Advances in technology and digital imagery have opened up so many possibilities that the top laminate brands are now difficult to distinguish from real wood. Even porcelain tiles can expertly mimic a wide selection of wood grain. Such a wealth of options doesn’t make your decision making any easier. Once you have decided that “hardwood” is the look you want to achieve, you need to familiarize yourself with the terms solid wood, engineered wood and laminate and understand the differences between them.
As the name implies, solid hardwood boards are milled from a single piece of lumber usually ¾” thick and are therefore wood from top to bottom. Solid hardwood floors exude natural warmth and character since each board is individual. These floors can last a lifetime and because the floor is solid, it can be refinished, restored and restained over and over again. Solid wood is much more susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity and should therefore not be installed in a basement but only on the ground floor or higher.
The durability of the floor and its resistance to scratching and denting will depend on the hardness of the wood you choose. See our article WHICH HARDWOOD IS THE HARDEST?
Although there have been successful installations of solid hardwood on a concrete surface, it is generally not advisable. For best results it should be glued, nailed or stapled to a wooden sub floor.
Solid wood and water do not get along well. Water makes wood buckle and expand. Solid wood is not appropriate for a bathroom installation and may not be the best choice for the kitchen where water is abundant.The solid wood boards can be purchased factory finished or finished at the install location.
Engineered wood boards consist of a thin veneer of the hardwood of your choice that is laid on top of crisscross layers of plywood that are pressed together to create a strong and stable core.
The boards are made of real wood so they look, sound and feel like wood. Because the hardwood part of each panel is thin, an engineered wood floor can only be sanded once or maybe twice in its lifetime and you cannot change the color. You can expect this type of flooring to last from 20 years onwards, depending on the thickness of the top veneer.
Engineered hardwood is strong and durable and is less susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity than solid hardwood. Engineered hardwood can be nailed or glued to any surface, including concrete slab. Each wood board comes factory finished.
Laminate is not wood. It is a composite product consisting of a transparent wear layer, then a photograph of wood fused onto high-density fiberboard. Some laminates are very inexpensive and are very obviously not real wood. In the better quality laminates, the photos are very realistic and avoid an obvious repeating pattern, though some repetition is unavoidable.
Laminate is more fade, water and scratch resistant than wood and is typically half the cost of solid or engineered wood floors. You can expect this type of flooring to last anywhere from 10 to 25 years depending on how well it is cared for.
The laminate planks snap together to form a unit that floats over the subfloor, which means it isn’t glued, nailed or otherwise attached. Since water is the enemy of high-density fiberboard, it is not advisable to lay laminate on concrete, which can be full of moisture. Laminate may look like wood, but it can sound more hollow when you walk on it. Make sure you use underlayment to improve soundproofing.
Porcelain deserves an honorable mention since in recent years, there has been a bit of a wood grain tile revolution. You can now find long, rectangular porcelain “planks” that depict very authentic looking knots and grains and enable you to get the look of a costly exotic wood at a more reasonable price.
The tiles have rectified edges – meaning the edges are mechanically finished to be precise and consistent – so they fit together more closely and minimize the grout joints. Porcelain won’t scratch, dent or fade, is water resistant and does not need to be refinished