We drool over them in every real estate listing, and it's the one thing that nearly everyone wants on their project, but most people don't totally understand all of the different options out there. Which is the right fit for you?
This is what most of us think of when we hear "original hardwood floors." These are solid planks of wood that are laid into place, sanded, stained, and finished onsite. They are the ones that feel soft underfoot (well, as soft as wood can feel).
Looks-wise this is the real deal. There is a lot of natural variation and the beauty of them really can't be rivaled. They can even do fancy things like being laid in a herringbone in the first image or the standard way. They can be narrow or wide, but wider is trickier (more on that later). The species can be oak (red and white oak are most common in our area), pine, walnut, or even more exotic species. You can also totally customize the color by mixing stains to get the exact look you're after.
Cost-wise, this is the most expensive option. We usually budget $20/SF installed cost to have these bad boys installed, but that can vary greatly depending on your wood species, grade of wood (how many imperfections it has), and plank width. They also take time. You will need to be out of your house for a minimum of a week while this happens. It's dusty and smelly. But the end result is gorgeous.
Durability-wise hardwoods are here for the long haul. You do have to be okay with the fact that scratches just WILL HAPPEN. But just like a really yummy leather chair, over time those scratches will mellow out into an overall patina. And hardwood floors can be refinished (sanded and re-stained) over and over and over for the life of the wood.
This is what we use most often in renovations. Engineered hardwood is pre-finished with a layer of solid wood on top (usually measured in millimeters) then a substrate of plywood. There are a lot of benefits to this.
Looks-wise there is a huge variety to play with, including wider planks of wood. It's less prone to swelling since the substrate is layers of wood rather than a solid chunk of wood that will breathe (expand and contract). What that means is that you can do wider planks of flooring, which most people really love. You don't have any customization options - what you see on the sample is what you get.
Cost-wise you're going to pay less than most solid wood options (though you can find some really expensive crazy engineered options). Because there's no sanding and staining, the labor to install is much less expensive. We typically budget about $10-12/SF installed for engineered woods.
Durability-wise engineered woods are the bomb. Because they're impregnated with resins and sealers they are more moisture resistant and harder than solid wood. That means less scratches and less risk of staining. BUT because the wood layer is so thin, you don't have the option to refinish like you do with solids. (OKAY technically you can refinish most engineered wood floors once, but then you're taking off all of the sealers and stain and finishing so really it's not going to look so hot or preform as well once you do).
Wood Look Vinyl Plank
This is a great option if you want the look of a wood floor but at a budget price point. OR if you live somewhere that moisture is an issue (lake house, basement, that kind of thing). This is a wood look vinyl plank flooring, with either a rigid core or a flexible one. This got its start in commercial interiors but made it's way into residential design as the patterns got better and better at fooling us!
Looks-wise the benefits are similar to engineered wood flooring. The difference here is that there is no actual wood in this product. Depending on the fanciness of it, it will very closely immolate engineered wood...or it will look plastic-y. This is most certainly something you need to touch and feel because there's a huge range of quality. The savvy person will know that these aren't real wood based on the feel.
Cost-wise you're going to pay even less than the engineered options. We typically budget about $6-8/SF installed for LVP floors.
Durability-wise vinyl wood-look floors are pretty bullet proof. They are great if you have kids or pets who routinely destroy everything you love. The really great benefit is that if you were to ever have a leak of some sort in your house, these can literally be lifted up, dried, and then put right back down. That is untrue of solid wood and engineered.
Wood Look Tile
OK technically this isn't a wood floor, but it LOOKS like one, so it's on my list. Wood look tile floor has come a long way and is now a viable option to use outside of a bathroom o Looks-wise the wood look tiles have gotten really close to the appearance of wood. The key things to look for are LONG planks (4' or longer) that are rectified, meaning that they are cut to be exactly rectangular without a lot of variation. That allows you to have TEENY TINY grout joints. A big fat 1/4" or even 1/8" grout joint is a dead giveaway that your floors are tile. Also if your tiles are only 2' long, people aren't going to buy it. Under foot these are always going to be colder than a real wood floor and not have that little bit of give that wood has. Cost-wise the good wood look floors are comparable to engineered wood floors, since they take a lot of labor to install. We typically budget about $10-12/SF installed. Durability-wise wood look tile is going to preform like any other porcelain tile - which is really good. Their nemesis is a heavy object dropped directly on them or movement in your foundation, which could cause the tile to crack. Thankfully it's possible to have a tile or two taken up and replaced.
Laminate Wood - NOPE.
Imma keep this short. Just don't. With the other options out there, skip the laminate. It's not great when it gets wet and basically becomes a pile of garbage. It's not as durable as engineered. Not as moisture resistant as vinyl. Just go with one of those other options, mmmmkay?!
Phew! Hopefully this run down gave you some insight into all the different options out there! And of course we are always here to answer your burning questions on flooring (or basically anything else. I have so many opinions).