or recycled products for maximum sustainability [source: Tremblay and Williams].
If you want to go green but feel overwhelmed by your options, consider eco-friendly carpet labeling programs sponsored by independent reviews. The Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label Plus program or the Green Seal certification program can each provide valuable information on how different carpet options will impact the environment and your family's health
Carpeting vs. Area Rugs
It's possible you'd be better served with an area rug and not wall-to-wall carpeting. How do you know? Consider the two. Carpeting's main advantages are that it's soft and warm underfoot, muffles sound and provides cushioning if you fall. It's also affordable. However, carpet holds dust, mites and other allergens, so if members of your household have allergies or asthma, it can be a problem. Carpet can also be difficult to clean, holds odors like pet urine and typically wears out within about 10 years, so you'll need to re-carpet -- and sometimes not just the one room with the really worn carpet, but the entire house, depending on where the carpet runs.
Area rugs are a popular flooring choice because they come in a larger variety of colors and designs, can be switched among rooms and are quite affordable. It’s also easier to make a statement with a fun or colorful area rug than it is with wall-to-wall carpeting, and you can take your rug with you every time you move. The main drawback to an area rug is that it requires you to have reasonably nice flooring underneath it, since some of your floor will almost certainly show. If you’ve got a beautiful hardwood floor, perfect. If you don’t, you’ll at least need a floor that’s in reasonably good shape. The other negatives to area rugs are that they can slip and/or be a tripping hazard if you stumble on an edge. But you can often remedy those issues with a rug pad or double-sided tape.