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Glossary of Flooring Terms

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Glossary of Flooring Terms

No matter what type of floor you are having installed in your home, you are likely going to come across some unfamiliar terms during the process. Use this handy glossary of flooring terms to look up any words that are unfamiliar. Knowing how to describe what you want on your floors will help ensure that the project turns out the way you hoped it would.



Backing is the bottom-most layer of a floor. When used with vinyl flooring, it can be made of felt or fiberglass. Carpet backing refers to the underside of carpet. It helps to extend the life of carpet.

Back Layer

The back layer is the bottom layer or base of laminate flooring. It is typically made of a sturdy and moisture-resistant material, such as melamine.


Berber carpet is named for a type of woolen, textured carpet made by Berber tribes in Morocco and other parts of North Africa. The yarns on Berber carpet are in loops that connect directly to the backing. Berber carpet is known for being able to withstand a lot of foot traffic and for being easy to clean.


Carpet Pile

Carpet pile refers to the fibers on the top layer of carpet. Pile can be low, medium or high. A low-pile carpet has fibers that are less than 1/4-inch high. Berber carpet is an example of a low-pile carpet. Medium-pile carpet has fibers that range in height from 1/4 to 1/2-inch. High-pile carpet has fibers that are more than 1/2-inch high. Usually, high-pile carpets feel very soft but can also be more difficult to clean than medium- or low-pile carpets.


Ceramic is a type of clay that is often used to make tile floors. The clay is fired at temperatures usually under 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit, making it relatively moisture- and heat-resistant. Ceramic tile is often glazed to improve its moisture-resistance and for aesthetic reasons.


Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak tree. It is occasionally used on its own as a type of flooring or can be used as an underlayer for hardwood floors. It is also used as a backing for vinyl flooring and is softer than other vinyl flooring backing options.

Cut Pile

Cut pile carpet features fibers that are cut, rather than looped. Cut pile carpet types include plush and shag. They usually feel much softer than loop pile carpets such as Berber.


Decorative Layer

The decorative layer is the layer of laminate flooring that gives the flooring its appearance. The decorative layer can feature a photo image that imitates the look of wood grain or the swirl and textures of marble or ceramic.


Density refers to how close together the fibers of the carpet are. Density is calculated by multiplying the weight of the pile by 36, then dividing that by the height of the pile. The higher the number, the denser the carpet. Higher density means a carpet will be better able to withstand a lot of foot traffic and wear-and-tear.


Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwood is a type of wood flooring made from multiple layers of wood that are pressed together. It is sometimes referred to as cross-ply or multi-ply construction. Compared to solid wood, engineered hardwood has a lower cost and tends to be better able to resist moisture damage.

Expansion Space

Expansion space refers to gaps left when wood or laminate flooring is installed. The space allows the flooring to expand as a result of exposure to humidity without pushing the floorboards out of position.



Felt is a type of material often used as a backing for vinyl floors. It is installed using a permanent adhesive.

Fiberboard Core

Fiberboard core is the middle layer of laminate flooring. It is made from softwood fibers and is designed to provide stability and impact-resistance to the flooring.


Fiberglass is a type of material used as vinyl floor backing. It is a loose-lay backing and is often installed with non-permanent adhesives.


The finish is the coating on the top of a hardwood, laminate, tile or vinyl floor. It is designed to protect the surface of the floor from scuffs and wear. It also provides a decorative touch.


A floating floor has boards or planks attached together but is not secured to the underlayment or subfloor beneath. It is often quicker and easier to install a floating floor than one that is attached.


Frieze (pronounced free-ZAY) is a cut pile type of carpet with a lot of texture. The high-pile fibers of the carpet are twisted multiple times to give it its distinct look and to help it withstand high traffic.

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Grain refers to the visible, vertical patterns on a piece of wood.


Grout is a mortar or paste that holds tiles in place. It is often made of cement, epoxy or urethane.



Hardwood is a type of flooring made from the wood of deciduous trees that have broad leaves. Species of hardwood include cherry, maple, oak and poplar.


Impact Resistance

Impact resistance refers to how well a type of material can withstand the force of items being dropped on it. A floor with a high impact resistance will continue to look good even if things are regularly dropped on it or dragged across it.



Lacquer describes a type of finish used on hardwood flooring. Usually, lacquered wood has a very shiny finish.


Laminate flooring is often designed to imitate the look of wood or tile flooring but is made from synthetic materials. It is available in a wide range of colors, styles and thicknesses.


Linoleum, also called “lino,” is a type of flooring made of linseed oil, ground-up wood and stone. Lino is made from 100% natural components and is fully recyclable. Because of its appearance, it is sometimes confused with vinyl flooring.

Loop Pile

Loop pile carpet has fibers that are not cut but are instead shaped into loops and attached to the backing. Berber is a popular style of loop pile carpet.



Marble is a type of stone sometimes used as a material for flooring. Marble has a distinct appearance and usually features swirls or veins of color. It does tend to be more high-maintenance and more expensive than other flooring options. Imitation marble is available for people looking for the look and elegance of the stone without the cost and upkeep requirements.



Melamine is a type of resin often used in laminate flooring. It can form part of the back layer, where it provides support and reinforcement. It is also often used as part of the wear layer, providing a tough and durable finish to the floor.


Overlap Reducer

Sometimes simply called a reducer, an overlap reducer is meant to provide a transition between different types of flooring, often between flooring of different heights.

Overlap Stair Nose

An overlap stair nose is a piece of molding fitted onto the edge of the top stair. It is meant to help transition from the material used on the stairs to the material used on the floor.

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Parquet is a type of hardwood floor made of small pieces of wood that are arranged into patterns. It was very popular in the U.S. in the 1960s and has since enjoyed a resurgence in popularity.


Plush carpet is a high, cut-pile carpet with a very soft feel. It is one of the most popular types of carpet out there. All of the fibers of a plush carpet are the same height and are arranged very closely together. Sometimes, plush carpet is also called velvet carpet.


Like ceramic, porcelain is made from clay and is often used to create a tile floor. It is harder than ceramic and has better moisture resistance, but is also more brittle and fragile. The material is stain-resistance and very easy to keep clean. It can be slippery, especially if it gets wet.



Refinish means to add a new coat of finish to the top of a hardwood floor. The goal of refinishing is to minimize the appearance of scratches, scuff marks and other signs of damage.


A carpet remnant is often the end of a roll of carpet. Usually, remnants are too small to be used to cover an entire floor. You might buy a remnant to use as a throw rug or to carpet a portion of a room.


Solid Wood

Solid wood is a type of hardwood flooring made from whole pieces of wood from a hardwood species, such as oak, cherry or maple. It is one of the most durable types of flooring, but also tends to be among the most expensive. Compared to engineered or multi-ply hardwood, solid wood tends to be more susceptible to moisture damage.


The subfloor is the structure that provides support to the top layer of flooring, such as hardwood or laminate. Often, a subfloor is laid over the joists and is made of plywood or cement. Older homes sometimes have subfloors made of pine planks.


Substrate is a general term used to describe the materials that are beneath the top layer of flooring. It is sometimes used in place of subfloor or underlayment.



Tile flooring consists of pieces of manufactured material, such as ceramic or porcelain. While ceramic and porcelain are among the two most commonly used types of tile, other options exist, such as marble, quartz and metal. Tile can often be treated to make it moisture, stain and slip-resistant.


Tongue-and-groove refers to the way certain pieces of flooring fit together. Often, laminate boards or hardwood planks have one edge that protrudes. The other edge has an opening or groove cut into it to receive the protrusion or tongue from another piece. Tongue-and-groove allows the pieces of a floor to be joined together while allowing for flexibility and movement.



Underlayment is often a thin layer between the flooring and subflooring. It is meant to add cushioning and to minimize sound transfer.

Flooring Underlayment



A veneer is a very thin material applied on top of another material. A veneer of an expensive wood might be applied on top of a less-expensive wood to make a floor more cost-effective, without sacrificing looks or quality.


Vinyl is a type of flooring made up of synthetic materials, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Often, it consists of multiple layers, which helps to make it more resilient and better able to resist scratches, stains and other marks.

Vinyl Plank

Vinyl plank is a type of vinyl flooring that often imitates wood flooring. The vinyl is cut into planks, or long boards, that fit together.

Vinyl Sheet

Vinyl sheet is sold as large pieces that cover a wide area of floor all at once. Vinyl sheets can be solid colors, patterned or designed to imitate wood, stone or other types of flooring material.

Vinyl Tile

Vinyl tile is cut into tile shapes and is often designed to imitate the look of a tile floor, without the high price tag or more-involved maintenance.



A waterproof floor is one with very good moisture resistance. In some cases, flooring can be treated or sealed to make it waterproof.

Wear Layer

The wear layer is the top layer of a laminate floor. It is a clear finish designed to protect the floor from marks and stains. It can also make the floor waterproof and can the design on the decorative layer from fading.

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