Laminate Versus Hardwood Floors
Benefits Of Laminate Floors. Summary
Laminate floors are extremely durable but do have their limitations. Even though they are very tolerant of scratching they can still be damaged given the right conditions. Examples include dropping large irregular objects, unprotected chair legs, and dragging furniture across the floor. These floor types are also stain resistant and do not fade or change color as wood floors do.
Unlike traditional wood flooring they cannot be refinished or resurfaced because they are composed of a thin artificial surface mimicking hardwood grain or tile patterns. Patterns are repetitious. Each box will contain the same appearance. Repairs are quite difficult for any do it yourselfer but experienced professionals armed with the proper tools can handle them in a snap. All laminate floors are floating type only. This is not much of a disadvantage in most respects. Common complaints from owners are often hollow sounding floors, common with many floating floors. Upgraded underlayment installed under the floor can dramatically cut down on not only the hollow sound but click, clap feel underfoot.
Compare The Two
|Photographed image/repeating patterns||Natural/no one piece is alike|
|Lifespan is limited. Less than 20 years||Will last 20-100 years plus¹|
|Easier to maintain²||Improved maintenance|
|Cannot be refinished||Can be refinished|
|Difficult to repair||Can be repaired easier|
|Brand lines discontinued often³||Easier to find replacement solution|
|Fade resistant||Will darken/amber|
|Scratch resistant||Will scratch easier|
|Will not help resale value of home||Improves home resale value & selling duration|
Let’s examine some of what we’ve shown above. With regards to the surface look and feel of laminate (image/repeating patterns). Major innovations have taken place in recent years to improve the demand for these floors. Embossing (image right) of the surface has taken on a meaning that some of these floor designs have textures and feels similar to genuine hardwood floors. In addition some have effects that can easily mimic a beveled distressed hardwood floor appearance, or even something like a French Bleed look.
Laminate Floors Can Last For More Than 20 Years
Lifespan. Laminate floors have been around for almost twenty years if we take 1995 as a starting date. Our view of lifespan has changed as some floors can surpass 20 years if taken care of properly. Looking at the repair aspect. Yes laminate floors can be more difficult to repair when considering the older glued together types, or prior to the year 2000. The easier lock and fold type floors manufactured since are much easier with the right professional and the right tools.
With regard to hardwood floors being capable of refinishing. This applies to higher quality engineered and solid products and not thin wear layer type engineered hardwoods. Some engineered examples can include products with an overall thickness of 5/16 to 3/8 inches thick.
As far as the replacement aspect. This could be considered a tossup if we consider engineered hardwood floors versus laminate. Engineered hardwoods do get discontinued but not as often as laminate floors from our view. The difficulty in both is finding matching material. However any common solid hardwood can be replaced quite easily, but will require finishing if an exact replacement cannot be found, particularly stained or distressed/scraped products, or less common and harder to find board width dimensions. Examples can include solid 3 ½” or 4 ¾“ wide hardwoods that are manufactured in Asia.
Benefits and Disadvantages Hardwoods
More natural looking. There are no repeat patterns as each and every piece of hardwood will be different due to the product being natural. Has a better longevity factor depending on what type is chosen. Solid wood floors can last well into one hundred years and can also be refinished with color changes.
Can scratch and dent easily. More prone to water damage but may be temporary, opposed to laminate flooring where water damage may be permanent and require replacement.
Resale Value Of Homes
Laminates have not been known to provide better resale value compared to wood floors.
¹ Will depend largely on maintenance, care, and type of style chosen (engineered/solid)
² Some clean obsessed people complain about the presence of foot prints after cleaning.
³ Finding discontinued flooring more difficult than that of hardwoods. Plan on extras when buying.
Laminate Trends Today
Manufacturers have made impressive inroads in technology and especially styles since they first appeared in dealer showrooms almost 20 years ago. Back in the day there was no creativity as all seemed to have the same boring appearance; notably a butcher block look. Today almost any style of hardwood can be facsimiled including random width and herringbone.
Long Length Material
Other standout improvements include longer length material. One line in particular is the Armstrong Rustics Premium New England Long Plank. At 88 inches this product surpasses all common North American solid hardwoods with regards to length. At nearly ½ inch in thickness it also supports a true beveled appearance just like a solid hardwood. This represents a major improvement and puts some engineered hardwoods to shame that don't go longer than 48 inches.
Repetitious Looks Fading?
Another improvement worth noting are attempts at reducing the repetitious look often associated with all laminate flooring. Rather than having 6 or 7 real patterns or board appearances, several manufacturers have increased this number making it harder to distinguish the repitition.
What Kind Of Styles?
Depending on the manufacturer nearly everything that one would find with today's popular selling hardwoods can be found. This includes floors that mimic a country feel or character grade appearances with the actual feel and appearance of knotting through the use of embossing technology. Beveled styles can be found along with pillowing and sculpted effects on board edges.
You want random lengths? Some of those to go around as well which was impossible to find in the early days. Things have definitely changed with laminate flooring. Along with the improvements come the costs compared to more traditional wood floors. While they have increased for many of the more popular styles they are still substantially lower than the real thing. The question remains; will they still have that fake stigma or have manufacturers turned the elusive corner?
What Happened To Glued Together Products?
For all intent and purposes glued type products have died. Several reasons included the difficulty of the installation that required strap clamping to keep boards tight. Excess or too much glue used created seam swelling on some products. Essentially companies built a better mousetrap when click type and lock and fold variations were introduced.
Removing Older Floors - A Simple Job
Nearly all laminate flooring has been installed by the floating method with the exception of Wilsonart that had a direct glue type installation in the late 90’s. Up until 2002 or so most were glued by the tongue and groove. This has very little effect on removing.
Once the baseboard, shoe molding or quarter round is removed it can be as simple as cutting open a hole along a wall line. Let’s say we have a large area and the wall line extends 20 feet. Simply use a circular saw with the cutting blade set a tad (1/8”) deeper than the thickness of the flooring and rip a two foot section away from the wall line. That’s almost the hardest part of the job.
Once this section is removed it can almost be folded together. By picking up one end, the overall weight of the rest will sometimes break in two. If not, all you need is someone standing on the large portion (and you lifting at the same time) about six feet away and snap, it’s broken in two. The rest of the floor can be lifted with the same procedure; having someone heavy enough on the other end.
Careful. Not Too Fast!
Once you find it’s as simple as walking the dog, it will be critical to slow down when you get near door openings or around the casings themselves. This can also apply to kitchen cabinetry and walls. Essentially you don’t want to damage the areas. I got carried away my first time and dinged up the bottom side of a door casing. Remember, you may be installing another floor and having to repair your mistakes can be avoided.
Can I Save The Underlayment?
If you’re considering installing another floating floor, it’s wise to check with the individual manufacturers specifications. Some can be quite anal about using their own proprietary products that can void a warranty. If there are no specifications and the existing underlayment is sound, intact, and functioning it can be used providing it was installed correctly. Check for torn seams or the film underlayment if the sub floor is concrete.
If the older floor had that click clack sound when walking over you may want to consider an upgraded underlayment that reduces the sound. Were there any spongy spots with the older floor? Likely that the sub floor was not flat enough. The best procedure is removing the underlayment and check for flatness. Perhaps the older floor was installed during the hey days of the latest building boom. Some retailers had no choice but sending out installers that really did not have the proper qualifications to install the floor and could have ignored the most important part of any hardwood or laminate job; proper floor preparation.
For thicker laminate flooring or ones greater than the standard 5/16” thickness removal may not be as simple. In this case cutting the floor into manageable sections so they can be carried easily from the premises may be needed.