Monday, April 12, 2010

Carpet Basics

Ahhh, carpet. What secrets are you hiding deep within your loops and tufts? Juice, Amoxcillin, cookie crumbs, hair, sand, bits of hardened Playdoh? Who knows what's really in there? When we've had our carpet for years, it's kind of a like an old sweater that hasn't been washed for months. You know, those wool dry-clean only ones that look deceptively clean on the surface but is really not?  Sure, we can vacuum it everyday and have it professionally steam-cleaned, but they rarely last forever. Just like most clothes and shoes, we seldom replace it because it 'wears' out. We do mostly because it 'uglies' out--or loses its fresh, new appearance. Hence the pain of the Stanley Steemer guy.

When I had to change a living room full of carpet, I was met with great resistance from my kids. They did not appreciate the beauty and cleanliness and easy maintenance of the laminate wood floors, and they missed the soft carpet where they could roll around as they pleased. Carpet, compared to hard surface flooring, has a warmer, cozier feel because it absorbs tent times more airborne noise, is better at thermal insulation, and obviously is softer and easier on little bums and feet. 

Buying carpet is the third most expensive purchase the average homeowner will make. It remains to be a popular flooring choice so when we can't do away with carpet, the best solution is to get the best one we can afford. According to the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), there are three C's to consider when selecting carpet--Color, Comfort and Cost. Aside from these though, it is also good to keep in mind other factors such as foot traffic (where the carpet going to be installed and the functions of that space) and ease of maintenance. This will help us select carpets in terms of important properties such as type of fiber, density of the pile, depth of pile, method of construction and cleanability.

When properly selected and installed, some carpets can last for a relatively long period of time. As with most furnishings, it is better to select carpet that will last, rather than have to replace a cheap one over a short period of time. Tons of carpet and carpet padding end up in landfills. In the long run, the most cost-efficient and greener way is to select the most durable carpet we can afford.

Here's a quick guide for selecting carpet. Consider and keep these in mind when you go to the dealers to help you make the best flooring decision.

Fiber--is the most important factor in carpet selection. It determines the cost, characteristics, performance and over-all durability of the carpet. 
   Nylon--was introduced by DuPont in 1938 and accounts for nearly 90% of all carpet sold today. Arguably the best choice value-wise, nylon is ideal for heavy-traffic, easily soiled areas. Some of them are made with patented stain-resistant dye techonologies, where the dye is integrated into the fiber, to provide permanent stain resistance. As with any synthetic fiber, nylon absorbs very little water, therefor stains remain on the surface rather than penetrate the carpet fiber itself. Dirt and soil are trapped between the filaments are can be removed with proper cleaning methods. Nylon is an overall good performer and suitable for any room in the house.
   Olefin--is a less expensive fiber alternative. It is has all the stain and soil resistance and color-fastness of nylon, but differs in that it is fair to poor resistance of pile. In other words, in high foot traffic areas, or those spaces in your home that get 'walked on' a lot, it will lose its cushiness over a faster period of time. It is made of polyester, which is a soft fiber with good soil and wear resistance but has a tendency to crush with wear. Olefin can be installed in a formal living or dining room that does not get a lot of use.
  Wool--holds that standard of quality against which all other fibers are measured. It is the fiber used in most expensive European and Middle-Eastern rugs, new or antique. When price is no object, the best carpet fiber is wool, or a wool blend of 80% wool and 20% nylon. It has rich, ultra-cushy feel, has excellent resilience and durability, but is very expensive. It cleans well, and come in beautiful colors. Though naturally stain resistant, it requires high maintenance and cannot get wet. Wool can be used sparingly as area rugs in low-traffic spots, to accent a room, such as under a coffee table, or by the side of a bed.

Face weight--Aside from fiber, the amount of fiber is also crucial to the durability of a carpet. Ask for face weight, which is the density of fiber used in the carpet. If asked, a sales staff should be able to tell you the face weight of the carpet you are considering. Face weight is divided into four grades, Grade One, being residential/domestic, Grade Two, normal commercial use, Grade Three, high-traffic public areas such as lobbies, and Grade Four, institutional. Using your durability and budget considerations as a guide, you may be able to select one from any of these four types when available. For example, if you have large and long high-traffic hallways you might consider getting a light commercial grade carpet that will last longer.

Materials and Components of Interior Architecture by J. Rosemary Riggs, Prentice Hall, 2003

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