Flooring Guide: Laminate vs. Engineered Wood

Flooring Guide: Laminate vs. Engineered Wood

Two of the most popular flooring options for modern homes are laminate and engineered wood. They mimic solid hardwood and provide many of the same benefits—without the rather expensive costs. Although laminate and engineered wood are similar in many aspects (often being confused for one another), each has their pros and cons that make them better suited for certain homes and lifestyles. Learning about and weighing out the advantages and drawbacks of each material helps homeowners make better decisions. Continue reading to find out more about these two popular flooring options and which will work best for your personal situation.

The BasicsWhat is Laminate?

Laminate floors were the original economic alternative to hardwood floors.  They have been around since the 1970’s and have continued to grow in popularity since. This flooring option is fully man-made that consists of several layers. The base is made of fiberboard or particleboard, then a photographic image that resembles real wood (or sometimes stone) is applied directly over. A protective layer is then added to prevent moisture and other debris from seeping into the base.  At a distance or to the unwatchful eye, laminate can look convincing. However, most people can decipher that it is ultimately a mock version. The average thickness for each laminate tile is about 12mm and usually come in floating tiles with interlocking edges. 

Laminate: Pros

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    (Typically) less expensive compared to engineered wood

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    Easier installation

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    wider flexibility in appearance (can mimic stone, tile, or wood)

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    Slightly Easier and less expensive maintenance

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    Slightly Easier to clean

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    Potentially better option for pet owners

Laminate: Cons

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    A more obvious ‘fake’ wood compare to laminate

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    Lower Resale Value

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    Shorter Lifespan (~10 years)

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    Low-grade have been known to emit harmful fumes (VOCs)

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    Color scheme cannot be changed

The BasicsWhat is Engineered Wood?

Also known as man-made or manufactured wood, this flooring option was designed to address the drawbacks found in solid hardwood, such as susceptibility to moisture and warping. Engineered wood floors bond a thin layer or real hardwood over multiple layers of high-quality plywood, fiberboard, or unfinished hardwood. This process almost duplicated the actual feel and stability offered by real, solid hardwood flooring. Generally, engineered wood is a more convincing but more costly option compared to laminate. Most engineered wood floors are nail-down or glue-down products.

Engineered Wood: Pros

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    A more convincing wood replica

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    Ability to change color scheme (at least one time)

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    Has genuine wood

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    Longer lifespan (20-30)

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    Stronger than many laminates

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    Slightly more environmentally friendly

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    Usually better resale value

Engineered Wood: Cons

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    Usually higher price (primary disadvantage)

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    Low Diy Potential

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    More difficult and costly installation

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    Can scratch or dent easier

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    Can be more expensive to upkeep and repair

AppearanceWhat does Laminate Look Like?

laminate

Newer and typically more expensive laminates have embossed and textured surfaces to replicate the look and underfoot feel of solid hardwood.  Over the years, laminate has improved its appearance and is able to mimic wood better than ever. The more you spend, the thicker the laminate tiles will be. Premium laminates, often called luxury vinyl, are the best laminates on the market. They often have a cork underlay that retains heat, absorbs sound, and gives a better overall feel when walked on. Regardless, all laminates are man-made, synthetic products. At the end of the day, most homeowners and guests will know that it is not the real deal.

Appearance Engineered Wood?

engineered wood

The primary advantage engineered wood has over laminate is that it is a much more convincing replica of real hardwood flooring.  This is because the top layer is actual real hardwood. You can obtain beautiful exotic wood species at a much lower price, when compared to solid hardwood, because engineered wood only uses a thin veneer layer. This opens up a wide range of options to homeowners who would have not been able to afford these exotic woods for solid hardwood. Ultimately, engineered wood will always look better than laminate, particularly when looked at closely.

CareLaminate Durability & Maintenance

LAMINATE DURABILITY & MAINTENANCE

Laminate is slightly easier to clean and take care of when compared to engineered flooring. The surface layer is a type of plastic, therefore it can be easily wiped down with general cleaning supplies. Typically, laminates contain an Aluminum Oxide surface layer that protects against fading, spills, stains and scratching. While laminate might be easier to maintain day-to-day, the overall strength, durability, and longevity of the product falls short of engineered wood.  The average lifespan of laminate is about 10 years.

CareEngineered Wood Durability & Maintenance

ENGINEERED WOOD DURABILITY & MAINTENANCE

Engineered hardwood flooring has a real hardwood veneer, which ultimately makes it more prone to surface scratches and dents. However, damaged engineered wood has the capability to be repaired. Typically, most engineered woods can be refinished at least once but sometimes two or three times if your veneer is thick enough. This allows you to change up the color scheme as well!  Cleaning is relatively straightforward, but you will need to periodically apply a new protective layer or refinish it as your flooring accumulates scratches/dents and dulls over time. This material is thicker and stronger, extending the lifespan to 20-30 years.

$$ Pricing $$How much does Laminate flooring cost?

Laminate is the clear winner in terms of cost. The relatively inexpensive flooring material can be purchased for as little as $1 to $3 per square foot from big-box stores. Inexpensive material will deteriorate faster and have less design variety to choose from. Although, buyer beware. There are some growing health concerns about cheap laminates and noxious fumes which you can read about further down. Luxury Vinyl, and other premium laminates can cost up to $12 per square foot. Because of the lower lifespan and lack of real wood, the resale value of laminate is usually lower than engineered wood.

$$ Pricing $$How much does Engineered Wood flooring cost?

Engineered Wood is more expensive, but usually more highly regarded by potential buyers and real estate professionals. So, it is important to consider resale value. The starting price for engineered wood is around $4.50 per square foot, however, this is for entry-level.  A more average price is between $7-$8 per square foot. Engineered wood is more difficult to properly install, thus it has a pricier installation and overall higher total cost.

Other Important InformationInstallation, Water & Heat Resistance, Sound, & Health

Installing engineered wood usually requires the expertise of a professional. Unlike most laminates, which have a universal way of installing, engineered wood has a variety of different installation methods. Some are similar to solid hardwood, where the installer will nail them to the subfloor, while others have floating versions.  Your professional installer will also apply a protective coat that makes it difficult for moisture to enter. Engineered wood is thicker and will not flex like laminate may. Still, it is harder under the foot and can pose a fall hazard. Unlike inexpensive laminate, engineered wood has not shown any negative health effects. 

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