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What is the Difference between Laminate and Wood Floors?

Some homeowners prefer laminate wood floors in high-traffic areas because they are more durable than hardwood.
Laminate flooring is an inexpensive alternative to hardwood flooring.
Laminate floors are often installed in kitchens because laminate is more water-resistant than hardwood floors.
Article Details
  • Written By: Adam Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Laminate and wood are two very popular choices for flooring in modern homes. They have a wide appeal, both visually and in terms of their durability. The differences between laminate and wood lie mainly in their composition. This difference naturally implies different characteristics in the finished product as well. Laminate flooring is much easier to install than hardwood flooring, for instance, but nothing beats the authentic beauty of finished hardwood.

Any type of flooring, if chosen well, can beautify a home. Laminate and wood are no different in this respect. Hardwood is often thought to be the superior choice, because of its attractive visual appearance and the fact that it is a completely natural material. However, some differences can make laminate the better choice, depending on the priorities of the homeowner. Laminate, for instance, can be installed directly over most flooring surfaces, and consists of panels that are thinner than hardwood, which can be advantageous. It is well-known that laminate flooring is significantly less costly than its real wood counterpart. This difference alone makes it the preferred option for many.

Laminate flooring is made of several layers. The topmost layer -- the one you walk on -- is called the wear layer. It is composed of cellulose paper that has been treated with plastic resins to make it transparent and very strong. This layer is what gives laminate its excellent scratch resistance.

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The design layer is just underneath the wear layer, and consists of the image that is seen as the color and pattern of the floor. These are usually photographs of actual hardwood, reproducing the natural variations in colors and visual textures that are present in natural wood. Beneath the design layer is the core layer, which serves as the backbone of the flooring. It is made of wood, usually in the form of dense particle board, and has a stabilizing layer on its other side, made from the same resin and paper as the wear layer.

Laminate and wood flooring can both be made out of layers of material, in some cases. Layered hardwood flooring is said to be “engineered,” having a hardwood veneer while the rest is made of other materials, but other types are made completely of solid wood. Hardwood floors must be sanded and refinished periodically, especially in high-traffic areas where dents and other blemishes may occur. Laminate floors do not have this problem, but also do not weather with age, which can be considered a desirable feature in hardwood. Some hardwoods also take on a darker or richer color over time as they are exposed to light. Laminate and wood floors both have the effect of giving a home a more pleasant visual appearance, which in many cases can increase its market value.

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