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Magical carpet facts

Before you lay everything on the line, step lightly. These tips can help you make the right choice.Scripps Howard News Service

To get the best carpet for your money, you will need to take some time to define your requirements and your budget. Here are some questions you should be able to answer before you step into a carpet showroom:

Q: How much carpet do you need?

A: Carefully measure your room(s), including closets, hallways and offsets, with a steel tape measure, and take these measurements with you when you shop. To get a rough idea of the square yardage you will need, you can also make these calculations: Multiply the width of the room by its length to get the number of square feet, then divide the number of square feet by nine to get the number of square yards. Remember, though, that there is almost always unavoidable waste in the installation of carpet, and the actual square yardage required will be somewhat greater than the room's dimensions.

Q: What are the traffic patterns and usage of the room you are carpeting? Is it used primarily for play, entertaining or sleep? Are food and beverages brought into the room? How many children use the room and how often? Do you have pets? Is there an outside entrance? How important is elegance relative to easy maintenance and cleanup?

A: Answering these questions can help you identify the high-traffic, heavy-wear floors in your home _ the stairs, halls, family rooms and other areas that require the most durable, high-quality carpet fibers and construction. Entrance and eating areas also call for carpet with good soil and stain resistance. Choosing a lightweight, medium-grade carpet for rooms that get less use, such as your bedroom, can allow you to devote more of your budget to the heavy traffic floors. So would selecting a less wear-resistant carpet adequate for areas that require little use, such as a guest room.

Q: Will the carpet need to coordinate with upholstery fabrics, draperies or other furnishings?

A: If so, bring fabric and/or paint samples with you when you shop so there is no question of color match. Place carpet samples on the floor to judge color, and compare color under both natural and artificial light. Take carpet samples home with you before making your final choice so that you can view the colors in their final settings.

Q: How much can you afford to spend?

A: Carpet may cost anywhere from $5 to $100 or more per square yard. Keep in mind that, as with any long-term investment, the true cost of carpet is a reflection of its length of satisfactory service; a carpet that lasts 10 years can be a better buy than a less expensive carpet that lasts only two or three years. When deciding on a budget, remember to add in the costs of padding and installation, as well as any finance charges if you are planning to buy on time.

Q: What are your future plans?

Are you settling into a home or are you likely to be transferred soon? High-quality wall-to-wall carpet can be a good investment if you stay to enjoy it. However, if you are living in an apartment or plan to move in a year or two, economy-grade carpet or room-size or area rugs might be a better buy.

Carpet is an integral part of your room's decorating scheme. When choosing color, keep these added tips in mind:

Dark colors can make a large room seem more intimate; so can large patterns or sculptured carpets.

Light colors can expand a small room; so can carpet that is the same shade as or a lighter shade than the walls.

Dark colors hide dark soil but show light-colored soil, lint and dust.

Light colors conceal lint and dust, but show darker soil.

Patterned designs are better than solid colors for disguising spots and stains.