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Key Differences Between Laminate Flooring and Manufactured Hardwood Flooring

key differences between laminate floors and manufactured hardwood floorsWhen you are shopping for new flooring for your home, you will find that there are many options available from which to choose. The key is understanding the differences between all of these options, especially between laminate and manufactured flooring, and when to choose which one.

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Knowing the differences between them will allow you to properly choose the correct type of flooring for your project. Not knowing what type of flooring to choose will only cause you to become confused and dissatisfied once your project is complete.

How Laminate Flooring Is Constructed

Laminate flooring does not contain any actual hardwood and is primarily made from fiberboard and resin. It is available in many different looks, including wood or stone.

An actual piece of laminate flooring is made of four individually processed layers that are then combined through a heating and pressure process to produce the finished product. These four layers include a:

  • key differences between laminate floors and manufactured hardwood flooringBalancing layer, which serves to resist moisture and provide stability to the floorboard
  • Core layer, which is made from a high-density fiberboard that has been strengthened by soaking in resin to make it harder and more water-resistant
  • Pattern layer, which is essentially a thin piece of paper that has been printed with a photographic image of either a wood grain or stone finish
  • Wear layer that is made of a clear melamine resin, which serves as a waterproof durable coating to protect the floorboard from damage such as stains or scratches

After these layers have been combined, they then go through a cooling and curing period to acclimate them to the environment which they are in. They are then cut into the planks of floorboards that you see in stores. Before they are packaged, however, they go through a quality control inspection to ensure the quality of the product before being sent to the floor distributors.

How Manufactured Hardwood Flooring Is Constructed

Manufactured hardwood flooring, also known as engineered hardwood flooring, is made through a specific process called cross-ply construction. It has become an increasingly popular alternative to solid hardwood flooring since its introduction in the 1960s. This is because solid hardwood is not always recommended in all flooring projects. When installed correctly, manufactured hardwood flooring is virtually indistinguishable from solid hardwood flooring.

This type of flooring is also made of several layers or veneers, with three being the minimum amount used. The topmost layer is the actual hardwood wood and the layers below usually consist of plywood, although some lesser-quality options may include fiberboard layers. Most manufactured hardwood floorboards have a minimum of five coats of finish, if not more. This often makes it more durable than unfinished solid hardwood flooring that is finished after it is installed.

key differences between laminate flooring and manufactured hardwood floorsAs you may be aware, wood reacts to changes in humidity through expansion and contraction. These plywood layers are turned 90 degrees as each layer is added to counteract these reactions to humidity. This helps to avoid movement, cracking, or checking to the wood surface that can occur with solid hardwood flooring if installed in a less-than-desirable environment.

Similarities Between the Two

As you can see, both laminate and manufactured hardwood flooring go through an involved manufacturing process to end up with the finished product. You might think this might raise the price of both but, in actuality, both are a less-expensive alternative to solid hardwood flooring.

key differences between laminate flooring and manufactured hardwood flooringBoth types of flooring are extremely durable because of the finished layer on top. Even though they do not have the long life of solid hardwood flooring, the average lifespan of both can be between 15 and 25 years or more, depending on the quality of the flooring that you purchased. This is a definite advantage in comparison to the average 10-year lifespan of carpeting.

Laminate and hardwood flooring are both recommended by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America as flooring alternatives over having carpeting in your home when there are allergy or asthma concerns. This is because they are less prone to hide dust mites as carpets will, which can wreak havoc with allergy symptoms.

Differences between the Two

While both types of flooring will give you the look of wood, keep in mind that only the manufactured hardwood is real hardwood. If you are on a tight budget and are willing to forgo having actual wood, you will be sure to find laminate flooring in a style that will suit your design preferences.

Laminate flooring is often a less-expensive option to manufactured hardwood.

Normally, manufactured hardwood flooring will have a longer lifespan than laminate. This is because, once the finish is worn through on the laminate floorboard, you cannot refinish it. You could potentially replace the board if you were wise enough to keep extra boards on hand, but it may not match the other boards years later. Eventually you will run out of spare boards, so you will need to replace your floor.

With this type of hardwood flooring, you can simply sand down and refinish it when the floor starts losing its luster. Keep in mind, however, that unlike solid hardwood, which can be sanded down numerous times, manufactured hardwood flooring can only be sanded down maybe two or three times before it needs replacement. This is because the actual hardwood is just a veneer and not a solid plank.

key difference between laminate floors and manufactured hardwood floorsAgain, you could also replace some floor boards, but eventually you will need to replace the floor. At least it will be further down the road than with a laminate floor.

How Both Flooring Types Are Installed

There are several different options for the installation of laminate and engineered hardwood flooring. It is important to remember to allow at least four to five days before you plan to install either for the floorboards to acclimate to the room’s environment. You can do this by laying the cartons throughout the room. Taking this one extra recommended step will help to avoid problems down the road with shifting, buckling, or cracking in response to humidity conditions after the installation.

Both types can also be installed in locations where there is no actual subfloor, such as a home that is on a concrete slab foundation, without laying down a subfloor. The advantage to this is that you will avoid needing to adjust entrances such as doors or transitions into other rooms to allow for the added height.

Manufactured hardwood flooring can be installed with nail or staples if you do have an actual subfloor. Laminate floorboards, however, cannot be installed with nails or staples.

An installation method that is applicable to both is to glue the floorboards down to the subfloor with the adhesive recommended for your brand of flooring. Be sure to use the type of adhesive that is recommended by the manufacturer or else you could find that you have invalidated your floor’s warranty.

key difference between laminate flooring and manufactured hardwood floorsBoth flooring types can usually be floated. This means, instead of fastening to a subfloor, you will float the floorboards above a moisture barrier or underlayment, such as:

  • Tarpaper
  • Plastic sheeting that is at least six millimeters or thicker
  • Specific padding that is made for use as a moisture barrier

Some types of flooring, both laminate and hardwood, will have a layer pre-installed that will serve as cushion and moisture barrier. It is always best, however, to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for choosing the best underlayment for the floor you have purchased.

It is usually recommended when installing your floor with this method to apply a thin bead of glue in the tongue and groove of each floorboard to ensure the pieces stay together. Once the floor has been installed, the finishing touch is installing molding or quarter round to help hold the floor in place.

The advantage of using glue during installation is that is it quick and easy.

You avoid the necessity of nailing or stapling floorboards or making a mess with glue. It also helps to reduce the noise that comes from walking on bare floors. Additionally, the underlayment helps reduce moisture coming up from the slab foundation and provides some added insulation to the room.

Care and Maintenance of Both

Both types of flooring are easy to maintain under normal circumstances. Even though they have protective finishes, this does not necessarily mean they cannot be scratched or gouged given enough force. If you have pets, you will want to make sure to keep their nails trimmed and filed to prevent scratches on your floor.

It is always advised to protect high-traffic areas that are prone to having water or dirt tracked in from outdoors with throw rugs or mats, both inside and out. Dirt and sand can be abrasive to the finish of your flooring.

key difference between laminate flooring and manufactured hardwood flooringYour floors can be simply swept or vacuumed with a vacuum cleaner without a beater bar to remove dirt and dust. A weekly mopping with a damp mop or a gentle cleaner, as recommended by the flooring manufacturer, should be all that is needed to keep your floors looking great for years to come. After mopping, be sure to wipe your floor dry to prevent the moisture from causing your floorboards to expand.

It is important to never wet-mop because it can damage both types of flooring. You should always quickly wipe up any spills from your floors to avoid staining and watermarks. Laminate floor is more forgiving when it comes to resisting stains, but it is always best to immediately clean up spills to avoid possible damage. For stains to your hardwood floor, you may want to contact a professional to remove instead of attempting it yourself.

Whether you choose a laminate or manufactured hardwood floor is dependent on your individual tastes and budget constraints. Whatever you decide, you can rest assured that you will have a wide variety of styles, colors, and patterns from which to choose.

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