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Wood Flooring: What is the Difference
Hardwood vs: Laminate vs: Engineered Wood?

There are three basic types of wood flooring—solid hardwood, engineered hardwood and plastic laminate (acrylic). Each floor certainly has its pros and cons and people make their choices based on price, location of installation, method of installation, and personal preference.

When you begin looking for the right floor for a specific room or your entire home you may be surprised by the wide array of choices. First, there are numerous brands of hardwood and laminate flooring and then various styles offered under each brand. This article is focused on making your selection a bit easier by considering the advantages and disadvantages of solid hardwood, engineered hardwood and plastic laminate.

Solid Hardwood

Many people prefer the quality and long-life of solid hardwood flooring. Most Realtors will tell you that hardwood floors make a house more marketable. Realtors often say that homes with hardwood floor coverings sell faster and at a higher price than those that have other types of flooring. That may be true, however most people cannot tell the difference between wood floors just by looking, so their theory may apply to all types of wood flooring.

Solid hardwood commonly comes in thicknesses of ¾ inch to 1¼ inch. Hardwood comes in planks with widths ranging from about 2 inches all the way up to very rare and expensive 12" widths. The most common widths range from 3 to 6 inches. Also the planks come in a variety of lengths. Longer lengths (six to eight feet) are more expensive, while lower priced solid wood may come in a mix of lengths with some as short as 12 inches.

Solid wood can come with square edges, where each board is simply butted up against the next one or it can have a profile edge, such as tongue and groove, which enhances the structural support and reduces the chance of gaps exposing the subfloor.

Advantages:

  • Durability—hardwood can last 100 years or more.

  • Solid hardwood, with its tongue and groove structure, increases your flooring system’s structural strength.

  • Its thickness allows you to ignore small dips in your sub floor more easily than with thinner engineered wood or laminates.

  • Hardwood can be stripped or sanded and refinished many times, restoring it to a like new appearance.

  • Usually less expensive than high-end engineered wood.

  • Often comes in longer lengths than engineered flooring.

  • Resists spills well.

  • Hardwood has a non-patterned look unlike laminate.

  • There is a certain richness to the appearance and feel of hardwood.

  • A moderate price range (from ($4.00-$7.25/square-foot)—higher than most laminates and lower than most engineered hardwood products.

  • Unlike carpeting hardwood is non-allergenic.

  • Hardwood is the only floor covering that increases the value of your home.

Disadvantages :

  • Solid hardwood is moisture sensitive and not recommended for basements or high moisture areas.

  • Solid wood can expand and contract seasonally or in the presence of moisture leading to gaps or buckling.

  • Of the three, this is the most difficult for a DIY install. You will probably need to hire a professional and that increases the cost by about $3.00/square-foot.

  • Installation is time consuming.

  • Less resistant than laminates to foot traffic and damage.

Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwood flooring is composed of numerous layers of thin plywood that are glued together. The core, which incorporates a tongue and groove system, uses either soft plywood and/or hardwood. A thick hardwood veneer is glued to the plywood core’s top surface.

Advantages :

  • A solid lifespan of 30-100 years.

  • Holds up better in humid areas than solid hardwood.

  • Its layered construction makes it more dimensionally stable than solid wood.

  • The 5/16 inch top layer can be sanded and refinished up to seven times. If a floor is damaged, this is a much cheaper choice than you would have with laminate, which cannot be sanded and must be replaced.

  • Installation can occur on wood sub floors or dry concrete.

  • Engineered hardwood is installed using a staple gun, making it much easier and faster to install than hardwood.

  • These floors come in a wide range of styles, colors, and sizes.

  • It is non-allergenic.

  • Like solid hardwood flooring, engineered hardwood increases the value of your home and makes it easier to sell.

Disadvantages :

  • Engineered hardwood flooring is the most expensive floor covering with prices starting around $5/square-foot and going to $9/square-foot. However, it is a relatively easy DIY job, which means the higher price can be offset by the money you save from not having to hire a professional.

  • It is less wear resistant and damage proof than laminate.

  • If damaged only some types of engineered hardwood floors can be sanded and refinished.

  • Usually not available in longer lengths, 4 feet is usually the longest length available.

Plastic Laminate (Acrylic)

Plastic laminate flooring has a fiberboard core, which underpins a photograph of wood. The photo is covered and sealed by an extremely tough plastic coating. It’s installed over a foam layer and may be held in place with glue or by its own weight. Although a photograph may seem like a strange idea for a floor, because it is a photo, it is very realistic and the coating makes it very durable.

Advantages :

  • Plastic laminate holds up extremely well to ultraviolet rays, spills, and foot traffic. This is considered to be a good surface for busy rooms.

  • Of the three, it is the least expensive floor covering with prices starting at $3.00/square-foot and going to about $4.50/square-foot.

  • Laminate is the easiest of the three to install.

  • These floors are simple to clean and maintain. Virtually care free.

  • Many come with a triple warranty against staining, fading, and wear. Some also are warranted against moisture.

  • It is non-allergenic.

Disadvantages :

  • If damaged it cannot be sanded or refinished. Plastic laminate must be replaced.

  • Commonly it lasts from 15 to 30 years, which is much less than hardwood.

  • It does not add value to your home like hardwood coverings.

  • Although less expensive than hardwood and easy to install, there are cost added factors such as the price of the foam sub-layer.

  • Water working its way under the flooring, such as along the outer edges, will cause buckling. Laminate is not recommended for bathrooms or laundry rooms.

  • It can be installed in basements but not without certain modifications that can increase the price of your floor and add time to the job.

  • A patterned look is created, which some people find unattractive and unappealing.

Choosing wood flooring can be bewildering. A few factors that will influence your selection include installation preference, price per square-foot, look, lifespan and the areas you’re going to cover. Engineered hardwood is the best choice for dry concrete, while a laminate may be the way to go if you’re on a budget and covering a high traffic area. Solid hardwood affords a traditional look and feel but is the most difficult to install.

Whether you choose solid hardwood, engineered hardwood or plastic laminate a new wood floor will change the aura and appearance of any room.






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