Hardwood and laminate flooring are two styles that have been around for ages and are still going strong. They are also two completely different materials from a structural standpoint, and they bring a few unique benefits to the table as well. If you’ve been wondering whether hardwood or laminate would be a good fit in your home, we’re here to explain what you can expect from each of these flooring materials and the differences between them.
Construction & Comfort
Multi-layered flooring, firm but not hard
Solid construction, hard and unforgiving underfoot
Warranties from 5 to 30 years, resilient flooring
A sturdy, durable and long-lasting building material
Easy to clean and maintain, traction may be an issue, but claws shouldn’t be
Easy to clean, but can scratch and is slicker on paws
Made to resemble stone, wood, and other materials
Dozens of domestic and exotic species to choose from, endless array of stains
Easy to maintain, difficult to repair and replace
Some upkeep required, but simple to clean daily, can be refinished
The Green Factor
Look for certified products, not easy to recycle, potential for VOCs
Sustainable although it can take a while, can be repurposed
Slipping, fading or darkening
Not ideal for areas with moisture or high humidity
Not ideal for areas with moisture or high humidity
DIY-friendly and very easy to install
Proceed with caution, will require help
$1.00 to $3.50 per sq. ft.
$3.50 to $9.00 per sq. ft.
Construction & Comfort
Hardwood flooring is made from trees that are harvested before being sent to the mill. The raw boards still need to be cut to size sanded and finished before they are ready for use, although some consumers choose to stain and finish their flooring themselves. Hardwood flooring is “solid” unless it’s labeled as engineered and the thickness can vary, but ¾” is the standard.
Laminate isn’t an organic material, and it’s a multi-layered product. There’s a backing layer that’s on the bottom and comes in contact with the floor and is followed by a core. The core is usually fiberboard, and on top of that you’ll find a printed design layer. Laminate isn’t finished like wood, but it does have a wear layer which covers the image and can be several millimeters thick.
How the hardwood and laminate boards are made can affect its durability, but also plays a part in your comfort level. As you’d expect, wood will provide you with plenty of support but isn’t going to be comfortable in areas where you stand or walk a lot. Laminate isn’t exactly soft but does provide a bit more cushion underfoot.
Durability is a good way to measure how long your floors will last. Even if the warranty says you’ll get 25-years from your flooring, that doesn’t mean they will hold up well over time. As the name implies, hardwood is “hard” and will last over 50 years with ease – if choose the right species. Pine flooring may be cheap, but it’s not as durable as oak and some exotic species are 3 – 4 times as hard has domestic trees from the United States.
With laminate flooring, you need to pay more attention to that warranty. The longer the guarantee, the better off you’ll be and 25 to 30 years is what you should shoot for from top-notch products. Laminate is harder to replace than hardwood, so the quality of the product is critical as well. It’s not sold in grades like hardwood flooring, but you can look for an AC rating which lets you know how well it will hold up during daily life.
There are thousands of YouTube videos online featuring cats and dogs on hardwood flooring. Considering most would fall under the comedy category, it’s safe to say animals aren’t huge fans of hardwood floors and they don’t care if they are maple or mahogany. If your pets love to lie down on carpeting, they won’t appreciate the change although hardwood is very pet-friendly if they have an accident in the house. It’s also ideal for allergies.
Laminate may be a little softer for your pet, but not enough to make a significant difference in our eyes. Traction should increase although claws can be a problem, just like they are with hardwood. Laminate is a bit more forgiving in this area and just as easy to clean when it comes to pet hair, liquids, and solids left behind by your family friend. Overall, laminate flooring is a slightly better option for pets.
With wood, style is tied to durability as each species has a different tone and style. Some woods are darker with golden brown to purple hues while others are creamy white. While several species have a similar color or tone, the grain pattern helps set them apart. That’s something we touched in our hardwood flooring guide, and as wood can be stained, you can choose a variety of unnatural shades as well.
Laminate is unique and differs from hardwood considering it has a printed image that mimics other materials. It could be oak floorboards, natural stone or even tile. This flooring won’t fool anyone into thinking its real stone or wood, but manufacturers have come a long way in recent years through the use of new techniques.
Can you push a wet mop or broom? If so, you can clean laminate flooring, but you will need to pay close attention to the types of cleaners you’ll use. Some could damage your floor while others can leave it with a dull sheen. Areas with heavy foot traffic will take most of the abuse, so consider mats and rugs anywhere that will see a lot of abuse. Laminate floors can’t be refinished, but they are very easy to keep clean.
Hardwood floors are cleaned in a similar fashion considering you don’t want to use anything abrasive or exotic on them. Brooms and dry mops or ones with wet pads work well; just pay attention to the label when using any cleaning product. As a bonus, hardwood floors can be refinished when their color starts to fade, or you want to try something new. They can also be sanded several times when scratches or dings become an issue.
The Green Factor
As much as we love hardwood, it’s not the greenest building material for a couple of reasons. While renewable, it takes decades for new trees to reach full maturity where they can be re-harvested for wood. You also have to consider the milling and manufacturing process itself along with potential VOCs from stains and finishes.
The good news is, the latter isn’t going to be a concern with high-quality products, and you can find hardwood flooring that has been harvested in a responsible fashion or even opt for salvaged wood.
Laminate flooring doesn’t come from Mother Nature, and while it shares similarities with linoleum, it’s not nearly as eco-friendly. Wood is used in this product, but it's “pressed” which means binding agents and glue can be involved. Poor quality laminates used to be a problem, but now there are agencies that ensure it meets indoor air quality standards including Carb2, the Green Building Council and FloorScore.
Hardwood has the edge when it comes to sustainability and is greener given hardwood floorings lifespan, and the fact wood is renewable.
Traction can be an issue with hardwood if it gets wet, but that’s true for any surface including laminate flooring, linoleum, and tile in particular. While we don’t feel it should be a major concern, it is worth mentioning if you or someone in your home has issues with their balance or mobility. Sunlight can actually be a bigger problem for both materials depending on the room and rug placement.
UV rays and direct sunlight can alter the color of flooring. With wood, it depends on the species, and the results can be extreme with cherry and some exotic woods. A good coating on your floors will help prevent discoloration, but with laminates, it’s all about the top layer. With that in mind, pay attention to any claims a manufacturer makes about their laminate floorings fade-resistance and read the fine print on the warranty as well.
Fading is something that most consumers might expect, but getting shocked isn’t. Just like carpet, laminate flooring can build up a charge, so static and be an annoyance in some households. You don’t have that problem with hardwood, although you may have to deal with the occasional gap from shrinking and expansion depending on the conditions in your home.
Hardwood flooring is beautiful and can bring depth and warmth to an otherwise boring room. While it has several properties that make it an ideal choice for homeowners, sitting water can damage your planks rather quickly. A flood or busted pipe, on the other hand, can warp boards and completely wreck the flooring in your home.
Hardwood flooring is not recommended for use in rooms that come in direct contact with water for that reason or with any below-grade rooms considering they are havens for moisture and mold. You can still use hardwood in any room when precautions are taken, but the upkeep may not be worth it in the long run.
Laminate flooring exempt from water damage or moisture, but the planks can be more resistant to H2O than hardwood. In fact, some manufacturers produce laminate flooring that is labeled as waterproof. If water gets between the seams, it can cause the core to swell, however, which isn’t good unless you like tearing up flooring. While better than wood in wet or humid areas of your home like bathrooms or kitchens, you still need to ensure seams are sealed and take proper precautions.
Both of these styles of flooring can be used in any room in your home and are frequently found in bathrooms, kitchens, and even basements. That said, neither is truly ideal for wet areas so consider the condition of your rooms beforehand and look for previous signs of water damage in your home.
Laminate has a huge advantage when it comes to installation as we feel it’s something most consumers can install themselves. It’s lighter than wood, and you only need a handful of tools to put laminate flooring down in a few rooms. In most cases, a click-lock system is used which makes installation a breeze, and the underlayment in relatively inexpensive as well.
Installation of hardwood flooring is something you can install with a team of friends, but it may not be worth the time and effort. It largely depends on your familiarity with tools and your budget. If you have never installed flooring, you are bound to make a few mistakes, and they can be costly with hardwood depending on the species and size of your project. If it’s a den, it may be worth taking a chance, but for a large home or multi-story house, think about hiring a pro.
Hardwood and Laminate Cost
We’re going to start with the similarities as both hardwood and laminate flooring are sold by the square foot and come in varying widths. You can get more of a selection with traditional hardwood when it comes to sizes although laminates aren’t far behind.
Solid hardwood flooring averages $3.50 - $9.00 per square foot in most cases. Exceptions to the rule include exotic woods that are hard to find and planks that have been hand-scraped or treated in some way to enhance their natural characteristics. Eucalyptus flooring may only set you back $5.99 per square foot, whereas you can find quality oak for around $4.00 per square foot.
Laminate flooring is considerably cheaper, and you can find budget-friendly options priced at $1.00 per square foot. Mid-range and “better” grade flooring come in between $2.00 - $3.00 while the best laminate flooring tops out at around $3.50 per square foot.
Hardwood can be double or triple the price of the best laminate flooring, which may make it seem like a poor choice if your budget is tight. It’s important to remember that hardwood floors will increase the value of your home while laminates do not. Remember that style plays a part in the resale value as well if you’re thinking of using rustic walnut or cheap laminate planks.
While they can bear a resemblance to each other from a distance, hardwood and laminate flooring are two completely different materials. The price is the largest difference between the two along with durability once you consider how long a well-maintained hardwood floor can last. Whichever flooring style you’re leaning towards, always remember to keep moisture in mind.