Wood you? New alternatives to hardwood are flooring some homeowners

Porcelain wood-look tile like this sample from Wainwright Tile won’t lower costs upfront, but its durability and lesser maintenance requirements could save in the long-run. Porcelain wood-look tile like this sample from Wainwright Tile won’t lower costs upfront, but its durability and lesser maintenance requirements could save in the long-run.

Faux wood has, in the past, been a splinter in the discerning consumer’s eye. But new products and improvements on standbys are changing that, according to local floor purveyors and homebuilders.

From wood-look tile to luxury vinyl, floor treatments are treating high-end homeowners to options that were never before possible.

“If they love everything about hardwood, they should use hardwood,” says Stacey Norris, a design consultant at Wainwright Tile & Stone. “But I think it depends on what the qualities are that you’re looking for. It is up to each individual person.” Here’s a primer.

Laminate: Laminate wood, produced by layering engineered materials beneath a printed design, can run as little as $3 per square foot, making it a serious bargain. But it’s a product that still carries a fairly negative stigma, according to Ben Davis, vice president of sales for Craig Builders and 2015 president of the Blue Ridge Home Builders Association. “It’s a fake floor, and it makes a tapping sound when you walk on it,” Davis says. “But if you want the wood look for the lowest price, laminate would be it.”

Linoleum: The fake flooring standard still gets a bad rap in a lot of circles, and linoleum with a wood imprint is still unlikely to fool most people. But linoleum is flexible and the newest, most expensive products can be durable. According to some designers, the material is even making a stylistic comeback, with new designs that simulate natural materials like wood and stone more accurately.

Vinyl: All vinyl is not created equal, and the highest end luxury vinyl tile is one of the best wood simulation products on the market, according to Davis.

As opposed to roll-out vinyl products with a wood print, Davis says luxury vinyl tile actually looks like hardwood. It can go directly on a concrete subfloor, and it’s nearly indestructible, he says, making it ideal for basements and other high-traffic areas. “It can be easily cleaned and looks very, very sharp,” he says. “I have a pool that opens up into the basement…I put that in the basement, where people are coming in and out wet, and it has performed extremely well.” The downside, according to Davis, is that luxury vinyl doesn’t offer any up-front savings over hardwood.

Wood-look tile: The trendiest hardwood replacement on the block, wood-look tile brings clean lines and durable surfaces. It can also be heated from underneath, according to Norris, unlike a lot of the other options.

Norris says wood-look tile has been around for at least a decade but has taken off in the last five years. That’s largely due to new products that more accurately represent the natural stress and texture of wood. And like luxury vinyl tile, porcelain is more durable than wood—it can’t be scratched and never needs to be refinished.

Pricing for wood-look tile is also a sticking point. It won’t offer savings over wood off the showroom floor, but Norris points out it can save owners money via reduced maintenance costs. The tile requires a thin layer of grout to avoid cracking, Norris says, but it will never bow and is water resistant, making it ideal for bathrooms and kitchens.

Natural alternatives: Naturally occurring materials such as bamboo and cork look like hardwood but aren’t so, well, hard. They’re not as resilient as some other wood alternatives, but they can offer up-front cost savings and are environmentally friendly. Cork is typically a recycled product, Davis says, and “bamboo is considered green because it grows so quickly.”