Houston Lifestyles & Homes November 2009
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Wood floors give a house a warm and cozy feel that just can’t be duplicated by vinyl or even carpet. Or can it? For many, a laminate floor is the perfect answer for an authentic wood look without the cost of wood or damage to forests.
The flooring influences the overall character of the home. In addition to natural wood, wood grain designs are available on laminate and vinyl. With the printing and embossing technology available today, it ’s hard to tell genuine wood from the manufactured look-alike.
Wood and wood designs work well with almost any decorating style. If wood flooring conjures images of traditional oak and pine, you haven ’t looked at wood floors lately. A variety of woods and finishes are available to complement the d écor and style of any room.
Even flooring experts sometimes have a hard time telling the difference between laminate and wood. Laminate can visually replicate the look and feel of wood, stone, brick and ceramic. The image is actually a highly detailed, high-resolution photograph of the genuine material. The design is protected by an easy to clean surface that resists spills and protects the floor from stains, fading or wear. Realistic embossing creates surface textures that enhance the design. The result is a floor that looks like the original with a different construction that provides options in budget, installation, performance and maintenance.
So, how do you decide which is best for you? Your final decision should be based on personal preference, where the floor is being installed, budget and lifestyle.

Natural Wood
There’s just something special about a natural hardwood floor. A wood floor anchors a room, giving it an air of permanence and importance. Wood ’s natural beauty is warm and inviting. Realtors say that homes with wood floors hold their value better, sell faster and obtain higher prices. The floors themselves can last from 40 to 100 years depending on the species of wood. Cost ranges from affordable to out-of-sight, again depending on wood species and design.
Natural wood is flexible and withstands pockmarks from dropped items. It is easy to keep clean, but it may fade over time, especially in areas that get direct sunlight. Wood is also susceptible to scratches and marring by pet claws and children ’s toys. But for those who feel that nothing else will do except natural wood flooring, there ’s a global forest of options to choose from, including exotics. Coupled with a spectrum of stains, gloss levels, board widths, surface textures and edge details, there ’s a wood floor for any interior décor.

Laminate
Laminate is the ultimate copycat of the flooring industry. When looking at laminate, you ’re looking at an image identical to the real thing. The image is enhanced with embossing that adds realistic texture to the floor surface. What exactly is laminate? Laminate flooring has a layered construction with all layers fused together to make a strong product. The top layer (or wear layer) is easy to clean and protects the floor from stains, fading and wear. Below the wear layer is the image design layer
Flooring Enhances the Decor and Character of a Home
Wood and wood look-alikes go with any style
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This contemporary kitchen showcases a curvature of solid maple and steamed walnut. The floor was job-site finished.
By Sandra Meineke
National Wood Flooring Association
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National Wood Flooring Association
left: Sunset Jatoba laminate is often confused with its real wood counterpart, with a  finish that mimics filled-face hardwood and real wood widths. Consumers can choose from Sunset Jatoba, Flaxen Maple and two Cherry options.  right: Flaxen Maple laminate by Armstrong Laminate Illusions was specifically designed for consumers who love the look of its premium Grand Illusions, but want a more affordable alternative.  Best of all, the Illusions Collection includes many of the same features and benefits of the premium Grand Illusions line.
This floor features solid ash plank with border and throw rugs. The floor is job-site finished using a wax finish.
sunset jatoba laminate R.jpg
flaxen maple laminate.jpg
american cherry maple dining R.jpg
followed by an inner core layer that provides structural strength and stability. The fourth layer is the backing that protects from moisture and prevents the floor from warping. Laminate has approximately the same resistance to pockmarks as natural wood, but not the life-span. Laminate may have to be replaced several times over the life of a house. However, laminate ’s powers of impersonation allow you to get the look and feel of rare, exotic wood or stone at a fraction of the cost.

Choice Considerations 
If you want a floor that stays beautiful and lasts for many years—and who doesn’t—it’s important to ask yourself some basic questions about where the floor is being installed.
A floor for a full bathroom with a shower and/or tub needs to withstand pooling water and humidity fluctuations. Hardwood, which can buckle, gap or warp when subjected to standing water and moisture, is not the best choice for a full bathroom. Ceramic tile and vinyl sheeting are better choices. Other options include laminate, linoleum and vinyl tile; however, special waterproofing precautions should be taken around perimeters and seams. Half-baths, on the other hand, don ’t have the same water and humidity issues as full baths. Any floor can be used in a half-bath.
Since laminate replicates the look and feel of natural flooring, consider the design and texture of the original material before making your decision. A rough-hewn look brings a rustic element of nature to a room, and wood lends warmth and comfort.
Using the same type of flooring throughout several different rooms adds a sense of continuity to a home. Because laminate can be installed in any room, it is a good choice for room-to-room and level-to-level coordination.
Unlike hardwood flooring, which is usually installed across the direction of sub floor joists, wood-look laminate flooring can be laid in any direction.
High-definition embossing enhances the ultra realistic look of laminate, and is a hallmark of quality. It mimics the texture of the real material so well that no one may ever guess you have a laminate floor.
Prominent maple and cherry borders define this dining room floor of satin finish American cherry. Manufacturer finished.
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