5 Things to Consider in Choosing Laminate or Hardwood Flooring
** SPOILER ALERT ** Here's the scorecard
1. Overall look and Value to the home: advantage HARDWOOD
2. Cost: advantage LAMINATE
3. Durability: advantage LAMINATE [slight]
4. Maintenance: advantage HARDWOOD
5. Cost & Ease of Installation: advantage LAMINATE
Now here's why.
If you know that you want a wood look to the floor over that of a stone or vinyl tile style, then the question is which to go with, real hardwood, or a laminate flooring. Well, these are the top five things Floors To Your Home thinks people would want to consider to settle this part of the shopping decision.
1. Overall look and Value to the home Laminate
Laminate flooring already provides a very realistic wood look (as well as tile and stone looks), and the technologies improve every year. The surface coatings can be extremely scratch resistant, and the images fade resistant, so the color you install is the color you will have years later, regardless of where you put your couch and where the sun hits the floor. Hardwood can have scratch resistant coatings, but they don’t match those of laminate, and hardwood can darken (or “amber”) over time. If you expect playful children or large pets to dominate a room, laminate is your better friend.
For the genuine “wow factor”, there is no comparison to authentic hardwood. Hardwood flooring absolutely adds value to a home, improving resale values more than laminate flooring. Lacking a “hollow” sound that can come with some laminates that lack sufficient underlayment, it has a special warmth that no other flooring can fully replicate. With hardwood, being natural, made of real, distinct pieces of wood, no one piece can be like another. It’s just more natural looking. You see, with as many as 400 planks in a 1000 square foot area, the photographed images on a laminate floor are bound to repeat. This cannot happen with real hardwood. In fact, with solid hardwood flooring you can make color changes by refinishing the floor. Over its lifetime, hardwood will need to be re-sanded, but this is actually a benefit. By taking out damages that can occur on the surface, we have the potential for a very long lifespan for the floor. Solid hardwoods can last as long as 100 years, where laminates can range from 20-50 years, so the hardwood tends to be a longer lasting floor. Some feel that hardwood looks better with age. Fades and dents can blend into the natural look, where damage to laminate usually means replacing a plank.
ADVANTAGE: HARDWOOD… Still, a well chosen laminate floor can wonderfully enhance a room when it is well chosen and laid properly.
With closeouts and overstock sales that can be easily found online (we have them all the time), amazing deals can be found not just on knock-off brands, but on quality hardwood flooring from manufacturers like Armstrong and Bruce. In addition, there are a variety of engineered hardwood flooring styles that qualify as do it yourself installs, saving the additional cost of a professional installer. Buying beautiful hardwood flooring does not have to break the bank like it used to.
Nevertheless, laminate flooring is quite simply much cheaper than hardwood flooring across the board. It’s just that simple.
ADVANTAGE: LAMINATE…but if cost really is the main factor, make absolutely sure that we don’t really have something in hardwood that could actually fit your budget. We get great sales opportunities all the time.
Laminate flooring can be extremely child and pet friendly because its construction makes it generally stronger at handling dents from dropped objects, and the constantly improving coatings really resist scratches. These finishes also resist staining, as you can see in this clip from our video. If you have pets and rambunctious kids, you really have to factor in the impact they can have on a floor. Toys and paws can damage a hardwood floor because it’s just a natural product. Dents and dings will show, as will fading of the color over time, where everyday household activity is exactly what laminate is made for. Now if you do get a scrape or scratch on a laminate plank, being a floating floor, not one glued or nailed down, it can easily be replaced with a spare plank.
Hardwood can scratch in high traffic areas, especially from your pets’ claws, and absolutely from high heels. There is no suitable wood on this planet Earth to withstand the violence done by a foot so covered. It’s just a fact – some hardwoods can scratch and dent easily. Now that said, there are varieties of densities among the different species, so I'm not saying that all hardwood is like balsa. The range is quite vast, and there are some strong woods out there, as well as good finishing materials. Hardwood may also be more prone to water damage than laminate, but it can be temporary, where water damage to a laminate plank is generally permanent, and usually requires replacement. This is where the difference lies, really. Laminate is more of a pass/fail flooring. The plank is either perfect and undamaged, or it must be replaced. Hardwood can sustain some denting, color difference, even scratching, and still look fine as a hardwood floor. It already has character, so its look can handle a wider range of environmental effects. Also, with solid hardwood, you can re-sand and refinish many blemishes away. No need to replace an entire board.
Laminate flooring is pretty easy to maintain. Basically, you’ll just need to sweep it regularly with a non-abrasive cloth type sweeper and make sure to wipe up any spills as soon as possible. Some laminate products can be water resistant enough to sustain a spill for a couple of hours before you get to it, but neither laminate nor hardwood are fully waterproof. You will not ever need to sand it. You will never need to polish or refinish it. As mentioned above, laminate floors are much better at handling the nails of pets. You will never need to fill in a toenail hole with a laminate floor.
With laminate, not only will you not have to work on the surface, you also essentially can’t work the surface. The real advantage with some hardwood is that you actually can recoat it, refinish it (many times!) to restore its original shine, even repair it, and much of this work is fairly easy to do. None of these can be done with a laminate floor. A dinged up plank, or one finally showing a build up of wear and tear, must be fully replaced, and sometimes a particular color or style of laminate will go out of production, whereas the wood type “Hickory” does not go out of production. It… well, it grows on trees. Laminate’s inability to be worked on in these ways gives hardwood the long term edge in lifespan and value.
ADVANTAGE: HARDWOOD…because you can do more to maintain it. But then again, with laminate you generally don’t have to maintain it in those ways.
5. Cost & Ease of Installation
There are engineered wood floors that can be very do it yourself friendly. With click together styles of installation, many can be installed as floating floors. But many hardwood floors can become pretty involved projects. They require more preparation of your existing subfloor. It will have to be level, and your floor must be protected from moisture. The flooring must be adhered, either by glue or nails, which may require both special tools and special skills. It can be difficult to transition from your hardwood floor to another floor covered in other material like ceramic tile or carpet. Hardwood floors are not recommended for installation below ground level (“below grade”) because moisture levels greatly increase inside a home below the outside ground level.
Laminate flooring can be installed either above or below ground level. It can be installed on top of a greater variety of floors, including other flooring like vinyl, and floors which are less level than those needed for a hardwood installation. Transitioning between floor types can be very easy, and in general, laminate flooring is considered to be very easy to install. Laminate flooring comes in a variety of “angle angle” types of installation, where the planks lock together and snap into place. There is no need to rent special equipment or tools. In many cases, you can install a floor, and by the same evening have the furniture in place, and already be using the room. The ease of installation lowers the cost of installation. Uninstalling a laminate floor is also comparatively easy, and can be done without even damaging the original flooring underneath.
Probably the most important thing to consider will be the way your room will be used. If it’s a heavy use area, then maybe that settles the decision to laminate, though there are some pretty durable hardwoods as well. If durability is not the biggest concern, then, for most shoppers, the main factor in determining which type of flooring to get will be cost, and then if that is not so restrictive, the ultimate look of the floor. Whichever type you wind up choosing, the fact is that the variety of flooring on the market today means that you will be able to achieve the look you want in your home.
Thanks for reading, and I hope this helps you out.
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David is has written and made videos about flooring products and installation since 2011 at Floors To Your Home (.com), where he is also the PPC Manager, a Researcher, a Website & Marketing Strategy Team member, Videographer, Social Strategist, Photographer and all around Resource Jito. In my spare time I shoot and edit video, put together a podcast, explore film history, and mix music (as in ‘play with Beatles multi-tracks’). Connect with W. David Lichty
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