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Laminate and Hardwood Floors: Understanding the Differences

Construction.  Laminate flooring is a tongue and groove interlocking flooring system. It is installed over the top of the existing substrate and simply lays there.  Plywood, concrete slab, sheet vinyl flooring, hardwood flooring, or virtually any other basically flat hard surface is suitable for a "floating" laminate installation.

Laminate flooring consists of four main components that are bonded together. A wear resistant decorative surface made of resin based melamine/aluminum oxide, which is often 20 times more durable than the one on your kitchen countertop. This material is bonded to a moisture resistant medium or high density wood composition based core. A balancing backing is bonded to the underside of the core. On the top is a clear cap sheet of Aluminum Oxide, which provides the protection and stain resistance.

HPL (high pressure laminate) vs. DPL (Direct Pressure Laminate):
When It Comes to Laminate Flooring, Pressure Makes All the Difference

The higher the pressure used in the manufacturing of laminate, the harder and more resistant to scuffing and scratching the laminate surface. Just as diamonds are the hardest of all minerals, High Pressure Laminate is the hardest and toughest of all laminate.

High Pressure Laminate
Manufactured at 1400 pounds-per-square-inch of pressure.  The laminate and high-pressure balancing backer are then bonded (using high pressure) to a water-resistant HDF core using a urea-based adhesive.

Direct Pressure Laminate
Direct Pressure Laminate fuses the wear layer and decorative material using 300-500 pounds per square inch.
Alloc, Pergo, Armstrong, Bruce, Columbia, Mohawk, Shaw, Mannington, Quick-step, Tarkett and Witex use Direct Pressure Laminate.

High Pressure Laminate Flooring Advantages
  • Better wear resistance - fewer scuffs and scratches
  • Better static load capacity - no dimpling
  • Better impact resistance - no denting
  • Better design clarity - higher sheen levels
  • Higher in-carton product integrity
  • No chipped corners

High-Pressure Laminate is featured in Wilsonart's Classic product, Pergo Select product.

Continuous multi-layer laminate contains Kraft papers like HPL, but is not manufactured at the same temperatures and pressures as HPL. It is produced on a continuous press and is more impact resistant than direct pressure laminate (DPL) because of the Kraft papers, but lacks the resin flow which provides superior clarify of design in HPL.

Permaplex is High pressure Laminate at is finest.   Manufactured only by Wilsonart Flooring, the surface is more than 250% thicker than other laminate flooring surfaces.  Permaplex is features in The Wilsonart Estate Plus and Red Label product.

Installation.  Laminate floorings can be installed quickly with a minimum of tools. Often they can be walked on the following day. The individual pieces are milled so that they interlock with one another. Special glues are used on the interlocking edges of the flooring pieces. Most laminate products are installed over the existing floor in a floating fashion. The individual laminate planks are not glued or nailed to the floor below. Once the glued edges dry, you basically end up with a singular, giant piece of flooring.

Laminate flooring can be installed over virtually any flooring material. To obtain the most satisfactory results, the existing flooring should be in good, sound condition. It should also be as level as possible. Loose or rotten subflooring, missing tiles, etc. should be replaced or secured prior to covering with laminate. Laminate flooring can, in some instances, be installed over thin carpeting!

Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood

Solid wood is just that – one piece that is milled from lumber. It comes in a variety of widths, from 2-1/4" to 5" wide. It also comes in different thicknesses: 3/4" is standard, but you can also find "thin profile" solid that is 5/16" thick.

Engineered wood is real wood, but instead of one solid piece it consists of three to 10 thin layers of wood, called plies, that are assembled and glued in a cross-ply construction. The top layer of wood can range from 1/16" to 1/6" thick. Overall board thickness ranges from 1/4" to 3/4". Due to its multi-ply structure, engineered wood is much more stable than solid wood and is less susceptible to shrinking and expanding with changes in temperatures and humidity.

Engineered hardwood floors were developed to create a hardwood floor that can be glued directly to a concrete slab floor or nailed down to a wood subfloor.  Engineered floors have also been developed as floating floors. The boards of these floors are glued together at the tongue and groove and not glued to the subfloor. The resulting floor floats like a membrane on a 1/8 inch thick foam pad, yielding a floor that is more insulated and softer to walk and stand on.

The main difference between solid and engineered floors is how they can be installed. Because solid wood expands and contracts with moisture, it must usually be nailed down to a wood subfloor, which is typically plywood. Solid wood cannot be glued down to a concrete slab because the forces in the wood which cause it to twist and cup would pull the glue loose from the subfloor.

Visual.  Aesthetically, the most common designs have a wood grain visual appearance. Some manufacturers have released textures such as realistic stone and marble. Laminate floors are usually produced in long rectangular shaped planks typically about 47" by 8". There are some square tiles (usually about 15" by 15" or 24" by 24") and double wide planks as well.

The photography and number of photographs per color (termed "screens"), is an important factor of the aesthetic quality and visual realism. Hardwood flooring is easily and very authentically reproduced. Therefore, many hardwood floor species are reproduced. One brand or another represents all exotic, distressed and tropical hardwoods along with oak, maple, birch and cherry. The term "blocked" is used to describe a laminate flooring plank's design that consists of smaller plank widths, such as 2.25" strip hardwood. The term "planked" is used to describe a laminate flooring plank's design that represents one board of lumber.

Hardwood floors add a beautiful and natural touch. They also add value to your home and are highly praised in the resale home market.  Sliced cut top faces replicate the elegant appearance of solid wood floors and showcase a tight and uniform graining pattern. Rotary cut top faces create a wide and bold graining pattern.

Durability/Impact/Scratch/Fade/Stain Resistance.  By using the counter top technology and adding considerably more resin to the wear layer, laminates have become an ideal floor covering. In fact, some laminate floor manufacturers boast that their laminate floors are now 10 to 20 times harder than laminate counter tops. Since this resin filled wear layer is so dense, it becomes extremely difficult to stain, scratch, or burn with a cigarette. It is possible however to scratch any floor.

Laminate flooring is fantastic but it is not perfect. It can be damaged just like any other flooring. Any floor that is not subjected to excessive moisture is a great location for laminate. Should the particle board core be subjected to moisture extremes, it can swell and buckle. For this reason, it is may not be a good idea to install laminate flooring in a bathroom environment.

The technology of modern protective finishes has come a long way, making hardwood flooring more practical than ever. Urethane finishes are the most popular today because their ultraviolet light-cured finish allows for easier maintenance and longevity. Most finishes also contain aluminum oxide that enhances durability.


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