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.
But laminate isn't for everyone, just as wood isn't the be-all and end-all for others. Are you on the fence? If you are, read on. This page will try and help sort out the differences and give you some information to help make the decision clearer, if not easier.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Quality / Attribute||Laminate||Wood||"Winner"|
|Resistance to scratches, wear & tear||Yes||Variable - depends on species and surface coating||laminate|
|Resistant to dents and dings||Yes - better on HPL than DPL1||Variable - depends on species (wood hardness)||split|
|Moisture resistant||Variable - some brands better than others (bathroom installation OK provided proper installation)||Variable - moisture absorption rate and swell depends on species (stability characteristic)||split|
|Broad product range & many style choices||Yes||Yes||split|
|Economical||Yes - for initial investment2||Yes - but for long term2||wood|
|Easy installation||Yes - most varieties are glueless 'click-together'||Variable to No - some 'click-together' floating floors exist but traditional wood floor installation typically requires a professional||laminate|
|Long life cycle||Variable to No - not as long as a wood floor due to lack of renewability||Yes||wood|
|Can be 'floated' over existing floors||Yes||Variable to No - some 'click-together' floating wood floors exist but traditional wood (both solid and engrd.) require fastening to suitable subfloor||laminate|
|Requires professional installation||Variable to No - can be professionally installed (some manufacturers require it for valid warranty) but most are do-it-yourself (DIY) friendly||Variable to Yes - most skills required for traditional wood floor (installation/nailing/finishing) are not considered avg. DIY skills)||laminate|
|Easily removed/reusable||Yes - though some warranties with regard to joint integrity are void after panels have been joined/taken apart several times||Variable to No - only click-together floating wood floors can be considered easily removable||laminate|
|Pattern (grain) repetition||Yes||No||wood|
|Resistant to stains||Yes||Yes||split|
|Can be used with radiant floor heat systems||Yes||Variable - only engineered wood floors can be used (not solid wood)||laminate|
|1||HPL = High Pressure Laminate / DPL = Direct Pressure Laminate (HPL is more dent resistant but less accepting of texture embossing)|
|2||Wood floors generally have a longer working life because they can be refurbished, sometimes several times. Any higher initial cost vs laminate is generally mitigated by virtue of the lower cost of ownership resulting from wood's longer lifespan.|
As the table comparing laminate vs wood flooring shows, there's no clear cut winner. Intuitively that makes sense because like any product type, there are variable conditions and circumstances that influence the suitability of one product over another.
However, if you had to pick an attribute that generally differentiates laminate vs wood floors, cost would probably be the answer.
So let's see how they compare:
Laminate flooring lies within a range of about $1.00 per square foot to approximately $5.00 per square foot, uninstalled. Premium products that include texture embossing and high-tech coatings will be more expensive than the cheaper products with fewer options.
Wood flooring costs anywhere from about $1.00 per square foot (for cheaper cabin-grade stock) to $20.00 per square foot for exotic species and possibly more for rare reclaimed woods. On average however the cost range is about $3.00 to $12.00 per square foot when you consider the more typical varieties like oak and maple. These are uninstalled prices.
If you disregard quality and grade you can get wood flooring products for a lower price than laminate but you'll find that for the most part, wood flooring costs more.Back To Page Section List
So what's the best choice when it comes to wood or laminate? The answer depends on your specific situation. But if you're looking for generalities, consider these:
If you're still on the fence and can't make up your mind, make sure you've gone out and seen some real examples of laminate and wood floors. Sometimes seeing and feeling them in an installed setting is enough to sway you one way or another.
If you've done that, then consider these final points.
While a wood floor may require professional installation, a higher initial cost outlay and some inconvenience with site-finished floors, they're typically a good investment and viewed as adding value to a home. So if you choose wood, you probably won't regret the decision long term.
Keep in mind too that there's a lot of pre-finished wood floors in the marketplace and they can be DIY-friendly. That removes the inconveniences of a site-finished floor and labor cost, if you install it yourself.
If you choose a laminate floor, you may find that it works just right for your situation. Or, if it doesn't, it's relatively easy to remove and replace with something else if you find you just can't live with it.
If things would be easier by having a local flooring professional help you out, enter your zip code in the box to the left. It's a way to make contact with several local sources for flooring that can contact you at your convenience.Back To Page Section List
Choosing Wood Flooring - Wood floors is a rather broad topic but this article breaks it down into the manageable chunks you need to make an informed decision.
Laminate Flooring - Want to know more about choosing laminate flooring? This article shows you what's available and what to look for.
Harmonics Laminate Flooring - The Harmonics brand is a popular and well-liked laminate floor. Get the Publisher's point of view on this particular type of flooring in this article.