How to tell if your floor is hardwood or laminate (and why it matters)
EEven if you have never contemplated the ground you walk on, buying a home will change just as quickly. There’s a reason everyone’s on house hunters asks what type of floor is in each house they visit: this is because hardwood floors and laminate floors are two very different things, but it can also be difficult to tell them apart. Iit’s a good idea to know exactly what kind of soil you have, because Hardwood and laminate flooring have very different impacts on the value, comfort and upkeep of your home. Here’s how to tell if your floor is hardwood or laminate and why it matters.
What is the difference between hfirewood and laminate?
The fundamental difference between hardwood flooring and laminate flooring is in their manufacturing: hardwood is harvested from trees, while laminate is a manufactured product. Hardwood is cut from a wide variety of trees, ground to size, sanded and finished. Laminate is a composite product made up of four layers: a base layer made of a moisture-resistant material, a central layer of high or medium density fibreboard which gives it its durability and stability, a decorative layer or ‘photographic’ where the pattern and color of the flooring is printed – essentially a very high resolution photo of the material the laminate mimics – and finally a wear layer with a clear overcoat to protect the floor.
While you can install hardwood from a wide variety of wood types to achieve a range of colors and looks, laminate can be found in a much wider range of colors and patterns. It can mimic the look of hardwood very convincingly, but can also have different patterns and offer colors that you can’t achieve with natural wood. Most laminates are designed to look like hardwood, although.
Hardwood is potentially a much more durable flooring material than laminate. Well maintainedhardwood can last indefinitely, and even if worn or damaged, it can often be refinished, with the worn top layer sanded off and a fresh coat of stain and sealer giving it a whole new look. Laminate flooring, on the other hand, cannot be refinished and usually has a Limited lifespan, with premium materials that last 10-20 years with normal wear. However, laminate is much cheaper to install, costinotg between $5 and $8 per square footcompared to $9 to $12 per square foot for hardwood.
There is also something called engineered hardwood. It is basically high quality plywood with a real hardwood veneer laid over the top. The main difference is cost, which can be as low as $3 per square foot to install, and durability: although the top layer of hardwood wears almost as well as the real thing, it can only be refinished. once or, at most, twice. Engineered hardwoods won’t last forever like real hardwood, but they will last much longer than laminate, up to 30 years.
How to make the difference
Since hardwood is a superior material in many ways and laminate will eventually need to be replaced, you need to be able to tell them apart. Modern laminate flooring can really fool the eye and look a lot like parquet without offering the same durability. If you have what looks like parquet, here’s how to tell what material you’re dealing with:
- Repeating patterns. Even the most expensive laminate will only have a limited number of “patterns” giving it that wood grain look. Look closely at a few boards and look for repetitive features. Nodes are a good place to start, as they’re relatively large, and if you spot two that look exactly alike, you’ve found your laminate smoking gun. If each plank looks unique, it’s probably real wood.
- Look for spots and bumps. Ironically, despite being a more durable material, hardwood is more prone to stains and dents. Laminate surfaces can be very resistant to both, so if you have any imperfections in your floor, it’s probably real wood. Laminate can be scratched quite easily, however, some scratches aren’t the smoking gun you’re looking for.
- Look for nail heads and staples. Hardwood floors are usually installed by nailing or stapling the boards to the subfloor. Laminate is usually glued or “floated.” If you can see nail heads or staples here and there, it’s probably hardwood.
When it comes to hardwood vs. engineered wood, the only reliable way to tell the difference is to look at the sides – if you see layers, it’s engineered. But this requires access to the sides of the boards, which you usually won’t have when it comes to a finished floor.
The reason you want to know what type of flooring you have isn’t just about maintenance; it’s also about the value of your home. Real hardwood floors add so much more value to your home. In fact, more than half of potential buyers will pay more for a home with hardwood floors. If you’re thinking of selling your home one day, determining the type of soil there will help you price it appropriately – and if you’re buying a home, knowing the type of flooring will help you make the right offer.
The rule of thumb about laminate and home value is simple: if you’re replacing carpet, vinyl, or any other cheap flooring, laminate is a good investment in terms of home value. If you already have hardwood floors, laminate would be a step down, so consider refinishing what you have or replacing it with a similar material.