Hardwood Flooring vs. Laminate Flooring

This is an ongoing conversation between one of the top competing flooring materials: hardwood flooring vs. laminate flooring.

Hardwood flooring has been around for hundreds of years. It is a classic look that creates a warm, natural feeling that has timeless beauty. Hardwood floors are featured in many real estate listing and considered a desirable amenity to buyers.

Laminate flooring is realatively new to the flooring game. It is the biggest competitor to hardwood flooring and recent advancements have made increasingly popular. The difference between the two is so small that many cannot tell the difference.

So Which Is Better?

Timeless, traditional hardwood flooring or the ever evolving laminate flooring?

This is not such an easy question to answer anymore. It is much more than just a price comparison. We have compared the two side by side for your convenience and understanding.

Laminate Hardwood
Make-up/Construction Composite made of layers of fibers in melamine, photographic layer, and coatings Solid wood
Installed Cost $ less than hardwood ($2-8) $$$ more than laminate ($12-20)
Typical locations/use High traffic areas and rooms like offices, bedrooms, dens, living rooms, sometimes kitchens. Not great choice in wet areas like bathrooms, but better than hardwood, and requires increased maintenance, can be used in kitchen with precautions. Most residential rooms(not a great choice in bathrooms, engineered wood is better choice), not recommended below grade.
Durability “Good scratch and abrasion resistance, cannot be refinished rated AC1 to AC6 some say will only last ten years” Is susceptible to scratches from things like pets, but can be refinished a number of times, wear patterns may show in high traffic areas
Cleaning Easy to clean, soap and water, should clean spills immediately and do not let water stand for extended periods Need to minimize water and treat with oil?
Limitations Standing or extended periods of exposure to liquid water Slabs-on-ground w/ no vapor retarder, wet areas
Finish Prefinished at factory, photo in clear resin based coating Stain, clear coat (can be applied on site or at the factory)
Installation Floating floor, adhered – easier and is often labled as DIY friendly Nailed, floating, glued – considered on the hard side to install
Thickness 1/4 in. (6 mm) to 1/2 in. (12 mm) 3/4 in. (5/16 in. is also available)
Edge connection Locking tongue and groove that “snap” together Butt, spline, shiplap, tongue in groove
Dimensional Stability Is more dimensionally stable with changes in humidity than hardwood and less requirements for expansion joints Swells with high humidity and can cup, shrinks with low humidity, flutes often cut into back of plank (absorption strips) to help with cupping
Expansion joints 40 ft. run max., and need 5/16 to 3/8 in. perimeter joints, t strips at doors and on large floors Need 3/4 perimeter joints, about 10 x 12 is max, and on larger floor “dime” or “washer” gaps in center of large floors, can also use splines in center to reverse direction of grain, on maple gym floors 3, 6 or 10 ft. exp. Joints
On Site Conditioning Acclimate 1 to 3 days onsite, some products not as senstive to humidty as hardwood “Acclimate three days minimum
Sunlight UV inhibitor in top coat Can fade at different rates (e.g carpet covered section vs. bare floor)
Resale Surprised to find some realtors stating that quality laminate is desirable and helps to sell homes Considered to add value by some, also seen as higher end floor material
Radiant heat Yes No

So What Is The Outcome: Hardwood Flooring vs. Laminate Flooring

To answer the question, it truly depends on the use and personal preference.

For those who want the longevity and natural, warm feeling of hardwood, the increased cost of materials and labor may be worth it. Also, for custom designs, the freedom to stain and finish the hardwood on site allows for a unique, precise color and gloss that complement the interior design.

Those who have pets or are worried about scratching and wear may benefit from installing a high AC rated laminated floor. Or, for those who are working with limited funds but want the look of hardwood, laminate flooring provides an economical choice that meets both their aesthetic and budgetary requirements.