Wall-to-wall carpeting hit its heyday in the 1950s. The plush and popular floor covering went from an out-of-reach luxury to an affordable flooring option for many American households. Now, carpeting can be a major deterrent for buyers and renters across the nation. So, is it worth remodeling your Chicago condo to achieve a more contemporary yet classic appeal?

From a resale perspective, listings with genuine or faux hardwood floors tend to photograph better and appeal to the masses. Despite our chilly winter weather, wall-to-wall carpet is far from a must-have and often makes homes or apartments appear dated and drab. Plus, fabric flooring holds smells, stains, and bacteria more than wood or tile, which raises cleaning concerns – especially for investment properties with several tenants and/or households with pets.

Renovating your Chicago condo to incorporate hardwoods – or the next best thing – is strongly suggested to upgrade your interior style, curb common allergens and potentially boost your home’s resale value. Many Chicago new construction projects, an arena that generally dictates up-and-coming real estate trends, are completely free of wall-to-wall carpeting. It’s safe to assume that few new builds in the next decade will feature even a trace of carpet, even in the bedrooms. These days, throw rugs allow warmth without constraining the home’s aesthetic.

Some are fortunate enough to have genuine hardwoods underneath their carpet that can easily be refinished. But for the rest of us, researching the many wood flooring options to determine what works best for our budgets, lifestyle and home’s value is a must. Before you call a contractor, consider the top wood flooring options for living spaces and bedrooms.

Hardwood

When it comes to highlighting your home’s charm, nothing beats the classic look of genuine hardwood floors. Solid hardwood planks are single pieces of wood cut into smaller planks and later pieced together (via tongue and grove, for example). From a varnish standpoint, they come either raw or pre-finished. No matter the species, hardwoods are hypoallergenic, provide superior insulation and can last decades when cared for properly. They are most common in older homes and luxury condos in Chicago. 

  • Average cost per square foot to install mid-range hardwood floors: $5-$10 for materials plus $4-$8 for installation.
  • In Chicago, the average spent on wood flooring is $4,688.
  • Costs can vary depending on the type of wood used, uniqueness of floor plan (i.e. working around floor registers), any hazardous material removal in older buildings, location and city sales taxes.
  • Exotic woods like Brazilian walnut are more expensive ($12 to $22 per square foot for both materials and installation).

Genuine hardwood floors are the thickest material of the bunch, which paves the way for future refinishing in case of damage, general wear and tear or a simple style shift. However, installation can be costly with more demanding maintenance over the long run. Although easier to repair, refinish or match for a patch job, authentic hardwood floors expand more easily and are not viable for basements or garden units.

Most importantly, hardwood floors require a ¾ inch plywood sub-floor. Unfortunately, many condo buildings in Chicago have concrete subfloors and first require plywood installation to make genuine hardwoods a reality. This might add an inch or more of height to your floors and create problems with door clearance, not to mention raise the total renovation cost considerably. And, if you have pets or children in your home, you must be proactive about cleaning up spills since genuine hardwood absorbs water stains easily.

Engineered Hardwood

Unlike solid hardwood floors, engineered wood does not require a plywood sub-floor. This means that condo owners can still achieve the same look without the hassle and added expense of installing plywood. Engineered hardwood is comprised of layers – the top surface is a hardwood veneer followed by sheets of wood (sometimes called plies) that are laminated together like plywood. More expensive engineered hardwood options offer thicker surface layers while more affordable ones come thinner. Those less expensive options cannot be refinished down the road.

Another benefit engineered hardwoods hold is their range of installation methods that suit virtually any existing structure. Engineered wood is nailed down to the underlying plywood, stapled, glued or floated. In addition, engineered hardwoods are allowed in garden-level units or basements but are still not recommended for areas prone to moisture or leaks, like bathrooms. Sometimes, engineered hardwood is less expensive, unless you opt for a thicker variety that can be refinished, a higher-grade wood veneer or unique cut (i.e. wide plank).

  • Average cost per square foot to install mid-range engineered hardwoods: $5-$10 for materials plus $3 to $10 for installation.
  • Pricier engineered hardwoods offer seven core layers and a 1/16th-inch surface layer (usually an exotic species) totaling anywhere from $11 to $23 per square foot for both materials and installation.

Despite its many benefits, engineered hardwood is not perfect. Due to a lower profile, engineered hardwoods can only be refinished one to three times, while sold wood can typically be refinished up to five times. Depending on the manufacturer, engineered woodcuts are often lower grade with less attractive graining, excessive knots, and shorter pieces. Plus, floating engineered hardwoods don’t emit the same feel or sound like the real thing, especially if the underlying surface is uneven and causes movement as you walk across the room.

Laminate

Walk into any high-rise apartment building in Chicago and you’re bound to find at least a trace of laminate, typically the least expensive albeit extremely resilient wood-look option on the market. Rental developers gravitate toward laminate because of its affordability, but also due to the fact that it can withstand wear and tear from frequent moves. Warranties on laminate range from 15 to 30 years or longer. The surface resists stains and is free of any existing blemishes found in real wood, plus it can be easily installed over the current floor. Because it’s man-made, laminate can be printed to look like virtually any wood, stone or tile option of your choice, making it an eco-friendlier option for some.

  • Average cost for wood-look laminate floors runs between $.70 and $2.00 per square foot, plus another $2 to $8 for installation.
  • The cost varies depending on the supplier and their ability to mimic real wood, plus the thickness and overall quality of the laminate. The most expensive laminates are usually hickory, acadia, cherry and beech.

Laminate only comes in two sizes, tiles or planks. Plus, it tends to be harder and slippery. Unfortunately, laminate floors cannot be refinished, which means that any damaged pieces must be replaced altogether. Although preferred to carpet, laminate doesn’t always increase appraised property values. However, buyer preferences ultimately dictate the sales price and the general consensus is that laminate is preferred over carpet. Overall, laminate is viewed as an upgrade to carpet, but not necessarily the highest quality option out there.

Luxury Vinyl Plank

Thanks to technological enhancements, luxury vinyl plank is far superior to the original sheet vinyl introduced in the 1930s. In just the last five years, vinyl manufacturers have launched more varieties and styles to match any existing décor.

Right now, the biggest trend falls within Engineered Vinyl Plank (EVP), a thicker (8 mm) variety that offers engineered hardwood’s superior structure and laminate’s ease of installation. But the biggest upside to engineered vinyl plank is the fact that it looks and feels almost like the real thing but is both waterproof, easy to install and far more affordable than both hardwood and engineered hardwood floors.

Old school vinyl floors were glued down directly to the subfloor without cushioning, which did little for underfoot comfort. And, the subfloor had to be smoothed because any imperfections would become apparent once installed. Then came the floating version, which makes for a simpler DIY project, but tends to curl up over time. EVP, on the other hand, locks into place like laminate to stay flush for the long term. Not only do they look and feel genuine, but EVP can also be installed over concrete, plywood, vinyl or tile to help save on removal costs. It also provides more insulation compared to laminate and poses fewer height restrictions. General maintenance and cleaning is also a breeze, and you can either replace a single plank (in case of damage) or the entire floor fairly easily.

  • Average cost per square foot of mid-range luxury vinyl planks runs from $3.75 to $4.75 with an additional $1.75 per square foot for installation.
  • The cost of EVP vs standard vinyl planks varies depending on brand and quality.

On the downside, although resilient, EVP tends to scratch more easily than laminate (but less than engineered hardwood). And, EVP won’t boost the value of your home quite like hardwood will, but again – it depends on the buyer. EVP might actually attract more house hunters who don’t want to worry about hardwood’s upkeep and possible water damage. Popular brands that sell luxury vinyl planks include Coretec Plus, Armstrong and Karndean.

There’s also wood-look tile, which helps incorporate warmth in the bathroom, kitchen or mudroom. However, due to the climate, wood-look tile in the primary living spaces or bedrooms is usually too cold underfoot for most Chicagoans.