BY JENNY GOLDSBERRY
This article is part of a series we’re doing on how much homes used to cost back in the day. Last month, we started from the ground up with a piece on the cost of land. This month, we’re working our way up to the history of flooring.
Anciently, carpets were weaved by looms. The earliest appearance of the loom in history occurred in about 3000 B.C., when it was already known and widely used in Egypt.
The oldest known rugs, in fact, were discovered in 1949 by Russian archaeologist Sergei Rudenko in the Pazyryk Valley of Siberia, high in the Altari mountains. He happened upon the tomb of a Scythian chief prince, thought to be of the Achaemenid Empire, but wholly unknown. This carpet was lucky enough to survive 25 centuries because this tomb had been robbed soon after the burial. On their way out of the tomb, the burglars left the door open, and everything inside the tomb froze and remained preserved. It was clear to see that the Scythian people were horseback riders and hunters because they wove images of griffins, deer, and horseman.
Our northern Utah climate forced Ute and Shoshone tribes to master handweaving. They would hand spin the wool and weave intricate patterns that told a story. Then, this rug would keep their feet from getting too cold in their adobe homes. Many early pioneers would learn from the Shoshone and Utes, because the first few homes built by settlers only had a dirt floor.
As settlers began building houses around the turn of the 20th century, cities across northern Utah inexplicably wrote it into their codes that homes had to have hardwood flooring. It likely slowly weeded out the less sanitary standard of dirt floors. Plus, carpet wasn’t necessarily accessible to everyone then because of its high cost. In addition, there weren’t very many carpet manufacturers at this point. According to an early survey of the industry conducted by a man named Timothy Pitkin in 1834, 20 carpet mills produced about one million square yards.
Eventually, the price of carpet started catching up to the price of hardwood flooring. In fact, many builders in the 60s would put in the hardwood floors, as per the building code, but with basically only the raw material of hardwood. It cost approximately $2.75 per square foot to sand and finish the hardwood floors.
Meanwhile, carpet was sold by the yard for much cheaper. In 1950, it cost $6.26 per square yard of loom carpet. By 1960, it only cost $4.50, and just five years later, it cost only $3.76. That translated to just over 40 cents per square foot of carpet compared to nearly $3 for a sanded, finished hardwood. So, to save money, builders just installed carpet over the unfinished floors, which, in most cases, were 2-inch red oak.
Carpet’s popularity boomed at just the right moment in Utah, because, after the late 60s, the hardwood floor code vanished. Sales increased from about six million square yards in 1951 to nearly 400 million yards in 1968. Families consume about 12 square yards of carpet every year, and 45% of carpet comes from the U.S.
Nowadays, hardwood flooring has gained back its popularity. According to the Multiple Listing Service, 56% of all homes sold that were built prior to 1970 have hardwood, while only 22% of homes built between 1970 and 1999 have hardwood flooring. However, 73% of the newest homes, those built from 2011-2019, have either hardwood or laminate floors.