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Hard Surface Flooring


The choice of material at your feet can have a dramatic impact on a room and the success of other improvements you make. There are several choices for flooring materials available on the market, some tried-and-true and others a bit edgy and new. Whatever you’re aiming for in your project, below are the basics on 6 common hard-surface flooring materials, as well as a few other lesser-used types that come with their own benefits.

Categories of Hard Flooring

There are six popular flooring materials used in residential homes, from classic hardwood to eco-friendly laminate. Additionally, there are several other lesser-used types that come with their own benefits. Use the below guide to choose which type or types are best for your space.

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood floors are a timeless feature in any home. The most popular choices are maple and oak, but almost any hardwood can be used for flooring, including some exotic species. Solid hardwood floors can be refinished as often as needed to repair damages or change the color by sanding away the topmost layer to expose the natural wood in a new smooth layer. Solid hardwood is susceptible to warping and cracking due to temperature and moisture fluctuations, so be sure to research what woods are appropriate for your typical climate. Solid wood flooring comes in planks that can be nailed or glued down, or clicked together and allowed to “float” over the subfloor.


  • popular for its visually appeal
  • many varietals available to vary color and style
  • high ROI
  • can be resurfaced every 3-5 years
  • best for shared living spaces


  • expensive compared to other top flooring materials
  • can develop scrapes, scratches and dents over time
  • can incur moisture damage
Engineered Wood

Engineered wood flooring uses layers of hardwood, plywood or high-density fiberboard (HDF) to create a stable and sturdy plank that is topped with a layer of real wood. This provides a floor with the same visual qualities of solid wood, but increases the floor’s long-term durability, and improves solid wood’s natural reaction to moisture and heat by limiting the floors ability to warp and crack. Engineered wood flooring is installed the same way as solid wood, but most engineered wood manufacturers have developed easy-installing click and lock systems that install quickly. Since the planks have been created to resist changes due to heat, engineered flooring can be installed over radiant heating systems. Engineered floors can be refinished 1-2 times before the top layer of wood is too thin for further refinishing. However, since the product is typically finished at the factory, the top protective coating it usually quite durable and scratch resistant.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is made up of a photographic veneer, simulating the look of wood (and sometimes stone), applied to layers of synthetic resin and fiber board, and coated with a layer of protective clear coat. A low-cost flooring material, laminate planks fit together with a tongue and groove join on each edge without the need for glue or nails, making it a great DIY option. Laminate works well in low-traffic areas, since dirt can scratch away the protective coat, and damage the veneer. Laminate should also not be used in areas prone to water spills, since the fiber content of the planks can swell and warp if it becomes saturated. Laminate comes in a range of styles, with glossy or matte finishes, making it a good choice if you’re looking for something specific or when the real material is too costly for your budget.


  • lower price than hardwood
  • ease of installation
  • durability
  • variety of colors and styles, like natural wood
  • good for high-traffic areas


  • prone to moisture damage
  • difficult to repair
  • not ideal for kitchens or bathrooms
Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) / Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP)
  • Aesthetically appealing - Replicates the look of real wood, tile or stone.
  • Highly durable - Made in layers, then fused with pressure and heat. The layers include a backing, core, a printed film layer and a wear layer that is the protective layer with a topical coating.
  • Easy to maintain - No waxing or refinishing
  • Acoustics - LVT and LVP provide a quite floor
  • Waterproof flooring
  • Comfortable - Warm during cold months & cool in hot weather
  • Affordable - In comparison to real wood, it is easier to install and makes a great option for smaller budgets
Vinyl Tile or plank - WPC

Stands for Plastic Composite, a hybrid material composed of wood or wood flour & plastic. It is sometimes called Wood Plastic Core or Waterproof Core, but the WPC remains consistent. It is a 100% phthalates free virgin material

  • WPC is Rigid
  • More durable than LVT or LVP
Vinyl Tile or Plank - SPC

SPC flooring is distinguished by its heavy-duty core. SPC stands for Stone Plastic Composite or Stone Polymer Composite; instead of wood this core contains limestone powder. It is also 100% phthalates free virgin material

  • SPC is rigid
  • SPC is even more durable than WPC
Vinyl or Linoleum

Vinyl flooring is not the cheap-looking alternative it used to be. Renewable, biodegradable and hypoallergenic, linoleum is making a come-back in green-minded remodeling. These days, this synthetic flooring for the home is durable and effectively mimic wood, ceramic and stone. Linoleum is softer and more flexible than most other flooring materials, making it great for rooms you’re likely to stand in a lot (like the kitchen), or for kids’ rooms as an alternative to carpeting. The material can be cut in tiles or in shapes, allowing for more distinctive and creative options. It is installed by gluing to the subfloor, and is then sealed. Linoleum is water resistant, but not water proof.


  • affordable
  • versatile
  • great for high-traffic areas
  • easy to maintain
  • DIY installation possible


  • lower ROI vs. wood or laminate
  • less popular due to appearance
Porcelain or Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile is a durable material that is ideal for rooms with moisture or heat conditions that even wood flooring might not stand up to, such as bathrooms, laundry and mud rooms, and entry hallways. Since the ceramic can be process, fired and glazed in a wide variety of ways, the options in tile are nearly limitless, including making the tile look like other materials, like natural stone or wood. Similar to laminate flooring, ceramic tile is a cost-effective option.

Porcelain tiles (which is distinguished by having a naturally occurring material called feldspar within the clay) is more costly, but the benefits come as higher durability, better color qualities, and greater moisture control. Tiles are installed by securing them to the floor using a cement-like material called mortar or a specialized tile adhesive that can be dispensed from a tube.

Keep in mind the absorbency and slip resistance of the tile you choose, especially when you’ll be using it in a kitchen or bathroom. Look for glazing or finishing that adds a slip-resistant coating. Also be aware that dropping hard, heavy objects on a ceramic tile floor may create cracks or chips.


  • come in a variety of looks and designs
  • durable
  • non-porous or waterproof
  • great for kitchens, bathrooms and entryways


  • one of the most expensive options
  • difficult to install
  • can chip and scratch under heavy use
Natural Stone Tile

While ceramic and porcelain tiles can provide the look of many natural stones, it’s true that you can’t beat the real thing. There are several stone varieties; slate, limestone, marble, granite, flagstone, travertine, and sandstone are the most common options. Each of these have unique finishing and maintenance needs to make them appropriate for flooring, and will handle wear and damage in different ways. Natural stone can be installed as tiles, or can be used with more organic, irregular shapes. Natural stone floors are installed similarly to tile flooring, but be aware that the dust produced in natural stone installation is significantly higher.


  • durable
  • insulated for warmth
  • comes in many styles, colors and shapes
  • great for radiant heating
  • eco friendly
  • good for homes with kids and/or pets


  • one of the most expensive options
  • can easily chip or scratch
  • some stone tile types are porous
  • expensive repairs
New and Alternative Flooring Types
  1. Rubber:
    • poured material
    • non-slip surface
    • great for the kitchen, indoor gym or play area
  2. Parquet:
    • wood pieces arranged in a mosaic pattern
    • usually costs more than other wood styles
    • great for formal spaces
  3. Terrazzo:
    • composite made of natural stone chips and resin
    • dazzling design
    • works well indoors and outdoors, depending on the style.
  4. Marmoleum:
    • sustainable vinyl alternative
    • custom construction
    • great for bathrooms and kitchens
  5. Bamboo:
    • eco-friendly and wood-like
    • moisture resistant
    • better for kitchens and decks than most woods
  6. Cork:
    • low VOCs
    • fire-resistant
    • sound-blocking
    • best for quiet areas

Compare Hardwood vs. Laminate Flooring

Solid hardwood flooring is often regarded as the real deal, with laminate flooring looked down on as an inexpensive way to simulate the look of real hardwood flooring. Hardwood flooring is undoubtedly a quality material, however this does not mean that you should necessarily discount laminate flooring. Solid hardwood floor and laminate flooring each have their own place, with their own pros and cons.

The Key Differences

Solid hardwood flooring is comprised of flooring boards that are solid hardwood material through-and-through. The boards, usually 3/4-inch thick, are typically milled with a smooth top surface and tongue-and-groove edges that interlock to hold the boards together. They are usually installed by blind-nailing the boards to the subfloor through the tongues along the edges of the boards. If the boards are unfinished, the floor is stained and varnished once the installation is complete. However, prefinished solid hardwood flooring is increasingly common.

Laminate flooring is made by starting with a core layer of fiberboard made of wood byproducts. Over this is a design layer that is printed to resemble wood or other material. The design layer is protected by a clear, hard wear layer that offers good resistance to scratching and stains. The flooring boards are relatively thin (1/4- to 1/2-inch thick), and are manufactured with click-lock edges that snap together to secure the boards. This is a floating floor that requires no nailing or glue.

Solid Hardwood

Solid hardwood flooring is a highly attractive, premium building material that has undeniable prestige. Even cheaper species of real hardwood (red or white oak) are usually more attractive than laminate's artificial premium species.


From a distance, quality laminate flooring can look much like real wood. But at close inspection, people can almost always tell that laminate flooring is not real wood.

Newer, top-quality laminates now have a more random repeat pattern and they integrate a surface grain texture to make the flooring even more realistic, but the mimicry is far from perfect.

Water & Heat Resistance

Solid Hardwood
Although popular in kitchens, solid hardwood is not recommended for wet areas. Hardwood flooring can be damaged by standing water and floods, and even installation against concrete slabs is frowned up (engineered hardwood flooring is a better choice here). It's also not recommended that you install hardwood flooring over radiant heating systems, as the boards can shrink and cause the joints to open up.

Laminate surfaces are highly water and stain resistant, but water getting into the joints between planks can cause the edges and the fiberboard core to swell and chip. It is not recommended in wet areas either. Laminate flooring has enough heat resistance that it can be installed over radiant heating systems.

Comfort & Sound

Solid Hardwood
Hardwood floors tend to be hard underfoot, and they can be a bit noisy under heels and pet toenails. These are very solid floors, though they normally do not adapt to radiant heating systems.

Laminate flooring is generally somewhat soft underfoot since it is installed over a foam underlayment. But as a floating floor, it can sometimes flex underfoot unless the subfloor is perfectly flat. And the hard plastic surface can telegraph the clicks of shoe heels and pet toenails. Laminate flooring can be installed over radiant heating systems to create a warmer, cozier floor.

Care & Cleaning

Solid Hardwood
Cleaning of a solid hardwood floor is simple: sweeping or vacuuming, and damp-mopping with a wood cleaner. Today's wood floors are sealed with polyurethane varnish, and they should never be polished or waxed.

Laminate floors are easily cleaned with a vacuum or broom. Mopping should be done with a damp mop moistened with a laminate floor cleaner. No waxing is ever necessary. Avoid excessive water and never clean with a steam cleaner.

Maintenance & Useful Life

Solid Hardwood
Solid hardwood floors can routinely last 100 years with proper care and refinishing -- although extenuating circumstances like flooding can render a hardwood floor worthless if rescue attempts come too late. Periodic resealing is recommended, and when the damage becomes severe, the floor can be sanded down and refinished. This should be done by professionals since there are a limited number of times a hardwood floor can be re-sanded. Most floors wear down after 3-4 sandings, so use discretion when choosing this method.

Laminate floors average about 10 years of life, with 20 years a possibility in low-use applications. Laminate flooring has moderately good resistance to damage. However if an object is heavy enough and hits laminate with sufficient force, the floor will be gouged or dented. Expect 10 years of use, maximum. Scenarios that shorten the lifespan of laminate include water infiltration, scratches from chair legs, and even UV rays. Laminate flooring cannot be refinished or sanded. When it is ruined, replacement is the only option.

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