For years, carpet was king in the United States. But in the past 20-plus years hard-surface flooring (wood planks, vinyl, tile, even linoleum) have been more popular picks of HGTV designers and real homeowners.

But because the pandemic reoriented home decorating more toward a focus on comfort, and because fiber advancements make today’s carpets easier to keep clean, there is buzz about wall-to-wall making a comeback.

But unlike most redecorating projects, buying carpet is a major commitment. Because carpeting dramatically affects the look of a room, lasts a long time and can cost thousands of dollars, take time to make good decisions about many issues, including: color, style, pattern, texture, padding and price range.

That is why your most important decision is the company you choose to buy from and install your carpeting. You will need experts who are in-the-know and offer fair prices.

To identify top outfits, use Checkbook’s ratings of local stores and installers. In its evaluations, Checkbook found big company-to-company differences in customer satisfaction. Until June 30, Checkbook is offering free access to its ratings of area carpet outlets to Washington Post readers via this link: https://www.checkbook.org/washingtonpost/carpet.

Checkbook also found what you pay — even for the exact same carpet — depends on how and where you shop. To carpet an 810-square-foot area for one brand and style, Checkbook’s undercover shoppers received price quotes ranging from $1,800 to $6,534. For another, they were quoted prices ranging from $2,880 to $5,670. Checkbook’s ratings of local stores also include how each stacked up for price.

Before you buy, consider the following:

· Where will it go? Will you be eating or entertaining much in carpeted rooms? Do you have pets and/or children? If so, get varieties with soil- and stain-resistant properties, and colors and textures (such as tweeds and irregular textures) that show dirt the least. If an area gets a lot of foot traffic, buy a low-density pile that will wear better than a plush one.

· How much are you willing to spend? Carpet prices vary tremendously — from less than $2 to more than $12 per square foot depending on materials and other factors. Price differences that seem small per square foot become great by the room. For example, 500 square feet of wall-to-wall carpeting at $2 a square foot — a total of $1,000 — seems modest, but at $6 or $8 per square foot — a total of $3,000 or $4,000 — gets intimidating. Charges for cushioning, installation and other labor often pad the basic carpet price.

· What styles and colors do you like? Wall-to-wall carpeting introduces a large area of unbroken color and expands a room’s appearance. Since good-quality carpets and rugs last for years, choose designs, colors and patterns you will not tire of quickly. Shop with fabric or wallpaper samples, paint chips and even couch cushions to help with your selection; and bring home carpet samples or rugs to see how they look with your furniture and lighting.

· How long do you want it to last? Well-constructed carpets last 10 years or more with normal use and care. If you plan to move soon or change the use or furnishings of a room, consider rugs rather than carpeting because rugs are portable and wall-to-wall carpeting is not.

· Which fiber? Nylon is by far the most popular carpet fiber, and it resists abrasion, crushing and mold. Olefin (polypropylene) is popular for indoor-outdoor carpeting and in low-pile carpeting, and resists static, soil and stains. It also resists abrasion and repels moisture (so is a good choice if you have accident-prone pets). But because it crushes or flattens easily, its use is mostly restricted to low-pile carpets. Polyester is often used in deep-pile carpets because of its soft, luxurious feel, polyester tends to be used for dense carpets in low-traffic areas, where the density supports the yarn.

· Check on density. In some carpets, the tufts of yarn are spaced much more densely than in others. Density is determined by the number of tufts per unit of surface area and the thickness of individual tufts. All else being equal, the denser the pile the better the carpet. This is because the individual tufts in dense carpet support each other, so that the carpet is less likely to appear matted and wear occurs only at the top of each tuft rather than along the tuft’s side.

· What pad do you get? Good padding minimizes carpet flattening and wear by absorbing some of the impact of foot traffic. It also creates a softer walking surface, insulates cold floors, absorbs noise, prevents carpet from shifting and makes irregular floors feel more even. As a rule, the heavier the pad the better the performance.

High-traffic areas should have a heavy but relatively thin pad. For a bouncier, more luxurious feel, such as in a bedroom, use a thicker one. But do not confuse thick, soft padding with good padding. Bouncy padding can make a thin carpet feel more luxurious but shorten its life by letting the backing flex too much. Many stores include padding in the price of the carpet. Be sure to check out the quality of what’s offered and, if necessary, find out if you can upgrade.

Because Checkbook gets a lot of complaints from carpet-buying customers, deal carefully with suppliers and installers. Here are tips to getting a cushy landing:

Don’t get floored on price

Comparing carpet prices is not easy. Although carpets from several major manufacturers are sold at most stores, it is often difficult to find exactly the same style and grade on display at any two stores, since thousands of styles are available. Comparing prices becomes even harder because many retailers (especially large ones) change carpets’ style names from the manufacturers’ names, and most big chains (including Home Depot and Lowe’s) have exclusive rights to sell certain carpet styles.

Price comparisons are possible, though, if the manufacturer’s style name or number appears on the carpet label and you can find at least two stores that sell it. So long as you provide the correct style information, many stores will provide per-square-foot price quotes over the phone for carpet manufacturers they regularly carry.

Make a diagram of the spaces to be carpeted.

You cannot get a realistic cost estimate without knowing how much you need to buy. Some stores take advantage of customers by supplying them a lot more carpet than they need. To avoid this, measure your spaces and make a diagram of the area. Indicate positions of doorways and closets and other protrusions. The diagram should also indicate the height and depth of steps.

Show your diagram to salespeople at several stores and have them estimate how much your job requires. While some waste is inevitable, a good store will keep it to a minimum.

Ask stores to bid.

Once you have decided on a specific style of carpet, note the style name or number on the carpet sample tag. Then contact five or six stores and ask for their installed price for that style and your choice of padding. Let salespeople know you are calling several stores, and give them only one chance to bid. Although stores will seldom stock the style you want, many will be able to get it from the factory. If you cannot find stores that sell your style, ask the manufacturer for names of local stores that sell its carpets.

Get bottom-line prices for the entire job.

Price quotes should include the type of padding, whether installation is included, whether take up and removal of old carpet are included, whether installation of new quarter-round molding at the base of the woodwork is included, if you want it (usually an add-on), and whether doors that do not clear the carpet will be cut down (which many stores will not do).

Beware of “free” offers.

The cost of “free” installation is often built into the price of the carpet. You are likely to get a lower price for the carpet itself somewhere else where installation is not free.

Beware of advertisements quoting prices by the room.

The rooms envisioned by those ads are likely to be a lot smaller than yours. There is a good chance that what you consider one room — an L-shaped room, for example — will be considered two rooms by some stores.

Make sure the correct carpet is delivered.

Because some stores have taken advantage of consumers by delivering carpet of a different style and quality than what the customer ordered, be ready to make sure you get what you paid for. You can purchase a labeled sample of the carpet you have ordered, which most stores sell for less than $20, and compare it to the item the store delivers.

Unfortunately, even experts cannot be certain that two pieces of carpet are the same. A store may try to pass off a carpet that looks about the same but will not wear as well as what you ordered.

If the store orders directly from the manufacturer, make sure your purchase contract requires the store to provide a copy of its factory invoice for the carpet, showing your name and the style, color and amount of carpet the factory shipped. If the store provides such an invoice, you can be reasonably confident that it will bring the proper carpet to your home.

Check the carpeting and padding before it is installed.

Look for discolorations, dye spots, streaks, holes or yarn flaws. Also check to see if color or quality is significantly different from the retailer’s sample.

Pay by credit card.

If there is a problem with delays, or you receive incorrect or defective merchandise, paying by credit card gives you the right to withhold payment under the Fair Credit Billing Act and the policies of most credit card companies.

Kevin Brasler is executive editor of Washington Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org, a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. It is supported by consumers and takes no money from the service providers it evaluates. You can access Checkbook’s ratings of local carpet retailers until June 30 at Checkbook.org/washingtonpost/carpet.

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