There’s no doubt that hardwood floors—whether light or dark, broadwood or herringbone pattern—add a special sense of nostalgia to what we think of as home. Shaggy and linoleum rugs may come and go, but hardwood has been here for the duration.
Or is he?
Although a survey of homeowners conducted by the National Laminate Flooring Association in 2017 found that 66 percent of respondents said wood floors would be in their dream home and 79 percent thought it would increase the value of their home, it sounds more ambitious than reality. More homeowners have carpet (75 percent) and tile floors (58 percent) compared to wood (52 percent).
“Hardwood floors are becoming a thing of the past,” said Jane Pinto, chief interior designer at Jackson Design & Remodeling in San Diego. “They don’t sell them on shelves anymore, and most sellers and installers will tell you to stay away from them. Despite their beauty, they don’t hold moisture well and over time can get tangled up with the natural expansion and contraction of the material. If needed, they can be custom-made. The thing The nice thing about it is that it’s meant to be sanded and refinished, so old hardwood can be made to look like new.”
Despite its beauty, hardwood is very high maintenance, especially if you have a lot of foot traffic, not to mention small children and pets, who can scratch it and leave a hard-to-clean mess.
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But if traditional hardwood is the twentieth century, the desire for its warmth and naturalness will remain. So it’s no surprise that ambition and practicality are being incorporated into the flooring market for those who love the look of hardwood but not the cost, maintenance, or weaknesses of real hardwood floors.
Today, any homeowner looking to install new flooring can get the look of hardwood from several very different types of products, including engineered hardwood, laminate tile, porcelain tile, luxury vinyl tile and bamboo. Each has its pros and cons based on your household.
engineered solid wood
Whereas traditional hardwood – all wood – hardwood has a hardwood veneer but is made up of several thin layers of backing, mostly plywood, but can also be fibreboard or unfinished hardwood. According to Pinto, the layers add stability to a material’s overall strength.
There can be issues with shrinkage and expansion of solid hardwood floors, but the texture of engineered hardwood makes this a non-issue. It also comes in different finishes. Bento said urethane and oil-based finishes are very popular.
“Urethane is great for heavy use and tolerates moisture well,” she said. “Oil finishes are beautiful and have a very natural matte finish. It’s more expensive, and requires some maintenance because it will need to be re-lubricated every few years. But if scratched, it can be polished well with oil the next time it’s touched up.”
But there is a drawback to engineered wood: exposure to moisture. You don’t want to get wet. This makes it a poor candidate for bathrooms and areas where moisture can be traced from the outside.
Like engineered hardwood, wood panels are layered materials, but instead of a top layer of wood, they have a high-resolution photographic wood-look layer, complete with grain, over a moisture-resistant, riveted substrate topped with a high-fibreboard core. Density, all finished with resin.
Laminate floors come in a variety of textures and finishes. It can be smoothed to resemble polished woods, carved with a pressed pattern to add a wood-grain texture or hand scraped for an antique wood look. It can also have a high gloss sheen or a low matte sheen, creating higher marks to hide small scratches.
But there is no refinishing. If any damage occurs, the plank must be replaced.
Porcelain tile panels can resemble wood, even with the woven grain. They come in a variety of styles, colors, and designs – from chic to rustic. It is scratch, stain and water resistant.
“It’s the most durable,” said George Larson, sales assistant at Rayo Wholesale Floor Covering Supply in Santee. “You can put it in every room, including the bathroom, and not worry.”
Vinyl planks have come a long way, as have wood-look porcelain tiles. Pinto said that premium vinyl looks and feels more like real wood than porcelain, but it has some characteristics of tile, meaning it requires no maintenance. It won’t leave stains, it’s moisture resistant and walkable softer than tile, but it may scratch in the right position.
“If a pet digs into it or a sharp object is dragged on the ground with enough pressure, then the vinyl can scratch… and that plank will have to be replaced,” she said.
Budget, she added, it’s a great alternative to wood, and tolerates well with children and pets.
Larson is a fan of luxury vinyl: “It’s less money to install. It’s more durable than others. Designers love it because, since it’s a waterproof flooring, they won’t have to trim the floor throughout the house with tiles in the kitchen and bathrooms, wood floors in living rooms, and carpeting in rooms. Sleep. You can put it in every room and don’t worry. Without a doubt we sell more premium vinyl planks than anything else at the moment.”
But Pinto pointed out some drawbacks, including issues with withstanding without twisting in extreme temperature swings. And if an area is exposed to sunlight for long periods without covering any window, the product may shrink and warp.
Think of bamboo as an eco-friendly option. It has a bit in common with engineered wood in that, as a lawn, it is also engineered, with strands of grass torn, then pressed together using heat and glue to form the floorboards.
According to HGTV, there are three types of bamboo flooring: horizontal, in which strips are layered and pressed with bamboo joints perfected into the grit; vertically, which provides a cleaner look thanks to bamboo strips that are flipped sideways to be glued together; and woven or braided, in which the cut strands of grass are pressed with resin. It produces a hardwood-like surface and is the most durable of the three types.
“It’s a tougher and generally more water-resistant material than hardwoods, but it’s not as waterproof as fine porcelain or vinyl,” Pinto said. “It’s pet-friendly and relatively easy to maintain because you don’t need to seal it. Like hardwood, you need to clean up spilled or liquid water because it’s not waterproof and more susceptible to moisture.
“It’s an option to consider if someone wants something more natural, earth-friendly or wants to achieve a more modern/contemporary look in their space. But many clients want something more waterproof and versatile, so it’s not something we ask for as often as flooring types other we have discussed.
“If a homeowner wants to buy bamboo flooring, they should make sure they buy it from a reputable store/factory so they can ensure quality control and make sure they buy bamboo flooring.”
Factors to consider
Choosing among these different types of faux hardwood can seem overwhelming. A good designer or salesperson should ask you all the right questions about your lifestyle and budget to help guide you in the best decision for your family, Larson said.
But Pinto has a few ideas for homeowners to consider:
- Look at the luminosity. Anything high-gloss will reveal any scratches or blemishes.
- If you want your space to appear larger, consider wide planks when considering solid or engineered wood. Pinto says this look makes the space feel more elegant.
- Look at an engineered hardwood core to make sure it’s good quality plywood, as opposed to MDF or particleboard. This will help enhance the integrity and strength of the crust on top.
- Make sure you get a nice urethane finish on your engineered hardwood. She prefers urethane over oil paint for maintenance reasons.
- For porcelain tile, stay between a slab 6 or 7 inches wide and 36 to 48 inches long. Once installed, these dimensions will make the panels look more realistic. Also, the Pinto prefers a little more texture to them, not just for the look but because it makes walking on the ground nicer and helps prevent slipping.
- If you install premium vinyl, be sure to cover the windows when the sun is shining in the room to avoid fading and warping. Also, when choosing a vendor, look at the back of the plank to make sure the bottom layer is actually attached to make installation easier and less expensive. Pinto also recommends finding a brand of vinyl that includes a stone core, rather than plastic or a different type of vinyl core. The stone helps make the product more structurally safe, especially when there are temperature fluctuations that can cause the vinyl to warp or bend. ◆