How to Choose Between Hardwood and Laminate Flooring

wood floor installation

Many types of hardwood make great choices for flooring, each one giving its own distinctive color and grain pattern.

What if you’ve just spruced up your home with new flooring? It means it’s time for your next big decision: which type of flooring to buy.

Are you drawn to the warm, inviting look of wood? Installing a hardwood floor might make sense. But what about laminate flooring? You may have heard it looks a lot like wood. Perhaps you’d be just as happy with it, but how can you know?

The key is to consider which type of flooring—hardwood or laminate—will be a better fit for your home and your budget.

Which one will you enjoy more? Which will be easier to care for? Which will last longer? Which is the most affordable? With all these questions to consider, how do you decide which to buy?

Let’s take a closer look at both hardwood and laminate flooring so the right decision for your home can become clearer.

Hardwood flooring in a nutshell

Solid hardwood planks are produced in a mill from genuine hardwood. Many different species of hardwood make great choices for flooring. Some of the most popular are oak, hickory, maple, and cherry. Each type of wood gives its own distinctive appearance, hardness, hue, and grain texture.

The boards are usually ¾-inch thick and milled with tongue-and-groove edges that interlock together. Hardwood planks can be purchased either unfinished or prefinished.

Laminate flooring: What is it?

A laminate floor is not wood, but it’s typically made to closely imitate the look of wood or some other material, such as stone or marble. It’s a multi-layer product with a core composed of high-density fiberboard or plywood and a “design” layer with a high-resolution photographic imprint that gives the floor’s surface appearance. On top is a transparent “wear” layer that helps protect against fading, stains, or other damage.

No perfect choice, no bad choice

Hardwood or laminate flooring can make a great choice for anyone’s home. Each has unique characteristics with notable pros and cons. Realize that no type of flooring will be perfect in every respect. Plus, in most situations, you’re not going to make a bad choice when you go with either hardwood or laminate—especially if you’re seeking the look that wood offers.

Pros and Cons of Hardwood Flooring

hardwood flooring boards

As a durable material that can be sanded and refinished multiple times, hardwood flooring is an investment that can last a lifetime.

Hardwood flooring, because it’s a genuine thing and not an imitation, looks more attractive than laminate flooring. It’s a solid, dense material, so it’s extremely durable and lasts a long time. Even after it starts showing a lot of wear and tear, it can be sanded and refinished—more than once—to look like new.

A hardwood floor is also quite easy to care for. Consider it a true investment that adds value to any home.

Nevertheless, hardwood has certain disadvantages as a flooring material. Depending on the type of wood, the cost of the wood could overwhelm someone on a tight budget.

Also, hardwood may show some signs of use in high-traffic areas as it is susceptible to scratches and moisture damage. Where moisture is bound to occur regularly, such as in a bathroom, a hardwood floor is probably not the right choice.

Pros and Cons of Laminate Flooring

use a rubber hammer for hardwood floor installation

Laminate flooring can be an attractive, affordable option for attaining the look of a wood floor.

In general, laminate flooring is more affordable, at least initially, so it may be the way to go for someone looking to save money upfront.

Consider also that the appearance of laminate flooring doesn’t change over time. It holds up reasonably well to wear and tear, is easy to clean, and because of its top “wear” layer, it won’t scratch as easily.

On the other hand, laminate flooring has several significant drawbacks. It will never look as good as natural hardwood flooring. It cannot be repaired easily if damage occurs.

If moisture gets into the joints between planks, it can cause the edges and the fiberboard to swell. And unlike real wood, it can’t be sanded and refinished; Once it shows significant or unacceptable signs of wear, it’s probably time to spring for a new floor.

Making Your Choice

Now that you’ve learned a bit about the pros and cons of hardwood and laminate flooring, how do you sort it all out and make your final selection? Again, you can’t go wrong with either one. They’re both good options.

Your choice will likely boil down to this:

If you have your heart set on the attractive look and durability of real wood and your budget can handle the up-front investment, hardwood flooring is almost certainly the right choice. But for anyone looking for a less expensive yet still quite attractive option, laminate flooring can be a great choice, too.

Previously published in Premier Flooring Retailer magazine

Last updated on June 15th, 2023

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