Laminate vs Hardwood Floor (Which One is Better?)

When in need of a strong floor with a wood-like appearance, you’ll be advised to either go for the traditional hardwood flooring or a laminate floor. But what’s the difference between both types of flooring?

The difference between laminate and hardwood flooring is that hardwood flooring is cut from trees like oak and maple while laminate floor is gotten from recycled wood fibers.

Since hardwood flooring is cut directly from the tree, the boards are thicker than laminate boards. On average, hardwood floorboards measure a thickness level of 3/4 inches while laminate planks are usually less than 12mm thick.

Also, laminate floors are installed by intersecting the laminate planks while hardwood flooring is usually nailed on glued to the subfloor.

Hardwood Flooring vs. Laminate Flooring: Major Differences

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is a wooden floor that is formed by nailing or gluing hardwood boards to a flat subfloor. The boards of hardwood flooring are cut directly from trees like maple, oak, and hickory. After cutting the trees, the wood is shaped into hardwood flooring boards.

Since hardwood flooring boards are cut directly from trees, the wooden floor is very strong and durable. In addition to being strong, the hardwood boards are also larger and heavier than regular floorboards.

On average, hardwood floorboards measure up to a 3/4-inch thickness level. You should also know that most hardwood flooring boards are unfinished. This means that you’ll have to finish the hardwood flooring manually by applying varnish. You also have the option of leaving the floor unfinished.

Hardwood flooring is affordable, strong, and durable making this floor ideal for busy areas. So what else is hardwood flooring used for?

  1. Hardwood flooring is used on commercial floors
  2. Hardwood flooring is common in busy areas of their home including outdoor floors
  3. Hardwood gives a real wood appearance since the boards are cut directly from trees

Laminate Flooring

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is a floating floor that is gotten by assembling several laminate planks side by side using a tongue and groove locking mechanism. The tongue and groove system makes each laminate plank slide perfectly into the next. The laminate planks are usually assembled on a layer of foam, cork, felt, or rubber padding known as underlayment.

Laminate planks are designed specially to mimic hardwood flooring. This floor is for those homeowners that want a hardwood floor but can’t get one for one reason or the other.

Instead of the traditional hardwood flooring, you can install laminate planks and mimic the look of a hardwood floor. Laminate planks are thin with most planks measuring less than 12mm in thickness level.

Laminate planks usually come with a design layer that shows you what the finish will look like so you can mimic just about any flooring pattern. However, laminate flooring isn’t waterproof and since the planks aren’t nailed or glued to the subfloor, flooring issues can occur. Especially, if the planks aren’t installed properly.

  1. Laminate flooring is used to mimic the appearance of a hardwood flooring
  2. A laminate floor is used to add a touch of class to the home
  3. Laminate flooring is used as a temporary floor. Since the planks aren’t glued or nailed down, you can easily remove the laminate planks if you decide to switch floors.
  4. Laminate floors are used in low to medium traffic areas.

Next, let’s compare both types of flooring to see which comes out on top.

To compare both types of floors, we’ll use the features of each floor and see which comes out on top. Let’s start with…

The Appearance

What does the flooring look like?

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring has the appearance of real wood. If you inspect the boards of an unfinished hardwood flooring, you’ll notice that each board is one piece of wood and not a combination of wooden materials that are glued together.

This tells you that the hardwood floor is made from real wood and as such has that attractive natural look of wood. You can even see the wood grain on a hardwood floor.

You also have the choice of having a finished or unfinished hardwood appearance. If you are satisfied with the natural appearance of the hardwood floor, you can leave the floor unfinished. If you’ll like something different, you can stain or varnish the hardwood flooring.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring has the appearance of a hardwood floor. Traditionally, laminate plank flooring was designed to mimic the appearance of a hardwood floor so traditional laminate planks look like hardwood flooring. However, there are laminate planks today that mimic not just hardwood but stone and ceramic flooring too.

Best in Appearance: Hardwood Floor

Hardwood floor has a better appearance than laminate flooring. This is because laminate appearance is a mock-up or mimic of hardwood flooring and a mock-up can never look as good as the real deal.

Heat Resistance

How well does the flooring withstand heat?

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood floors are not very temperature-friendly. Since the hardwood is cut directly from wood, the hardwood boards react easily to temperature changes in the environment.

If the weather or room temperature gets above 85 degrees, you may notice your hardwood floor shrinking or opening up at the edges. The natural wood structure of hardwood flooring also means that the boards are flammable and should not be used near a heat source or open flame.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring does well to withstand heat and the main reason for this is that laminate is not cut directly from wood. Since the laminate planks are gotten from recycled wood fiber and some other synthetic compounds, the laminate planks don’t react to heat easily.

Best in Heat Resistance: Laminate Flooring

Laminate offers superior heat resistance to hardwood flooring. This is because laminate planks are made from recycled wood so the planks don’t react easily to heat.

Water Resistance

How well does the flooring repel moisture or water?

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is not waterproof but the flooring has good moisture resistance. Ordinarily, moisture will not penetrate your laminate planks easily because laminate planks have a wear layer made from waterproof plastic on each plank. This wear layer makes the laminate flooring good at repelling moisture.

However, water can still get underneath the planks through the tongue, and the groove locks between the planks. So, this flooring shouldn’t be used in high moisture areas like bathrooms and kitchens.

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is not waterproof and the flooring has poor moisture resistance especially if the hardwood floor is unfinished. Since hardwood flooring is cut directly from trees, the boards will have similar features to hardwood including porosity.

If used in high moisture areas, hardwood flooring will absorb water from the edges and sides of the boards causing the floor to swell.

However, if the hardwood floor is finished with a waterproof sealant like urethane varnish, then the hardwood flooring will have better moisture resistance. But, the hardwood will still not be waterproof because water can get in from the sides and bottom of the hardwood floor.

Best in Moisture Resistance: Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring offers superior moisture resistance to hardwood flooring. This is because laminate planks are often designed with plastic sheeting or wear layers that repels moisture while unfinished hardwood flooring is exposed to moisture. You should remember that both types of flooring are not waterproof.

Strength and Support

How strong is the flooring?

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is thick and sturdy. This makes the flooring strong and able to support heavy furniture and traffic.

The structure of hardwood flooring also means that it can support weight without the planks pulling apart. Since hardwood flooring is glued or nailed to the floor

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is strong and offers good support but the strength of a laminate floor is limited to 450 pounds of weight per square inch.

If you place items that are heavier than 500 pounds per square inch on a laminate floor, the floor will give way causing the planks to separate and causing gaps in your laminate floor. Also, the fact that laminate floors are floating makes the floor unable to carry heavy furniture for too long.

Best in Strength and Support: Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring offers more support and strength than laminate flooring due to its rigid and thick structure.

Durability

How well does the flooring withstand wear and tear?

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring offers very good durability. After the laminate planks are designed, the design layer is sealed with a plastic sheeting known as the wear layer. This wear layer is super durable and it prevents dents from affecting the laminate planks.

However, this wear layer starts to fade over time. After a while, the wear layer will become jaded and the laminate planks will become affected by dents and scratches. This usually happens around the 10-year mark.

Hardwood Flooring

Ordinarily, hardwood flooring is not durable. The unfinished hardwood floor is prone to scratches, dents, and marks because the hardwood floor is 100% wood.

However, if the hardwood flooring is sealed or varnished, it automatically becomes durable. The finish or sealant on the hardwood floor will protect the hardwood from scratches and dents.

Another amazing fact with hardwood flooring is that you can refinish the floor. So, if the existing sealant is becoming jaded, you can sand it off and reapply varnish to protect the flooring. This way, the hardwood flooring becomes extra durable and can last for several decades.

Best in Durability: Hardwood Floor

Hardwood floor is more durable than laminate flooring as long as you seal or varnish the hardwood floor. Hardwood flooring also lasts longer than laminate planks.

Installation Method

How is the flooring installed?

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is installed by arranging laminate planks side-by-side. Each plank is designed with a tongue and groove mechanism that allows the plank to slide perfectly into the next. The laminate planks are usually arranged on underlayment to make the planks even.

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is installed by nailing or gluing the hardwood boards to the subfloor. Though hardwood floors have tongues and grooves, these attachments are usually unable to hold the floor in place alone. So, nail or floor adhesive is used to keep the hardwood boards in place.

You’ll also need several power tools to install a hardwood floor which means this is not a task to DIY if you aren’t experienced.

Best in the Installation: Laminate Planks

Laminate planks are easier to install than hardwood flooring. This is because, with laminate floors, you can easily arrange the planks on an underlayment. However, for hardwood flooring, you need to nail or glue the boards down.

Cleaning and Maintenance

How easy or difficult is it to clean and maintain the flooring?

Hardwood Flooring

Finished or varnished hardwood flooring is easy to clean and maintain. This is because the sealant or varnish on the hardwood flooring prevents stains from sticking to the hardwood floor.

So you won’t have to do much cleaning with a hardwood floor. Also, the finish on the hardwood flooring means that you can use wet/dry cleaning methods on the hardwood flooring.

However, if the hardwood floor wasn’t finished, then cleaning can be tough because you can’t use wet cleaning methods on unfinished hardwood flooring. So, you are limited to scrubbing, scrapping, and wiping stains off which can wear the unfinished hardwood easily.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is easy to clean and maintain because the wear layer takes all the stains on the laminate flooring.

So, you can easily wipe off the stains from the wear layer. As an added advantage, the wear layer rarely absorbs stains so you won’t need to do much cleaning with a laminate floor.

But, it’s not ideal to mop a laminate flooring with water because you’ll easily push the water into the spaces and locks between the laminate planks.

Best in Cleaning and Maintenance: Both

Both laminate and hardwood flooring are easy to clean and maintain so this is a tie. Just ensure to seal a hardwood flooring so stains don’t stick. Also, limit the use of water and cleaning liquids on both types of floors as they are not waterproof.

Thickness and Weight

How thick and heavy is the flooring?

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring measures a thickness level between 6mm and 12mm or between 1/4 and 1/2 inches. This shows that laminate flooring is thin which means that the flooring will also be light given its thin nature.

On average, laminate flooring weighs less than 1.5 pounds per square foot. This is why it’s so easy to install laminate flooring since the planks are thin and light.

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is heavier, larger, and thicker than regular flooring. On average, hardwood boards measure a thickness level of about 3/4 inches or 19mm and some boards are over an inch or 25mm in thickness.

The thick nature of hardwood flooring also means that the floor will be heavier than most. On average, hardwood flooring weighs more than 1.5 pounds per square foot.

Best in Thickness and Weight: Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is lighter and thinner than hardwood flooring. For your home, you’ll need 3mm or 4mm thickness of laminate planks. Most hardwood planks are thicker than that.

The Price Tag

How much does the flooring cost?

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is a bit costly especially if you want to use this flooring on a large subfloor. On average, hardwood flooring costs about $6 per square foot and some brands can cost over $10 per square foot.

You should also know that the tree that the hardwood flooring was gotten from also determines the price tag. This is because some trees are rare and have better features than other trees.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is a cheap flooring option. You can get laminate flooring for below $3 per square inch depending on the type of laminate that you want.

You should know that with laminate flooring, the wear layer and overall thickness of the laminate plank determine the price tag.

Best in Cost: Laminate Floor

Laminate flooring is cheaper than hardwood flooring.

Best By Room:

Here is a chart that identifies the ideal spaces and rooms to install laminate and hardwood floors:

 Hardwood FlooringLaminate Flooring
BathroomNoNo
KitchenNoYes; with proper care and maintenance
Living RoomYesYes
BedroomYesYes
OfficesYesYes
StairsMaybe, depends on the size of the treadsYes
Outside FloorNoNo

Final Words

In summary, laminate and hardwood floors are both great choices. The main difference lies in the thickness level and makeup of the floorboards.

While laminate boards are thin and lighter than hardwood flooring, hardwood planks are thicker and sturdier. Laminate flooring offers superior moisture resistance to hardwood flooring. But, hardwood flooring offers superior durability.

Remember to use hardwood floors on busy and high-traffic floors while laminate flooring can be used in low to medium traffic areas of the home.

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