Laminate vs Wood Flooring

Laminate vs Wood Flooring

Comparing Laminate vs. Wood Flooring

Comparing laminate vs wood flooring is a common exercise in the consideration of a new floor. What makes this a hard decision? To start with, laminate floors are generally cheaper while achieving a look similar to wood. They’re also durable and install pretty easily compared to other floor types.

Sorting Out What You’re Really Looking For

The first part of getting over this choice dilemma is to focus on what your needs and wants are as well as what your family lifestyle is like. Sorting that out will help you better identify with the attributes of laminate or wood, clarifying the way to a decision.

Consider the following points to help figure out what your needs/wants are:

  • What’s your family’s lifestyle and status?

    Do you have children and/or any pets? The amount of activity the floor will see should factor into your choice. Pre-finished wood floors have made a lot of headway with very durable surface coatings, something that laminate products also share. From that standpoint it’s almost a toss-up.

    However if you’re choosing between a site-finished wood floor and laminate, the nod has to go with the latter on surface durability. The coating technology is just better (factory applied, high-tech materials) than a polyurethane finish you get with a wood floor that’s finished on-site.

  • What kind of maintenance and upkeep are you willing to expend?

    It’d be great if there was such a thing as a zero-maintenance floor but there isn’t so some level of work will be required to keep both types of floors looking good.

    Wood floors (depending on species and finish) may be less tolerant of cleaning neglect (like sweeping and vacuuming) than laminate. This is primarily due to laminate’s durable surface protection. That doesn’t mean that you can forget about sweeping a laminate floor because the grit will still take it’s toll. It just may take a little longer.

  • Which room or rooms are you thinking about?

    The room has a role to play in making the right choice too. Some laminate floors can be used in wet areas like a bathroom (although pay close attention to the manufacturer’s recommendations and warranty) whereas wood is not as durable in these rooms. That’s because of problems that occur when wood naturally swells and shrinks with changes in humidity and moisture content.

  • How finicky are you about how «real» it looks?

    Laminate floor technology has come a long way since its introduction, but it’s still a picture that’s laminated to a wood fiber core. There are laminate floors that do a very good job at looking like real wood and there are others that don’t.

    Real wood on the other hand is just that — real. It has a natural beauty and variation that even a good laminate picture can’t capture. (Only a certain amount of a real wood floor is actually photographed when making a laminate floor. That results in some pattern repeatability. The more distinction in the grain pattern, the greater the likelihood of seeing the repetition.)

    It you can’t bear the thought of anyone noticing that your floor isn’t real wood (even with the great textured laminates today) then go with real stuff.

  • Does the «green» environmental factor affect your decision?

    If you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly flooring choice in your consideration, the decision depends on your definition of ‘green’.

    Wood is a renewable resource but it doesn’t mean that all species and forests are responsibly managed for sustainability. Some species like Ipil (sometimes referred to as merbau) are being harvested at a rate that threatens their continued existence. Wood floors originating from responsibly managed forests and manufacturing processes are environmentally friendly based on their sustainability.

    Laminate floors have a core made from wood manufacturing by-products (wood fibers fused together into a fiberboard). They also avoid the destruction of trees, particularly rarer exotic species, by virtue of the fact that they’re just a picture and not real wood. On the other hand, some of the other ingredients like the resins and melamine are made from non-renewable resources so a laminate floor isn’t a slam-dunk on the environmentally-responsible scale.

    Life cycle is another factor here. A wood floor can be refinished several times whereas laminate can’t be refinished at all. That makes for a longer life cycle for wood floors, all other factors being equal.

    Looking At Laminate & Wood Side By Side

    The table below lays out the various attributes of wood vs. laminate and shows how each floor type stacks up with respect to those characteristics.

    Keep in mind that for some of these qualities, there’s not a black-and-white answer, with one floor type winning hands down over the other. Rather, there are situations where both share similar qualities but one works better than the other, or it depends on the brand or wood species you choose. You’ll see the word «variable» in the table below for these situations.

    Also, the type of wood species you choose has a big impact on the comparison. Jatoba, often called Brazilian Cherry (though not really cherry) is very hard and will be much more resistant to dents than a Southern Pine floor. Comparing those to laminate, you’d find that the Jatoba is more dent resistant than laminate whereas the pine is probably less so.

    Finally, there’s the «looks» department. Some laminated products do a better job than others in looking like real wood. There’s even some real, prefinished, engineered wood that makes you wonder if it’s laminate because it’s too perfect looking. It’s all up to your own eyes.

    The best way to decide is to get some samples of both types of flooring. Even though they’re just samples, they’ll give you a pretty good idea how they look when you compare them next to each other. You’ll be able to see if the «grain» on the laminate floor looks convincing to your eye and see whether it’s construction looks robust enough for you.

    Publisher’s Comments

    I limited showing pictures of «laminate» vs «wood» because pictures really don’t tell the whole story — you’ve got to see the stuff in person. But, for what it’s worth, here are two shots. One is laminate flooring the other is real wood. Can you tell the difference (again, if you were actually standing on these floors it might be easier)?

    The picture on top is real wood. The one below it is laminate. I must say however that this particular laminate floor was one of the most convincing and best looking laminate floors I’ve seen. The only problem: I don’t know anything about the brand or make.

    So there you have it. These pictures might not show you much relative to the visual differences but perhaps it gives you some notion. Again, the best advice — actually look at some real products to get the best visual comparison.

    Comparing Laminate vs. Wood Flooring

    Comparing laminate vs wood flooring is a common exercise in the consideration of a new floor. What makes this a hard decision? To start with, laminate floors are generally cheaper while achieving a look similar to wood. They’re also durable and install pretty easily compared to other floor types.

    Sorting Out What You’re Really Looking For

    The first part of getting over this choice dilemma is to focus on what your needs and wants are as well as what your family lifestyle is like. Sorting that out will help you better identify with the attributes of laminate or wood, clarifying the way to a decision.

    Consider the following points to help figure out what your needs/wants are:

  • What’s your family’s lifestyle and status?

    Do you have children and/or any pets? The amount of activity the floor will see should factor into your choice. Pre-finished wood floors have made a lot of headway with very durable surface coatings, something that laminate products also share. From that standpoint it’s almost a toss-up.

    However if you’re choosing between a site-finished wood floor and laminate, the nod has to go with the latter on surface durability. The coating technology is just better (factory applied, high-tech materials) than a polyurethane finish you get with a wood floor that’s finished on-site.

  • What kind of maintenance and upkeep are you willing to expend?

    It’d be great if there was such a thing as a zero-maintenance floor but there isn’t so some level of work will be required to keep both types of floors looking good.

    Laminate vs Wood Flooring

    Wood floors (depending on species and finish) may be less tolerant of cleaning neglect (like sweeping and vacuuming) than laminate. This is primarily due to laminate’s durable surface protection. That doesn’t mean that you can forget about sweeping a laminate floor because the grit will still take it’s toll. It just may take a little longer.

  • Which room or rooms are you thinking about?

    The room has a role to play in making the right choice too. Some laminate floors can be used in wet areas like a bathroom (although pay close attention to the manufacturer’s recommendations and warranty) whereas wood is not as durable in these rooms. That’s because of problems that occur when wood naturally swells and shrinks with changes in humidity and moisture content.

  • How finicky are you about how «real» it looks?

    Laminate floor technology has come a long way since its introduction, but it’s still a picture that’s laminated to a wood fiber core. There are laminate floors that do a very good job at looking like real wood and there are others that don’t.

    Real wood on the other hand is just that — real. It has a natural beauty and variation that even a good laminate picture can’t capture. (Only a certain amount of a real wood floor is actually photographed when making a laminate floor. That results in some pattern repeatability. The more distinction in the grain pattern, the greater the likelihood of seeing the repetition.)

    It you can’t bear the thought of anyone noticing that your floor isn’t real wood (even with the great textured laminates today) then go with real stuff.

  • Does the «green» environmental factor affect your decision?

    If you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly flooring choice in your consideration, the decision depends on your definition of ‘green’.

    Wood is a renewable resource but it doesn’t mean that all species and forests are responsibly managed for sustainability. Some species like Ipil (sometimes referred to as merbau) are being harvested at a rate that threatens their continued existence. Wood floors originating from responsibly managed forests and manufacturing processes are environmentally friendly based on their sustainability.

    Laminate floors have a core made from wood manufacturing by-products (wood fibers fused together into a fiberboard). They also avoid the destruction of trees, particularly rarer exotic species, by virtue of the fact that they’re just a picture and not real wood. On the other hand, some of the other ingredients like the resins and melamine are made from non-renewable resources so a laminate floor isn’t a slam-dunk on the environmentally-responsible scale.

    Life cycle is another factor here. A wood floor can be refinished several times whereas laminate can’t be refinished at all. That makes for a longer life cycle for wood floors, all other factors being equal.

    Looking At Laminate & Wood Side By Side

    The table below lays out the various attributes of wood vs. laminate and shows how each floor type stacks up with respect to those characteristics.

    Keep in mind that for some of these qualities, there’s not a black-and-white answer, with one floor type winning hands down over the other. Rather, there are situations where both share similar qualities but one works better than the other, or it depends on the brand or wood species you choose. You’ll see the word «variable» in the table below for these situations.

    Also, the type of wood species you choose has a big impact on the comparison. Jatoba, often called Brazilian Cherry (though not really cherry) is very hard and will be much more resistant to dents than a Southern Pine floor. Comparing those to laminate, you’d find that the Jatoba is more dent resistant than laminate whereas the pine is probably less so.

    Finally, there’s the «looks» department. Some laminated products do a better job than others in looking like real wood. There’s even some real, prefinished, engineered wood that makes you wonder if it’s laminate because it’s too perfect looking. It’s all up to your own eyes.

    The best way to decide is to get some samples of both types of flooring. Even though they’re just samples, they’ll give you a pretty good idea how they look when you compare them next to each other. You’ll be able to see if the «grain» on the laminate floor looks convincing to your eye and see whether it’s construction looks robust enough for you.

    Publisher’s Comments

    I limited showing pictures of «laminate» vs «wood» because pictures really don’t tell the whole story — you’ve got to see the stuff in person. But, for what it’s worth, here are two shots. One is laminate flooring the other is real wood. Can you tell the difference (again, if you were actually standing on these floors it might be easier)?

    The picture on top is real wood. The one below it is laminate. I must say however that this particular laminate floor was one of the most convincing and best looking laminate floors I’ve seen. The only problem: I don’t know anything about the brand or make.

    So there you have it. These pictures might not show you much relative to the visual differences but perhaps it gives you some notion. Again, the best advice — actually look at some real products to get the best visual comparison.

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