The flooring war has been raging for years now and the debate is still at the forefront of home design and construction. Both are great products that come with pros and cons – determining what’s best for your space can be a challenge with tremendous pressure to pick the right product. Mistakes in this decision phase could cost you thousands of dollars, so we created this blog to help you find the product that best suites your project and your style!
Hardwood is the tried-and-true gold standard in flooring. It’s been used for hundreds of years and is available in just about every wood species and finish you could want. It usually comes in 3/4” tongue-and-groove planks that are stapled or nailed together. Pre-finished planks are popular these days since you only have to install the planks and skip the sanding, staining, and sealing. Sand-in-place flooring is also common – these are unfinished planks that once installed, are sanded and finished to create a uniform look.
We have installed both types of hardwood and both are great options. If you are installing the floor yourself, the pre-finished planks are the quickest and easiest to install. On the other hand, if you are adding to an existing hardwood floor, repairing damaged areas, or looking for a custom finish, sand-in-place flooring is best. If you go that route, we highly recommend you hire professionals with proper equipment – it’s a messy process!
Let’s go through some of the pros of hardwood. It’s can be sanded and refinished multiple times. Because of this, it is easier to repair damaged sections in your flooring. Another advantage of hardwood is that it feels solid when you walk on it. Many hardwood alternatives have a softer, lighter feel that in our opinion, is less desirable than a hard, solid floor.
However, there are some cons with hardwood flooring. One of the big ones is that heavy traffic can cause hardwood to show more wear-and-tear. This requires you to sand and refinish more frequently, which is costly. Also, if you have large animals, their claws may scratch the floor, especially softer wood species like pine and maple. In our previous house, The Sweet Suburban, our Great Dane, Mr. Pickles, ruined the wood floors we had with his claws and “zoomies”. Another disadvantage to hardwood is that the sunlight can cause fading and discoloration. Ever take up an area rug and notice that the wood underneath is a different shade? The sun can have different effects on different types of wood. For example, it will cause darker floors to become lighter, but will cause Brazilian cherry to darken and become a richer red. We installed pre-finished Brazilian cherry in our Colorado house (this was 12 years ago – our style has changed quite a bit since then! We also hired professionals to install sand-in-place hardwood flooring in The Arched Manor to create a consistent wood floor throughout the first level.
Laminate flooring has come a long way in the last 10 years and has gained popularity due to it’s durability, consistency, and ease of installation. Let’s jump right into the pros: It is a floating floor that connects together using tongue and grooves, and it can be installed over an existing floor or on top of subfloor (with an underlayment). Laminate is also extremely durable and better suited for high-traffic and large pets. As we mentioned above, our dog ruined our hardwood floors in our last house, which is why when we replaced the flooring, we chose to do laminate flooring (which held up great!). I was sold on the durability when we painted (sprayed) or kitchen cabinets, and we over-sprayed a few areas of flooring. I was able to use a steel wool brush and remove the paint off the laminate easily and with no damage! Can’t do that with hardwood!
Laminate is also easy to install and can be done with only a few tools. It is available in wide planks, and the wood grain print is consistent, meaning you don’t have to worry about throwing away planks that have funky wood grain patterns or knots. The planks are also guaranteed to be square, meaning they aren’t warped or bent, which makes installation much less frustrating. There are some laminate flooring that has UV protection, which protects it from fading in direct sunlight. However, in our own personal experience with a dark laminate floor, the sun still can have an effect on the color. When we moved, you could definitely see where our rugs and furniture were located. Another pro of laminate is that it can be installed in basements, just so long as you have a quality underlayment.
What about the cons of laminate?
Wow – so that’s a lot of pros to laminate! Don’t let the number of pros fool you though, there are some pretty important cons. For starters, if you damage the planks, you can’t simply sand and refinish them. What you have to do is start at one of the walls and remove the planking up to the area, replace that plank (or planks), and re-install the planking you removed in the first step. In our last home, we had an open-concept floorplan and a water bottle leaked onto the floor next to the couch that we did not notice. The water was left on the floor long enough for it to penetrate through the seams of the planks and cause the particle board (under the laminate facade) to pucker. This created a bubble look in that section of flooring. The crew had to come out and take apart half of our flooring to fix this plank and re-install it.
Water damage is one of the biggest cons of laminate. The top surface is pretty much waterproof, but the seams are vulnerable, especially when water sits for an extended period of time. One of the other big cons is the height of laminate flooring. If you are replacing your solid hardwood flooring, you likely have 3/4 inch height planks. Laminate is much shorter in height – around 3/8” to 5/8”. The problem is that your baseboards will have a gap, which can be hidden with shoe molding. However, doors, door trim, and stair posts will be exposed and will show a gap. Most people won’t notice it, but we sure did at our old house!
Side-By-Side Comparison Consider
Use this handy-dandy comparison to weight the pros and the cons of hardwood vs. laminate.
|Appearance||Many beautiful wood species, colors, and widths available.||A printed wood pattern that has come a long way recently in looking more “real”.|
|Installation||Pre-finished planks are easier to install with the right tools. Sand-in-place flooring is much more involved and usually requires professionals. Both require nails or staples.||Laminate is floating and can be easily installed on top of existing flooring or cement.|
|Durability||Depends on wood species and sealer. Can last up to 100+ years if cared for.||Durable, but since can’t sand and refinish, usually only lasts 10-20 years.|
|Good for High Traffic?||No||Yes|
|Feel||Solid to walk on, prone to popping and cracking as humidity changes and the wood ages.||Softer to walk on, which may give away that it is not actually hardwood. Less noisy.|
|Good for Large Pets?||No||Yes|
|Good for Children?||Yes||Yes|
|Repairability||Can replace individual planks, sand, refinish multiple times.||Unable to sand and refinish. Damaged boards need to be removed by un-installing the floating floor around it.|
|Cost||Depends on wood species, finish, and width.||Depends on quality level. High-quality planks can cost the same as premium hardwood. Bargain laminate may cost less than budget hardwood.|
|Cleaning||Can wet-mop or spray-mop.||Spray-mop only. Since top is non-porous, easier to remove dirt.|
It really depends on your space, lifestyle, aesthetic, and budget. There is not clear winner in this battle (sorry to disappoint!). Both are great products and have certain characteristics that make them ideal for certain locations and circumstances.
For us, we have a large dog and kids, so the durability of laminate is very appealing. We installed it in our last house and for the most part, loved it! However, our current house was mostly sand-in-place red oak hardwood and has a more formal, classic feel, so we opted to keep the existing hardwood and expand it to include the entire first level.