Wood vs Laminate Flooring

 

Wood vs laminate: how to choose

Wooden floors help create a classic, natural vibe for any residential or commercial space, but it's important to choose the right sort of floor - will a genuine wood floor work best, or might a look-alike laminate be a better choice?

 

What's the difference between wood and laminate floors?

Wooden floors are constructed entirely of genuine wood - they may be a 'solid' wood floor, or an 'engineered' wood floor.  Solid wood is just as it sounds, in NZ this is most often seen in the narrow rimu or matai floorboards in older homes.  Modern solid wood is wider, with a huge range of different stain and finishing options.

 

'Engineered wood floor' is a slightly deceptive name, the engineering comes in the construction, not the materials - these floors are still an entirely genuine wood floor! 

Wood

An engineered floor is designed to combat the issue that solid wood floors have of cupping and bowing (typical wood issues when under environmental stress); the design of an engineered floor is cross-layered, so that each layer is angled to the previous, making the whole board much stronger and more dimensionally stable.  There are generally 3-4 cross-layers - the face layer that you see will be a hardwood like oak or maple, the middle and back layers are stabilising layers, made up of plantation timber.  This type of floor also has the environmental benefit of using considerably less slow-growing hardwood.

 

Laminate floors differ considerably - instead of a genuine wood face, the face is a printed copy of wood, overlaid with a very strong resin.  The quality of this print is what dictates how good the floor will look once installed.  The rest of the laminate is a MDF or HDF layer to support the face, and then a plastic or resin backing to hold everything stable.

Lam

 

At Jacobsen we stock engineered wood floors and laminate floors, so the rest of this article focusses on these two products.

 

Wood vs laminate floors: which is better?

There is no right choice when deciding between wood and laminate - it's up to you to decide which works best for the space you want to use it for. 

Many people prefer wood for its natural and genuine look.  No two planks of wood are alike, and once installed the floor is entirely unique.  You can choose a sleek sophisticated minimalist look, or go more rustic with knotty, bevelled edge boards - there are many options, and it's not difficult to find a look to match your décor.

The main drawback of a genuine wood floor is that is wood, and as such is relatively easily damaged.  Excess UV light will fade a floor prematurely; dog claws, dragging furniture (including chair legs), kids with toys, sand and stones will scratch it; any spills need to be wiped up promptly to prevent water damage; if you drop something heavy you can dent it.  Again, because it is wood, all of these are repairable, but if you live very near the beach, or have a large dog, or small children then it is worth considering whether laminate is a better option.

003-2

 

For commercial spaces, including cafes and restaurants, a wood floor will survive intact through all of the above environmental hazards, but it will acquire a more of a rustic, 'lived-on' look (dents, scratches and marks to add to the character).  Periodic maintenance may need to be a little more intensive to ensure the lacquer stays in good condition.

Oak

 

The appearance and performance of laminate flooring has improved dramatically in the last few years.  To the untrained eye it can now be difficult to tell a laminate floor from a real wood floor!  Laminate flooring used to be the cheap option that was installed because you couldn't afford wood, but the better quality laminates have moved out of that class and are now a flooring option to be considered on their own merits.

Barista Oak EP Sml

A laminate floor is incredibly durable - it easily withstands everyday family life, small children and pets included!  It is resistant to scratching from sand and stones, plus dragging chairs and other  furniture isn't an issue.  It is more resistant than wood to excess UV light, but UV will still fade it over time.  Laminate is dentable and can suffer water damage the same way wood can (the only truly almost indestructible flooring is ceramic tile or concrete, but that's not what we're here to discuss).  Laminate is a great low maintenance, hassle free option both for busy family households, and mid-high traffic commercial environments.

 

How can I judge quality of wood and laminate floors?

Obviously our recommendation is to buy from a reputable flooring store or supplier, that you know and trust (like us!); but we know that there a multitude of options out there, and most people like to shop around, so how can you judge value vs quality? 

It can be difficult to judge a wooden floor on it's looks alone - if it's a rustic style for example, then it's made to look a bit beaten up, with knots and filled holes - there's nothing second rate about the quality.  But whether you're looking at rustic or prime grades, look at a decent sized sample or the store display - are the edges well-made, does the sheen of the lacquer look consistent across the board?  If something looks odd, query your supplier on it. 

Check what the grade is - if you want a consistent look, choose a Prime grade (may be called Clear, Select or Premium or similar) and ask what this means for the particular brand you're looking at (it will vary by brand) - how many knots will there be, will they be filled, what level of defects in the wood are acceptable (all wood has some defects - it's a natural product don't forget!).  Ask to see photos of the product installed, and don't be happy with just looking at one plank, it is not usually representative of the whole floor.  Once again, wood is a natural product so colour and grain will vary from board to board - so don't obsessively colour match paint or fabric to a single sample.

CEZANNE-Oak -Single -White -prime (2)

 

If you're looking for a more Rustic style, be clear on what this means - ask to see installed photos and do NOT be guided by just one plank - Rustic floors will vary noticeably (and sometimes extensively) in grain pattern and colour plank to plank.  This is part of the attraction, but be sure you're getting what you expect.  Ask the same questions as above about what exactly a Rustic grade means for that brand - knots, filling and defects. 

CEZANNE-Oak -Limed -Grey

None of this really helps with quality judgement - it's just a general shopping guide, but by asking these questions you'll at least get a feeling for whether the supplier knows what they're talking about, and will stand behind their product.  And as always, you get what you pay for!

 

Laminate floors are slightly easier to judge the quality of, and there's certainly a huge range of quality available on the market at the moment.  Price is the best indication - unless you're looking for a quick do-up job, stay away from the lower end of the market. 

Once you've narrowed down your options, there are a few things you can easily assess: look at the quality of the print over a few boards - does it look real, or does it look printed?  How does the resin layer over the top look - like a real wood lacquer, or a stamped plastic-y looking copy?  Ask what the  pattern repeat on the print is - it should be at least more than 10, 20 is towards the top end of the range.

Premium Oak Plank

 

Ask what the wear class is - this is an EN (European Norm) specification, it may be class 23 (residential), 31, 32, 33 or 34 (light through to very heavy commercial).  Alternatively, laminate may be rated with the AC system as AC1 (residential) through to AC6 (heavy commercial).  For example, the Pergo laminate Jacobsen stock is AC4 / class 32 - suitable for up to medium commercial traffic (eg. cafes, offices etc).  We consider this to be the best value for money for what laminate is typically used for in NZ, but Pergo do make laminates that are AC6 /class 34, suitable for the highest traffic public space, which are available on special order - this grade of Pergo is used in Audi car showrooms in NZ and around the world.   AC3 / class 31 is probably a minimum to aim for when looking at laminate options, and if the laminate you're looking at is not tested at all we'd recommend re-considering your options. 

Quality

 

How do you install wood or laminate floors?

You have two choices with wood floors - they may be either glued to the substrate or floated over an underlay.  Gluing is more expensive and time consuming at the installation stage, and certainly more permanent, and it generally results in a very solid sounding floor.   A floating floor is easier, quicker and less messy to install, and can easily be uplifted.  It may result in a slight drumminess in the floor - increasing the walking noise in both the room it's in, and any underneath.  This isn't a major issue for most people, but it's something you should discuss with the store you purchase from, and your installer, as it's usually a decision based on your own particular environment.  If you're very adverse to this, you can upgrade the underlay to a higher acoustic value.

Laminate is always installed as a floating floor, over an underlay.

When shopping for wood and laminate, be sure to check on what sort of finishing trims are available - these are the pieces that are used for a stair nosing, or to cover expansion gaps at the edges of a room, or as transition between carpet and wood or laminate.  For example, Pergo have a handy 5-in-1 trim that is colour matched for both the wood and laminate ranges that covers all requirements with a single trim.  

Quick -step %20incizo %205-in -1-1

 

How easy are wood or laminate floors to maintain?

As a hard floor, wood and laminate floors are much easier than carpet to maintain.  You can even choose not to vacuum!  A dry mop (ie. micro-fibre, Swiffer, dust mop etc) is your best option for quick and easy maintenance.  For both wood and laminate, this is all the floor needs regularly.  If you have spills or tracked dirt, use a spray bottle of water with a little neutral cleaner and a sponge.  Jacobsen recommend Tarkoclean, which is biodegradable neutral detergent suitable for use on any hard or resilient surface. 

Tarko Clean Bottle Image Sml

For larger areas of mess, you can use a neutral cleaner with a bucket and mop, but you'll need to ensure the mop is very well-wrung out and a minimal amount of detergent is used - any excess and it will potentially leave a residue on the floor.  The entire floor doesn't need to be mopped regularly.  

You should NOT use a steam mop with either wood or laminate - although steam mop suppliers frequently advertise that you can, common sense will tell you otherwise.   Wood is a natural product that reacts to both heat and water, so combining the two and forcing hot water and air into a surface (and between the planks) may make for a very clean floor for a while, but over the mid to long term it's going to damage it, not to mention possibly voiding your warranty.  (This warning extends to laminate due to the MDF or HDF core that it has.) 

For wood, there are various products you can use to touch up the lacquer - always check with the store you're buying from what they recommend, and never assume a generic product, eg a wax, is the right one for your floor.  Having to get a floor stripped because the wrong product was used isn't a good outcome!  For example, for Jacobsen's wood flooring, we import a product called Refresher which can be used periodically on the floor to bring the lustre back to worn areas and repair surface scratches.

Dents and gouges in wood floors are somewhat repairable - there are wax sticks that you can match to your floor colour (check your local hardware store).  For both wood and laminate, you can replace individual boards if the damage is not repairable.  For this reason, we always strongly recommend that you buy a spare box and keep them unopened for any future repairs.

 

Hopefully that covers the basics of how to decide between a wood or laminate floor, and how to shop for them both.  If you've any questions, or want to know more about Jacobsen's range: