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  • Writer's pictureLily Dittschlag & Dennis Dittschlag


Passive House Toronto

While hardwood flooring is often a great choice for your home, it may not always work in all circumstances, nor your budget. In this blog, we go over some alternatives to hardwood that look like real wood but are actually made from materials, such as laminate, vinyl, tile, bamboo, and cork. Let's check these out!


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Laminate is one of the most widely used types of flooring. It is affordable, easy to install, and can be made to look just like natural hardwood. Essentially, the top layer is simply a high-resolution image of wood that looks ultra-realistic on the surface. This image is printed and then glued onto a layer of particleboard.

While it may look great initially, it is not the most durable as it is susceptible to moisture damage. Therefore, it is not recommended in bathrooms and basements. Typically, once laminate has been ruined, it is hard to repair and you are better off replacing it. Laminate can't be refinished the way real hardwood can.

As stylish and contemporary as laminate can look, it won't likely increase the resale value of your home in the long run. But it is an option to consider if you're tight on budget and want to install a finished floor in most areas of your house.


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Vinyl has a similar appearance to laminate. It is just as affordable and easy to install. However, vinyl is an upgrade over laminate because the material is waterproof. This makes it an ideal flooring material for spaces such as basements, kitchens and bathrooms.

On the downside, vinyl is a softer material and can dent and be punctured more easily. It can also show signs of fading or discoloration over time.

For us, we opted for vinyl flooring in the basement for its water resistance and we chose a wood grain pattern and color that closely matched the actual hardwood on the other floors. This way, we would have the same look and feel throughout the house and unless you look closely, the difference in flooring types doesn't immediately stand out.


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Floor tiles are commonly manufactured from clay. When clay is mixed with water and sand, this is made into ceramic. When clay is mixed with other minerals such as feldspar, this is made into porcelain. Ceramic and porcelain are the most common types of floor tiles and it can come in a variety of colors, textures and styles. To mimic the look of real wood, some even come distressed and hand-scraped.

However, the quickest giveaway to know that it's not actually wood is by touch. In cold temperatures, they can be cold on your feet. But if you plan to install radiant floor heating, tiles are a great option. Tiles have high thermal conductivity, meaning that the heat can transfer to the surface more quickly keeping you warmer sooner.

Tiles are a favorite in kitchens, bathrooms and foyers because they are waterproof and ideal for areas where moisture is a concern. For us, these are the main areas we will be installing porcelain tiles. Rather than going with a wood tone that mimics our hardwood, we are opting a concrete textured tile for the kitchen. This creates visual contrast and subtle separation from the kitchen to dining areas. For the foyer, we are selecting geometric fractals with high contrast colors. This may sound bold, but the entryway is a small space that can make a great first impression that is memorable and welcoming.


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If you like the select grade of hardwood, where the look is uniform with almost no knots, splits, and other character marks, then bamboo might be alternative for you. This type of flooring is made from hundreds of strands of bamboo that are woven together to resemble the appearance of wood.

Bamboo is a great choice if you're looking for environmentally friendly flooring. It is an entirely renewable resource that grows very quickly, whereas trees can take decades to mature before harvesting hardwood flooring.

However, bamboo is softer than some hardwood such as oak, so it scratches and dents more easily. It is also challenging to sand and refinish bamboo floors. But it is a less expensive alternative to hardwood.


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Another eco-friendly flooring option is cork. Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak tree that is peeled off to harvest for flooring. This process doesn't damage the tree because new bark grows in its place. This makes cork one of the most renewable sources of raw material. The cork is then ground up, compressed, and formed into sheets bonded with resins to create cork flooring. Cork is also biodegradable and will break down at the end of its life cycle.

Cork flooring feels softer on your feet and offers a bit of shock absorption and insulation. However, it is more susceptible to damage and is prone to indentation from heavy furniture over time. But like hardwood, it can be refinished by sanding it down and reapplying a finish.

Cork tends to have limited color options and tends to have a distinct look that doesn't resemble wood as closely. But cork is nonetheless a good option if you're looking for an eco-friendly and comfortable flooring type.

There are many other flooring types out there...

Choosing the flooring type that is right for you may take some time if you want to consider its pros and cons before making your final decision. If you don't necessarily need your floors to mimic the look of wood, there are many other options to choose from such as carpet, marble and terrazzo. What you choose will depend on your preferences, budget, and circumstances.

1 Comment

Jan 16, 2022

You mention that bamboo flooring is quite soft. Have you heard of strand bamboo? It’s extremely hard. :-)

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