If your remodeling project or new construction calls for the look and feel of traditional hardwoods, then your two main flooring options will be hardwood or laminate floors. Let’s explore the Pros and Cons of hardwood vs laminate wood flooring.
Laminate floors are made of several layers of durable materials. The bottom layer is called the stabilizing layer which is designed to resist moisture. This layer is then topped with synthetic fiber boards for strength. A photographic layer goes above the fiber boards, creating the design. Everything is then topped with a clear finish of melamine resin.
Hardwood floors are harvested from trees, formed into planks, and then sanded down to become smooth. They are also available in a variety of cuts and sizes and come from countless wood species. This flooring option is known for its organic grains and natural tones that can range from a pale beige to a deep bronze. hardwood flooring is constructed with 100% hardwood and each plank is a single solid piece.
Engineered hardwood floors are made up of layers. The top layer is 100% natural wood, which comes in a variety of species. The bottom layer is also wood. In the middle is a core built from 5 to 7 layers of plywood that crisscross in different directions. Engineered construction creates a highly stable core that is less likely to expand, contract or shift when exposed to moisture, humidity and temperature. This makes engineered wood flooring a great option in rooms that are subject to moisture (like basements) or over concrete slab and radiant heating systems.
Hardwood vs Laminate - Pros and Cons
When it comes to looks, which material takes home the crown?
- Laminate: PROS – These floors are looking better than ever as synthetic materials continue to improve in quality. As a result, modern laminate floors look even closer to hardwoods compared to their past versions. There are also countless imitation possibilities since the photographic layer can replicate other materials like stone, fabric, bamboo, and cork.
- Laminate: CONS – When copying wood, this floor can still look not as genuine due to the regularity of the “wood grains” in the photographic layer. The glossy texture of the top layer can also look different from traditional hardwoods.
- Hardwood: PROS – They have a timeless appeal, unique organic grains, unexpected knots, and a natural texture that’s hard for laminate floors to fully copy. They can also take on different stains, finishes, and be coated with wax for an extra shine. If you choose a lighter species like white oak, you can also add some more interesting stains like red, blue, and even purple!
- Hardwood: CONS – They’re more easily scratched than laminate, therefore their beauty can be affected when not properly maintained. Some species are also more vulnerable to discoloration when exposed to the sun for long periods of time.
Your budget decides much about your design project. Which material is more affordable?
The reality of flooring costs and what you can afford may be miles apart. Take into consideration the cost of laminate and hardwood flooring to determine what is best for you.
- Hardwood: CONS – Hardwood flooring is made of harvested trees; pricing depends on how exotic the trees are. In general, hardwood is considerably higher to buy and to install.
- Laminate: PROS – Laminate wood flooring is made from composite wood pressed together at high temperatures. The image of hardwood is then placed over the composite wood, covering it to form the laminate. Not only are the materials themselves cheaper, but laminate wood installation cost is, on average, 50 percent less than hardwood installation.
Assess the traffic load and wear and tear on flooring in your home. A durable surface will make maintenance easier and will look great for years to come.
- Hardwood: PROS – Hardwood is the real deal; it is gorgeous and, depending on the type of wood, can add considerable value to your home.
- Hardwood: CONS – Hardwood is susceptible to scratching, can get damaged from excessive moisture and will show wear, especially in heavily trafficked areas.
- Laminate: PROS – Since laminate is made from pressed wood, it is more durable and resists scratches, moisture and wear and tear. Laminate flooring is also easier to clean.
- Laminate: CONS – Even though laminate is more durable, it is not as visually appealing. Lower qualities of laminate may have artificial-looking woodgrain textures.
What does the installation process look like for each material?
- Hardwood: PROS – Hardwood floors can come prefinished to save you time, though the upfront costs will be higher. This kind of floor can also take on custom stains and finishes for some eye-catching looks! For DIY projects, tongue-and-groove hardwood planks make the job easier.
- Hardwood: CONS – They are organic, which means they shouldn’t be installed below grade. They’re also not made to float over existing floors. Hardwoods are usually harder to install for both professionals and DIYers, making this a job you should outsource, if possible. When hardwoods don’t come pre-finished, you can expect to take a day or two in a hotel while your contractors sand and finish your floors. The dust and odor of the finish will be strong and not safe to inhale.
- Laminate: PROS – It can be installed below grade and can float over existing floors, making it more DIY-friendly. Laminate is easier to install because it’s usually prepared with tongue and grooves that snap together. It also comes prefinished, so there’s no need for a lengthy sanding and finishing process inside your home. A laminate floor can be glued over wood, concrete or placed over a cork or foam pad.
- Laminate: CONS – After installation, these floors can have a strong smell because their synthetic materials that may emit VOCs, which are also known as Volatile Organic Compounds. If you’re making this a DIY project, make sure you have the know-how and the right tools. Cutting the planks to the right lengths will need precision cutting and measuring to make accurate lengths and edges.
Flooring is one component of your home that will have to be repaired at some point. From minor accidents to excessive wear and tear, laminate and hardwood have advantages and disadvantages.
- Hardwood: PROS – Hardwood can be repaired by sanding imperfections and refinishing. This gives it the edge over laminate, in that it will last for years.
- Laminate: CONS – Laminate flooring doesn’t repair easily. If you buy flooring that comes in individual pieces and snaps together, you may be able to replace individual boards — although, depending on sunlight and age, the new piece may not match properly.
When the hygrometer’s needle makes an uptick, which floor is more prone to damage?
- Hardwood: PROS – Some species can tolerate moisture better than others. Generally, the harder the wood, the more water resistant it is. Regular care, finishing, and waxing can also protect your floors from water damage.
- Hardwood: CONS – They are organic, so they can grow mold if exposed to constant moisture. Unfinished wood is more likely to get moisture damage, whereas no hardwoods should be installed in the kitchen or bathroom due to the moisture levels.
- Laminate: PROS – The tough top layer can resist moisture well, which makes laminate a good material for rooms where spills are a possibility. Therefore, it’s a fine floor for your kitchen or bathroom. The better the quality materials you buy, the better job your floors will perform in this department. Since laminate floors are synthetic, they’re also less likely to have mold problems from moisture.
- Laminate: CONS – They can still be damaged by standing water, which can make them warp. Proper maintenance and cleaning is a must to make the most of laminate’s moisture-resisting power.
Which floor will boost your home’s value?
- Laminate: The maximum life is 25 years with the best quality materials and proper care. However, because of its lower cost, it doesn’t do much to add value to your home. Prospective buyers still look to hardwoods as a standard of timeless quality.
- Hardwood: Because hardwood floors can last for generations, they raise your home’s value more than laminate floors. According to Time.com, hardwood floors boost your home’s resale value, referring to a study from that reveals that 54% of homebuyers would invest more in a home that has hardwoods.
Your home will benefit from the look of wood flooring; deciding whether to use hardwood or laminate is up to you. Review the pros and cons, and be realistic about your lifestyle; if you have pets, young kids or high traffic, that may influence your decision.
If you have a lot of sunlight in your home, hardwood can fade because it is a natural product, while laminate wood flooring has UV protection integrated into the surface. Consider all the factors — and enjoy how the warmth of wood will improve your home’s aesthetic, appeal and value.