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If you’re thinking about replacing flooring in your home, then you’re probably looking at hardwood or wood-like flooring. Homeowners may prefer either laminate, engineered or hardwood floors based on factors like:

  • Durability
  • Maintenance
  • Cost
  • Appearance
  • Ease of installation

By looking at each of these factors, you can decide which type of flooring makes the most sense for your home. As you read, keep in mind the room in which your new flooring will be placed. If it’s a wetter, more humid room, this will affect your choice.

Laminate, engineered and hardwood floors all are attractive, but there are many differences between them. Read on to decide which one is right for you.

Laminate Flooring

This inexpensive option is a popular choice for people who are concerned about price. The manufacturing process for laminate flooring has improved in recent decades. The result is the ability to have the look of hardwood without the expense or the need for so much maintenance.

Laminate flooring is layered. The top layer is an overlay or wear layer that’s super durable. Beneath this is a photographic image that looks like hardwood. Beneath this is the core board and then a stabilizing or backing layer.

The wear layer is what protects the floor from scratches and dings. It’s water resistant so that ordinary spills won’t cause damage. Frequently, manufacturers emboss the wear layer to match the texture of the decorative layer below it.

The image layer is the one that holds the print or pattern that gives laminate flooring its wood-like look. These patterns can be distinctive and natural looking.

Durability and stability are provided by the core layer. Made of compressed fiberboard, this layer has some water resistance.

The backing layer provides additional stability while also ensuring that water cannot soak through to the subfloor.

Laminate Flooring Pros

Pro No. 1: Affordable

If you want the look of real hardwood but don’t like the price, then laminate flooring is a good compromise.

Pro No. 2: Resistant to Scratches

The wear layer is strong, which means that ordinary wear and tear don’t make much of an impression.

Pro No. 3: Somewhat Water Resistant

While it’s not exceptional at repelling water, technology in this area is constantly improving. If you’re careful, most spills won’t cause damage.

Pro No. 4: Easy to Maintain

Mopping and sweeping are all that’s required. You don’t even have to wax.

Pro No. 5: Easy Installation

Thanks to its interlocking design, laminate floor “floats” and does not need to be secured to the subfloor.

Pro No. 6: Durable

Laminate flooring is perfect for high-traffic areas and for homes that have kids and pets.

Laminate Flooring Cons

Con No. 1: It’s Not the Real Thing

For some people, there’s no substitute for a hardwood floor. The look, feel and texture won’t be same.

Con No. 2: Not Waterproof

Although it’s able to resist some moisture, laminate isn’t waterproof. This makes it unsuitable for use in bathrooms and basements.

Con No. 3: Potentially Noisy

If not installed correctly, laminate flooring can have a loud, hollow sound. A good underlayment and installation by an expert can avoid this issue.

Engineered Flooring

Combining man-made materials with natural hardwood, many people say that engineered flooring takes advantage of the best of both worlds. Like laminate flooring, engineered flooring is made up of layers.

The top wear layer is made of wood. It’s possible to find engineered flooring with just about any species of wood. Two of the most popular choices are oak and hickory.

Beneath the wear layer are one or two layers of man-made material. Some versions of engineered flooring have two layers of plywood while other varieties have a single layer of high-density fiberboard. Both cores provide resistance to moisture, and they frequently are mixed with wax or another material that’s water repellant. Regardless of the material, these layers provide stability and durability.

A plywood or high-density fiberboard backing is the bottom layer of each piece of engineered flooring.

Engineered Flooring Pros

Pro No. 1: Environmentally Friendly

Because engineered flooring may use up to 70 percent repurposed wood waste, it’s a green choice.

Pro No. 2: Many Options

You can choose from just about any wood to achieve the look and texture that you desire. Plus, the wood may be stained or painted. Various finishes like distressed, wire-brushed, smooth and hand-scraped are available.

Pro No. 3: Versatile

Engineered wood flooring looks great and works even better in most rooms.

Pro No. 4: Install It Yourself

You don’t have to have an expert install engineered flooring. The tongue-and-groove installation system is straightforward. You can either loose lay or glue the flooring for extra stability.

Engineered Flooring Cons

Con No. 1: More Expensive

Homeowners on a strict budget may want to stick with laminate. The use of natural wood in engineered flooring means that prices can get steep.

Con No. 2: Not Great for Bathrooms and Basements

Rooms like bathrooms and basements that are prone to floods or plumbing leaks are not great choices for engineered flooring that’s covered with real wood. If you do want to use this type of flooring in a basement or bathroom, do so sparingly.

Con No. 3: It’s Not Totally the Real Thing

For some people, only the best will do. They want the “real thing” every time whether that’s a designer handbag or a flashy sports car. Still, many people are satisfied with an engineered wood floor that looks, feels and sounds so much like a genuine hardwood floor. Plus, engineered flooring is likely to be cheaper than hardwood.

Con No. 4: May Not Be Able to Refinish

On some engineered flooring, the wood is a thin veneer. When the floor begins to wear, you may want to refurbish it. This typically involves sanding down and then staining or painting. However, some manufacturers warn that their engineered flooring is not made to withstand refinishing. If you think you’ll want to refinish your engineered flooring one day, be sure to buy a product that allows for this.

Hardwood Flooring

When homeowners choose hardwood flooring, they get a finished product that’s solid wood throughout. There are no layers and no man-made materials. Hardwood flooring may expand or shrink based on moisture and humidity levels in the home, which is a primary consideration. Temperature similarly may affect the appearance and size of the planks.

Hardwood flooring is nearly always installed by professionals. Unlike laminate and engineered flooring, a hardwood floor doesn’t arrive completely pre-finished. Instead, it is finished on-site by an expert installer. The process can require several days, and depending upon the size of the project, the homeowner may have to vacate the premises for the duration.

The good news is that hardwood floors are known for their beauty and durability. Because the planks are solid wood, it is possible to sand them down and refinish them when it becomes necessary. You can even do so on individual pieces of wood if scratches or other damage occurs.

Hardwood Flooring Pros

Pro No. 1: Longevity

Hardwood floors, when properly cared for, have the potential to last the homeowner’s lifetime.

Pro No. 2: Options

You’ll have tons of choices when it comes to which type of wood you prefer and the color of the finish.

Pro No. 3: Adds Value to Your Home

When it’s time to sell, you’ll be able to advertise your hardwood floors as a true selling point. Buyers may be looking for exactly this feature because they know about its beauty and durability.

Hardwood Flooring Cons

Con No. 1: Expensive

Pricing varies, but you can trust that hardwood flooring will always be more expensive than laminate and engineered.

Con No. 2: Maintenance

Wear and tear can really show on genuine hardwood, which means that you may have to spend more time than you like sanding and refinishing.

Con No. 3: Excessive Moisture Causes Damage

It’s unwise to use hardwood in wetter rooms that are prone to flooding like bathrooms and basements. Water may damage hardwood beyond what can easily be repaired.

Make the Right Choice

When you’re browsing through flooring options, consider things such as:

  • How much traffic the floor receives
  • Whether or not floods or plumbing leaks may be an issue
  • How much money you want to spend
  • How long you want the floor to last

With these questions answered, you’ll know whether to pursue laminate, engineered or hardwood flooring.