Hardwood vs. Laminate: What's the Difference?

Putting in a new wood floor is a common home improvement project that can add beauty and value to any home. For reasons that will soon become apparent, hardwood and laminate are the two most popular types of flooring. Because both materials have their fair share of pros and cons, choosing between them can be challenging.

Hardwood Flooring

Considered by many to be the most desirable type of flooring, hardwood is made from harvested trees. Each individual board or plank comes from a single piece of wood, ensuring consistent texture and appearance. Available in a wide variety of wood species, hardwood flooring can be purchased unfinished or prefinished.

- Appearance: No other wood floor can compare to hardwood when it comes to natural warmth and beauty. The unique textured appearance and feel of real wood simply cannot be duplicated.

- Longevity: Because it can be sanded down and refinished several times, hardwood flooring can last a lifetime. It is no wonder many older homes have their original hardwood floors.

- Repairs: While it is true that hardwood is softer than laminate flooring, the fact that it can be resurfaced means that it is often easier to repair dents and scratches. Even when the damage is significant, individual planks can simply be replaced, which is not the case with laminate floors.

- Price: Although price can vary based on the type of tree the wood is harvested from, hardwood floors are more expensive to purchase and install.

- Maintenance: Because they are more susceptible to scratches, stains, moisture, and other damage, hardwood requires more attention and care than laminate floors.

- Sensitivity: Natural wood can shrink in dry environments and swell in damp ones. It may also be discolored by direct sunlight (UV rays).

Laminate Flooring

Made of compressed composite wood that is covered by a photographic image of natural wood, laminate flooring is considered by many to be the next best thing to real hardwood. Its versatility and price means that it can be affordably added to almost any indoor area.

- Price: According to those in the know, laminate wood can often be purchased and installed for about half the cost of hardwood floors.

- Versatility: Because it uses photographic images to recreate the look of natural wood, any type, texture, or condition of wood can be added.

- Maintenance: With a synthetic surface, laminate flooring is far less susceptible to staining, moisture, or the sun's rays than natural hardwood. Regular sweeping, wiping, and mopping are all it takes to keep it looking its best for years on end.

- Repairs: Because it comes in larger sections and pieces than hardwood flooring, repairs are often more expensive.

- Longevity: Although its durability ensures a fairly long lifespan of up to 20 years, the fact that it cannot be sanded or refinished means that laminate flooring will not last as long as hardwood.

- Appearance: It may have come a long way from the days when it looked like plastic, but laminate still cannot compare with natural wood in the looks department.

In the end, both of these flooring options have their advantages and drawbacks, and it's up to the individual homeowner to make a decision. Fortunately, it's hard to go wrong with either choice, as both options provide a classic, elegant look to any room.