Wood vs Laminate Flooring
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?
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!
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.
At Jacobsen we stock engineered wood floors and laminate
floors, so the rest of this article focusses on these two
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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:
Get a head-start on your shopping - visit our wood flooring or laminate flooring product pages to
browse the colour options!
Contact or visit our showroom (in
Contact one of our
dealers (nationwide, note this will take you to our Studio
Flooring brand website)
Contact a commercial representative (if
you're specifying for a commercial space, or multi-residential)
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