Pile of research needed in carpet-buying process

Home Work

January 02, 2000|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

YOU WALK ON IT; you sleep on it; your kids play on it; almost everyone has some. It has a limited life span, so you have most likely bought some, but did you know what you were buying? And when you look at different ones, they all look alike -- so how can you tell what you are getting?

What we're talking about is carpet.

There are hundreds of names and grades to choose from, and a myriad of colors and patterns. A big complaint Ron gets from clients who are trying to choose carpet is that they can't get enough information from suppliers to make an informed decision. When Ron and his wife Charlotte went to pick carpet for their addition, they found the same problem.

Charlotte had some very specific ideas of what she wanted, other than just the color. The carpet is going in the new master bedroom, so it needs to be soft and easy on bare feet. She wanted the "trackless" kind, because she doesn't like to see footprints in it, and, of course, she wanted something that will last a long time.

Is there such a thing? Trying to get good information from a carpet salesman can be a chore.

That was not the case, however, with Mike Butz of Carpet Mill Discounters in Cockeysville. Butz gave Ron and Charlotte the best explanation of what to look for when choosing carpet that Ron has heard in 25 years of being in the remodeling business.

Butz said that first, you ask yourself three questions (and he believes this should apply to anything you buy):

1. Does it look good?

2. Does it meet your budget?

3. Will it perform to your expectations?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, you should keep looking. If you can say yes to all of them, however, you're done. If you keep shopping after that, you will only confuse yourself.

Butz also cut through the tangle of trade names and explained that carpet is made from just four yarns: nylon, Olefin, polyester and wool.

Ninety percent of residential carpet is made from nylon, Butz said. Nylon yarn comes in continuous filament or spun filament, which is then dyed. Continuous filament is just what it sounds like, one long string. Spun yarn is made of pieces from 1 to 3 inches long that are spun together. Both filaments look the same when they are new, but the spun yarn will fray, while the continuous will not.

Eighty percent of commercial carpet is made from Olefin. This synthetic yarn is made in a process called solution-dyed fiber. The dye is mixed with the plastic before it is made into yarn. This kind of carpet can be cleaned with bleach and it won't be damaged. It is very stain-resistant, because spills can't penetrate the fiber.

Carpets made of both polyester and wool can be ornate, but wool is often expensive.

Butz also waved away the demon of different prices. Basically, he said, you buy carpet by the pound.

There are two ways to change the weight. You increase or decrease the height of the pile or you increase or decrease the density. Increasing the height will make the carpet feel more plush, but it won't increase the performance. Increasing the density will increase the performance, but not the plushness. Increasing both will increase the price. The best performance would come from a short pile, dense carpet.

Padding is also a concern when buying carpet. There are two basic types. Bonded (or rebond) pads are made from recycled and scrap material, and are less expensive. They have a firmer feel and will usually perform better. Prime urethane or foam padding costs more and feels softer when you walk on it.

Padding is also sold by the pound; the heavier it is the more it costs. You can't compare foam to rebond, though, when comparing cost. Rebond comes in weights from 4 pounds per foot and up; foam has a maximum weight of 3 pounds per foot. The ideal height for padding is 7/16 of an inch; thicker padding can make the carpet wear more quickly, and some manufacturers will void their warranty if the padding is too thick.

Some other things to consider: "Trackless" carpet doesn't mean no tracks at all; it should be called track-resistant. Berbers and commercial carpets won't show tracks, but they don't have the plush feel of cut-pile carpet.

It may not be possible to get everything you want in carpeting. Sometimes you might have to sacrifice one thing for another to end up with what works best for your taste or situation.

All this narrowed down the range of carpet that Ron and Charlotte wanted to look at. They still wanted a plush feel, and they wanted continuous filament to avoid fraying. They wanted a particular shade of blue. With a couple of choices from several manufacturers, they found what they wanted -- and are moving into the room this weekend.

A final word to the wise from Butz: Buy what you want, not what the salesman wants to sell you.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and former president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

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