I have a preference for true hardwood (to begin with.) And I'm conservative in that I'd only use it in rooms where there's no water/moisture damage-potential. IF I was going to use a wood/laminate product in a water/moisture room, I'd be sure of the warranty and not spend too much money on it because, when it gets water/moisture in it, it will need replacement. So, if you don't have $$$ to 'waste', use an appropriate flooring for the room in question. And you didn't ask but for me, I use vinyly in the kitchen and laundry room, hardwood upstairs and downstairs and in the foyer and family room. In the basement, it's berber carpet or something similiar (not glued.)
As for brand, I know Bruce has been doing hardwood for quite some time. I know Armstrong has been doing vinyl since the beginning of time but I can't speak about their 'wood products'. Also, Armstrong filed Chapter 11, or something just last month.
Yes, if you have an existing hardwood floor, personally, I'd rip it up unless you were laying carpet. Anything else, I'd rip it up. (And as it was already mentioned, you might be able to do this yourself. Just ask the Pro for 'tips' on doing it.) As for replacing a few boards, there are some tricks. Like, if there are some good boards that will be 'under' the couch, you could use them. Also, there's the closet. And if some of the floor is going to be covered w/an area rug, you could use the boards under that. Now, I don't know how many bad boards you have so, again, if you want to see if you'd like to refinish the floor, talk to the Pro about my 'tips' as to where to get 'good boards'.
And lastly, IF you let your floor go 'bad' on you to the point where the Finish is worn off, then yes, the wood will get damaged NO MATTER what type of floor you have. HOWEVER, the reason floor are finished is so that the wood DOESN'T get ruined. In my book, it's perfectly FINE for the Finish to get worn out. THAT'S why it's there. But once the dogs and cats and foot-traffic wear it out, have it refinished. What you can do to 'reduce' the amount of wear-and-tear is to use rubber-backed doormats, runners, and area rugs. DON'T just throw down any ol' carpet remnant because the backing on 'regular carpet' will SCRATCH a finished floor like sandpaper! The Flooring Department has vinyl/rubber backing for this purpose. If you can, buy your rugs with this 'material' already sewn into it. And for the rugs you use where you lay them on TOP of a loose piece of vinyl/rubber backing, be sure they don't SLIP OFF of the loose backing. (This is why I like them as part of the rug. Or, why I like my area rugs 'held in place' with a piece of furniture or something.)
I've said lots. If you have more ?'s, post back. My best to ya and hope this helps.
Jay J -Moderator
PS: If you decide to buy any type of hardwood, get it pre-finished in the factory. THere, they can apply 6-12 layers of Poly under 'controlled conditions'. THe best of pros can do 3, maybe 4, finish coats really well in the 'conditions' of a home.