Alternatives to Hardwood Flooring – Part I

Who doesn’t love the look of hardwood flooring? 

The look of natural wood grain adds warmth and beauty to any home.  But hardwood flooring is not for everyone.  For one thing, wood flooring can be expensive, especially if you like exotic species, designer finishes or reclaimed wood floors.  Plus, families with active households, children and/or pets may need a floor with more durability.  While hardwood finishes are continuously improving, if you’ve got kids or pets, scratches and dents are unavoidable.  To spare your household the frustration, it’s worth considering some alternatives to hardwood.  With today’s advanced manufacturing techniques, “faux” wood flooring is becoming so realistic-looking, it is often hard to tell the difference between faux and the real thing!   Here are several attractive flooring options that will give you the look of hardwood with more durability and for less money.

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About Laminate

Laminate flooring is popular today in North America and all over the world, although it started as a European innovation. For households and offices which require a low maintenance flooring solution, laminate is attractive, durable, easy to install, and reasonably priced.  It’s a great choices for households with heavy foot traffic, kids, or pets.

Benefits of Laminate

Laminate is a floor you can live on.  In fact, laminates are best known for their durability.  Laminate planks are constructed of three to seven layers of material.  The decorative layer features a photographic image that looks just like natural hardwood including grain, stain color and knots.  This decorative layer is glued and pressed to a high-density core and backing board, which provide structural stability.  The photo layer is then sealed with a transparent, wear-resistant coating that gives laminates their longevity.   This layer makes laminate flooring highly resistant to scratches, scuffs, stains, fading, and moisture.  Laminate floors are so durable, many manufacturers offer 10-25 year, even lifetime residential warranties.

Another thing you’ll love about laminate is that it is fast and easy to install. Laminate flooring can be installed over floors like wood, tile, vinyl or linoleum because laminates are usually “floated” which means they are not fastened directly to the subfloor. All that is required is that the underlying surface be clean, dry and level. The easiest to install are the “Click & Go” laminates (no glue or nails required) that feature a “tongue and groove” design in which planks easily “snap” together and lock in place, making a tight seal that resists even water.  Plus, laminate planks are wider than hardwood planks, so there are fewer boards to cut and the floor can be installed in a shorter time.  So DIY homeowners can save money by installing it themselves.  But even if you use a professional installer, laminate installation costs will still be less than hardwood installation.

Speaking of cost, laminate flooring is about 25-50% less expensive than comparable hardwood floors.  So if you love the look of Brazilian Cherry or wide plank reclaimed barnwood, you can still have that look for a LOT less money!

Last, let’s talk about moisture resistance.  There are some places in your home where hardwood flooring shouldn’t go – basements, bathrooms and anywhere moisture is an issue.  Moisture will absolutely cause a beautiful hardwood floor to warp and gap.  Laminates are constructed to be moisture-resistant and are a perfect way to add the warmth and beauty of natural wood to these areas.  Please note that while laminate flooring is water-resistant, it is not waterproof.  So don’t leave water standing on your laminate floor and wipe up spills immediately.

The Underlayment

One note of caution – when installing a laminate or any other floated floor, always use an underlayment or pad underneath and buy the best pad you can afford.  The quality of the pad is just as important as the quality of laminate you buy.  A good pad or underlayment acts as a cushion between the subfloor and laminate.  It is usually made of cork, rubber or foam and accomplishes several things:

  • Evens out bumps on a poured cement slab or plywood subfloor.  This puts less pressure on the interlocking mechanism of a floating floor and improves its structural integrity.
  • Prevents moisture penetration from the subfloor below into the backside of the floating floor, especially critical in concrete slab installations.
  • Acts as a sound insulator.  All floated floors, including laminate, tend to be “noisier” than floors that are nailed to a subfloor.  You may notice a hollow sound when you walk on floated floors with hard-soled shoes or when your dog runs across the floor.  This can drive some people crazy and many learn about it only after the floor is in.  A sound insulating pad is especially important in rooms on concrete slabs and in condo/apartment buildings where there are people living above or below you.
  • Prevents heat loss, especially in below grade installations.
  • Provides extra cushioning making your floor more comfortable to walk on.

Cleaning, Maintenance & Repair

Laminate flooring is virtually maintenance-free. Routine cleaning requires you only to vacuum, use a dust mop, or a slightly damp (not wet) mop and dry with a clean, white cotton cloth. For damp-mopping, use a hard surface cleaner recommended by the manufacturer.

Laminate floors are tough, but they are not indestructible.  Dropping something heavy can dent the floor.  Dragging something heavy like a refrigerator can scratch the floor.   In the event that the floor becomes damaged, the affected plank will need to be replaced.  So make sure you save extra planks for just such an occasion.

Our Favorite Laminate Floors

I have to admit, I was not a fan of laminate flooring until a couple of years ago when my husband and I  adopted two doodles.   Within six months, our beautifully smooth hardwood floor was littered with scratch marks.  So, we went out and bought large area rugs which ended up covering most of the wood floor.  So what was the point of spending all that money on a hardwood floor?   Another reason I am re-thinking laminate is because there are some really attractive laminate floors available today.  Today’s laminate floors are so realistic-looking, you almost can’t tell the difference!

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Case in point – my current favorite laminate is called Endless Beauty (pictured, above).  It is made in Germany – so you know it’s a quality product.  What’s unique about this product is how the grain and texture is repeated from board to board.  This creates a unique long board visual and mimics how reclaimed wood is manufactured.  You’ll also note how the embossed surface and matte texture gives the floor a natural look and feel.  If you love the look of reclaimed flooring, but don’t want to pay $15 SF and up, stop in to Pucher’s and ask about Endless Beauty.

QuickStep is “America’s Favorite Laminate” and you can see why!  They offer an extensive selection of hardwood species, styles and colors.  You’re sure to find a QuickStep floor to complement your interiors.

quickstep-laminate-girls-bedroom-edited-resized-600You’ll find rustic looks like hand-scraped, white-washed, barnwood and reclaimed wood. In the photo on the left, Quickstep’s White Brushed Pine Planks add a charming contrast in this girl’s bedroom.  The bonus is the floor not only looks great, but it will stand up to years of sleepovers, pets and play.

Note the authentic surface texture of the Dark Wenge Planks (pictured right).  QuickStep offers a wide selection of exotic wood looks like Brazilian Cherry, Merbau and Santos Mahogany.

quickstep-laminate-dark-wenge-resized-600Here’s a more classic look, but still stunning – Quickstep’s Walnut Planks.

Quickstep offers consumers more than just gorgeous hardwood looks.  QuickStep Floors:

  • Are Made in the US
  • Feature Limited Residential Lifetime Warranty
  • Offer longer planks lengths

Key Takeaway:

I hope we’ve convinced you to take another look at laminate flooring.  Laminates give you a lot of bang for your buck.  They are:

  • Economical – Less expensive way to get an upscale hardwood look
  • Durable – Does not stain or fade like hardwood, or scratch or scuff as easily as tile
  • Moisture resistant – Great for kitchens, bathrooms, and basements
  • Fast & Easy installation – Especially with “click and lock” laminates
  • Easy Maintenance

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