measuring and budgeting carpet

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Measuring and Budgeting for Carpet

How much carpet do I need to buy?

Glad you asked because it’s one of the #1 ways people are ripped off when buying carpet.

The people who don’t measure their own rooms give the retailer or installer a dangerous amount of flexibility to rip you off.

They may not even do it intionally, but if you don’t have an idea how much square feet you need, they can just over-measure by 20%. Add that cost to your carpet, pad, and installation and it might be a $1,000 mistake.

Here’s other reasons it’s important to figure out how much carpet you need for yourself:

  • prevents you from getting ripped off
  • helps you create a budget
  • allows you to buy the carpet yourself (online or in-store)
Captain says they’re not all bad guys. Most installers are good people who will give you a 100% fair measurement. Unfortunately, there are always some bad apples who can cost you a bundle. The point is don’t assume your installer is a bad person—give them the benefit of the doubt—but protect yourself at the same time.

I’ll start the article covering why estimating carpet is difficult. Then, we’ll dive in steps on how to figure out exactly how much carpet you need.

Why Estimating Carpet the Right Way is Difficult

Accurately measuring carpet will give you a headache. It’s a two-step process that is much more difficult than you might initially assume. The first step is to measure you how much area needs carpeted (this is the easy part), and the second step is to determine how much carpet you will need to cover this area (this is wear it gets tricky).

The second part is tricky because carpet comes only in 12ft, 13-6ft, or 15ft rolls, and many times only in 12 foot rolls. This means, no matter how wide your room is, you have to order a 12 foot width of carpet (or 13-6 or 15 depending on what’s available). To complicate this further, you can’t just chop up the carpet and lay it any way. The installer has to take into account where seams will be, what way the carpet fibers lie, and what directions patterns are going. Each of these factors affects how much carpet is purchased.

This may be a little confusing, so here are two examples that demonstrate the problem I described above:

A small room size example (the roll size is the problem): Let’s say you are carpeting a bedroom that is 10 feet by 10 feet. You can do the math and determine that the area of this room is 100 square feet (10 *10 = 100). However, we discussed earlier that rolls come in widths of 12 feet, so the width can’t be any smaller than this. You’ll buy 10 feet (the length) of the 12 foot roll. This equals 120 square feet (10 * 12 = 120) or 20% more than the actual area of the room! This extra carpet is either stored to use as backup carpet (if you ever have a damaged spot you want to patch), or the installer can take it away.

A larger room example (seams and carpet patterns are the problem): Now let’s pretend you have another bedroom, but this one is bigger: 16 feet by 20 feet. Let’s say the carpet you choose only comes in 12 feet rolls (even if it came in 15 feet you’d still be short of the 16 foot width). This means that you can get 20 feet of the carpet, but an entire area 4-feet wide along the 20 foot wall won’t be carpeted (16 foot room width – 12 foot carpet roll width = 4 feet). The solution is to purchase more than 20 feet of length and use the extra length to fill in the gap. It may seem like you could do simple math to determine how much extra length to buy to fill in the 4 foot gap; unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Since you will want the carpet in as few cut pieces as possible, and the patterns and carpet to lay the same direction, the installer has to make a diagram to determine the correct amount to purchase—it’s more of an art than a science!

You’re probably thoroughly confused at this point, but don’t worry because it really doesn’t matter. The point of these examples is to show you why it’s impossible to predict exactly how much carpet you will need. The good news is you’re about to learn a method that is easy to follow, and will give you a ball park estimate that’s good enough to create a budget and keep your installer honest.

First things first: how to measure your rooms

This is the easy part. The only equipment needed is a tape measure, calculator, and pen and paper to write down your measurements. Then follow these simple steps:

  1. Start at one end of the room, and use the tape measure to measure to the other side of the room. Write this measurement down.
  2. Next, repeat this measuring the other distance of the room.
  3. Take your two measurements and multiply them. This is the square footage for that room.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 for every room that is going to be carpeted.
  5. Add the square footage for each room together to get the total square footage.

Pretty easy, huh?

Captain’s making it simple. Most likely not all of your rooms are rectangles or squares, and this can make the measuring more difficult. Here’s a trick for odd shaped rooms: just measure from whatever area gives you the longest length. In other words, measure across the widest part of the room.

The 10% Rule

If you didn’t skip the top of the article, you have an appreciation for why estimating the carpet you’ll need is so difficult: seams, pattern matching, roll sizes, etc. The good news for you is you’re not an installer, and you don’t have to be exact. You can use the 10% rule: take whatever carpet total square footage measurement you came up with and multiple it by ‘1.10’. In example, if you determined that all of your rooms total 1,000 square feet, then you’ll estimate that you should purchase approximately 1,100 square feet. Just keep in mind that the true amount of carpet you need will vary from 2% to 20% more than what you measured—10% is just an average for estimation purposes.

What about stairs?

Installing carpet on stairs gets complicated. There are many different sizes and different ways you can carpet them, so I’ll give you a secret to simplify things: don’t measure the stairs. Instead, you measure the rest of the house, but don’t let the store/installer know you did until they give their estimate. Then you check if the installers estimate seems reasonable compared to your estimate. If you feel like the installer cheated you, you’ll want to do business with another store. If you feel the installer was honest with their estimate compared to what you measured, chances are you can also trust their estimate on the stairs.

Captain’s parting words!

Now you won’t be one of the unfortunate homeowners who pay for way more carpet than they need.

If you want a little more assistance in getting an estimate on your project costs, make sure to check out my floor cost calculator. It will let you compare different types and qualities of floors. It’s a simple enter your room measurements and it spits out an answer calculator.

Average Cost To Install Carpet Flooring Price Range: $845 - $1,650
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22 thoughts on “measuring and budgeting carpet”

  1. I have 500 sq (2bd with closets) that need carpet. Lowes came and measured and said I have 498 sq feet. I picked a square pattern carpet. The salesperson said I need 180 sq feet more because it is patterned carpet. Does that sound right?

    1. Carpet Captain

      It’s on the high side but also could be reasonable. Patterns do take more to match, and depending on the length of your roll and the wall length they may need more to hide seams as well. Can’t hurt to get another opinion. I wouldn’t tell them you were concerned about your previous measurement, though, or they might just say less to get the sale.

  2. We special ordered a 15ft carpet as our room is 13.6. We did not want any seams. There was not a lot to choose from but we found what we wanted. We were adamant on not wanting any seams. We came inside after letting the installer do his thing and he was putting a seam in. We told him we ordered 15ft so we would have no seams. He informed us it was a 12ft carpet. I immediately call Home Depot and spoke with the manager. Not only did we not have any seams, we now had 5. They had shorted us carpet and 4 pieces had to be seamed together to make one long strip and then seamed again to the long seam of the room. Home Depot manager admitted they they made a mistake and ordered wrong size. Contract shows 15ft. no seams. My question is, are they responsible for their mistake to make this right?

    1. I’m no lawyer, but yes, they’re responsible. At least in the world of good business. It should be an easy win for you since it’s in your contract. Even if it wasn’t in your contract, you clearly know what you’re talking about (not many people request the roll size of carpet) so I think they’d take your claim seriously. Hope it all gets worked out; bummer for the inconvenience (I’d try to talk them into some type of free upgrade, Home Depot gift card, etc for the somewhat big inconvenience of delayed install–and what if you wouldn’t have caught their error??)

  3. Douglas A Johannes

    Good info! We have a finished basement, I recently removed a brick pedestal for a gas log heater. So my intention is to recarpet that room (16×23) with a remnant. I intend to use inexpensive indoor/outdoor carpet, I have received one estimate which I thought was high ($1,000+) so wanted to learn a bit more about this project before spending my hard earned $$$

    1. Thanks! Sounds like about $3sqft. If that’s for materials only, it’s not super cheap for a remnant but may be reasonable if it’s good quality carpet.

  4. I would likto know a ballpark figure on three fl

    I would like to know a ballpark figure on three flights of stairs to an exterior three family home with 6 x 4 landings

  5. Very informative, thank you. I just need to figure what type of carpet is best choice for stairway and hall, high traffic areas.. Anyone have recommendations for that?

      1. Thank you. Think I’m ready to shop and the recommendation on color is exactly what I had in mind. Now to find reputable trust-worthy dealers.

  6. What if you choose Frieze carpet, will that impact the surplus amount much since it’s reletively easy to piece together (no patterns / seams blend easily?) Thank you for this wealth of information!

    1. Carpet Captain

      good thought, and yes, compared to a patterned carpet it should. that said, installers will still try to hide the seams as much as possible, so it may not make a huge difference.

  7. We are using Home Depot and the guy that casme out to measure said we have to purchase an additional 27% more carpet because of the way it’s cut. I was thinking it would be in the 10 to 15% range so worried we are getting ripped off. Have you heard of having to buy that much more? Do you think we are getting ripped off? We like the carpet at home Depot but wondering now if we should use a different company.

    1. Carpet Captain

      10 to 15% would be reasonable for many jobs. Over 20% starts to raise red flags. There are cases where more is needed, and I don’t personally install carpet so I would initially give the installer the benefit of the doubt. That said, I think it’s very reasonable to ask “why 27% is needed… I heard from a friend that 10-20% is typical” If the installer isn’t specific ideally with diagraming, my red flags go up higher, and I’d consider a second opinion.

  8. I found some beautiful deadstock carpet rolls in 12″ width, and in varying lengths. The price is insanely low. (I have seen it installed in a local hotel, and it is gorgeous.) The 2 bedrooms I need to do are 11.91 inches wide. There’s no issue on the lengths. In fact, each roll will give us a surplus. Unfortunately, the pattern has subtle stripes and the orientation of the stripes goes across the width of the 12 feet. Can an installer work with those rolls? Or is that nuts to try to cut it that close? Will he or she have to patchwork it for that width? Thank you!!

    1. Carpet Captain

      If I’m understanding correctly, it shouldn’t be a problem. They’ll cover the 11.91″ width, and then they’ll roll it out across the room. Should be a good size room for not needing patchwork and not requiring much waste.

    1. Carpet Captain

      It is but an important difference is you don’t need extra/waste padding. Since pad can be cut up and mixed and matched (no uniform cuts from a roll, and no need to hide seams), you just need the exact square footage of your room (maybe get slightly more depending on how confident you are on your measurements).

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