What is the better flooring option for affordable, multi-family housing projects?

I’ve been asked many times, which is better flooring in multi-family housing…carpet or resilient flooring like vinyl or linoleum. Both products continue to make improvements. When balancing a home-like feel with durability and maintenance costs, the decision is challenging. Let’s do our own evaluation…




1.       Numerous design options in colors and patterns.

2.       Does an excellent job of absorbing sound and giving space a warm feeling.

3.       Carpet tile and rolled carpet options.

4.       Carpet tiles have made it easy to replace damaged sections reducing maintenance costs.

5.       Typically, less expensive product per square foot than resilient flooring (but a higher lifecycle cost – see chart below).

6.       Sustainable options made from recycled products are available at a higher cost.


1.       Wear and tear are very visible in high-traffic areas especially with low-quality carpet.

2.       Easily stains and maintenance cleaning can be costly.

3.       Carpet tiles, although replaceable, cost more initially than a rolled carpet. They feel more commercial grade and still have durability concerns.

4.       Fibers hold on to dust, dirt, and bacteria which can aggravate allergies. Some VOC emissions.

5.       You typically must replace the carpet at each tenant turnover.


Resilient Flooring (vinyl, linoleum, etc.)



1.       Can replicate the look and style of various flooring materials like concrete, stone, and wood.

2.       Very easy to clean and maintain.

3.       Wears well and withstands high traffic areas, reducing maintenance costs.

4.       Replacement can be done less often as the product is more durable.

5.       Advances in underlayment and product construction are helping with noise reduction.

6.       Sustainable options made from recycled products.

7.       Variety of options; sizes and patterns – sheet, tile, and luxury plank.

o   Sheet vinyl comes in rolls and is ideal for high-moisture areas since you can heat weld seams. It can be rolled onto the wall base in bathrooms for maximum water protection. In addition, it can be cut/welded to create inlays and patterns that break up large spaces or identify specific areas (can mimic a rug – see example).

o   Tile (12 or 18-inch squares) vinyl can also be used to create inlays and patterns like the above “rug” reference.

o   Luxury plank vinyl comes in strips and simulates hardwood.

1.       Typically feels more commercial, cold, and less homey. Using patterns and inlays can achieve a more residential feel.

2.       Moisture can seep into seams between tiles/planks.

3.       Typically, more expensive per square foot (but a lower lifecycle cost – see chart below).

4.       May release gas and toxins which can have health concerns.


Barbara’s Place, Redmond, OR
This transitional housing project includes sheet linoleum through the entire project due to the extreme turn over in the units. Inlays were created to look like a living room rug and bedroom rug for a more residential feel.

Per our pro and con list, resilient flooring is a little ahead. Many of the pros and cons are based on the look and feel of the product. This is subjective depending on the location and type of housing being designed. So, let’s look at the life-cycle cost of these products. Our friends at TAS Architectural Design Solutions have factored in the cost of the product, installation, and maintenance (cleaning, not replacement) over a 15-year period.

© TAS | Architectural Design Solutions

Still not a clear winner? Let’s look at some examples…

Example: CARPET
Richland Senior Living | Richland, Oregon
This senior housing project uses rolled carpet to help reduce noise in the hallways and provide a softer surface. Carpet is preferred in a senior housing setting to reduce the chance of falling due to slipping or glare from vinyl. Rolled carpet was selected over carpet tiles for a more residential feel and its lower cost, both of which are important to this client.

Blue Springs Crossing | Island City, Oregon
Sheet vinyl that emulates tiles with a stone look is used in this high-traffic kitchen for both aesthetics and durability.

Blue Springs Crossing | Island City, Oregon
We used carpet tiles in combination with resilient flooring in the community building at Blue Springs Crossing apartment, to reduce noise in the large open space. The tiles are commercial grade and low pile so wear patterns and staining were less of an issue and maintenance was easy since they can replace tiles as needed (we ordered extra for onsite repair).

My answer to carpet versus vinyl?

As you can the looks are endless, but the more common and durable option is by far resilient sheet flooring. Typically, we recommend using a sheet vinyl product in our multifamily complexes due to the high use in the units. Our clients see a significant reduction in their maintenance costs. Sheet vinyl is better at mitigating damage – water, spills, mud, etc. – than the tiles or planks. Many times, we find a balance between carpet and vinyl – sheet vinyl in the kitchen, halls, living room, and bathrooms and carpet in the bedrooms to feel warmer. Since it’s a small area maintenance costs remain relatively low as bedrooms have the lowest amount of use.

My advice? Determine what is most important for the future residents and your continued maintenance. Then balance the use of durable products with a residential look by using wood or stone patterns, inlays, or consider carpet in the bedrooms. Have questions about how to make the decision for your project? Ask me!