Hardwood vs Laminate Plank Flooring - How to choose the right type of flooring

Solid Hardwood Flooring vs Laminate Flooring - which is better?

Whether you're looking to create a classic, natural vibe or more of an industrial-inspired look for your space, the aesthetic qualities of solid hardwood flooring are hard to beat. Wooden floors can help create a classic, natural vibe for any space, which is why it has always been a popular flooring choice. However, with the advent of copycat laminate floors, it is now important to consider whether a genuine hardwood floor or a lookalike laminate flooring solution would be better suited to your project. 


What is a genuine wood floor?

Solid hardwood flooring floors are constructed entirely of real hardwood, whether that be ‘solid hardwood' or ‘engineered hardwood'. Solid wood, in New Zealand, is primarily seen in the narrow Rimu or Matai floorboards of older homes. Modern solid wood tends to be wider with a much larger range of different stain and finishing options.

Despite the deceptive name, engineered hardwood is still an actual wood floor, the ‘engineering' component coming in the construction as opposed to the materials. Engineered hardwood floors are designed to combat the issues of cupping and bowing that solid wood floors face, which are typical problems that arise when common types of wood are under environmental stress.

Engineered hardwood is designed cross-layered, meaning each layer is angled to the previous layer, making the whole board far stronger and more dimensionally stable. There are generally 3-4 layers; the face layer (that you see) will be a wood species like Maple or Oak, the core layer and base layer are stabilising layers that are made of plantation timber - trees that are planted for commercial timber production. This type of floor also has the environmental benefit of using considerably less slow-growing hardwood.


What are laminate planks?

Laminate planks can provide the aesthetic of a wooden floor but instead of a genuine wood face, the top is a printed pattern that resembles wood grain and is overlaid with an incredibly strong resin. The quality of the print will dictate how authentic the floor will look when installed, this can generally be ascertained through looking at a sample. The rest of the floorboard is typically made of MDF or HDF - common construction wood that is created by breaking down hardwood offcut into fibres, then combining the fibres with wax and a resin to form panels.

Solid hardwood flooring vs. laminate flooring - Which is better a better type of flooring, laminate flooring or a natural wood floor?

Both types of flooring have their advantages. Your choice will be made depending on which type of flooring is best suited to the environment it will be laid in.

Many people initially prefer the idea of genuine solid hardwood floor for its natural feel and look; no two planks are alike and once installed, your floor will be entirely unique.

The primary drawback of genuine solid hardwood floor is that it's relatively easy to damage. Excess UV light will cause the floor to prematurely fade, and it can be easily scratched, so you must consider exposure to dog claws, dragging furniture, kids with toys as well as sand or stones being walked in. Genuine wood is not very water-resistant, meaning any spills will have to be immediately cleaned up and it can be dented if you drop something heavy on it.

A solid hardwood floor will survive all the above hazards but will acquire a more rustic, lived-on look. Periodic maintenance will need to be more intensive to ensure the lacquer maintains a good condition. If a live-on look is what you desire, genuine wood may be a fantastic option.

The authenticity of laminate flooring has improved dramatically in the past few years, and it is now difficult for many to even tell the difference!

A laminate floor is incredibly durable, easily withstanding family life. It is resistant to scratching from sand/stones, dragging furniture, dogs, and kids. It is more resistant to excess UV light than a solid hardwood floor is, although large amounts of UV will still cause it to fade over time.

Laminate can be dented and suffer water damage in the same way solid hardwood flooring can but is generally more water resistant than real wood floors. Overall, it is a great, low-maintenance and hassle-free option, both for busy family households and mid-high traffic commercial environments.

How do you judge the quality of a solid hardwood floor?

It can be difficult to judge a genuine solid hardwood floor on looks alone as a rustic style, for example, is intended to look a bit beaten up with knots and filled holes while there will be nothing wrong with the structural quality.

It is important to look at a big sample (or multiple samples) when trying to ascertain the quality of solid hardwood flooring. You must look at the quality of the edges and the consistency of the lacquer. Make sure that you query any oddities.

If you are after a consistent look across all floorboards, you want to go with a prime grade wood. Keep in mind that the grade will vary by brand so make sure you ask what this grade means for the brand you are looking at. All hardwood has some defects, it is a natural product after all. Colour and grain will vary from board to board. It could help to ask for photos of a project using this product.

How do you judge the quality of a laminate floor?

Laminate floors are slightly easier to judge and there is a wide range of products of different qualities available on the market. Price per square foot tends to be the best indication of quality when it comes to laminate flooring options. It's generally a good idea to stay away from the lower end of the market - a lower price per square foot will indicate a low-quality product.

It's important to look at the quality of the print over a few different boards. Consider how real the print looks as well as whether the resin layer looks like a real wood lacquer or a plastic-like copy. The pattern repeat should be more than 10:20 which is towards the top end of the range. That means there will be more variation of the pattern between each separate plank; it'll be harder to spot any planks that have the exact same pattern.

Make sure you find out what the wear class is; according to the European Norm specification, it may be class 23 (residential) or class 31, 32, 33, 34 (light to heavy commercial). It may be rated with the AC system with AC1 (residential) through to AC6 (heavy commercial). If that's too hard to remember, we recommend a minimum wear class of 31 or AC3 when looking at laminate options. If the laminate hasn't been tested, we would recommend staying away.


How are solid hardwood floors installed?

Genuine solid hardwood floors can be installed one of two ways; either glued to the substrate or floated over an underlay. Gluing is more expensive and time-consuming to install but is certainly more permanent and results in a very solid sounding floor.

A floating floor is easier and quicker to install and can be easily uplifted. It may result in a slight ‘drumminess' in the floor, increasing the walking noise in both the room it is in and the room underneath, which tends not to be a major issue for most people but definitely something to consider depending on the nature of the project.

How to install laminate floors?

Laminate flooring is always installed as a floating floor over an underlay, meaning it is quick and easy to install. However, we do recommend a professional installation to ensure logevity.


How easy are solid hardwood floors and laminate floors to maintain?

The best option for the maintenance of both solid hardwood floors and laminate floors is a dry mop (micro-fibre, Swiffer, dust mop etc.). This will be all the floor needs on a regular basis.
Spills or tracked dirt can be easily cleaned with a spray bottle of water with a little neutral cleaner and sponge.

We recommend a biodegradable, neutral detergent that is suitable for any hard or resilient surface. A larger mess can be easily handled with a neutral cleaner, bucket, and mop. It is important to ensure the mop is very well wrung out and a minimal amount of detergent is used because excess detergent could leave residue on the floor.

The entire floor does not need to be regularly mopped and generally, spot cleaning will be sufficient.

We highly recommend that you do NOT use a steam mop on your solid hardwood floor or laminate floor (although steam mop suppliers often advertise that you can).

Authentic wood is a natural product that reacts to both heat and water meaning forcing hot water and air into a wooden surface (and between planks) will damage your floor and possibly void your warranty and this warning is extended to laminate due to its MDF or HDF core.

For a natural hardwood floor, check with your supplier regarding what product they recommend to touch up the lacquer and do not buy a generic product. The wrong product could result in having to get the whole floor stripped, which will be a hefty price to pay.

Small dents and gouges in wood floors are often somewhat repairable with wax sticks that you match to the floor colour that can be found from your local hardware store. For more severe damage in both wood and laminate floors, individual boards can be easily replaced, and we will always strongly recommend that you purchase an extra box of planks to have on hand in the case of future repairs.

Solid Hardwood Flooring vs. Laminate Flooring, which should you choose?

Ultimately, the choice between genuine solid hardwood flooring or laminate flooring is best based on the environment the floor must withstand. The price per square foot may vary considerably between these flooring types and may be the deciding factor, depending on the size of your project.

Environments that undergo high foot traffic that are susceptible to substantial wear and tear, like homes with pets and children, high-traffic areas may be better suited to a laminate flooring product. Laminate is an easy-to-maintain and durable flooring option that provides the aesthetic of wood.

Some people seek an authentic natural beauty of an authentic hardwood floor and like the idea of it naturally ageing with the property. A real deal natural wooden floor will be more susceptible to wear and tear. Markings, scratches, and stiletto dents are all part of the charm that comes of a real hardwood flooring. Marking will be reduced in spaces that aren't under a lot of pressure but should be expected to appear over time.

Aesthetically, you can create a similar look with either genuine solid hardwood flooring or laminate flooring. The specifications of the project will determine the choice you make.

Important considerations aside from aesthetics are acoustics, maintenance, longevity, and comfort. These are all things best discussed with an expert before committing. Feel free to reach out to a Jacobsen retailer for more advice and a quote on a professional installation.