Flooring Glossary

Useful terms that speed up understanding.


Aluminum OxideChemical agent commonly used as a protective layer on many types of flooring.
CulmThe stem portion of bamboo that is visible above ground.
Direct Print BambooBamboo flooring with an image printed on it so homeowners can enjoy the characteristics of bamboo with the design of natural stone or hardwood.
Engineered BambooA floor comprised of a bamboo top layer adhered to layers of plywood for extra stability and moisture resistance.
Glueless BambooFloor that locks bamboo planks together as opposed to gluing them to a subfloor. Glueless bamboo is recommended for DIY installation projects.
GrainAlignment of grass fibers that can be horizontal, vertical or woven.
Horizontal BambooDescribes the direction of the bamboo grain.
PlankAny piece of hardwood, laminate or bamboo that is over 4” or more in thickness.
Solid BambooType of bamboo that is comprised solely of bamboo.
SustainabilityAllowing a material to be used no more than it can be renewed. Bamboo is a highly sustainable product because a bamboo plant matures every three months.
Vertical BambooDirection of bamboo grain that goes up and down, rather than side to side.


BarkPortion of the oak tree that makes up cork flooring.
Cork Oak TreeType of tree cork flooring is derived from.
HoneycombStructure that has the appearance of a honeycomb. Cork has a honeycomb structure with tiny bubbles filled with air. This gives it a cushiony feeling underfoot.
HyperallergenicMaterials that are hypoallergenic don’t harbor pet dander or dust and are less likely to cause allergic reactions, if any.
MasticGlue or adhesive used to adhere cork to a subfloor.
Neutral CleanerA non-acidic cleaner recommended for most types of flooring including cork.
Resilient FlooringFlooring that is resistant to normal wear and tear from everyday traffic. Cork flooring is extremely resistant.
Sound AbsorptionThe ability of a floor to diminish noise transmission. Cork is comprised of porous molecules that allow it to be incredibly sound absorbent.
StabilityCharacteristic of flooring that allows it to have no reaction to adverse external forces. Cork is considered highly stable.
SuberinThe waxy substance present in cork that allows it to be water resistant, fire retardant and incredibly durable.
SubfloorThe surface a cork floor is adhered to. Subfloors are often concrete or wood.
Thermal InsulationProcess where a flooring material (cork) can absorb heat making a warmer, more comfortable floor underfoot.


AccentA small section of glass tile commonly used to decorate an area rather than provide flooring function.
BacksplashWall covering behind countertops and sinks typically covered in tile.
EpoxyA hardening resin used as an adhesive in many flooring applications.
GlazeCeramic coating applied to many flooring tiles to add sheen, protection and sometimes to change the tile color.
GroutCement-based mix used to seal in joint gaps in tiles.
JointSpace between glass tiles filled with grout.
MortarMixture of cement and aggregate used to adhere tiles to the subfloor or underlayment.
MosaicSmall tiles pieces together to make a design, pattern or picture.
NippersSmall, handheld tool used to cut tiles.
RecycledGlass tiles that are made from post-consumer materials.
SealerTop coating applied to tiles to smooth and protect them from wear and tear.
ScoringPlacing an indentation in a glass tile to easily break it at a specific spot.
Slip-ResistantGlass tiles that have been treated to have a rougher texture that is less likely to cause slipping underfoot.
Square FootUnit of measurement used for flooring tiles.
Tile SpacersPlastic or metal pieces used between tiles to leave space for grout.
UnderlaymentMaterial installed between new flooring material and the subfloor to further protect against water damage and humidity.
Wet SawTool used for larger tile cutting projects that uses a strong stream of water.


Above GradeA floor above ground level.
Acrylic UrethaneClear finish used for hardwood. Used for mild odor and fast drying time.
AdhesiveGlue used for tongue and groove hardwood planks.
Aluminum OxideA chemical added to urethane to seal hardwood floors. Increases strength against wear and tear.
Baseboardmolding at base of floor to cover the transition between the wall and the floor.
Below GradeA floor below ground level. Often subject to increased humidity and temperature change.
BuckleThe warping of hardwood as a result of excessive moisture.
Butt JointA type of hardwood joint that forces two planks together. Not considered the strongest joint available.
Click-LockHardwood planks that are snapped together permanently.
CrowningWarping where the middle of the floor is higher than the sides.
CuppingWarping where the sides of the floor are higher than the middle.
DistressedAn antiquing technique where the floor is intentionally scratched and scrapped to give it a rustic appearance.
EngineeredA more stable form of hardwood that takes a thin layer of hardwood and adheres it to plywood or fiberboard.
Expansion GapThe space left at the perimeter of a hardwood floor to compensate for expansion due to humidity.
FinishWax or urethane coating used to complete and protect a hardwood floor.
Floating FloorA hardwood floor installed above the subfloor as opposed to directly on.
Glue DownA wood floor installation where hardwood planks are adhered directly to the subfloor.
GrainNatural variations in pattern based on the type of wood cut.
KnotCross section of a tree where a branch meets the trunk. Knots leave a small, dark spot on the wood.
LaminateType of flooring made to mimic hardwood flooring by imprinting an image of hardwood on fiberboard or a different material.
Moisture Cured UrethaneA hardwood finish that requires moisture to finish and seal the planks.
MoldingUsed to cover expansion joints and improve the appearance of the entire hardwood floor.
Nail DownA hardwood installation that nails hardwood planks directly to the floor.
On GradeA floor on ground level.
PlankSize of the boards used in a hardwood flooring installation. Wider pieces are called planks.
PolyurethaneSealing protectant applied to hardwood flooring to prevent wear and tear.
Pre-finishedHardwood floors pre-sanded and sealed by the manufacturer. Pre-finished floors often have a stronger protectant.
RefinishThe process of sanding and finishing a floor that has already been installed. Refinishing reduces the look of damage.
Solvent-Based UrethaneOil-based finish for hardwood floors
Stapled DownAn installation method where hardwood planks are stapled directly to the subfloor.
SubfloorThe surface below hardwood flooring.
Tongue and GrooveA type of hardwood flooring construction where the planks are fit together with tongue and groove locking that provides stability.
TransitionsMoldings that blend hardwood floors into other types of floors.
UnderlaymentSheets of protection installed between the subfloor and hardwood planks that act as a moisture barrier and sound absorber.
Un-finishedHardwood flooring that is finished after installation.
UrethaneA chemical used to seal floors and provide a protective layer.


AdhesiveThe glue that bonds laminate to the subfloor or underlayment.
BaseboardMakes the transition between wall and floor.
ExpansionThe process of a laminate floor growing due to moisture or humidity.
FiberboardThe core of a laminate floor that provides stability and durability.
Floating FloorThe process of installing a laminate floor above the subfloor, instead of adhering it directly to the subfloor.
LaminateA durable 4-layer flooring material that is made up of a stabilizing under-layer, a fiberboard core and a stylish top layer. The top later is a protective wear layer.
Laminate Image LayerThe layer underneath the protective wear layer. The image can give laminate flooring the look of natural stone or hardwood.
MoldingA flooring add-on that transitions one room’s flooring to another. (Ex. carpet to laminate)
SpacersPlastic pieces placed on the outer layer of a laminate flooring installation that provides space between the floor and the wall to allow for expansion.
SubfloorThe first, under-layer of a floor. Subfloors are typically older flooring materials or concrete.
T-Moldinga flooring add-on that transitions two different types of flooring.
Tongue and GrooveThe edge of specific laminate flooring types that allow the planks to easily and securely fit together during installation.
UnderlaymentCushioned flooring materials that provide sound absorption and more comfort underfoot. Underlayments are typically used in floating floor installations.
Volatile Organic Compounds(VOCs) Gases that are emitted by certain flooring levels that may cause allergic reactions in some.

Tile & Stone

AbrasionWearing away the finish layer of a floor to give it a rustic/worn appearance.
Acid-Washed FinishAntique finish for natural stone that washes tiles in hard acid to remove the crystalline structure. This finish is known for hiding scratches.
AdhesiveGlue that holds flooring material to the underlayment or subfloor.
AggregateAdding cement to a material to make it more durable and stable.
Anti-microbialMaterial that does not harbor microbes and resists bacteria growth.
AntiquingSpecific techniques applied to flooring materials in order to make them appear worn.
BacksplashArea of wall behind sinks and counters.
BaseboardBoard placed along the transition between wall and floor.
Border TilesTiles used at the perimeter of the room, usually with a pattern.
Buffed FinishTile finish that leaves a smooth and matte look.
Calcium CarbonatePrimary component naturally found in limestone.
CeramicMade of clay and other materials fired at extremely high temperatures. Ceramic is often confused with porcelain because they are made of the same materials.
ClassesPorcelain tiles are rated in classes from 1-5 depending on their strength and what applications they are suited for (outdoor, heavy foot etc)
ClayA mineral aggregate that is fired at extremely high temperatures to form ceramic.
Colored GroutSubstance forced between tiles during installation to fill in gaps between each tile. Colored tile provides a decorative finish.
CompositeThe makeup of specific natural stone (volcanic ash, clay, mud, etc).
Crystalline GlazeHeavy glaze used on countertop and floor surfaces where extra protection from wear is needed.
Density (Tile)How “heavy” a ceramic tile is. The denser the tile the stronger it is.
Direct Glue DownProcess of gluing flooring material directly to the subfloor. Many tile projects are installed this way.
End JointWhere two tiles meet end to end. Joint gaps are typically filled with grout.
Epoxy GroutEpoxy resin and hardener combined to fill joints between tiles for extra protection.
ExtrusionProcess of forcing ceramic through a die-cut to give it a specific shape.
FinishCoating applied to tiles to protect them and give them a polished appearance.
FiringThe process of placing tiles in an extremely hot kiln oven in order to finish them.
Flamed FinishBlowtorching stone to force the crystals inside to explode. The result is a rough texture used for non-slip surfaces.
Furniture ProtectorsSoft pads placed on the feet of furniture to prevent scratching and denting. It is important to use furniture protectors on ceramic tiles.
GlazedLiquid glass finish applied over tile to protect it from stains and moisture and in some cases to change the color.
GraniteIgneous rock that is hard, dense and perfect for flooring applications that see heavy traffic.
GroutMixture of mortar or cement with water that is forced between the gap joints during tile installation.
Honed FinishA matte finish used for many natural stone types including slate and limestone.
HypoallergenicFlooring that reduces allergic reactions.
Joint FillerMaterial forced between tile joints to prevent debris from getting trapped.
Igneous RockNatural stone formed from molten rock. Ex. Granite
LimestoneSedimentary rock made of calcite and sediment. Marble is derived from limestone.
MalletRubber tool used to firmly tap tiles into place after installation.
MarbleA derivative of limestone that is polished and known for its sheen. Marble is typically used in bathrooms and entryways.
MasticGlue or adhesive used in many flooring projects.
Metamorphic RockA rock created from other types of rocks through heat and pressure. Marble is a metamorphic rock derived from limestone.
MortarSpecific adhesive used to adhere ceramic to a subfloor.
MosaicSmall tiles pieced together in order to form patterns or designs.
OnyxForm of marble that is dense with a lime carbonate composite typically found in cold water.
Polished FinishA natural stone finish that leaves tiles shiny and mirror-like.
Porcelain Enamel InstituteA rating system for porcelain tiles and other stone tiles to determine strength and durability.
PorosityHow many holes a piece of stone has. The more holes increases porosity and porosity increases vulnerability to water damage.
PoulticeA cleaning paste made of hydrogen peroxide and flour used to remove tile stains.
QuarryLocations where massive quantities of natural stone are extracted.
QuartzOne of the main composites of sandstone; a silicon dioxide mineral.
RawTiles that have been untreated and left in their natural state.
SaltilloTerra cotta tiles typically made in Mexico.
SandstoneSedimentary rock made of calcium carbonate and quartz.
Saw-Cut FinishA moderate polishing of stones to give them an uneven, rustic appearance.
SlateMetamorphic stone extracted in sheets.
SpacersPieces of wood or plastic placed between tiles during installation to make gaps filled in with grout.
SpeleothemCave formation where minerals and clay collect and form many types of natural stone including travertine.
Split-FacedA rough texture finish achieved through hand chiseling.
Structural PlacementLocation or floor on which flooring materials are being installed. Below grade refers to the basement level, on grade is the first floor and above ground refers to anything above the first level.
SubstrateAlso known as a subfloor, the substrate is the layer underneath a new floor. Substrates are typically wood or concrete.
TerrazzoA composite of natural stone and cement that is ground down and polished.
Tile CutterSpecific tool used to cut tiles. Commonly used to fit tiles along the perimeter of a room, or along a wall.
Thinset MortarA type of adhesive commonly used in natural stone installations where the tile is adhered directly to the subfloor.
TravertineAnother derivative of limestone that can be filled and honed easily.
TrowelSpace tool used during tile installation to spread mortar along the subfloor.
TumbledFinishing technique where tiles are tossed with mild abrasives to give it a natural-looking, matte finish.
UnglazedTiles that have only one color and have not had a glaze applied to them.
VitrificationProcess of heating ceramic to make it less porous and susceptible to water damage.
Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)Chemical compound found in some flooring materials including wood. VOCs can be toxic.
Wall TilesTiles that are not fit for floor installation but are commonly used as backsplashes or decoration.
Wet SawTool used to cut ceramic that uses a strong stream of water.


Anti-fungalMaterial that prohibits the growth of fungi and mold.
Anti-microbialMaterial that prohibits the growth of microbes and fungi.
CoinStyle of rubber flooring that creates round ridges for a non-slip surface.
Non-toxicMaterial that is not made from and does not emit harmful chemicals or other substances.
Post ConsumerRubber flooring that is made from recycled materials.
RaisedA “bumpy” rubber finish that provides a non-slip surface.
RibbedRidged rubber flooring that provides a non-slip surface.
SealerFinishing layer applied to rubber flooring to protect it from wear and tear.
SyntheticMade from processes not occurring naturally.
Volatile Organic Compounds(VOCs) Emitted from certain chemicals and gases that may cause allergic irritation in certain people.

Steel & Metal

Abrasive CleanersHarsh cleaners that should not be used on metal tiles to avoid scratching.
Accent TileTile used on walls and floors for decoration rather than to provide flooring function.
Anti-SlipRough textured tiles that prevent slipping.
Epoxy GroutPolymer-based filler placed between tiles to prevent water seepage.
Micro TileSmaller-sized tiles glued together on a backing to create a design or pattern.
MortarCement-based adhesive used to adhere tiles to a subfloor or underlayment material.
RustCombination of water and oxygen on a metal tile can cause the iron to oxidize and show a stained, reddish color.
Stainless SteelRust and corrosion resistant material commonly used as a flooring tile.
TarnishLayer of corrosion that forms over many types of metal.
Wall TileMetal tiles installed on walls (typically backsplashes and countertops) instead of as flooring tiles.


AdhesiveSubstance that bonds a floor to the subfloor or underlayment.
AsbestosA mineral fiber present in many forms of vinyl flooring installed BEFORE 1970.
End JointWhere two tiles are joined together.
Floating FloorMethod of installation where the boards are placed together at the end joints and not adhered directly to the subfloor.
Luxury Vinyl TileFlexible plank with printed designs and a durable urethane protective layer.
Particle BoardA board made of bits of compressed wood often uses when installing faux-wood planks.
PlankBoards with a width of 3” or greater.
RollerTool used to press newly installed vinyl sheets into place and to remove any air pockets.
Seam SealerLiquid that fills the gaps between vinyl sheets.
Self-StickA type of vinyl tile that has an adhesive backing already included.
SubfloorLayer beneath a floor covering.
UnderlaymentLayer installed between the subfloor and a vinyl floor for increased stability.
UrethaneProtective finish applied to many laminate floors.
Vinyl SheetsMost commonly found with a faux-wood finish because this product closely resembles hardwood planks.
Vinyl TilesTile shaped vinyl material available in a variety of colors and patterns.