Plumbing Terminology 101

If you’ve ever consulted with a plumber or taken a trip to the hardware store for a bit of DIY plumbing you’ve probably encountered numerous confusing terms. This problem becomes even more apparent when you consider that homes can have different types of septic systems, each with their own unique features. The following glossary contains both common an uncommon plumbing terms, alphabetized and broken down into categories for easier searching.

Common Plumbing Terms

Bleed: to release excess air in a pipe by opening a valve at the end.

Brass: generic slang term for any faucet or fixture.

Branch Drain: fixture drain which leads to the main drain pipeline.

Effluent: liquid waste in a septic system.

Fitting: term used to describe any part that connects two sections of pipe.

Flow Rate: how much water flows through a plumbing system; measured in either gallons per minute (GPM) or per hour (GPH).

Gallons per Flush (GPF): measurement of water needed to flush; used to regulate toilets and flush valves; 1.6 GPF is the current legal maximum permitted for new toilets.

Gray Water: water waste from non-toilet fixtures.

KiloPascal (kPa): metric unit of pressure equaling 1/100th of an atmosphere.

Maximum Containment Level (MCL): maximum amount of a contaminant permitted in a water supply by law.

Non-Ferrous: contains no iron.

Potable: water which is safe to consume.

Pressure Head: unit of measure for pressure in a plumbing system describing the vertical force caused by water at a depth of one foot.

Riser: vertical supply pipes which bring water from the branch to a fixture or to a higher floor.

Sediment: debris that settles at the bottom of water tanks.

Soil Pipe: pipe carrying waste from a toilet.

Trap Seal: the water in a trap which serves as a liquid seal.

Trap Weir: the highest point for water before it drains in both P-traps and S-traps.

Water Hammer: a loud banging sound caused when the water supply is suddenly cut off from a fixture, causing hydraulic shock.

Plumbing Components and Fixtures

Aerator: insert screwed onto a faucet nozzle that reduces splashing by mixing air into the flowing water.

Ball Check Valve: valve which employs a ball which can seal against a seat to stop the flow in one direction.

Closet Bend: curved fitting located under the toilet connecting it to the drain.

Closet Flange: ring used to anchor a toilet and connects to the closet bend; sometimes called a floor flange.

Flow Control Valve: device which can reduce costs and improve efficiency by reducing the water flow to a plumbing fixture.

Gasket: flat rubber or fiber ring used to create a watertight seal between metal fixtures.

Interceptor: device which separates oil and grease from drain systems.

Main: the main pipeline in a supply or drain system to which all branches connect.

Manifold: fitting that connects multiple branches to the main, acting as a distribution point.

O-Ring: round rubber washer used to make valve stems watertight.

Scald Guard: valve that maintains the balance between hot and cold water pressure in your shower by shifting back and forth behind the shower handle in response to sudden pressure drops.

Shutoff Valve: valve under toilet or sink to stop water supply for repairs.

Tee: T-shaped fitting used where three pipes intersect.

Trap: a curved portion of plumbing designed to hold enough water to block, or seal, the section of pipe from gasses, odors, and pests.

Valve Seat: the stationary section of a valve.

Vent: sloped or vertical section of drainpipe designed to allow sewer gasses to escape and be replaced by outdoor air so pressure is not lost during the venting.

Water Hammer Arrestor: device which prevents the banging sound known as water hammer by absorbing the hydraulic shock caused from suddenly cutting the water supply to a fixture.

Wye Fitting: drain fitting which connects two sections of pipe at a 45 degree angle.

Plumbing Tools and Materials

ABS: short for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, this black plastic pipe is rigid and commonly found in drains, vents, and waste lines.

Auger: flexible rod with a curved end used to pull clogs from a toilet trap.

Blowbag: tool with a nozzle and rubber bladder attached to a hose and inserted into a clogged drain where it swells to fill the pipe and releases water in bursts to force a path through the obstruction.

CPVC: chlorinated polyvinyl-chloride; black PVC pipe treated to withstand high temperatures; often used in water supply systems.

Dope: plumbing lubricant used on pipe threads.

Polybutylene (PB): bendable tubing used in some supply lines for bathroom fixtures.

Polyethylene (PE): flexible pipes often used in supply lines.

PEX: crossed-linked polyethylene; stronger than normal PE.

Plumber’s Putty: putty with dough-like consistency used to seal the joints between fixture settings and metal pieces.

Plunger: AKA “plumber’s helper”; six inch rubber suction cup with a wooden handle commonly used to unclog drains and toilets.

PVC: rigid white pipe made of polyvinyl-chloride plastic; often used for drains and waste or vent pipes.

Snake: thin, flexible cord of spiral-wound metal that fits down a drain and is rotated to dislodge clogs.

Teflon Tape: fluorocarbon polymer tape with non-stick properties that is wrapped around the threads of a pipe to create a tighter joint seal.

Septic System-Specific Components

Absorption Field: seeping field designed to filter and disperse the liquid waste from a septic tank; also referred to as a leach field.

Leach Line: pipes which carry the liquid waste from the septic tank to an absorption/leach field.

Septic Tank: large underground tank used mainly in rural settings where sewers are not available; temporarily stores waste as bacteria and gravity separates it into solids, liquids, and sludge before the liquids drain into an absorption field.

Posted on Categories Plumbing

Roofing Terminology 101

Whether you are planning a DIY project or working with a professional roofer, the sheer number of terms out there may be daunting. The following list contains both common and uncommon terms, alphabetized and broken into categories to make it easier for you to find a specific term quickly.

Descriptive Terms

Absorption: the ability to absorb moisture or gasses, often used when discussing the rate of or resistance to absorbing.

Adhesion: used to describe how well certain materials, such as asphalt, contact cement, and roofing cement can hold two surfaces together.

Aging: the effects over time on materials; may also be used to describe weathering and erosion.

Alligatoringcracks on surface bitumen that resemble alligator skin and may or may not go through the bitumen layer.

Back Surfacing: granular material found on the back of shingles to help keep them separated during storage or transport.

Blister: bubble in a roof membrane caused by air, water, and/or solvent vapor; also known as blackberries, blueberries, and tar-boils.

Blow-Off: shingle torn from a roof deck by high winds.

Buckle: wrinkle or ripple in a membrane or shingles; may indicate movement within the roof’s assembly.

Cupping: defective, over-exposed, or improperly installed shingles which have warped into a curl or cup.

End Laps: area where a rolled roofing product ends and the next rolled section overlaps.

Exposure: describes any roofing material which remains exposed to the elements.

Fasteners: nails and staples that connect the roof to the deck.

High-Nailing: shingles nailed above the manufacturer’s nail marks.

Ice Dam: re-frozen snow runoff along the eaves which causes water to back-up under the shingles.

Overdriven: Fasteners are driven too forcefully, breaking the material.

Pitch: an important term describing three categories of roof angle which affects what materials and roof types may be used:

  • Flat Roof – pitch is less than 2:12
  • Low Slope – pitch measures between 2:12 and 4:12
  • Steep Slope – pitch measures between 4:12 and 21:12

Telegraphing: uneven surfaces reflected by the overlying shingles.

Underdriven: fasteners not driven flush to the shingle’s surface.

Wind Uplift: changes or drops in air pressure above a roof as wind is deflected by the edges, peaks, or other protrusions; may cause the membrane to pull away from the deck if pressure is introduced under the edges.

Related Organizations

APA: APA – The Engineered Wood Association

ARMA: Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association

ASTM: American Society for Testing and Materials

BOMA: Building Owners and Managers Association

EWTA: Engineered Wood Technology Association

NRCA: National Roofing Contracting Association

Roof Components

Aggregate: various types and conditions of rock, such as crushed stone or marble chips, used for surfacing material or ballast.

Angled Fasteners: roofing nails or staples which are driven into the roof deck at an angle.

Apron Flashing: the flashing located where the top of a sloped roof meets a vertical wall, chimney, or a steeper-sloped roof.

Architectural Shingle: shingle which gives the appearance of shape or dimension.

Ballast: gravel, precast concrete pavers, or other materials used to anchor a single-ply roofing membrane in place.

Base Ply: lowest ply in a roof or membrane system.

Counter-Flashing: metal or siding material installed over a base flashing system.

Cricket: peaked diverter which directs water around large roof projections such as chimneys.

Deck: substrate of wooden boards, planks, or plywood upon which the roofing is built.

Dormer: raise section of roof extending from a larger section of roof plane.

Drip Edge: a lip, usually metal flashing, which helps control dripping water and protect the underlying section of wall.

Eaves: the first three feet of a roof, or the area from the edge of the fascia to the outside wall.

Flange: metal pan which extends around the flashing along vents or chimneys.

Flashing: materials placed around the edges of roof projections to waterproof.

Gable: triangular portion of wall between a sloping roof and eave line.

Joist: beams or timbers stretching horizontally between walls to support ceilings or roofs.

L-Flashing: continuous metal flashing along a horizontal wall and bent at a 90 degree angle.

Membrane: either flexible or semi-flexible material that acts as a waterproofing element.

Ply: layer of ply sheet, felt, or reinforcement.

Rafter: support beams upon which the roof deck rests.

Ridge: the horizontal line at the peak of two roof planes.

Roof Plane: A section of roof with four distinct edges.

Soffit: enclosed underside of the eaves, often including an intake vent.

Substrate: the deck or insulation upon which the roofing materials are placed.

Transition: The intersection of two roof panes of different pitches.

Underlayment: asphalt-based rolled materials that add extra protection when laid under the main roofing layers.

Valley: a V-shaped intersection between two roof planes.

Vent: opening to release heat, vapor, or gasses from the inside of a building.

Weep Hole: small drainage openings in components such as skylight frames.

Roofing Techniques

Accelerated Weathering: Materials are exposed to various weather-like effects to prematurely age or erode them. The materials are then compared to unexposed materials to measure changes in the physical properties of the material.

Back/Blind-Nailing: Fasteners are driven into the back of a roofing component such as a ply so that it is covered by the next sequential ply. This keeps the fastener from becoming exposed to weather.

Brooming: Using a broom, squeegee, or other tool, to smooth out a ply an ensure contact with any underlying adhesive.

Closed-Cut Valley: One set of shingles in the valley where two roof planes meet is cut to match the valley lines, completely covering the other set.

Hand-Sealing: This method ensures the sealing of shingles on steep-pitched roofs, during cold weather installation, or in areas with high wind.

Infrared Thermography: An infrared camera is used to record the temperature of a roof. Deviations in the temperature can indicate moist or wet patches of insulation.

Mopping: Hot bitumen is applied to the substrate or membrane using either a roofer’s hand mop or mechanical applicator.

Open Valley: The metal flashing is left exposed instead of covering the valley with shingles.

Woven Valley: Shingles from the connecting roofs are laid atop one another in an alternating pattern.

Posted on Categories Roofing

The Pros and Cons of Travertine Tile

Macro Image of Travertine Stone
© silverspiralarts / Fotolia

If you appreciate the luxurious and distinctive look of natural stone, travertine should be on your list of options to consider. Travertine is a natural sedimentary stone related to marble and limestone.

Most often used for flooring and paving, this stone also works well for countertops, backsplashes, and shower walls. Although an excellent choice for creating an air of casual elegance, travertine also has some disadvantages in terms of maintenance.

Kitchen, Bathroom, and Living Room Flooring

One of the biggest advantages of using travertine for flooring is the diversity of color schemes and designs it allows. Travertine is available in a rich variety of colors, ranging from ivory and beige to gold and deep reddish-brown. The stone’s subtle color blends and natural veining make it easy to create one-of-a-kind patterns and design exactly the look you want.

You can choose from four different finishes: matte honed, tumbled, brushed, and polished. The most popular choice, the honed finish, is smooth yet still natural looking. The rougher brushed and tumbled finishes provide textural interest. Polished travertine resembles marble and its glossy shine fits perfectly in contemporary decor schemes.

Travertine is difficult to keep shiny, but its natural matte state offers a beauty all its own. The weathered, antiqued look of brushed and tumbled travertine lends a relaxed yet upscale warmth to any decor scheme. These finishes work especially well in rustic designs. Better yet, if the floor is carefully maintained, the stone’s appearance will change little with time.

Because travertine tiles are available in a full range of sizes, you can use large slabs for a clean, seamless look in large spaces, mosaic tiles for colorful designs or anything in between.

Easy to Replace

If one of your travertine tiles becomes damaged or stained, you won’t have much trouble finding a tile of a similar appearance to install as a replacement. With porcelain tiles, finding a tile that fits in is more of a challenge.

The natural holes, pits, and troughs in travertine are susceptible to wear, especially where there’s heavy foot traffic. Even small holes tend to enlarge over time. Regularly filling these holes is part of the standard maintenance travertine floor require. Another downside is that travertine, like other types of limestone, is relatively brittle and therefore liable to chip or crack.

Relatively High Cost

Cost is one drawback of using travertine for a large area of flooring. Like many natural stone tiles, travertine is more expensive than porcelain, which is man-made. Higher-quality travertine requires less filler material (typically concrete) to look attractive, which further raises its value and price.

Installation requirements also add to the cost. Because stone tiles need a firmer subfloor than porcelain tiles, your floor may require some modification before the tile can be laid. The next consideration is the thinset, the adhesive used to attach the tile. Travertine typically requires modified thinset, which is enhanced with latex or polymers and is therefore more expensive.

Counters and Backsplashes

Travertine Kitchen Backsplash Being Installed
© BVDC / Fotolia

Using travertine lets you create striking countertops and backsplashes that fit your exact preferences. Maintenance, however, will take some effort. Travertine is highly porous, so it quickly absorbs any liquids on its surface. Spilling a little juice or wine can cause a permanent stain. Sealant improves the stone’s stain-resistances, but you’ll need to reapply the sealant regularly and even then it’s not a fail-safe solution. The most reliable way to keep the stone stain-free is to wipe up any spills as quickly as possible.

Travertine reacts to acidic substances. This puts it at risk for etching, which shows up as dull white blotches. Even common liquids such as orange juice and vinegar can cause etch marks. These marks are especially difficult to remove from honed and other matte finishes.

Bathroom and Poolside

Travertine Tiled Stand Up Shower
© camrocker / Fotolia

Travertine is softer than many other stones and porcelain, yet it’s also strong and less likely to break. This combination makes travertine comparatively easy to cut, which reduces the labor and time involved in the installation job. It also means travertine tiles can be easily shaped to fit the small or oddly shaped spaces common in and around showers and tubs. This helps you achieve a seamless finish in these areas.

Travertine holds up to dramatic temperature fluctuations without cracking or shifting, making it well suited to use outdoors. Even in hot temperatures, the tiles remain cool, so they’re never unpleasant to walk on. This feature, combined with the exceptionally good traction of unpolished travertine, is why the stone is so popular for poolside use.

Weighting the Pros and Cons

Travertine is ideal if you’re looking for a natural stone that lets you give your creativity free reign. It’s perfect for quickly creating a look of timeworn grandeur, but it works just as well for inspiring a sense of rustic coziness.

On the other hand, it’s not the best choice if you have pets or young children because repeated accidents will quickly take their toll on this stone. If you’re looking for a low-maintenance tile, travertine is best avoided. This stone requires regular care to stay looking its best.

Posted on Categories Interior

Furnace Leaking Water: Troubleshooting and Repair

Tools for Repairing Furnace
© Okea / Fotolia

It might seem more logical for a basement leak to be coming from the water heater or washer, but modern furnaces can also sprout leaks. Thus, finding a puddle of water beneath your furnace may indicate a problem with the furnace or adjacent portion of your HVAC system. By performing some basic checks, you can determine not only the source of the problem, but whether you will need a professional to affect repairs.

Condensate Issues

These are usually serious issues which require a professional to repair in the event of damage. The condensate consists of a pump, pan, drain, and trap. As condensation occurs along the evaporation coils, it runs down into a drip pan into a drain. From there, it will either flow outside directly or through a condensate pump.


The condensate system is prone to blockages if the coils become dirty. As water mixes with the dirt, it drips onto the floor and any other surface below the runoff. This dirty water can clog the system anywhere along the line. Cleaning your coils annually and making sure you have a properly sized air filter installed will not only help prevent clogs, but will also improve the overall efficiency of your system.

Perhaps the most common source of blockage is the drain trap. The bottom of  the trap clogs easily from even a small amount of dirt buildup. Fortunately you can keep the trap clean using a long, flexible cleaning brush to clear any potential blockage. Afterwards, flush the trap out by pouring water down the cleanout cap.

Cracked Drip Pan

The drip pan is one of the most common sources of leaking. This thin, cheap plastic container can be easily cracked from impacts or pressure from the PVC pipe. While the part is readily available, it is generally best to have a professional replace it due to its frailty.

The Condensate Pump

In some cases, the pump may have simply become unplugged, in which case you may quickly remedy the leak. However, the pump may be faulty or damaged. In such a case, you should contact a professional to replace the unit.

External Issues

In many cases, the flooding will be caused by an attached nearby unit. This is especially true in more moderate climates where multiple HVAC devices may be running in the course of a day. These problems are less likely to require a professional to affect repairs, so it is best to check them first.

Air Conditioner

Many modern HVAC units combine the air conditioner and furnace units for greater efficiency. In many cases, they are nearby or in sequence. Sometimes, a recently used air conditioner will overflow its own drip pan and leak onto the furnace, creating the illusion that it is the furnace leaking. This is a very minor issue and easily solved by emptying your air conditioner’s drip pan regularly.


The primary purpose of a dehumidifier is to remove moisture from the air. Older models contain a drip pan which must be emptied regularly, while newer models may be connected to the drain. If your furnace and dehumidifier are close or share a common drain, overflows or clogs related to the dehumidifier may be mistaken for a furnace issue.

Humidifiers have the opposite function, and are used to increase humidity. To accomplish this, the humidifier unit is connected to your home’s water supply. Much like other water-dependent units, humidifiers may develop leaks, clogs, or cracks. As a result, water can drip down onto your furnace or the nearby floor, again making it appear that the furnace is actually leaking.

Plumbing and Appliances

While not a likely factor in an attic-based HVAC system, furnaces located in the basement are sitting amid a literal waterworks. Plumbing leaks can occur along the ceiling pipes, causing water to drip down onto the furnace or the floor nearby. This is especially significant if your furnace is connected to a drain, since the floor will be sloped gently to encourage runoff. As a result, water may appear under your furnace even if the leak isn’t nearby.

Basements which include a laundry facility create two more potential causes for water to appear beneath your furnace. The most common culprit is your washer, which may develop leaks or have a loose drain hose. Depending on its proximity to the furnace and whether your basement has multiple drains, a leaky washer can easily flood the area around your furnace, often without being the obvious source.

Washtubs are another potential source. Unlike a partial bath where there is separate plumbing, a washtub may share a common drain with your washer. Some washers drain directly into the washtub, and debris from an unfiltered hose can clog the sinks drain and cause it to overflow. Likewise leaks in the sink’s drain may cause some flooding which will pool around the nearest drain. If the washtub is close to your furnace, this flooding may occur underneath the latter.

Additional Resources

Hannabery HVAC provides an article with a detailed chart of which damages will require professional repair.

Standard Heating and Air Conditioning provides a diagram illustrating the components of a basic modern HVAC unit.

Posted on Categories HVAC

Shower Floor Options and Ideas For Your Home

Shower Floor and Drain
© RobertNyholm / Fotolia

More than just a place to stand while you’re showering, your shower floor influences the overall look and feel of your bathroom. The material you choose should not only be durable, comfortable, and slip resistant, it should also suit the aesthetic of your bathroom decor. No matter what your needs and preferences, there’s a shower floor that fits.

Synthetic Materials Make Installation Easy

One of the simplest and most affordable shower floor options is a pre-fabricated shower base made of synthetic material. These consist of one solid piece that’s set into place as-is. There are no grout joints that could crack and leak, so they’re easy to maintain.

On the downside, they’re manufactured in a limited range of standard shapes and sizes. That means they can only be used in showers built to common standards and you can’t move the drain if you don’t like where it is.

Cracks and chips can be repaired by a specialist, but if this type of floor develops a leak, it can’t be repaired like a tile floor and will have to be replaced.

The two most common materials used in these floors are:

  • Fiberglass
  • Acrylic

Fiberglass bases are usually the cheapest, so they’re a common sight in bathrooms around the country. They’re not particularly durable and tend to yellow or crack.

Acrylic shower floors don’t look much different from fiberglass models when new. The difference is that acrylic models are protected by an acrylic coating, which makes the floor easier to clean and helps it resist yellowing, cracking, and mildew growth.

These floors retain heat better than fiberglass and stay warm to the touch, so you won’t have to step onto a cold shower floor in the morning. Like fiberglass, they’re relatively light, which makes them easy to install.

Stone and Tile Bring Out Your Creativity

Stone Shower Floor
© Kybele / Fotolia

Available in a wide variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and finishes, stone and tile let you give your creativity free rein. If you prefer a consistent look instead, use the same material for your shower floor as you did for the rest of your bathroom floor.

Your options include:

  • Stone resin
  • Tile
  • Natural stone

Stone Resin

After fiberglass and acrylic, stone resin is the most popular material for shower flooring. Stone resin shower bases are made from a mixture of crushed natural stone and a resin-based adhesive. This mixture is molded, then coated with acrylic or finished with marble, granite or another stone.

Like acrylic, stone resin floors are warm to the touch. While these floors are more durable than acrylic models, they’re also heavier and therefore somewhat more difficult to install.


If you prefer the look of tile, ceramic and porcelain are your two main options. Ceramic costs less and is lighter than porcelain. Porcelain, a type of ceramic, is more durable and dries faster. The only problem is that it doesn’t retain heat well, making it chilly underfoot.

Large tiles require fewer grout joints, which makes it easier to keep the shower clean. Mosaic tiles are a little harder to maintain thanks to the many joints between these tiny tiles, but they give you much greater flexibility in terms of color and design. They’re also easier to install along the slope of the shower pan.

If you settle on tile, you have two options for installation. One is the old-fashion mud bed installation. This involves building a shower pan base by applying mortar with a trowel and then laying the tiles in the mortar. This kind of handcrafted shower floor adds a touch of individuality your bathroom. Alternatively, save time by installing a one-piece shower base that’s pre-sloped, waterproofed, and ready for tile.

Natural Stone

Natural stone always adds a sense of luxury and, like tile, it lets you create a unique look. Almost any natural stone can be used for a shower floor as long as the stone is properly sealed. Good choices include marble, granite, onyx, travertine, and sandstone.

Large, flat stones aren’t your only option. Pebbles, including river stones and glass pebbles, bring a dash of color and variety to your shower. Just be aware that pebble floors involve a lot of grout and, if the surface is uneven, they can be somewhat uncomfortable to stand on.

Cast Iron: a Time-Honored Classic

Cast Iron Shower Floor
© poplasen / Fotolia

A long-time favorite, a cast iron shower floor will lend your bathroom a vintage look, so it’s perfectly suited to rustic or country farmhouse decor. Cast iron costs less than tile and it’s so durable you’ll probably decide to remodel your bathroom before the shower floor wears out.

While it’s easy to maintain, care is needed because the porcelain enamel surface can become scratched or worn if you clean too aggressively. If the surface is damaged, the cast iron underneath can begin to rust. The main drawback of these floors is that they’re cold, which can be a bit of a shock when you first step in.

Wood Offers Versatility and Personality

It’s probably not the first material you’d consider for a shower floor, but wood slats in the shower can subtly upgrade the look of your whole bathroom. Depending on the design and wood you use, a wood floor can create the ambiance of a high-end spa or the coziness of a rustic cabin.

In these designs, wood slats sit atop a standard shower floor, allowing water to trickle down through the slats into the shower pan. This way, you won’t even see the drain. There’s less splashing, so you can forego the shower door to save space or give your bathroom a more open and airy feel. While wood slats aren’t as durable as other shower floor surfaces, they’re easy to repair.

The woods best suited to use in the shower are those from moist, tropical climates. On the pricier end you can choose from teak, ipe, and massaranduba, but cedar, redwood, mahogany are good budget-friendly options.

With so many shower floor options available, it can take some time to narrow your choices down to the one that best meets your requirements in terms of durability, maintenance level, and aesthetics. Instead of heading right to a warehouse store, stop into a few specialty stores first. The sales staff in these stores are well informed on the subtle differences between different flooring materials and can help you make an educated choice.


Apartment Therapy: DIY Bathroom Renovation: How to Build a Custom Tiled Shower Pan

DIY Network: How to Lay a Pebble-Tile Floor

Posted on Categories Flooring

Types of Carpet Fibers Compared

Carpet Material Samples
© luckeyman / Fotolia

There are plenty of reasons to shop for a new carpet. Perhaps you need to replace an older carpet, are redecorating, or simply wish to add some area rugs to a cold floor. No matter the reason, it can be difficult to sift through the many options available. Gaining a basic understanding of the different materials and cuts will help you find the best carpet for your project.

Carpet Materials

Carept Loom
© bernanamoglu / Fotolia

No matter what type of carpet you choose, the material is going to determine how resistant your new carpet will be to damage, its softness, and the final cost. Most carpet materials are synthetic, and all have their individual perks. The comparison table at the end will help illustrate some of the differences.


If you are looking for a cheap alternative to wool, acrylic is the answer. This synthetic material is resistant to infestation, fire, stains, fading, static electricity, and mildew. The primary disadvantage is a lower durability, making it unsuitable for high-traffic areas.


A mix of nylon and olefin, this hybrid carpet material shares many features of both. This also means it shares the disadvantages. The biggest drawback of blended carpets is the uneven resistance to staining, which may leave some fibers more stained than others.


The most popular carpeting material, nylon is also the most durable. It hides dirt, resists bug infestations, comes in vibrant color options, and higher-end brands will last up to 15 years. Unfortunately, you will need to invest in a stain blocker or pre-treated carpet to avoid easy staining, as it can fade or discolor when exposed to urine or other bleaching agents. And the material can melt if exposed to fire.


Olefin is the second most popular type of carpeting. Also known as polypropylene, this plastic carpet material works best in loop carpets and is used primarily in outdoor and commercial settings. It is highly stain resistant and doesn’t fade. Olefin is also easy to clean, durable enough for high-traffic areas, and cheap. Depending on the cut, however olefin may be prone to crushing. Colors choice is limited, and the material melts when exposed to fire.


A cheap alternative to wool and nylon, polyester has several perks. The material is resistant to many stains, luxurious, resistant to abrasion, and easy to clean. However, it does fade with prolonged exposure to sunlight and doesn’t hold up well to heavy foot traffic and furniture.

Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)

Brightly colored and available in numerous textures, PET is an environmentally friendly alternative to nylon. This material is usually made from recycled bottle caps (50 caps per square yard). It boasts a resistance to water, static, mildew, and stains. PET is also allergen friendly and lends to better indoor air quality. However, it attracts dirt, sheds/frays, and can melt. The material is also known to squeak or gleam. While not the softest material choice, it is quite inexpensive.


The most expensive carpet option, wool is a natural carpet fiber which is cherished for its softness and overall durability. It is naturally resistant, hides dirt, and comes in a multitude of colors and styles. Unfortunately, wool is prone to both staining and infestation. It will also fade when exposed to prolonged sunlight. A low resistance to chemicals makes cleaning difficult. However, despite these drawbacks, wool carpets are quite luxurious and will last if properly maintained.

Other Materials

There are several other carpet materials available. The following options are far less common, and usually far less durable, than those previously mentioned.

  • Coir – Made from coconut fibers, coir is a wiry material most often found in doormats.
  • Jute – Boasting only moderate durability, jute is prone to sun and water damage.
  • Linen – Great for humid climates, linen will show traffic patterns over time.
  • Paper – Coated in wax, paper is a strong material which holds up to water better than other plant materials, although it can still be damaged.
  • Sea Grass – Made from various reeds, this cheap material doesn’t hold up well in humid environments.
  • Silk – Soft, luxurious, and easily dyed; silk is often blended with wool due to the high price.
  • Sisal – This plant fiber is almost as strong as wool, but fades easily in sunlight and may stain from even water.
MaterialColor OptionsCostFire ResistanceFraying/SheddingInfestation ResistanceSoftnessStain ResistanceStatic RetentionWater/ Mildew Resistance
NylonNumerousModerateLowDurableHighHighRequires treatmentLowHigh
PolyesterLimitedLowModerateProne to crimp lossMoth-proofHighWater-solubleLowHigh
PETBright, ManyLowLowProneHighLowHighLowHigh

Types of Carpet

Different Types of Carpets
© luckeyman / Fotolia

There are a large variety of carpet types, each with their own unique characteristics. However, the many varieties may be placed into three major categories: cut pile, cut and loop, and loop.

Cut Pile

The most popular type of carpet, looped fibers are cut to create vertical yarn bundles. While variations of this type may be pre-sheared to increase softness, all cut pile carpets are susceptible to crushing.

  • Frieze carpets have short, highly twisted fibers angled at different directions. This rough-appearing design hides vacuum and footprint marks, making it a good choice for high traffic areas. It isn’t as soft as other cut pile carpets.
  • Grass-pile is a style of carpet which uses slit-film olefin. This carpet gets its name due to its resemblance to grass, although it may be purchased in a variety of colors.
  • Saxony lightly twists two fibers together and then heat-set to be straight. They’re prone to showing foot and vacuum marks, and has a moderate durability.
  • Shag carpets are no longer common, and feature longer, less-dense yarn tufts.
  • Textures are the most popular form of cut pile due to its softness. Similar to Saxony carpets, textures use multiple colors to help hide foot marks.
  • Velvet and plush carpets are lightly twisted like Saxony and textures, they are the softest of the cut piles, and more level. Due to their rich colors, these carpets are often used in formal settings. However, their uniform colors mean that plush and velvet carpets show every foot mark.

Loop Pile

Coming in two flavors, loop pile carpets are uncut, making them stronger than cut pile. Yarn is looped into the backing, making this type of carpet very durable.

  • Level loop pile carpets have densely packed loops of uniform height. Short loops are easy to clean and work best in high traffic areas. Longer loops are more luxurious but hold dirt easier.
  • Berber is a special type of level loop carpet which is highly popular. Their thicker yarn hides foot and vacuum marks, as well as providing high durability. Unfortunately, they are more prone to absorbing dirt and being damaged from snags. The material options include nylon, olefin, and wool.
  • Multi-level loop pile carpets are sometimes referred to as “high-low”, due to their use of two to three different loop heights. The varying heights create texture patterns in the carpet. Good for use in high-traffic areas, the smaller loops are more likely to retain dirt than the larger loops.

Cut and Loop Pile

Containing both cut and uncut loops, these hybrid carpets have moderate durability and may be found in solid or multicolor patterns. The blend of textures sometimes creates a sculpture effect, and both dirt and foot marks are more difficult to spot due to the varied levels of loops and tufts.

Additional References

Martha Stewart provides a guide on shopping for carpets or area rugs.

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