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Desiging Solutions

Designing Dilemma May 2004

Carpeting 101

Dear Designing Solutions: We are beginning to shop for new wall-to-wall carpet. I know what colors I want to use, but itís confusing figuring out the differences between all the texture and fiber choices out there. Can you help us? Judee

Dear Judee: We consulted with the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) to provide you with this primer on carpet construction. Here's what you need to consider when choosing carpet:

Texture: Texture determines both the surface appearance of your carpet and its resistance to wear and spotting. There are four common textures in carpeting:

  1. Cut and Loop Pile:
    A combination of cut and looped yarns provides variety in the carpet surface. Cut and loop yarns give great sculptural effects including chevrons, swirls and squares.

  2. Multi-level Loop Pile:
    Has two or more different loop heights to create pattern effects and provide good durability with a more casual look.

  3. Level Loop:
    Looped fibers are all the same height for a consistent, uniform look. Gives a casual appearance with great durability.

  4. Cut Pile:
    Looped yarns are cut, leaving individual yarn tufts. Being the most popular carpet construction, the type of fiber, its density and the amount of twist in the yarn determine a cut pileís durability. There are three basic cut piles:

  • Plush or Velvet: A formal, elegant look achieved with a very smooth, fine, uniform surface.

  • Saxony: Less formal-looking than the velvet with twisted yarns so that the yarn ends are visible, but the surface is still smooth and soft. The twist hides footprint patterns.

  • Frieze: Uses extremely twisted yarns that form a curly, textured surface and give off an informal look. The curl minimized footprints and vacuum marks for a very durable surface.

  • Density refers to the amount of yarn (usually measured by the inch) in the carpet and the closeness of the yarns. The denser the carpet, the better the carpet and the higher the cost. Nap height measures how high the yarn stands above the backing of the carpet. The shorter the height, the more crush resistant the carpet.

Fibers: A carpetís basic ingredient. There are six types of carpet fibers:

  1. Olefin:
    Or polypropylene- a strong stain and wear resistant fiber thatís easy to clean and resists moisture and mildew. Suitable for indoor and outdoor installations. Not as resistant to matting and crushing as nylon. Lowest price range.

  2. Polyester:
    Easy to clean and resistant to wear and stains, polyester has a soft feel when used in thick, cut-pile textures. Medium to high price range. Not as hard-wearing as nylon.

  3. Acrylic:
    Moisture and mildew resistant. When solution-dyed (color is added during fiber construction), great for homes with chlorine traffic from swimming pools. Most closely resembles wool, but at a lower cost. Can mat over time.

  4. Nylon:
    Most popular fiber with best stain and wear resistance available. Excellent softness and widest color range of the synthetic fibers. Comes in all price ranges.

  5. Wool:
    The fiber by which all other fibers are judged. Soft, thick, luxurious and with great wear performance, wool fibers can fade from direct sun light. Easy to clean- they are usually the most expensive choice in carpeting.

  6. Wool Blends
    Wool mixed with nylon provides unbeatable softness, strength and performance at a lower price than one hundred percent wool.

Padding: Often overlooked in the shopping process, it is the padding that determines most how luxurious your new carpet will feel once installed in your home. Padding helps muffle the sounds of foot traffic and it acts as a shock absorber- keeping your foot from feeling the hard floor underneath. Most importantly, good padding can extend the life of your carpet. It protects the carpet backing from friction that will wear the backing down over time and padding makes your carpet easier to clean. For all these reasons, consider the padding as important as your carpet choice.

According to the Carpet Cushion Council, there are three basic types of carpet padding: foam, rubber and fiber.

  1. Foam, the most widely used carpet padding, comes as "Prime polyurethane", "Bonded (or Rebond) polyurethane" and "Froth polyurethane".

  2. Rubber padding comes "Waffled" or "Flat".

  3. Fiber padding, made from natural or man-made fibers comes in "Natural" or "Synthetic".

Berber carpets require their own special pad underneath- made from a thin firm cushion. Be sure when installing berber carpet that the padding underneath is compatible and recommended for your carpet choice.

When it comes to choosing the pad, density is the key. Density equals weight divided by thickness and it is measured in pounds per cubic foot. The denser the padding, the higher the quality and the better the carpet will feel and wear, especially in high traffic areas. For our family clients, we recommend an eight pound pad under all carpeted areas.

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