Hardwood, Softwood and Laminate Flooring Compared

Moretti Blog   •   March 29, 2016

Hardwood Softwood Laminate

Choosing the appropriate type of flooring timber for your home is one of the most important decisions you can make. Not only should the type of timber you choose look great, it needs to be sufficiently durable and appropriate for the environment you are placing it in.

To help you make the right decision, the team at WoodandBeyond have written the key differences between softwood, hardwood and laminate flooring!

Softwood Flooring

Softwood refers to any timber that has come from trees in the gymnosperm group. These trees usually have needle-like leaves, open seeds and fast growth rates. Softwood varieties include pine, ash, beech, birch, cedar, fir, hemlock, redwood and spruce.

An estimated 80% of the world’s production of timber is softwood and it is the most common type of timber used in home construction

Softwoods are commonly used for structural framing, flooring, bench tops, wall cladding, decking, joinery and beams. Because most softwood varieties grow very quickly, they are considered to be a renewable source of timber.

The key difference between softwood and hardwood is the cell structure of the timber and the presence of vessels. Hardwood trees have closed cells and use vessels to carry nutrients. Softwood trees have open cells that allow nutrients to flow from cell to cell. This makes softwood timbers more permeable and receptive to preservative treatments that can improve their durability. It also means that hardwood timbers tend to have more strength and durability, because of the thicker cell walls.

However, certain species of softwood have higher durability and strength ratings than some hardwoods, including longleaf pine, yew, white Cyprus and Douglas fir.

Key Advantages of Using Softwood Flooring
  • Cheap – because softwood grows so quickly and is so abundant, it is the cheapest flooring option.
  • Renewable resource – because softwood trees grow so rapidly and these timbers are plentiful, it is an environmentally friendly option for your home.
  • Easy to work with – softwood timber is considered easier to work with than most hardwoods.
  • A beautiful appearance – softwood floors are only surpassed by hardwood floors for their beautiful appearance.
Key Disadvantages of Using Softwood Flooring
  • Soft and easy to mark or scratch – it is possible to mark some softwood floors very easily. Items like heavy furniture, high heels and dropped cans can dent or mark your floor.
  • Easily damaged by moisture and humidity – softwood is unsuitable for wet or humid environments, because it will warp or split

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood refers to timber that has come from trees in the angiosperm group. Like softwoods, hardwood trees produce seeds. However, they often wrap the seed in fruit and some varieties of hardwoods have flowers.

Most hardwoods are slow growing and deforestation over the past few centuries has led to some varieties being quite rare. Because of this, buying a hardwood floor in 2016 can be quite expensive. Hardwood timbers are commonly used in furniture making, boat building, musical instruments, making barrels as well as flooring. The most common varieties of hardwoods include maple, oak, cherry, mahogany and teak.

Key Advantages of Using Hardwood Flooring
  • Very beautiful – some species of hardwood are simply stunning to look at
  • Can add value to your home – because it is so beautiful, a hardwood floor is a major selling point for a property
  • Lasts for decades – a well-maintained hardwood floor can last for decades or even centuries!
  • Can be re-sanded -unlike laminate flooring, a hardwood floor can be re-sanded and refinished to take out imperfections and change its look.
Key Disadvantages of Using Hardwood Flooring
  • Susceptible to scratches – even though hardwood has a great deal of structural integrity, the surface is prone to scratching.
  • Easily damaged by moisture and humidity – hardwood is unsuitable for wet or humid environments, because it will warp or split
  • A limited resource – certain hardwoods are becoming quite rare and their continued harvesting puts the species at risk. Because they are so slow growing, it can take decades for the stock of some hardwood trees to replenish.
  • Expensive! – get ready to pay a premium for that beautiful timber floor.
  • More difficult to install – because of its rigidity, hardwood can be harder to work with and more time consuming to install

Laminate Flooring

Laminated flooring is a form of synthetic flooring that is made from multiple layers of compressed timber with a laminate outer coating. The inner layers are typically fibre board joined with melamine resin. The outer layer is a photo image of real wood or stone that has a resin-based coating applied to it, to give it hardness and durability.

Key Advantages of Using Laminate Flooring
  • Easy to install – the pieces simply clip together, making it much cheaper to install compared to both hardwood and softwood
  • Cheap – because laminate uses composite wood pressed together with a thin laminate of hardwood, it is cheaper than hardwood and some softwoods
  • Can tolerate some moisture – it is less affected by wet or humid environments and will not warp as easily as other timbers
  • Easy to clean – simple to clean!
Key Disadvantages of Using Laminate Flooring
  • Not as good looking – most laminate flooring is not as visually appealing as a good hardwood or softwood floor. The cheaper manufacturers have “artificial looking” grain on the boards
  • Not as durable as a real timber floor – the laminate top of this flooring can sometimes peel off when placed in high traffic areas. Laminate flooring also tends to fade quickly when used in a sunny location.
  • Cannot be re-sanded or repaired – if damage does occur to your floor, you cannot re-sand the timber — you must replace the section. If your floor is somewhat faded, it may be difficult to find a colour match for the section and your only option might be to replace the entire floor!
  • Doesn’t have the same feel as walking on a real timber floor – one of the joys of having a hardwood or softwood floor is the way it feels under your feet. The texture of a laminate floor is flat and feels like a linoleum floor.

For more information on how to use this product in your project, contact us today.