Laminate vs. hardwood: A side-by-side look at two great flooring options
Today’s laminate flooring is beautiful. With a variety of styles and textures, a quality laminate product can look just like hardwood. But it’s important to note that laminate and hardwood are not the same product. Each product has its own makeup, features, benefits, and ideal installations.
Want to learn more about what makes each product unique? Read on!
Although laminate includes wood components in its makeup, it’s actually a composite product made up of high-density fiberboard (HDF), a print layer treated with melamine, and a wear layer to prevent scratching and scuffing. Though it contains wood fibers, laminate does not contain wood in its natural state.
Hardwood, on the other hand, comes in two constructions: solid, which features a thick plank (generally 5/16 to ¾ inch) of wood; and engineered, which features a wood veneer (typically ⅜ to ½ inch thick) glued to an HDF or plywood core. You can learn more about the differences between solid and engineered hardwood here.
While hardwood flooring, especially solid, is often considered the gold standard, there are just some situations where installing it isn’t ideal or advisable. In particular, solid hardwood should never be installed in areas with a lot of humidity or moisture. It also should never be installed below-grade, or in basements. Meaning, no bathrooms, no basements!
While engineered hardwood can be installed in basements and bathrooms, it’s probably not the ideal choice. Even though engineered hardwood’s HDF core makes it more dimensionally stable, so it won’t warp or shift if there’s a change in humidity, its wood veneer is still susceptible to water damage.
Laminate flooring, on the other hand, can be installed in basements or even in bathrooms. However, we’d like to point out that most laminate is not waterproof, or even water-resistant. Today, more manufacturers are bringing water-resistant or even waterproof laminates to market. Be sure to check your warranty before deciding to put laminate in a room that gets a lot of moisture.
When it comes to ease of installation, laminate flooring takes the cake. Installed using either a tongue and groove or click locking system, laminate flooring is a great choice for handy DIYers. (We do always recommend using a professional when installing new floors, though!) Hardwood, on the other hand, has a few different installation options. Solid hardwood is installed using nails, while engineered hardwood can be stapled, glued, or installed as either a tongue and groove or floating floor. Because installation can be complicated, it’s always best to leave hardwood installation to the professionals.
Both hardwood and laminate are incredibly durable. While hardwood can be susceptible to scratching and scuffing from dirt, debris, pet claws, or heavy foot traffic, it can also be refinished. Solid hardwood in particular can be refinished multiple times, and offers unparalleled longevity if properly maintained. Engineered hardwood’s ability to be refinished depends on its veneer’s thickness.
If damaged, laminate planks or tiles have to be replaced; you cannot refinish laminate flooring. However, laminate is pretty resistant to scratching, scuffing, and staining, especially if you buy a high-quality product with a strong wear layer.
Depending on the species, some hardwood floors can be susceptible to fading or discoloration from sunlight. For instance, cherry floors are very photosensitive; so are walnut floors. Consider how much sunlight your space gets if you’re considering a photosensitive hardwood species, and use window treatments or area rugs to help fight fading. Laminate flooring is not susceptible to photosensitivity.
Solid hardwood is, in most cases, going to be the most expensive option of the three, especially once you factor in installation costs. However, many see it as a long-term investment. Not only will you likely not have to replace it during your lifetime (unless you experience some sort of catastrophic event like flooding), many claim it increases a home’s resale value.
Engineered hardwood’s price point is probably not going to be too much different from solid hardwood’s, although there’s a bit of variety within the category.
Laminate is the most budget-friendly option, though price points will vary depending on the manufacturer, product thickness, and any additional bells and whistles, such as an attached underlayment or water-resistant capabilities.
So, should you go with hardwood or laminate? In the end, it really depends on your room, lifestyle, and budget. No one flooring option is a one-size-fits-all solution; different people have different wants and needs. Assess your priorities and make a decision based on what’s most important to you.
About The Author
Proud flooring aficionado and office dog mom, "Flauren" has been a professional writer and editor for more than a decade (though she still maintains her magnum opus was "The Day it Snowed Slurpees," written at the age of 6).
Hardwood flooring is a huge category. If you’re thinking about putting hardwood floors in your home, there’s so much to consider. In addition to species, plank size, cut, and tone, you’ll also have to decide which type of hardwood flooring you want – solid or engineered. While both are available in a variety of styles, […]