Choosing Hardwood Flooring
Homeowners have a big decision to make when selecting their floor covering. Not only does a consumer have the luxury of a wide assortment of hardwood floorings, but technology has broadened the choices to include laminates that can emulate any style of planks or species of wood.
It can all be quite confusing, and buyers should spend some time learning the basic differences between the two types of flooring. What’s right for a couple may be totally inadequate for a family. A room’s function and the amount of traffic the space receives also play a role in choosing the type of floor covering that’s most appropriate.
Hardwood flooring is an organic, non-allergenic product. The planks are cut from a solid piece of wood, and these planks vary from 2-1/4” to a foot wide. Their thickness is generally between 7/16” and 3/4”. The wood is shaped, stained, sealed and ready for installation.
Laminate flooring is a sandwich of materials that make up the planks. It has a durable top coating to protect the surface from scratches and moisture. Beneath that is a photographic image that can be virtually any image. The third layer is a high-density core that is MDF board or a similar resin composite material. The bottom layer is protective, water and wear resistant backing. These layers are fused together to create a structurally sound floor covering.
Photo credit to Andrew Lin
Hardwood flooring is nailed to a sub-floor, and since changes in humidity can expand and contract the wood, the installer will leave space around the perimeter of the room to allow for swelling and shrinkage.
Laminate floor covering uses a floating installation method in which the planks interlock together, but they are not secured to the floor. The installer lays a thin pad on the existing floor so the laminate moves freely on the surface. Laminate can be installed over most existing floors such as OSB, existing vinyl floor, plywood or a concrete slab. Installing laminate flooring is a DIY project that a homeowner can successfully tackle.
Finishes & Durability
Photo credit to William Warby
Hardwood flooring is stained and finished with as many as 7-10 coats of sealant. These finishes are very wear resistant and easy to maintain. Some manufacturers add aluminum oxide to the coating, as this provides additional durability. If the surface becomes scratched, it’s an easy repair. In the case of damage to the wood, the planks can be sanded and refinished successfully. Modern finishes don’t require the maintenance of waxing that was typical in the past. Today’s finishes merely need to be swept and cleaned with a damp mop. Over time, the wood’s color can be affected by direct sunlight, and prolonged exposure to water can damage the wood and mar the finish. Wood flooring can last well over 25 years, so it’s flooring you may never have to replace.
The top coating of laminate flooring is very resistant to scratching, fading and staining. However, it can be damaged by heavy, sharp objects. Repair kits are available for scratches and chips, but the repair is not as simple as it is with solid wood flooring. Laminate flooring is more forgiving than hardwood flooring in wet situations, but excessive moisture over an extended period can seep into the core of the planking and cause damage. Although laminate flooring is durable, its life expectancy is generally less than 20 years.
When considering a wood or laminate floor covering, think about the amount and type of traffic the room gets. If the room has an exterior door, consider how much water winds up on the entryway floor. A room that sees a lot of rough and tumble action from a horde of kids, or a space in which you have frequent parties requires far more durability than a bedroom or den.
A little planning and basic knowledge will make choosing your new floor covering a lot less confusing, and you’ll end up with a floor you’ll enjoy for years.
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