Hardwood vs Laminate

Hardwood vs Laminate

You probably know these two things when it comes to hardwood and laminate:

  1. If cost were equal, you’d choose hardwood for your home.
  2. Hardwood is definitely more expensive.

So this leaves you ask, “Is hardwood worth paying extra for? Or should I save money and go with laminate planks.”

There’s no cookie cutter answer.

The only way to figure it out is to compare hardwood and laminate, and then decide which makes the most sense for your home.
Laminate actually might surprise you. It wins some categories (other than just price).

Below you’ll see hardwood and laminate face off in important categories: durability, resale value, best for pets, and more. By the end of the article, it should be clear which hard flooring is the best choice for your home.

Durability

Laminate floors can last 15 years before they need to be replaced. They can be installed in a kitchen, basement, or bathroom, but if you want a floor that will last a long time, hardwood is your better choice. 

When hardwood floors become aged or scratched you can sand them down, refinish them, and have them looking like new. As a result, a well-maintained hardwood floor can easily last a lifetime or longer. Yet not all wood floors are equally durable. To compare a species’ durability to other woods, ask about its Janka rating. Higher numbers are better on that scale. 

For example, strand bamboo has a rating of 3014, Brazilian Maple has a 1450, and American Cherry scores 950. Of the three, Strand Bamboo would be the most durable. 
The winner? Hardwood

Cost

The price of hardwood flooring will vary depending on the species and size of the planks you use. As you can imagine, the denser, higher Janka rated woods are going to cost more than the lower ones. However, that is a trade-off since the more expensive hardwoods will last longer and may look better 20 years from now. You can find hardwood floors for as little as $5/sq. foot or as high as 20+ dollars.

Lower-quality laminate floors for closets and seldom-used areas of the home can be purchased for as little as $2/sq. foot. High-quality laminate floors cost about as much as less-expensive hardwood, approximately $5-8/sq. foot.

More expensive laminates look more like genuine wood floors from a distance and will last longer. They are also more resistant to scratches and dents.

You should also consider installation costs. Since laminate floors are easy to install, you might be able to save some labor costs if you have the time to do it yourself. Even if you hire an installer, they will usually charge less to install laminate floors than they would to install hardwood.

So while prices vary in both hardwood and laminate, a general rule of thumb is your project will cost double with hardwood versus laminate.

The winner? Laminate

DIY Installation

The easiest types of floors to install yourself will have a tongue and groove system on the side of each board so you can snap them together without glue, staples, or nails. Laminate floors use the system almost exclusively, so if you want to install it yourself, that is the best choice.

You may be able to find hardwood floors that use the same system, but it is not as common as it is for laminate floors. Generally, hardwood floors require the use of a floor stapler, glue, and other specialized tools. They also are much less forgiving when you realize you’ve made a mistake. Given the cost of hardwood floors and the value they bring when installed correctly, most homeowners opt for the professional approach.

Also, unfinished hardwood floors will take professionals a full day or two to stain and you will need to leave your home empty while the paint dries to avoid the fumes.

The winner? Laminate


Captain’s tip! If you purchase laminate floors and plan to install them yourself, try to find boards that come with the foam underlayment already included. The underlayment controls moisture, muffles sound, and compensates for any unevenness on your subfloor level. Otherwise, don’t forget to install the foam underlayment first, then place the laminate boards on top.

Resale Value

Quality laminate flooring has moderate resale value. The product usually comes with a manufacturer’s warranty and those warranties can be transferred to the new homeowner, which boosts the value slightly. Yet even with a warranty, high-quality laminate floors will have a lower resale value than solid hardwood.

Solid hardwood is visually appealing and known to have a longer lifespan than laminate floors. As long as the wood floors are in good condition and well-maintained, they will have a higher resale value than laminate floors.

Some flooring resale values are regional, but hardwood is a clear winner across the board. Also, even if you have high-quality laminate, your listing will still just say “laminate.”

The winner? Hardwood

Appearance

The look and texture of laminate floors have improved over the last half-century. You can find laminate floors with a variety of color patterns, and a mimicry of the intricate patterns found on real wood, tile, stone, and bamboo. The quality and cost of the laminate floors are directly related to their appearance; nice looking laminate will be on the higher end of costs.

Still, even the high-quality laminate floors cannot duplicate the feel of hardwood. Their glossy layer also detracts from the picture of wood, and usually they look most like wood from a slight distance.

Solid hardwood floors have an authentic texture, unique wood grain, knots, and scent that laminate pictures cannot yet duplicate. As a result, even the “cheaper” solid wood options like white or red oak will have a more desirable look than higher end laminate floors. The best hardwood floors will bring unique and bold colors to your home.

The winner? Hardwood

Cleaning & Maintenance

Cleaning and maintenance go hand in hand with both of these products. Keeping a laminate floor regularly swept and dusted will improve its lifespan. While there are special laminate floor cleaners, you can also use a mop or wet brush to clean off dirt and debris. If left dirty, laminate floors can build up static electricity.

Hardwood floors are fairly easy to clean. You can usually find hardwood floor cleaners at your local hardware store and like laminate floors, regular cleaning only requires a broom and a wood-friendly wet brush cleaner. For a shiny look, you will need to wax and polish them as recommended by the product.

The winner? Laminate.

Repairs

The downside to maintenance with laminate floors is that they can be stained, scratched, or dented and there are very few repair options. Sometimes any damage to a few boards means having to replace entire sections of flooring to ensure a good match if you cannot find the exact style again.

On the other hand with solid hardwood floors, you can sand down and refinish the boards several times over their lifespan. Any noticeable scratches and dents can be fixed relatively easily if it’s a small project, or for a fee if there is a lot of damage and you need a professional floor refinisher.


Captain’s tip! Try to buy extra laminate flooring when you do your install so if planks do suffer any damage in the future, you can easily replace one or two at a time.

The winner? Hardwood

Pets

Our non-human friends and family members spend even more time on the floor than we do, so it just makes sense to understand which one is better for pet owners. Laminate is a very good choice for dog and cat owners because the upper layer is designed with some protection against claws and scratches. That makes wood-like laminate a very good option for pet owners who want the look of wood but with better resistance.

The quality of wood floors will make a difference in how well they resist the scratches and bumps that are part of pet ownership. You will not want to invest in a less-expensive option such as oak or pine because softer hardwoods are much more vulnerable to scratches. If you are set on hardwood floors and have pets, you are better off buying a harder wood type such as bamboo or sugar maple.

The winner? Laminate

Durability

Laminate floors can last about 15-20 years before they need to be replaced. They can be installed in a kitchen, basement, or bathroom, but if you want a floor that will last a long time, hardwood is your better choice. 

When hardwood floors become aged or scratched you can sand them down, refinish them, and have them looking like new. As a result, a well-maintained hardwood floor can easily last a lifetime or longer. Yet not all wood floors are equally durable. To compare a species’ durability to other woods, ask about its Janka rating. Higher numbers are better on that scale. 


Captain’s clarification! Laminate floors are more scratch resistant than hardwood, especially against the lighter scratches caused by claws. Yet unlike real wood, they cannot be sanded down and refinished against heavier scratches, like the kind caused by dragging a refrigerator across the floor.

Captain’s parting words!

Laminate and hardwood flooring have come a lot closer together since laminate flooring first started appearing in homes. Laminate is a good choice for people with pets, who want to install in basements and kitchens, and who do not want the extra chore of waxing and staining their flooring later on.

It is also a less expensive option for homeowners who are happy with its appearance and overall ease of installation. Sometimes the budget just doesn’t include the cost of hardwood, or maybe you just want a temporary floor. You might be surprised how good laminate can look.

Like laminates, hardwood floors have improved over time. For homeowners who have the budget for it, there are exotic hardwoods in many colors and grain patterns that will add character and value to the home for decades. You can appreciate its durability and appearance for yourself or as an allure to future home buyers if you want to sell.

Have any more questions on hardwood or laminate? Let me know in the comments below.

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