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Real Wood, or Laminate Flooring? I'm lost.

Posted: July 01, 2002

This is an article that discusses the differences between real wood flooring and plastic laminate flooring.

First, it's important that you understand the difference between real wood flooring, be it engineered or solid, and plastic laminate flooring. It can be very confusing because prior the introduction of plastic laminate flooring into the U.S., a lot of flooring dealers referred to engineered wood flooring as a wood "laminate" flooring. First let me tell you about wood flooring. There are a few different types of wood flooring available to you. The first and perhaps the oldest in existence is the "solid wood floor". These floors are generally 3/4" thick and can be purchased raw or pre-finished. The other style of wood flooring which is actually now becoming much more popular is the "engineered wood floor". Engineered wood flooring is the type of floor that is most commonly confused with plastic laminate flooring. This is a wood floor which has a top wear layer, usually 1/8" thick on better products, and than has one or more layers or "plies". The top layer is generally made out of oak, maple, cherry, etc. These engineered wood floors are gaining in popularity because in a lot of applications they will be more stable than the solid wood floor, cost less than the solid wood floor, and can be refinished like a solid wood floor. Engineered wood floors are also able to be installed using methods not available with solid wood floors. They come in styles that can be glued down, free floated, or stapled.

Now we'll talk about what is now referred to as "laminate" flooring. These days when we say laminate flooring, we're talking about "plastic laminate" flooring. A lot of consumers don't even refer to it this way, they simply say "Pergo" flooring. The reason for this is that Pergo, a brand name, was one of the first to introduce their product in the U.S. We have a page dedicated to Pergo in our manufacturers' section. We've heard that as of about six months ago there are now close to one hundred different brands of laminate flooring on the market worldwide. The easiest way to describe laminate flooring would be to say that it is similar to your mica countertop only much stronger. The surface is actually a plastic type composition applied to the core using heat and pressure, the core is usually made of high density fiber or particle board, and the backing can be a paper or another layer of laminate. Plastic laminate floors are extremely durable however they cannot ever be refinished or recoated once they are scratched or worn. That is generally the main difference between plastic laminate floors and real wood floors. Another down side to the laminate flooring is that the pattern is printed and many of the boards, in some cases all of the boards are identical in appearance.

Okay, so now that you have a general idea of the differences in these types of flooring, let's discuss which is better for you. You need to evaluate your individual situation to make an educated decision. Let's see if I can help you make this determination. Listed below are a few questions you may want to ask yourself that will narrow down your choice.

Your answers to these questions will ultimately dictate your choice.

Allow me to give you some hypothetical situations that may pertain to your position.

Regarding question number 1, let's say that you paid $100,000. for your home and that's about the maximum priced home in the neighborhood. It really won't make much difference whether you go with real wood or the laminate. Unless you plan on being in the home beyond seven to ten years, you may want to consider staying with the laminate flooring. Chances are if you go through the expense of installing a good quality wood floor, you won't realize any type of gain when you sell the home. On the other hand, if you paid $200,000. or more for your home, and the houses in your neighborhood fluctuate in price depending on the upgrades, then the real wood flooring may be a benefit whether you're in the home for one year or ten years.

Regarding question number 2, whether your in a $100,000. home, or a $500,000. home, if you're planning on being in that home beyond seven to ten years, and don't want to replace the floors again for the duration of your stay, than there is no doubt that a good quality real wood floor would be the better choice. The main reason for this being that you will be able to resurface the real wood floor when it shows signs of wear and tare, whereas you will have to replace the plastic laminate floor altogether.

Regarding question number 3, if you have established a budget of let's say $3.50 per square foot or less for material, and don't plan on exceeding that budget, than the plastic laminates should absolutely be your choice. I say this because although you can get real wood flooring for $3.50 per square foot or less, but the type of the real wood flooring available to you at this price level will not give you the same performance you can expect out of plastic laminate floors at this price or less. To get a real wood floor with a good quality finish that will have a durability level close to that of the plastic laminate flooring, you should expect to pay somewhere between $3.75 to in some cases over $7.00 per square foot. An average price range for what we consider to be a good quality wood floor is $4.00 to $5.00 per square foot. As an added note, we are basing these unit prices on the prices that we sell wood flooring for. If you were shopping retail, you would add anywhere from 15% to 30% to these figures.

Regarding question number 4, the level of traffic and/or abuse in your home will also play an important role in your decision. Let's say you have a normal happy family with three kids, two dogs, plenty of relatives that visit often, and a lot of friends that take advantage of your big screen television and endless supply of free beer. If this is your home, than you better make sure that you either go with a plastic laminate or a "very good" quality wood floor! If you have heavy traffic such as this in your home, a low quality wood floor will be a mistake. It will not hold up to your expectations whatsoever. As an added note, although the plastic laminate floors may be more resistant than inexpensive wood floors, there are also lower quality laminate floors that will not hold up well under high traffic either.

Regarding question number 5, if resale and the value of your home is a concern, than you definitely want to consider good quality real wood flooring. If you speak with any realtor that knows their business, they should advise you that real wood flooring is considered an upgrade to your home and increases the value, while plastic laminate flooring does not. Real wood flooring is truly an investment into your home. The plastic laminate flooring, while holding up well during your stay in the home, really does nothing for the resale value. Considering plastic laminate cannot be resurfaced, it is considered temporary. Anyone buying a house where laminate flooring is installed knows that it will need to be replaced most likely during the period of time that they will be living there.

Please understand that while I've listed these questions and situations as a way to help you make an educated decision, you will need to consider all these factors combined. In some cases, your individual situation may differ from these examples. For instance, if you don't have heavy traffic in your home, and you like the look of real wood, than there's nothing wrong with using an inexpensive real wood floor. This also holds true if you only plan on being in your home for a short period of time and want to increase the value for resale. Another case where inexpensive real wood might be a good choice is if you are buying and remodeling a home strictly for the purpose of reselling it for a profit.

Summary

I'm sure that there still may be some of you that would like to ask, "okay, so I've read all of this and want to know what you personally think"? My own personal feeling on this subject is that if you can afford the real wood flooring, go for it! In the long term, good quality wood flooring ends up being not only an investment, but also a better buy since it can be resurfaced. Additionally, nothing beats the look and feel of real wood. On the other hand, if your kids, pets, friends, and/or family are just plain nuts and love to treat your house like a war zone, and you don't want to put a lot of money into your home, but also don't want the hassle associated with carpet and/or tile, than go with the laminate flooring.