When choosing flooring for a home remodel or new construction project, most homeowners consider hardwood because of its beauty and traditional appeal. We at Home Flooring Pros get a lot of questions about how solid hardwood compares to other flooring types in terms of longevity, price and maintenance.
This flooring guide on the pros and cons of hardwood flooring will answer many of your questions. We’ll compare solid hardwood to engineered hardwood floors, laminate, bamboo, carpet and other popular flooring types, so you’ll be able to compare your favorite options head to head. Of course, before you select the material you use for your flooring, it makes sense to speak with a home flooring professional who can answer additional questions and give you flooring price estimates for your specific job.
Pros and Cons of Hardwood Flooring
The first order of business is to get a good handle on hardwood. That will make it easier to compare it with the other options you’re considering. What are the strengths and weaknesses of hardwood flooring? As discussed in our solid hardwood flooring guides, it has both, so let’s explore them.
The first advantage of wood flooring is the top reason given by those who choose it: hardwood is naturally gorgeous! It instantly enhances the aesthetics of any room with its beauty and quality. Secondly, those good looks are available in many different wood species and styles. Depending on the wood and how it is cut and finished, solid hardwood flooring works with traditional, contemporary, country, rustic and many other design schemes.
On the plus side, a hardwood floor is the last floor your home might ever need. It can be refinished multiple times, with each finish lasting 15 to 30 years depending on wear. There are many hardwood floors that still look great well into their second century of life.
There are two primary hardwood flooring disadvantages. First, it can be quite expensive, especially when you select the finest grades of exotic species such as Brazilian cherrywood, koa or sakura. However, good-quality oak, maple, hickory and ash are competitively priced with ceramic tile, acid-stained concrete, natural stone and other top-quality materials.
The second weakness of solid hardwood is that it should not be installed in humid areas because it will absorb moisture, crack, warp and buckle. It’s not a good choice for the bathroom or laundry, and it should never be installed below grade.
A final point is worth noting: Hardwood floor refinishing is labor-intensive and therefor expensive if you hire a contractor for the work. However, refinishing the floor yourself can be done for a fraction of the cost, so if you enjoy DIY projects, this is a moot point.
Those are solid hardwood pros and cons. Now, let’s put hardwood head to head against other popular floor types.
Solid Hardwood vs Engineered Hardwood
The price of solid hardwood flooring is slightly higher than engineered flooring, though both start at $2 to $3 per square foot. The finest solid hardwood costs $10 or more, a few dollars more costly than the best engineered flooring. The appearance of the materials is pretty similar when installed (engineered floors have no gaps and beveled edges), so we need to dig deeper to contrast these two. First, we’ve noted that engineered wood flooring is a better choice in humid locations. That’s a point in its favor.
The final two points go to solid hardwood. It is available in more styles than engineered flooring, though the gap is closing as new engineered products hit the market. Secondly, it has greater longevity because it can be refinished more times than an engineered surface. Depending on how thick the solid wood layer is on the engineered flooring, it can be refinished one to three times.
Most solid hardwood is thick enough to be refinished five or more times. Now, if you don’t plan to live in your current home for 50+ years, this might not matter to you. However, solid wood is a slightly better selling point than engineered flooring. If you know that your choice is between engineered or solid hardwood then take a look at our article on the best place to buy hardwood flooring.
Hardwood vs Bamboo Flooring
You know the advantages of hardwood flooring. The strengths of bamboo flooring start with its distinctive look, and if it captures your eye, you might not be happy with anything else. If you’re concerned about sustainability in the materials you choose, consider that bamboo is a grass that grows to useful size in just three to seven years. Bamboo is also very hard, so it resists scratches and dents better than some hardwoods. That said, depending on the species of wood and/or the number of protective finishes applied, solid and engineered hardwood can be very tough too…so you’ll have to do further research when comparing wood durability to bamboo.
Bamboo floors look great for 20 to 25 years when properly maintained, but most cannot be refinished like hardwood floors. They also don’t have as widespread appeal as oak or maple, so if you plan to sell your home in the next decade, hardwood could potentially appeal to more buyers.
In terms of price, bamboo ranges from about $2 to $7 per square foot, so costs less than hardwood on the upper end of the spectrum. However, be cautious of cheap bamboo flooring. Experts warn that it is typically made with a large amount of toxic urea formaldehyde.
Hardwood vs Carpet
Builder’s grade and mid-grade carpet is more affordable than hardwood, but, of course, it has nothing like solid wood flooring’s longevity. The cheapest carpeting starts at less than $2 per square foot, with the best going for $7 to $8 per square foot. If you plan to move in the next decade and want to save money, carpet has the advantage. Wood has better value if pricing flooring out over 25 years or more. Our carpet price guide has more on buying and installation costs.
Both materials are available in a wide range of styles, though it’s hard to match the number of options that carpet offers with its different styles, colors, designs and patterns. Carpet is warmer than hardwood and quieter too. Pets, especially big dogs, are hard on hardwood, scratching the surface over time.
Hardwood enthusiasts counter by saying that carpet attracts allergens which can be tough on babies, the elderly and those with breathing problems such as asthma and COPD. Cheaper carpeting also contains and gives off VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which are known to cause breathing problems. If you’re sold on carpet, look for “green” material certified for its Eco-friendliness. It costs more, but it is healthier.
Hardwood vs Tile & Stone Flooring
These three flooring materials, along with concrete, are the most durable. Yes, hardwood needs to be refinished over time, but tile and natural stone will require maintenance too, such as having cracked tiles or slabs replaced and grout repaired. Different tile (porcelain or ceramic, thick or thin) has different levels of durability, so discuss where it will be installed with your flooring retailer or contractor to get the right grade for the traffic it will be expected to handle.
All three are costly too, with natural stone being the most expensive. With hardwood and natural stone (granite for example), the material is where most of the cost is, with prices up to $12 per square foot. With tile, most materials are relatively cheap at $1 to $5 per square foot; it’s the labor to install it that is costly.
Therefore, if you’re looking for an elegant floor and have DIY skills, tile is a fantastic choice. If you like the look of wood, there are tile products on the market with a wood-grain design that offer a good alternative to hardwood. See our tile and stone flooring guides for more detailed info on installation and pricing.
These are all cool/cold floors, as opposed to the comfortable warmth of carpet, with hard unyielding surfaces. These issues can be offset with area rugs in front of your couch or the kitchen sink or where the dog likes to lay down. For the same reason, the dog will prefer the temperature of bare tile flooring in summer’s heat.
Tile and natural stone have an advantage over solid hardwood in that they can be installed in humid, even wet, places such as bathrooms.
Hardwood vs Laminate Flooring
Those who choose laminate instead of solid hardwood do so primarily due to cost, with laminate priced at $1 to $5 per square foot for the material. They want to save money on a floor that will last 12 to 25 years rather than spend more for a “lifetime” floor. Laminate cannot be refinished. When it’s worn out, its done and needs to be replaced. How long it will last depends on its quality and the thickness of its wear layer and the type and amount of traffic it gets. Shoes and pets make it wear faster, but that is true with solid hardwood too.
Laminate is a highly practical flooring compared to hardwood and perfect for busy households. For homes with heavy traffic, lots of children and/or pets you can pretty much install a laminate floor and, apart form your normal household cleaning, forget about it.
As good as high-quality laminate looks, the discriminating homeowner will still be able to tell the difference between solid hardwood and laminate, which essentially is a plywood floor covered with a picture of wood and a protective resin layer. Only genuine hardwood will satisfy the aficionado, but for many others, the price differential is enough to persuade them to choose good-looking laminate flooring.
Hardwood vs Vinyl Flooring
The contrasts between hardwood flooring and standard vinyl are bold. Hardwood is expensive and durable. Vinyl is affordable at $1 to $3 per square foot, but shouldn’t be expected to look good for more than five to ten years depending on the amount and type of traffic on it. While there are wood-patterned vinyl products, the difference in appearance is noticeable.
If you’re considering flooring for a bathroom, laundry or basement, vinyl has the clear advantage. It holds up well to moisture and humidity. Many prefer it in the kitchen too where water ends up on the floor quite frequently. Hardwood can be used in the kitchen, but you’ll have to be diligent about drying liquids before they can seep into the wood.
Similarities include both hardwood and vinyl being easy to clean. They are harder than carpet, of course, and warmer than tile, concrete or natural stone.
Hardwood vs Luxury Vinyl Flooring
Luxury vinyl flooring comes much closer to the elegant appearance of natural wood, and many faux wood patterns are available. It is a preferred material where water-resistance is important, though it is not as waterproof as sheet vinyl because it has more seams. Luxury vinyl tiles and planks don’t deliver the longevity of genuine wood and can’t be refinished. In terms of price, wood costs more in the first 15 to 20 years, but its value increases over time because it does not need to be replaced as often as luxury vinyl. Expect to pay $4 to $7 per square foot for luxury vinyl plank and tile flooring. Click here for our LVT flooring reviews.
Hardwood vs Cork Flooring
Cork is another sustainable building material that is popular with homeowners committed to green building. It is the bark of the cork tree, and it can be removed without harming the tree, as this video shows. Cork flooring represents less than ten years of bark growth, while hardwood flooring is produced from trees at least 25 years old and often much older.
Other contrasting points include cork being softer than wood but slightly more resistant to moisture. It is also naturally resistant to fire. Cork cannot be refinished, but it will last up to 30 years with TLC. Genuine wood is slightly more costly per square foot than cork, but when considered over 50 years or more, wood has excellent value.
Other Sources for Excellent Information and Ideas on Hardwood Flooring
- WFCA – The World Floor Covering Association site has a wealth of info on all the types of flooring we’ve discussed here including pages on choosing a wood specie, installing hardwood floors and maintaining them for long-term beauty.
- Armstrong DIY Guide – One of the top manufacturers of hardwood flooring has produced a complete installation guide including videos that will help you get a finished job that looks like a pro did it.
- G & S Floors – This floor installation contractor gives hardwood floor interior design tips on this page, and the site is loaded with more fantastic information.