One of the most common questions that I am asked when friends are renovating is “Should I use laminate or hardwood?”.
The answer to this question depends on a few of factors.
Location: Primary residence or rental
Keep hardwood out of your rental unless you get a screaming deal, don’t mind a finish that gets destroyed, or want to keep a fantastic (and responsible) long term tenant happy.
Pets will destroy the finish on hardwood flooring. If you have pets, and don’t want to refinish every few years, consider a high quality laminate floor.
The easiest installation will be a plank vinyl. You will achieve the look of a hardwood or laminate. To achieve the look, we recommend the “plank” product. Some think that I am talking about vinyl tile when I suggest plank vinyl. It is very different in terms of the look, but similarly simple in terms of the installation.
Your primary question has to do with the location of the flooring being put in. If this is your primary residence, I would almost certainly answer “Hardwood”.
If you are talking about a rental property I would recommend a laminate, or plank vinyl, depending on the age and condition of the underlayment along with the skill of the installer.
If you are considering a laminate, I would strongly recommend that you consider a plank vinyl instead. The look is nearly identical to a laminate and the installation is much easier. We wrote a review about the Allure brand of plank vinyl here. The tools needed to lay a plank vinyl floor are probably sitting in just about anyone’s tool drawer. Laminate flooring will require a couple of saws and many sharp blades.
Many will tell you that laminates look just like hardwoods now. Don’t buy it! They will look great compared to an old carpeted floor, or sheet vinyl floor, but there is simply nothing that matches the look of a true hardwood floor. There is a difference in the look, sheen, feel, and temperature. Yes, temperature. Your hardwood is going to retain warmth better than a thin laminate floor will. The warmth of a true hardwood is not just in the beauty of the wood, it is also in the warmth that the hardwood retains. The hardwood will hold some of the warmth from your heating source.
Bouncing / Punky floors
Many people who install laminate flooring will complain about the “bounce” in the floor. This happens when you have an uneven floor and the laminate spans that section. The laminate wants to hold its straight line. Because of that, it will feel punky, or bouncy, anytime it goes over a depression or sits on two uneven sections. In addition to that, it could weaken the tongue over time and destroy that joint. The manufacturer will recommend using a floor leveler for areas that are uneven, but many people won’t even be aware of the depressions until after their laminate installation. Plank vinyl is nice in that it will take to the wavy floor. I had an incredibly wavy area to address in a 100+ year old home. The plank vinyl did the job perfectly. Hardwood is nice because it is fastened to the underlayment. There are glue down installations, but if you are doing a glue down, the leveling of the floor is a must.
It is hard to argue with the finished look of a hardwood floor.