Laminate flooring is actually a picture of wood attached to composite fiberboard under a clear finish of melamine. It is considerably less expensive than hardwood and has more options for installation, including some that do not require glue.
Hardwood vs. Laminate:
Moisture: Hardwood is affected by changes in humidity and is not recommended for bathrooms, kitchens or below grade. Engineered hardwood requires a moisture barrier to be laid down first, but with this layer in place, it is suitable for all rooms, above and below grade. Many laminate floors are water-resistant, but you should check the warranty to be sure what is and is not covered.
Installation: The installation of hardwood floors is fairly difficult and not usually recommended as a do-it-yourself project. Laminate floors are installed as floating floors. The planks can be glued together, pre-glued or clicked and locked together. Laminates and engineered hardwood require a layer of padding to reduce noise when walking.
Durability: Hardwood floors do tend to dent and scratch more than laminate floors. They can also fade if they are in areas with a lot of sunlight. On the plus side, traditional hardwood can be refinished. Depending on the type of veneer, engineered hardwood can sometimes be refinished, but usually not more than once. Laminate floors are very resistant to scratches and dents but can be chipped. Once damaged, they cannot be easily repaired. If there is significant damage, you may find yourself replacing the entire floor. Laminates do not fade in sunlight and are stain-resistant.
Longevity: A well-maintained hardwood floor can last a lifetime, and floating engineered hardwood floors can last anywhere between 40 and 80 years. On the other hand, a laminate floor is estimated to last up to 20 years.
Aesthetics: Laminate is an image of wood. To some people, the aesthetic value is less than that of real wood. With real wood, there are tremendous variations in the wood grain, whereas the same pattern is repeated every five boards in a laminate floor.
Ultimately, you must consider your budget and long-term needs when deciding between these two popular flooring choices. Hardwood costs more to purchase and install, but it lasts longer and offers greater resale value to a home. Laminate is cheaper, easier to install and does provide considerable durability, if not the same longevity as hardwood.