Hardwood versus Laminate Flooring?

By Lori Howard at simpleFLOORS Austin

Deciding whether to purchase hardwood or laminate flooring for your home can be a confusing decision to make. The truth is that both are great choices that improve the look and the value of your home. So how do you choose and what are the deciding factors? It is very important to understand your flooring options so you can choose which is best for you.

We have put together some information that will help you with this flooring comparison.

Construction of laminate and hardwood flooring

What is a laminate floor?

The first thing to understand is the basic construction of both laminate and hardwood flooring. Laminates are designed to imitate the appearance of real wood flooring. They are constructed on a high density fiberboard base with a surface layer that has an imprinted image of wood. The thickness of the laminate is usually measured in millimeters and simpleFLOORS has laminates ranging from 8.3 mm to 12 mm. Thickness plays a role in the strength and rigidity of the laminate flooring, which in turn affects the feel of the flooring when you walk on it. The thicker the laminate, the more it feels like a wood floor. Our laminates have a topcoat of aluminum oxide which makes them extremely durable and resistant to scratches. In the case of many of our hand-scraped laminate floors, the planks have a registered emboss surface; meaning the texture on the surface of the plank actually follows the wood grain of the printed picture. This creates a more realistic natural wood look that makes it nearly impossible for most people to distinguish between the laminate and hardwood flooring. Single plank design and realistic texturing are features that make laminate floors a beautiful alternative to wood flooring. The Delano II Vintage Hand-scraped Collection by Artisan Floors has the textured look of real hand-scraped hardwood flooring and is a great economical alternative to hardwood.

What is a hardwood floor?

When you examine the construction of hardwood flooring you will find that there are two types to learn about. Hardwood flooring can be found in either solid hardwood or engineered hardwood construction. Solid hardwood is just that, a solid piece of wood that is usually 3/4” thick. All of our solid hardwood is factory finished so it has the benefit of a factory applied 7 layer urethane with aluminum oxide finish that is much harder and more durable than any site finished hardwood floor. The main decision on whether to use solid or engineered hardwood is based on what your subfloor is made of. If you have a concrete subfloor, you will most likely need to purchase engineered hardwood flooring instead of solid hardwood. This is because solid hardwood must be nailed down to a wood subfloor, so it cannot be installed over concrete without first installing a plywood layer over the entire jobsite. Solid hardwoods cannot be glued down to concrete subfloors. Solid hardwood is not designed or “engineered” to handle the temperature and humidity changes that occur naturally in a concrete subfloor. These changes would cause a solid hardwood floor to cup, buckle, gap, and generally behave in ways that you would be very unhappy about. Engineered hardwood, on the other hand, can be glued or floated over many types of subfloors including concrete and plywood subfloors in your home. Engineered hardwood is designed and engineered to handle these subtle temperature and humidity changes whether floated over or glued directly to a concrete subfloor. simpleFLOORS engineered hardwood flooring is built on a cross-laid multi layer wood core that contains a surface layer in the species of wood that you desire. The engineered floors are offered in both smooth and hand-scraped surfaces, in both natural and stained colors, and protected by a 7 layer urethane aluminum oxide finish. Engineered wood flooring is designed to work well with the subtle temperature and humidity changes that occur in concrete slabs. Used with the correct moisture resistant adhesive, like our Complete 3N1 Adhesive for a glue down installation, or a moisture resistant underlayment for a floating installation, engineered hardwood floors are much more dimensionally stable than solid hardwood flooring. Many of the homes built today with hardwood flooring have engineered hardwood floors.

Aesthetics; what does it look and sound like?

In terms of how hardwood and laminates look and feel, there are some real differences to consider. Naturally, solid hardwood and engineered hardwood flooring are both going to look and feel more like the real thing, because they are! There is nothing quite like the color and texture variations that hardwood flooring provide. No two planks look the same because no two pieces of wood are identical. Laminate floors have a variety of plank designs that when blended together during installation, make a very authentic looking floor, but repetition is unavoidable. The uniqueness, depth of character and unique variations are only fully available in hardwood floors. Laminates can be excellent imitators but identical planks and repeated patterns are inevitable.

When installed using glue, nail, or staple down, hardwood also has a nice solid sound when you walk on it. Laminates can have a hollow or clicking sound when walked on them compared to wood floors. The hollow sounds can be reduced by using a good quality underlayment that will provide padding to soften footsteps and absorb some of the sound that laminates conduct. In all honesty, most people have no idea which floors are laminate and which are hardwood when they see them. When an entire room is installed with a good quality laminate, it looks beautiful and unless you really examine it closely, most people will have no idea if it is a laminate or a hardwood. Both laminates and hardwoods are beautiful flooring options and most decisions between the two are based on the existing subflooring and overall budget considerations.

Durability, is it going to keep looking this good?

This is really important to everyone whether they are considering laminate or hardwood. The fact is every floor type can scratch and dent if it is not treated properly. Laminates are often more resistant to scratches and dents than hardwood. If a laminate plank is damaged, the board can be replaced. On the other hand, hardwoods can be touched up with a stain pen made for hiding wood finish problems. Ultimately, both types of flooring can provide years of beauty and enjoyment. While it is easier to replace a board in a laminate floor because of the floating installation, it is easier to touch up a board in a hardwood floor with a stain pen that will hide the imperfections.

Both laminate and hardwood floors need some regular general maintenance such as regular sweeping, wiping up spills when they happen, utilizing area rugs in high traffic areas and spill prone areas and cleaning with a good neutral floor cleaner made for hardwood and laminate flooring like Bona cleaners. Also, protective padding is necessary on furniture chair and table legs to avoid scratching. Keeping your pets nails trimmed and high heel shoes in good repair are all necessary considerations with both laminate and wood flooring. When it comes to durability, there are benefits of both types of flooring. Laminates can be more resilient, but wear and tear tends to add character to your wood floors. If you choose a hand-scraped hardwood floor, the rigors of daily living will just add to the beauty of your flooring. On the other hand, laminates are very resistant to the daily abuse from kids and pets. With the proper maintenance, both laminate and hardwood floors will be a beautiful part of your home for years to come!

So is it going to be a laminate or a hardwood floor?

In the end, most people tend to make their final decision on which flooring to use based on following questions:

1. Installation, subflooring and how am I going to accomplish this if I am installing it myself?

Laminates can be floated and engineered hardwoods can be glued, nailed or floated over most subflooring, solid hardwoods must have a plywood subfloor on which to be installed and cannot be installed directly on a concrete subfloor. Laminates are easier to install with click together floating installation but wood floors are worth the extra effort if you are handy enough to do it yourself. If you are having your floors professionally installed, floating laminate floors are less expensive than engineered or solid hardwood flooring for installation labor.

2. Lifestyle, how much wear and tear will my family put the floor through and what product will look the best?

Both laminate and hardwood floors need regular maintenance and care. Laminates are a bit more resilient and you can replace individual boards easier due to the floating installation. However, professionals can replace damaged boards on hardwood floors and scratches and dents can be touched up to blend into the character of hand-scraped hardwoods.

3. Budget, what can I afford and what is the best product available for me within my budget.

What is this going to cost? Laminates are less expensive, on average from $1.75 and up to $5.00 or more per square foot less than hardwoods, when you factor in the cost of the flooring, installation materials and installation labor. If you want real hardwood floors, then this price difference is not a deterrent and you will find beautiful hardwood floors available for great prices at simpleFLOORS. Often budget is the final deciding factor between laminate and hardwood flooring.

Both laminate and hardwood floors are beautiful, long lasting flooring choices! The flooring specialists at simpleFLOORS are available to fully explain all of the material and installation options with you. Stop in to your local store or call us today to get all of the information you need to make the best decision for your flooring project.