Wood vs Laminate Flooring
Your guide to choosing the perfect floor for your home
What’s the difference between wood and laminate floors?
Put simply, wood floors are entirely made of wood, whereas laminate floors are a printed copy of wood. Wood floors can be solid, where the wood is the same all the way through the thickness, or they can be engineered – also called cross-ply or sometimes laminated wood (very confusing!) – engineered is still entirely wood, but has multiple layers of different types of wood.
Engineered wood flooring sounds a little like it’s creating something fake, but in this case the engineering is designed to improve the plank’s stability by creating a cross-ply layering. This means that each layer runs at a 90° angle to the previous. Our Studio wood floors are 3-layered, so the face layer runs the length of the plank, the middle layer runs across the width of the plank and the back layer runs the length again. At the budget end of the wood flooring range there are floors like the Studio Falster range that are still 3-layered, but the middle layer is HDF rather than actual wood – it does the same job. The cross-layering creates a very stable plank, putting an end to the cupping, bowing and twisting that wood is prone to doing when exposed to environmental stress. With engineered wood you don’t get the rustic, gappy plank look that is common in the solid wood flooring in older homes.
Many people want a solid wood floor, believing that the solidity makes them superior to engineered floors. The truth is, once the floor is installed, you can’t tell (yes, really, even the experts can’t tell). A solid wood floor is the same from the face to the base of a plank – eg. entirely Oak, but the most you can ever sand it down is to the tongue (less than halfway), so the rest of the thickness will never be required – what a waste of an Oak tree!
An engineered wood floor can have the same wood as the solid – so an identical Oak face, all the way down to the tongue (so the same ability to sand and renew), then switch to a stabilising layer, then a back layer. The stabilising layer is usually either Hevea (the rubber tree – a rapid growing plantation tree) or Pine (plantation also). The back layer is usually Pine or Spruce (both plantation trees). This is a much more resource-efficient use of a slow growing hardwood like Oak.
Ok, so that’s engineered wood flooring, what about laminate? Does that look different when it’s installed? Well, yes. You might choose laminate for a number of reasons (discussed in detail in the next section), and once it’s installed you’ll quite possibly fool your friends into thinking it is wood, but it is noticeably different.
Laminates are a multi-layer system too, but instead of actual wood as the face layer (the bit you see), they have a high resolution printed décor layer. Underneath this are a couple of impact resistant and strengthening layers, followed by a solid back layer.
Which is better – wood or laminate flooring?
There’s no straightforward answer – wood and laminate have different features which work better depending on the space you’re using them in.
Many people prefer wood flooring, feeling that it is the natural, luxurious option. Wood flooring is certainly more expensive than laminate, and it looks the part – none of the wood-look flooring products on the market (and there are quite a few – laminate, vinyl tiles, ceramic tiles) can give you the same warm, comfortable underfoot feeling and overall appearance of a genuine wood floor. Each wood floor is unique – no two planks are alike, and there a myriad of looks to choose from, with stains, bevelled or straight edges, brushing and distressing you can find the style to suit your home, from sleekly minimalist to richly rustic.
So why might you decide against a wood floor? In a word: durability. Wood flooring is easily damaged – from excess water, furniture scrapes (including chair legs), dog claws, stilettos, kids with toys, sand, stones, even dropping something heavy on it can dent it. One of the benefits of wood is that if accidents happen you can refurbish the surface by sanding and re-lacquering, but this isn’t something you want to be doing frequently. So if you live near the beach, have small children or dogs we’d recommend considering laminate as more durable option.
Laminate used to be the option you turned to if you couldn’t stretch your budget to a wood floor, and for many people it’s still considered a second rate choice. We think it’s time that perception changed! Innovations over the last few years in the appearance of laminate floors have improved them dramatically, plus the benefits of living on such an easy to maintain surface are enormous. Laminate is very child and pet friendly – resistant to scratching and easy to mop up any spills. It’s not perfect – laminate, like wood, is sensitive to excess water left pooling on it, and can fade over time in excess UV light. Overall though, laminate is our recommended choice for busy households wanting a hassle-free, low maintenance floor.
Choosing the perfect look
Wood flooring offers a myriad of choice – there are different colours, brushing techniques, wood grades and edge finishing. The Studio Wood collection is carefully combed from all of these choices down to a select range of stock items that suit the most popular styles in NZ homes. All items are pre-finished, so there is no messy lacquering once installed – it’s ready to walk on as soon as it goes down.
Most engineered wood flooring is European Oak, often with a stain to colour it. Stains are great for updating the classic Oak look, but you do need to take more care of the floor if you have a dark stain, as the colour is only on the surface – any significant scratches will go through the stain and show the lighter Oak colour underneath. If the floor is sanded back the stain will need to re-applied before the floor is re-lacquered. Some Oaks are also ‘fumed’ or ‘smoked’ which is a process that darkens them to look more like an antique Oak.
Brushing gives the wood flooring surface texture, enhancing the natural grain. It can be light or heavy – with the heavier brushing it’s best to see it in as large a piece as possible as it’s hard to see the overall effect in a small piece.
Pay attention to the grade of wood you’re looking at. There are usually two to three grades – from Prime to Rustic. Prime may be called names like Premium, Select or Clear and will have very few knots, with similarly coloured planks (not identical because wood is a natural product with natural variation). Rustic (or Accent) grade isn’t second rate – it’s still top quality, but the planks will have more knots, mineral streaks, and colour will vary from plank to plank (less so if it’s stained).
Rustic Oak (left), Prime Oak (right)
Edge finishing is also important, and to see the effect you need more than one piece, and preferably a larger area of installed floor. Edges can be square, but they are more commonly at least micro-bevelled now, with some standard bevelling as well. This gives definition to each plank, making the floor look even more natural.
Ash with no bevel (left), Ash White with a bevel (right)
Shop carefully for wood flooring, asking as many questions of your sales consultant as you can – it’s an expensive investment, but done right will last you many years. Do a few quick checks in-store – try and view as large a display as you can, or multiple planks. Have a look at the edges – are they well made; have a look across the sheen of the board – does the lacquer look consistent; ask the sales consultant what sort of colour consistency there is from plank to plank and how many knots to expect. Most importantly, ask to see a photo of the floor installed – this will give you a good idea of what you’re getting.
For Studio Wood, we have both Prime and Accent grades in our range, and on this website each colour shows a set of planks, as well as an installed photo, so you can see the effect of the finished floor.
Laminate is more straightforward. Like Studio Wood the Studio Laminate collection is selected to suit NZ homes. Your main choice is in length of board – the Classic and Endless Planks are 1200mm long; the Long Planks are 2050mm long – which makes them look more like wood. Endless Planks have the benefit of end-grain matching so unless you look closely the end of the board isn’t visible as the grain continues from board to board.
There are few things to look for when you’re shopping for laminate: check the pattern repeat – the more unique boards the more natural the finished floor will look and check the print quality – does it look realistic. Also check the plastic top layer – they are usually finished with a wood-grain texture, which vary in appearance.
As a manmade product laminate also has the benefit of a grading system. Many laminates are graded under the EN (European Norm) standard, which gives class numbers – 23 for residential, or 31, 32, 33 or 34 (light through to very heavy commercial). An alternative system is the AC grading, which starts at AC1 (residential), through to AC6 (heavy commercial).
Studio laminate is class 32 / AC4. We consider this to be a good balance of giving great durability for residential (and up to mid traffic commercial) while maintaining a reasonable price.
Quality for both wood and laminate flooring can be a tough thing to judge. Our primary advice is to buy from a flooring supplier you trust – it’s their name on the line if the product isn’t up to standard, and them you’ll be coming back to sort out any issues. Secondly, check out their supplier – look for reputable international brands and check out their websites for background information.
Our wood and laminate supplier is Pergo, who are owned by Mohawk, the world’s largest flooring company. Pergo are European based and pioneered laminate flooring back in the 70s. They’ve innovated constantly since then, improving the quality, durability and natural appearance of their floors. Check them out at www.pergo.co.uk (note that the ranges available in Europe differ from what’s available here – the technical details are the same, but we’ve customised some looks according to different tastes in NZ).
How do you install wood and laminate flooring?
You’ve got a choice of installation method for wood floors – they can be installed by gluing down to a subfloor or by floating them over an underlay. Gluing down is more expensive and time consuming at installation, but it results in a very solid sounding floor. It’s the best choice if you’re installing wood flooring over other rooms in the home as it reduces tapping noise from walking travelling downwards.
Floating a floor is easy and quick, but can sound a little drummy (this is reduced by using a good underlay). If you’re installing in an apartment environment where it’s someone else’s home below you then you’ll need to consider acoustic requirements – you can upgrade to a better quality underlay and either glue or float over this to reach the required sound reduction. There’s no best method of installation, it depends on your home, so talk to your supplier or installer about your particular environment.
There’s no choice with laminate – it must be floated, over an underlay.
Check with your installer or supplier what sorts of finishing trims they can provide – to get a great result it’s important to have attractive finishing between rooms and flooring types and on stairs. Pergo have ‘5 in 1’ trims for each colour to provide an easy finishing option.
Wood and laminate flooring maintenance tips
Maintenance for wood and laminate flooring is the same. Both are best to be cleaned regularly by vacuuming or using a dry mop (micro-fibre). Spills should be cleaned up as soon as possible, with no liquid left to pool on the floor for periods of time.
Wood and laminate are hard floors that don’t attract or retain dirt, but if mopping is required ensure that the mop is damp not wet (well wrung out). We recommend Tarkoclean which is a neutral cleaner that leaves no residue on the floor. If you use other types of floor cleaners follow the instructions carefully for the ratio of cleaner to water – too much cleaner and it will leave a slightly sticky residue on the floor which will attract dirt.
Do NOT use a steam mop with either wood or laminate flooring. Over the long term you will damage your floor – forcing hot water both into the surface and into the joints between the planks of products that are not water-proof is not a good idea. Studio Wood and Laminate warranties specifically exclude damage from steam mop use.
Keep a spare box of the wood or laminate flooring you’ve chosen. Individual planks are replaceable if you have a section that is damaged beyond repair. For small areas of wood flooring requiring repair, check your local hardware store – they usually have floor repair kits including different wax colours that can be used to fill scratches and gouges.
Ready to go shopping?
Wood – colours and product information
Laminate – colours and product information
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