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Laminate or real wood floor coverings - what are the pros and cons?

This debate has ravaged for years. Those in the ‘real wood camp’ scoff at laminates as being a ‘poor mans’ substitute for real wood while the ‘laminate lovers’ wonder why anyone considering real wood would want to put up with all the stability issues at two or three times the price of a decent laminate floor covering.

I tend to be with the ‘laminates camp’ for sound practical reasons. When timber floor coverings of this sort become popular about 15 years ago I had many clients wanting to instantly finish off their new home or house extension with all the finishing touches that also included real wood flooring.

The science of the instability of real wood or rather its tendency to grow or shrink with the relative humidity of its environment has always been well known but like most things in the building industry its all about time, money and getting things done ready to move onto the next job. Very few clients were getting the negative advice they should regarding a waiting period of between 6 to 12 months in order to let the new property release its entrapped water vapour during the building process.

Time after time the floor covering was warping and bowing within a couple of weeks of being laid for timber flooring brought in from a dry store environment. Even when the fitter realised that perhaps the timber floor needs to be stored within its location for a few weeks prior to laying it was then shrinking with massive gaps between the joints 6 months down the line.

It was, and still is, a nightmare to install a real wood floor covering within 6 to 12 months of the completion of any new home or house extension and should be avoided. Any homeowner who insists on laying real wood floor covering within this period is chancing a lot of money.

It has become a bit more scientific since those early days and professional fitters use humidity tests and floor moisture tests to establish if the new substrate is stable. However, why take the chance? Why risk natural wood when most good quality laminates are virtually indistinguishable for the real thing?

Laminate flooring is so good these days and the effects and textures make it really hard to differentiate between the two. They may even be more hard wearing, far more dynamically stable and cheaper in most cases. Unless your property is a listed building where you would be installing reclaimed real wood flooring in any case, is there any need in this day and age for real wood flooring coverings? If you disagree I would love to hear of your own point of view.


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