Laminate vs. Bamboo vs. Hardwood flooring
February 8, 2013 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Should I install "bamboo hardwood," hardwood, or laminate floors? This is for a rental unit in a not-that-upscale neighborhood in Oakland, California. I'm most concerned about long-term maintenance costs and potential resale value.

Because it is a rental, I’m most concerned about durability, repairs, and long-term operational costs. I’ve heard mixed reviews about laminate’s comparative durability to hardwood. But I may well start trying to sell the place in 3-5 years or so, depending on my family situation, so I'm also paying attention to resale values.

I’m looking at laminates that cost $0.79-$1.09 per square foot. They are mostly 8 mm, though one that is 12 mm is on sale for $1.09. The underlayment cost is about $0.35/sf. There is “bamboo hardwood” (?) on sale for $1.99/sf, and very rarely, this store puts regular hardwood on sale for that price as well. The bamboo and hardwood options are prefinished and tongue-and-groove shape, so I'm not sure if they click together the way laminate does, nor whether they'd require an underlayment.

The unit is 750 square feet, so I'm assuming that the price difference for materials is $500-1000. If hardwood is harder to install (?), then our contractor will ask for more money for labor, too. This is a lot for me right now, as I try to buy all of the appliances, so it could delay me in renting the place by a month while I saved the money.

I’m wondering if it’s worth the extra money to go with the bamboo, if it's worth the extra money and a month's delay to see if real hardwood will go on sale, or if I should just move ahead now with the laminate.

Arguments for laminate:
- It’s a rental, so whatever I install will get trashed and need replaced, so I should buy the cheapest possible.
- Some laminates are actually more durable than some hardwood.
- If I end up selling the place to investors, they'll base their purchase on the rental income, so they won’t value hardwood (unless it truly is known to be cheaper to operate).

Arguments for hardwood:
- Since hardwood can be refinished, it might be cheaper in the long run to buy hardwood now than to buy laminate and replace it occasionally.
- Although I’m living in the tiny attic unit, most future owners would probably see the floor in question as the “owners’ unit,” so I should buy better finishes on this main floor. And since owner-occupants would probably pay more than investors, I should aim for this outcome.

Is there any reason at all to consider bamboo? I have the impression that it can’t be refinished, so unless it is supremely more durable, it seems to be the worst option.

What do you think?
posted by slidell to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Pergo or a high quality laminate will wear well and be attractive to prospective buyers, whether they be landlords or owners.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:46 PM on February 8, 2013

The strand-woven bamboo flooring I have in my bathrooms is great. It was as cheap as laminate, has fairly good moisture resistance, and is heavier and stronger than hardwood - I kept handing people planks and watching their surprise as they felt the weight. I laid mine as a floating floor in pretty much the same way you'd lay laminate. It's been down for three years to date, and despite the daily bath antics of two small boys, is holding up well.

It's plain tongue-and-groove, so I had to join the planks with a specialist waterproof glue. In a lot of ways I preferred laying it to laying click laminate. The edges of laminate are quite easy to mess up, and fitting it under door jambs etc. can be a bit of a pain, whereas a glued tongue-and-groove is always laid by sliding it in flat.

If you go for laminate, get one with (a) a warranty, and (b) some degree of water resistance.
posted by pipeski at 1:51 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Since all of the comments have referred to a good quality laminate, here is what I'm looking at:

This is the 12mm variety that is on sale for $1.09 / sf.

This is an 8 mm option that is on sale for $0.79 / sf.

Not on sale, this 8 mm option is $0.99 / sf.

That same store also has a few 8mm options made by Columbia for $1.29. Do any of those seem adequate?

Pergo seems to be selling for around $2 / sf at Home Depot. If the hardwood actually did go on sale for that same price, would you guys still advise I get the laminate?
posted by slidell at 1:55 PM on February 8, 2013

Due to personal experience, I'd avoid bamboo.

I just had bamboo installed in my living room/dining room last September. Looks beautiful, has the durability of styrofoam. It's been an especially disappointing, as it was specifically sold for durability. It looks to me that the stuff wasn't seasoned properly before being fabricated into planks. Installer and manufacturer just want to point the finger at each other.

I suspect high demand for bamboo has led to cutting corners on the manufacturer end. Caveat emptor.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:10 PM on February 8, 2013

If there's ever an issue with standing water/excessive moisture (an unseen spill, minor flooding, or longer-term dampness), it will likely ruin laminate flooring and it will require replacement. The laminate will warp and is quite unforgiving. Hardwood is far more forgiving and can be refinished, and could potentially save you needing to redo a laminate floor several times over. As this is a rental and not just a quick-sell situation, I'd go with hardwood.
posted by quince at 2:17 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

There is something called the Janka Wood Hardness scale that supposedly predicts how the wood will withstand wear and tear.

I have bamboo flooring that I would not classify as super durable. There are harder bamboo types though from what I can see. I would suggest you look at this rating for the woods you're considering. I don't see the rating on the pages you linked to but it was on the Home Depot page for my flooring type.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:19 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just another data point: my strand woven bamboo flooring has held up amazingly to my 65 lbs dog's crazy antics (and I've seen the damage he causes on other hardwood floors) – it still looks like the day we bought the new house a year ago despite attempts at serious abuse. An overnight beer flood (don't ask) that resulted in a large area of very wavy floor completely disappeared by itself over a couple of months as the floor boards simply dried. We have the same flooring in all bathrooms and have had no issues there either.

On the other hand, a different type of bamboo flooring in the management office of my old apartment complex looked like hell – and I mean terrible – from all the people walking around it in high-heeled shoes, and as the above poster mentions they haven't had such luck either. Maybe it depends more on the quality of the particular floor you install?

Either way, I'd opt for a lighter color in a matte or satin finish as my dark, semi-glossy floor has been enough of a nightmare to keep clean for me to have the sheen changed to matte. Lighter colors also make the space look bigger and, obviously, feel brighter but the not-having-to-mop-twice-a-day advantage is alone worth it.
posted by halogen at 2:19 PM on February 8, 2013

Have you seen Allure Trafficmaster flooring? It's a bit more expensive than what you have in mind per sq. ft., unless you happen upon a sale, but it's worth considering in terms of durability. We use it in our suite renos and it turns out great. It handles normal tenants really well. It even withstood the moron who flooded her place by neglecting to notify us about a toilet problem.

It's vinyl planking that sticks together at the joints with something akin to contact cement on the mating surfaces. There's a bit of a learning curve to get the joints tight, but there's a bit of forgiveness to the adhesive if you're quick. I've seen a click-together variety, we haven't tried it though. No underlay required. Comes in all sorts of wood and tile patterns. The cherry is nice; the cork, imho, is hideous.
posted by CKmtl at 6:25 PM on February 8, 2013

Bear in mind that tongue-and-groove hardwood planks can only be refinished down to the tongue, which means (in the ones we looked at) maybe twice or three times total before they have to be replaced.

Also seconding the problem with laminate and moisture. We got high end laminate (nicer than what you are looking at, I think) which I am otherwise thrilled with, but we had a potted plant which leaked from its saucer for a few weeks before we realised, and the water from that created a bubble in the laminate that has never resolved even after being thoroughly dried and having the plant moved off it. I would never use laminate in a kitchen, bathroom or laundry.

Also also, you won't be able to replace just part of the laminate in a house (e.g. one room or a few planks) if the manufacturer stops making that exact pattern/colour (which is what happened to us right after we bought ours. The extra box of six planks we had left over is the last we will ever be able to buy.) Hardwood, on the other hand, should be replaceable, repairable, and restainable to match if you need to do patch repairs.
posted by lollusc at 6:26 PM on February 8, 2013

I'm of the school of 'no laminate, not now, not ever, ew tacky janky gross' ...but I have seen some bamboo floors (industrial quality, high traffic public areas) that are really nice...but it seems others have had a more hit or miss experience with them. Hardwood. It will last a hundred years...or more. Even scratched up it looks better than laminate. There is a reason most laminates are rated for 5 years...they will last NO LONGER, and the slightest bit of damage makes them look f.u.g.l.y. Avoid. Not worth the initial 'savings'... not by a long shot. (Painting contractor here FWIW...I've seen a lot of floors...I've NEVER heard of anyone unhappy with hardwood.)
posted by sexyrobot at 11:18 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have installed Laminate flooring--the cheap stuff, even, around $1/sf from a big-box discounter--in a mid-range rental unit. For best durability it must be installed well; make sure all seams are tight. It held up beautifully for the 4 years it was in, and when I sold the place, the good condition of the floor was a selling point. From other landlords I have heard excellent recommendations for the Traffic master Allure vinyl planking. Either is a good selection for the non water areas of the house. For baths & kitchens, go with sheet vinyl.
posted by Ardea alba at 5:03 AM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

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