Carpet vs. Hardwood Flooring: The Great Debate, Explained

Compare carpet flooring to hardwood in order to choose the right flooring option for your home.

By Timothy Dale | Published Dec 23, 2021 2:52 PM

carpet vs hardwood

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When it comes time to update the flooring in the living room, dining room, or bedroom, the debate of hardwood floors vs. carpet is bound to come up because there are significant benefits and drawbacks to both types of flooring. Whether your goal is to renovate the home for the purpose of increasing the resale value or you are simply changing the features to match your personal preference, it’s necessary to consider the appearance, feel, maintenance requirements, and cost of carpet vs. hardwood.

Carpet vs. hardwood isn’t easy to decide because the choice is primarily dependent on your personal preferences, but if you take the time to carefully consider the differences between the two flooring options, it should become clear which product factors are more important for your home. Review this comparison of the key product benefits and the shortcomings of each style of flooring to make the best choice for your next renovation project.

The biggest difference between carpet and hardwood flooring is the look and feel underfoot.

Before considering any of the cost, insulation, or safety factors, it’s necessary to note that the main differences between carpet and hardwood are the feeling of each and the appearance of each. Carpet is available in a wide variety of colors and textures, offering a range of options to suit almost any home. While muted tones may be your preference, you can also choose bold, single-color carpet or opt for a product with blended fibers that are better at hiding dirt and dust. Another option is carpet with a pattern or mosaic that can serve as both flooring and a centerpiece of the room. Carpet is also softer and much more comfortable than hardwood, which is why it’s common to see a bedroom with carpet, while hardwood isn’t as prevalent.

Hardwood is solid and feels firm underfoot, but the primary appeal is the appearance. You can choose from many different wood tones, colors, and wood-grain patterns to find the hardwood floor that suits your preferences. Keep in mind that while carpet is more comfortable, hardwood works better with a radiant floor heating system because it conducts the heat better. Carpet insulates the floor, acting as a barrier and slowing the transmission of heat from the heating system. Installing a radiant floor heating system also helps to eliminate the problem of cold hardwood flooring.

Related: 8 Dirty Secrets Your Carpet May Be Keeping from You

Hardwood floors provide better resale value.

If the goal of updating the flooring is to increase the resale value of the home, then the choice is clear. Carpet feels great under your feet and it can act as sound and heat insulation, helping to reduce heat loss in the colder months and prevent the transmission of sound through the floor. However, when it comes to resale value, carpet is not the right choice.

Homes with hardwood floors are typically more popular with prospective home buyers and real estate agents. While installing new carpet won’t hurt the appeal of the home, trying to sell a home with old carpet is a more difficult task. Meanwhile, a new hardwood floor improves the appeal of the home and increases the resale value. In fact, on average you can expect a 70 to 80 percent return on investment after installing a new hardwood floor, despite the higher initial hardwood flooring cost.

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Carpet costs less to install than hardwood.

Hardwood looks great and it’s incredibly easy to clean with a broom and a mop, but it has a higher initial cost than carpet. The cost of hardwood flooring averages between $6 and $12 per square foot, depending on the type of wood, color, wood grain, and quality. This means that you would spend about $864 to $1,728 for the material to put a hardwood floor in a 144-square-foot room. The cost to have a professional install the hardwood ranges from about $3 to $5 per square foot.

The price of carpet and the carpet installation cost are both lower than the costs associated with sourcing and installing hardwood. The average cost of carpet per square foot is $2 to $7, so you would pay about $288 to $1,008 to carpet a 144-square-foot room. Expect to pay between $788 and $2,797 if you are looking to have a professional install the carpet in your home. Just keep in mind that while the initial cost of carpet is lower, the resale value hardwood adds is still higher.

carpet vs hardwood

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Hardwood flooring is more durable and lasts longer than carpeting.

One of the most important factors to consider when deciding between carpet and hardwood is the longevity of the flooring material. Carpet is cheaper to buy and install, but if you don’t want to start seeing the backing through the fibers of the carpet then you will need to replace this type of flooring every 10 to 20 years.

When hardwood flooring is installed correctly, it is a highly durable option that far surpasses carpet in longevity. You will still need to take care of the floor, especially when it comes to cleaning up spills, pet waste, or any other liquid messes, but as long as the home is properly maintained, a hardwood floor can last more than 50 years.

Related: What’s the Difference? Prefinished vs. Unfinished Hardwood Flooring

Though the processes are different, both carpet and hardwood are relatively easy to clean.

Whether you are grabbing the broom to sweep up the accumulated dust, hair, and debris from the week or pulling out the vacuum to suction up the dirt and pet hair from the carpet, both methods of cleaning are relatively easy. The difference between the two occurs when liquids or sticky solids spill on a carpeted floor because these substances seep into the fibers of the carpet, making it incredibly difficult to clean entirely. While the same spill on a hardwood floor will still be messy, it doesn’t seem impossible to clean up quickly with a cloth, towel, or mop.

In order to clean the carpet, you will likely need to put the vacuum away and opt for a carpet cleaning machine that can steam clean the fibers while providing powerful suction and physical manipulation to loosen any stuck-on substances. The best way to keep the carpet looking great is to have it deep cleaned at least once a year. Professional carpet cleaning typically ranges from about $121 to $225.

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Hardwood flooring is considered a better option for people who suffer from allergies.

If allergies are a concern for anyone in your home, then carpet flooring isn’t the best choice. This is due to the complex construction of carpet, which can make it very difficult to completely remove dust, dirt, pet hair, dander, or any other allergens that have gotten trapped in the thousands of tightly woven fibers. While vacuuming regularly can help keep the carpet clean, allergens can still become trapped so deep in the carpet fibers that you need to deep clean the floor to completely remove these substances.

Hardwood flooring is clearly the superior choice for families who are sensitive to pet hair, dust, and other allergens because these substances are very easy to clean up with a broom and a mop. The only drawback is that it’s much easier for allergens, like pet hair, to become airborne again after they have settled on a hardwood floor than if they had dropped onto a carpeted floor. So it’s important to regularly clean the floor to prevent dust, dander, and pet hair from spreading throughout the home.

Related: 7 Ways You May Be Ruining Your Wood Floors

Both carpet and hardwood are susceptible to heat and water damage.

It doesn’t matter which type of flooring you are considering if the basis for the choice is whether the floor can hold up against heat or water damage; both carpet and hardwood are vulnerable to burning, rotting, swelling, and mold growth. The damage is typically much easier to spot on hardwood flooring, but it is usually easier to feel the damage when you step on a carpeted floor without shoes.

In general, carpet is more susceptible to fire and excessive heat than hardwood because the fibers have a lower burning point than wood. This means that carpet would catch on fire long before hardwood would ignite, and minor burns would be more serious with a carpeted floor than a hardwood floor. Water is capable of causing more damage to hardwood than carpet because it can cause the wood to swell, warp, and crack. However, carpet is not necessarily better at handling water because it conceals any damage that has been done to the wooden flooring and structural beams underneath the carpet.

Ideally, the best solution is to simply keep hot objects, as well as water and other liquids, away from both carpet and hardwood to preserve the floor in your home.

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Carpeted floors provide better safety and sound absorption than hardwood.

When it comes to hardwood vs. carpet in bedrooms, the choice may be a little too easy for most people because it’s simply more comfortable to step down onto a soft, warm carpet in the middle of the night than it is to deal with a freezing-cold hardwood floor. Dense carpeting is an excellent insulator that helps keep the room nice and toasty during the winter months, but it also acts as sound insulation, reducing sound transmission through the floor of the room.

Pet owners with carpeted floors and stairs appreciate the silence of their pet’s footsteps instead of listening to the click-clacking of nails on hardwood, and parents can relax a little more knowing that a tumble on a carpeted floor isn’t as dire as a kid falling on solid hardwood. However, it needs to be mentioned that even with the insulating qualities, safety benefits, and soft-to-the-touch comfort, carpeted flooring is still a poor choice for anyone with allergies.

Related: 12 Reasons Hardwood Floors Might Not Be Right for Your Home