Laminate vs Hardwood Flooring

The flooring in your home plays a huge role in how your space looks and feels. When it comes to choosing the right material, laminate and hardwood offer you durability, style, and versatility. Before you decide which option is best for you, it’s crucial to know the differences in laminate vs hardwood. Read on to discover some key features of these two types of flooring as well as facts about their care, cost, lifespan, and more.

Major Differences

The biggest difference between laminate vs wood flooring is the construction and material itself. Laminate flooring is comprised of several layers including a stabilizing bottom layer that resists moisture. The top wear layer is crafted of synthetic fiberboard to give the floors added strength. A unique photographic layer is laid on top of the fiberboards which can be created in a myriad of colors and designs. A clear melamine resin finished is added to the top to protect the floors. Hardwood flooring is made of real wood that’s harvested from a variety of different tree species. This flooring is cut into planks and sanded down to a smooth surface. You can find hardwood flooring in all kinds of sizes, cuts, and finishes. Many homeowners prefer hardwood due to its natural look and solid feel.

Care

Taking good care of your floors will help them last longer and keep them looking new. Here are the differences in laminate and hardwood when it comes to care:

  • Laminate: You can keep your laminate floors clean with light vacuuming, and the material is water-resistant so it’s safe to wet mop them. Laminate stays colorfast even when exposed to direct sunlight, but this flooring should never have standing water sit on top since it can cause issues. If your laminate floors are damaged, they cannot be re-sanded or refinished. You’ll need to remove and replace damaged laminate floors.
  • Hardwood: Clean your hardwood floors with regular vacuuming and sweeping. You can also mop them clean using special cleaners designed for hardwood floors. Scratched hardwood can easily be repaired, and you can also refinish the floors to give them a new look or repair them. Use furniture pads to prevent scratches on your hardwood floors, and make sure they aren’t exposed to excessive moisture or water. Too much sun can fade hardwood floors, and the severity of the fading depends on the species you have installed.

Maintenance

Laminate floors are easy to clean and maintain. However, these floors cannot be repaired if they get damaged, so it’s important to make sure you protect them as much as possible. Laminate can also stain if you spill something and let it sit for too long, so always blot spills immediately. If you scratch or damage hardwood floors, they can usually be repaired. A wood filler or finish can be applied to repair scratches and gouges. You can even remove and replace extremely damaged sections of hardwood floors. Never let your hardwood get wet for long periods of time or it can cause the floors to buckle or warp.

Installation

When it comes to the installation process, laminate is an easy solution. This flooring can be installed and floated over existing floors, and most styles are easy to DIY. Laminate comes prefinished so you don’t need to spend time sanding and finishing them upon installation. The material can be glued directly over wood or concrete, or you can lay it over a cork or foam pad underlayment. Laminate emits VOCs, so they do produce a strong smell when you first install them. If you decide to install laminate flooring yourself, it’s crucial to make sure you cut the planks to the correct length to ensure proper installation.

Some hardwood floors come prefinished which can save you time and effort, although these floors will cost you more initially. You can custom stain and finish your hardwood floors to create a unique look in your home. Tongue-and-groove hardwood planks are easy to install, but you’ll need to make sure you have the right knowledge and tools on hand if you’re installing the floors yourself. You cannot float hardwood over existing floors, which means you’ll need to remove old flooring before installation. Most hardwood should be installed by a professional with experience working with this material.

Cost

If you’re looking for new floors on a budget, laminate is an excellent choice. The average cost to install mid-grade laminate floors is $3,000, while hardwood can cost as much as $8,000 for a 1,00 square foot home. The cost of your flooring per square foot will depend on the brand, quality, and where you purchase it. In general, hardwood costs more with an average price per square foot of about $5 to $8 or more. Laminate runs closer to $1 to $3 per square foot. Since hardwood can’t be installed over existing flooring, you’ll also need to pay for the removal and disposal of your old floors as well as the cost of the underlayment.

Lifespan

When you’re comparing the longevity or lifespan between laminate flooring vs hardwood, your results may vary. Laminate floors can last as long as 15-25 years if you choose a quality brand and take good care of your flooring. Hardwood tends to last approximately 20 years, but this material could last even longer since it can be repaired and refinished. Look for flooring that comes with a warranty so you can protect your investment.

Environmental Impact

New laminate flooring is more eco-friendly than the laminate of the past. Look for brands that feature sustainable manufacturing processes and for those that use safe, non-toxic materials. Some laminate produces VOCs which stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. These gases are released into the air and can cause irritation of the lungs for some people. The melamine resin used to protect and manufacture laminate flooring contains formaldehyde, which is not an environmentally friendly product. Look for laminate that’s LEED-certified and that can be recycled whenever possible.

Hardwood is a much more sustainable flooring choice, especially if you choose American made products. Since it’s made from natural materials, hardwood floors don’t contain any toxic chemicals. The stain you use may off-gas and could contain VOCs so always read labels carefully or ask your flooring installer for more information. Hardwood is biodegradable, reusable, and recyclable. In the battle of eco-friendliness, hardwood comes out the victor.

Stain Resistance

Both laminate and hardwood floors can be vulnerable to stains. The protective layer of this flooring is designed to prevent spills from seeping into the material, but they can still become damaged if you let spills sit for too long. The key difference between these floors is that you can repair or touch up hardwood, while laminate cannot be repaired if it gets stained. Stay diligent whenever you spill something on your floors and wipe them up immediately. Apply a sealant over hardwood floors for an extra layer of protection.

Comfort and Sound

In terms of comfort, hardwood tends to feel hard underfoot. This flooring can also be noisy, especially if you’re walking on it with heeled shoes. Pets can also contribute to noise if you have hardwood floors, and the material can squeak and pop once it settles over time. Laminate is softer under your feet, especially if you add a foam underlayment to make it more comfortable to walk on. Floating laminate floors may flex, causing some noise. Laminate is also noisy whenever you walk on it with heels, and the sound of pet’s toenails is also significant when they walk on laminate floors. Both flooring options can be noisy in certain situations, but laminate tends to be more comfortable to walk on overall.

Resale Value

Homeowners prefer hardwood floors due to their natural beauty and durability. If you choose to install new hardwood floors, you’ll get a higher resale value than you would with laminate. In fact, hardwood ranks up there with quality natural stone and porcelain tile when it comes to getting the best return on your investment. Laminate has a lower resale value, but it’s still better than carpet or vinyl. When it comes to laminate vs hardwood resale value, hardwood is a better choice.

Related: Differences between Vinyl & Laminate Flooring

The Verdict

So: wood or laminate flooring which is better? Hardwood is more expensive, but it also offers better resale value and the ability to repair it or change the look of it if you wish. Laminate is an affordable flooring choice, and new developments in manufacturing make it even more difficult if you need to know how to tell laminate vs hardwood is different. The ability to print designs directly onto laminate helps this material mimic the grain and natural beauty of hardwood. Durability is a factor for many people, and hardwood tends to be stronger or more resilient. It all comes down to your preference in terms of budget, ease of installation, and looks. Laminate is comfortable to walk on, but both types of flooring can be noisy in certain situations. Use the information in this guide to help you decide which option is right for your flooring needs.

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