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Hardwood Versus Laminate Flooring - The Truth!

Don’t be fooled! No matter what you have heard or people say nothing matches the richness of a real hardwood floor.

Laminate flooring is a photograph of a hardwood floor laminated (glued) to a composite material made up of compressed paper and glue.

Laminate flooring does not look like real hardwood nor does it feel like real hardwood when you walk on it. No two hardwood floors are the same, grains and coloring vary on each and every board - you cannot say that about laminate flooring as the picture is repeated over and over - each and every board is identical in pattern, coloring and texture.

It is the inherent imperfections in the lumber, that creates the richness and warmth, that can only be found by using natural hardwood flooring.

Why then, has laminate flooring become so popular?

There are two primary reasons:

  1. The first reason is the cost per square foot for the material. Laminate flooring can be purchased for as little as $0.59 per sq. ft., with a top end price of about $4.00 per sq. ft.
  2. The second reason is installation. Laminate flooring is very easy to install and can be done by most diy home handymen. It requires little in special tools (a power saw with a carbide tipped blade is really the only required tool). Laminate can be laid over any flat surface including carpeting, an underlay of thin foam is recommended to reduce floor movement, provide foot traffic comfort and sound transmission. Even contracted out, a laminate floor, complete with foam underlay can be had for less than $3.00 a sq. ft.

How does this differ with hardwood flooring:

  • A quality oak, tongue and grove, pre-finished, hardwood flooring material will cost at least $3.00 a sq. ft. and some of the exotic hardwoods can take the cost up, to more than $20.00 a sq. ft. Installation will cost another $3.00 to $5.00 a sq. ft.
Hardwood Flooring Nailing Machine
Figure 1 - Hardwood Flooring Nailing Machine
  • Hardwood boards or slats should not be used below grade or on a concrete slab floor because of dampness rising from below the boards and producing a warping effect. Installing hardwood requires some expertise and patience and may not be a suitable home handyman material. In fact, it is best if hardwood flooring is installed by a professional, to ensure that subtleties in grains and colors are taken into account, as each board is laid.

Installation is usually accomplished using a tongue and grove nailing machine (Figure 1), either pneumatic or manual. Although this is a simplistic tool, it takes some practice to utilize it properly and not damage the hardwood boards during installation.

As well, on delivery of the hardwood boards some will be warped and it takes some expertise to straighten them during installation.

Engineered Hardwood:

Falling in between hardwood and laminate (although it really is much closer to hardwood than laminate) is engineered hardwood flooring.

An engineered hardwood, is a piece of hardwood, from 1/16 inch to 3/16 inch thick, glued, under pressure to plywood.

The engineered floor can be floating, similar to laminate where it is not glued down to the sub-floor or it can be glued down.

Engineered hardwood is approximately the same price per sq. ft. as regular hardwood, the primary difference is in the cost of the installation. It is much easier to install, because the boards are all flat and there is usually a high grain and color consistency. A home handyman capable of installing a laminate floor can generally, successfully install engineered hardwood flooring.

Installation of an engineered hardwood floor is around $1.75 a sq. ft. The engineered hardwood can also be used below grade and on concrete slabs because it is the plywood that is in contact with the sub-floor rather than the hardwood itself.