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Hardwood vs. Laminate Wood Flooring: The Basics

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Hardwood vs. Laminate Wood Flooring: The Basics
5 min. read

Image: Breadmaker / Shutterstock.com

Whether you’re renovating your own home or looking to flip a property, you’ll eventually want to consider the flooring. While there are many options available, wooden floors are the most popular choice. But, how do you choose between hardwood and laminate wood flooring? If you’re struggling to make up your mind, it’s good to know the differences between them. Let’s take a look.

Looks

In order to discuss the differences in the appearance of hardwood and laminate flooring, you must first consider the material they’re made from. Laminate wood is a composite made out of pressed wood with the image of hardwood applied on the top in the form of laminate; this results in planks that are one-quarter to one-half inch thick. On the other hand, hardwood flooring is a natural product; made out of real wood, it is cut into planks by the manufacturer with a typical thickness of three-quarters of an inch.

Solid hardwood is instantly recognizable. The fact that it’s made out of 100% wood renders it highly attractive, even when cheaper versions – such as white or red oak – are used. On the other hand, laminate wood is more versatile; you can even find laminate covers that imitate stone or tile. The downside to laminate is that it can sometimes appear cheap and repetitive, even with more exotic wood patterns.

Initial Cost

Perhaps the biggest drawback to having hardwood flooring installed is the cost of both material and installation. Depending on the type of hardwood used, the price per square foot starts at around $5 and can increase dramatically depending on the species. Conversely, the price per square foot for laminate wood usually starts around $3. And, even though different patterns might increase its value, laminate is still typically half the price of hardwood.

Installation is another cost to keep in mind. While most quotes for both laminate and hardwood include the installation, laminate can be significantly cheaper because you can install it yourself. Most planks of laminate have a straightforward, click-together, tongue-and-groove system; while you might need to cut the ends, installation is a relatively easy DIY project.

However, hardwood is best handled by professionals as it is very rarely installed as a floating floor. In some cases, hardwood is sanded flat and varnished on-site for a smoother finish, which is not something most homeowners are eager to attempt. This will also increase the price of installation, as well as the time spent on it. In fact, hardwood flooring is usually left to acclimate in a room for a minimum of three days, as opposed to laminate, which can be installed in one day.

Durability

Given its thickness, hardwood is more durable and, if properly cared for, can last a lifetime. Laminate has a life expectancy of around 10 years, but you can find varieties with a high abrasion class (an AC between 4 and 6), which are sturdier. However, both types of wood are prone to fading due to UV light exposure, as well as scratches from moving furniture and foot traffic.

In general, hardwoods are better suited for families with children, as they have excellent impact resistance; some tropical species can even be dent-proof. On the contrary, dropping heavy items on laminated floors will cause the top surface to chip. Moreover, if sufficient force is applied in the fall, it can even expose the fiberboard base. But, laminate floors typically offer more resistance to dog and cat claws.

Another consideration with both types of flooring is the fact that the wood will shrink as it dries. While this is less noticeable with laminate, it may stand out in time with hardwood. This could leave you with gaps in your hardwood flooring, which could lead to difficulties when cleaning or creaky floorboards, as well as detract from the overall look.

Placement

Between the two options, laminate is definitely the most versatile in terms of use. Its coating of aluminum oxide offers abrasion and scratch resistance, which means you can lay it anywhere from bedrooms and living rooms to offices and restaurants. The coating also causes it to be less susceptible to fading, which makes it an excellent choice for rooms that get a lot of sun.

Hardwood, though, does add a touch of class to a room, and is best used in bedrooms or dining rooms. Although the name does suggest a certain hardiness, hardwood does not fare well with a lot of foot traffic; while any scratches can be mended, doing so might increase the costs.

If you’re considering underfloor heating, laminate wood is the best option as its thickness will allow the heat to easily propagate through the room. Plus, the floating floor installation will make everything easier to set in place. Hardwood can be used with underfloor heating, but you will need to get special grade, engineered timber for this purpose.

It’s worth pointing out that neither hardwood nor laminate fares well when exposed to moisture, which is why they aren’t ideal for kitchens or bathrooms. Laminate wood does have water- and stain-resistant properties, but constant exposure to moisture will cause the top layer to swell and chip.

Maintenance

Once set in place, laminate wood flooring is pretty straightforward, making it easy to maintain. Given the fact that it is most often installed as a floating floor, it can also be relatively easy to remove damaged planks and replace them with spares.

Hardwood is very durable and can be easy to repair with the right tools. Scratches, dents or even fading can be mended by sanding and then refinishing, a process that can be repeated several times.

When cleaning, avoid using wet cloths or mops on either types of flooring as water can get lodged in the wood, making it crack and swell. Use soaps or floor cleaning products recommended by the manufacturer, but avoid using wax, oils or degreasers on laminate wood, as they can damage the resin-based coating.

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