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Hardwood Floors vs. Laminate Flooring...which is better?

Updated on March 16, 2010

Hardwood is great but for many, the industry has seen a change in terms of a less expensive alternative.  What we are talking about is laminate flooring and in this article I intend to show the upsides as well as the downsides of laminate versus hardwood.

Are laminate floors more durable and scratch resistant than hardwood?
This is a question that many ask.  After all, if you have kids or large dogs, the chances of the eventual scratch or dent is going to happen…the chances are much greater if you have true wood floors.  The short answer is yes, laminate flooring is more durable than traditional hardwood flooring.  This said, although laminate is technically more scratch resistant than wood, this doesn’t mean that they ARE scratch resistant.  Things like moving heavy furniture, large objects dropping on the floor as well high heels can damage any floors…this includes laminate.

All this said, some wood products are more susceptible to scratching than others.  As a contractor once told me, “hardwood floors are like cars….no matter how much care you take, you will eventually get a scratch.”

Are Laminate floors more easily maintained than hardwood?
The answer in short is yes, they are easier to maintain.  The problem with hardwood is, depending on the place and traffic, you will eventually have to refinish your floors.  In a lot of areas, such as the kitchen, this could be once a year or once every other year.  With laminate, you don’t have to worry about this type of maintenance because this type of floor can’t be refinished…which may not be as good as you think.

What if you damage your laminate flooring?  Is it easier to repair than hardwood?

One of the biggest upsides to purchasing hardwood over laminate is that in the event that you wind up with a damaged plank or section of floor, repairing a hardwood floor is much easier than repairing a laminate floor.  The reason though isn’t as obvious as you would think.  Repairing a hardwood plank is as easy as taking the plank out, measuring the width and length and installing a new plank.  Then you can refinish and stain the floor to match your current one.  With laminate flooring, because the flooring is nothing more than a photocopy of wood, you will have to find the brand line that you bought and, if it isn’t discontinued, purchase a replacement.

The problems will start to surface when you realize exactly how fast these brand lines do get discontinued.  If you can’t find the exact brand, you will be left either looking for a comparative match or simply leaving it damaged.  There are professionals that can repair a laminate floor but make no bones about it….it is a job made for the pros, not the weekend do-it-yourself handyman.

Another issue with damage is water damage.  While hardwood is more likely to become damaged from water, the problem could be reversed fairly quickly.  If your laminate flooring gets damaged by water, then chances are greater that you will have to replace the planks or sections damaged.

Hardwood Floors will start to fade and change colors….but will laminate?
Hardwood floors react naturally to sunlight so if you have flooring in a particularly bright room with lots of natural light and decide to move that rug in the middle of the room that has been in place for years, expect there to be color variations in the wood.  The same thing applies to a bookshelf, couch or literally any piece of furniture in the room.

On the other hand, because laminate isn’t “wood”, there is no chance of a color change due to photosynthesis.  Laminate hardwood planks or sections have a photographed image of the wood they are trying to replicate.  What this means is that if you want the same look 10 years from now, then laminate may be the better option.

You can’t refinish or resurface laminate hardwood
One of the biggest disadvantages of laminate is that what you see is what you are gonna get.  This may be okay if you are completely sold on the stain and don’t mind living with it several years down the road.  However, unlike hardwood, if you decide that you want a change in the look of your flooring, you will have to install new laminate flooring.  With hardwood flooring, you can restain or resurface your floors yearly if you want and change the look if you ever have a change of heart.

This is one of the bigger (but not biggest) downsides to going with laminate over hardwood.

Is Laminate Natural looking?

One of the bigger downsides to purchasing laminate flooring is that the photographed images will start to repeat giving the look of the room a more fabricated one.  This can be a real big problem, especially if you are buying the cheaper brand lines who are willing to have more repeating planks and sections in their product.  With hardwoood, there is no comparison.  Much like a snowflake, every piece of wood will be unique with no repeating patterns.  From an aesthetic viewpoint, this will give hardwood flooring the edge because it is “organic” rather than fabricated.

Which has a longer lifespan?  Hardwood or Laminate?

Given the fact that laminate floors are usually nothing more than compressed plywood topped with an acrylic photographed image, you would think that laminate would stand the test of time compared to wood.  However, the typical lifespan for more laminate products is less than 20 years although there are some better made product lines that have warranties all the way up to 30 years.  Still, compare this to hardwood floors which can not only easily last two decades but can surpass the century mark with relative ease and you will understand why hardwood floors are so expensive.

If you were to compare the price of reinstalling laminate floors throughout the years, you would see that hardwood is not as expensive, at least over the long haul.

Can’t I install laminate in more places than hardwood floors?
The reality is that you can, although thanks to engineered wood, the places where you can’t install hardwood species isn’t as large as it once was.  For instance, while laminate will react better to higher humidity or dryer places because it isn’t technically wood, the difference is really nominal.  And in regards to water (wood’s greatest enemy), there is very little difference between the two.  In other words, you will have to take the same care of your floors if you were to install them in your kitchen, bathroom or basement, regardless of flooring type.

Will Installing Laminate Floors increase the resale value of my home?
While it is no secret that hardwood floors will easily boost the resale value of a home (making it a great equity boosting remodel), laminate floors don’t get the same amount of love.  There is no supporting evidence that shows that installing laminate floors in your home will increase the value of your home like hardwood flooring.  There is actually no evidence that would indicate that it would increase your home’s value, even nominally.

The Bottom Line
As you can see, installing laminate flooring is good for a family on a budget with kids or dogs because it is less likely to get scratched.  Dirt tends to show more on laminate than hardwood but this issue is negligible.

The bigger question is how long do you intend to stay in your home?  If you are planning to sell, then installing hardwood would provide a better price when you put it on the market.  If you are planning to stay and are unsure whether you will like hardwood, then laminate is the perfect alternative.  After all, it is likely that it won’t last longer than 20 years and you can reinstall a different look later.  While hardwood floors don’t have to be permanent, in most cases, the cost of installing them is much greater than other types of floors and thus a good deterrant.


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      Fotrusyboarty 4 years ago

      Guys will likely be his or her tools.

      Mother nature abhors the actual bathwater.