Engineered Hardwood vs Laminate

Are you getting ready to update your home with new flooring? Preparing for new construction? When it comes to choosing the right flooring material, how do you know which option is best? Laminate and engineered hardwood are both excellent choices for busy households, but there are few distinct differences between the two. Read on to discover more about the properties of laminate and engineered hardwood so you can decide which option is right for your remodeling needs.

Major Differences

In the battle of engineered hardwood vs laminate, the biggest differences are in the composition and construction. Laminate is completely synthetic or man-made and features a fiberboard base. A photographic image is bonded to the top layer that resembles the look of real wood. Finally, a transparent wear layer is added to the surface to protect the flooring from damage. Your laminate floors don’t have to look just like wood. You can also find this flooring featured in a stone look that resembles tile, too. New innovations in texturing and embossing have helped laminate flooring come a long way in terms of looks. Today, this flooring looks almost exactly like stone or real hardwood without the high price tag and extra need for more maintenance.

For engineered wood, you’ll also achieve a realistic look, but this material does contain some actual wood. While engineered hardwood is still a replica of hardwood, the top surface layer is made of real wood and applied as a thin veneer. Underneath the top layer is a substrate made of quality plywood. This means that your engineered hardwood floors will feel solid underfoot although they’re not comprised entirely of solid wood. Thanks to the top veneer, most homeowners can’t tell the difference between engineered and real hardwood at first glance.

Care

When it comes to caring for your floors, laminate tends to be the easier choice. The surface layer of laminate flooring is made of plastic, which makes it easier to wipe up spills and messes. On the other hand, you cannot refinish your laminate floors. If they become extremely damaged or stained, you’ll need to remove and replace them. You can refinish and sand engineered hardwood flooring at least once thanks to the top wood layer. A thicker veneer may even allow you to refinish your floors more than once if you’re careful. Both flooring styles are easy to take care of but engineered hardwood’s tough surface makes it more resistant to stains and visible damage. Avoid using abrasive cleaners on each of these flooring materials or you run the risk of causing scratches that will be almost impossible to remove.

Maintenance and Stain Resistance

To keep your floors maintained, you’ll need to be diligent about wiping up spills and liquids. While some laminate claims to be water-resistant, the core fiberboard layer will still become damaged if water seeps through the space between the boards. The plastic top layer is able to fight off water as long as you mop it up immediately and don’t let it sit on top of the surface. Most engineered hardwood floors are treated with a waterproof sealer. However, the surface veneer and plywood underneath are still vulnerable to warping or swelling if they get wet. If you want new flooring in your kitchen and bathrooms, tile or luxury vinyl may be a better choice since they do a great job at resisting water.

Here are a few maintenance tips you can apply to both engineered wood and laminate floors:

  • Sweep your floors daily and keep them dry. The more you clean them, the less you’ll need to mop the floors or use abrasive cleaners.
  • Always use the soft flooring attachment on your vacuum to clean the floors and never use the beater bar. This attachment can cause serious damage and permanent scratches to both laminate and engineered hardwood. A broom is a good substitute if your vacuum cleaner doesn’t have a soft attachment.
  • A microfiber cloth is a great choice to clean up dirt and debris since it’s extremely soft and won’t leave scratches behind.
  • Wipe up spills as soon as they happen since standing water will damage engineered hardwood and laminate. Never let spills sit on your floor.
  • Add some rugs or mats to your entryway to trap dirt, rocks, sand, and other debris. This is a great way to catch small dirt before it gets into the rest of your home.
  • Don’t walk on your laminate or engineered hardwood floors with high heels since they can cause damage to the top wear layer.
  • Never use harsh cleaners on your floors. Stick with cleaners that are recommended by the manufacturer for the best results.

Installation

If you’re planning to install your new floors yourself, laminate is a much easier process. This material is thin, lightweight, and easy to work with using interlocking planks. You can also float your laminate over your existing flooring which eliminates the additional work and cost of removal and disposal of the old floors. No nailing is required to install laminate, and most projects can be completed in one day. If you’re planning to install laminate over concrete, you’ll need to include a vapor barrier and protective underlayment. Installing engineered hardwood is more complex, although some new versions do come in an easy click and snap plank design. Thinner planks can be nailed and glued directly to a subfloor, but you’ll need to make sure you have the right equipment and understanding of the installation process. Installation of engineered hardwood requires precise measurements and accurate cutting. Generally, it’s best to hire a pro when installing engineered hardwood floors.

Cost

When it comes to engineered hardwood vs laminate cost, laminate tends to be the cheaper option. Depending on the brand and style you choose, laminate typically costs between $1 and $3 per square foot. High-end or “luxury laminate” may cost as much as $10 to $12 per square foot, however. Since engineered hardwood contains some real wood, it costs more than laminate. Prepare to pay at least $4.50 per square foot but as much as $8 or more for high-quality options. If you choose to have your engineered hardwood floors professionally installed, expect to pay closer to $15 to $20 per square foot which includes the cost of labor. Laminate can be installed DIY or you can choose to hire a professional. Either way, laminate flooring is a better choice if you need to update your home on a budget.

Lifespan

Laminate can last around 10 to 20 years if you take good care of it. Find out what type of warranty your manufacturer offers to protect your investment. If engineered hardwood floors are well-maintained, they can last up to 100 years depending on the thickness of the top layer. Both flooring styles should be taken care of and maintained to prolong their lifespan.


Environmental Impact

When it comes to eco-friendliness, laminate has come a long way. Some new brands offer recyclable versions, and currently, approximately 85% of laminate flooring is recyclable. However, laminate does contain synthetic materials that can emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Engineered hardwood contains more organic materials and the manufacturing process reduces waste. The manufacturing process utilizes wood scraps which reduces the need to cut down trees and helps prevent excess deforestation. In terms of environmental impact and laminate flooring vs engineered hardwood, the latter is a better choice.

Comfort and Sound

Laminate and engineered hardwood flooring are both comfortable underfoot. Since laminate tends to float over the subfloor, it can flex slightly when you walk on it. Make sure your laminate floors are installed evenly and that the underlayment is flat and smooth. You’ll likely hear the sound of your pet’s toenails or high heeled shoes as they walk across the plastic wear layer of laminate. However, laminate can still be soft thanks to the foam underlayment. Engineered hardwood is thicker, which gives it a durable feel. Since this material is usually glued or nailed down, it doesn’t flex. On the other hand, engineered hardwood can feel harder when you walk on it since there’s no foam underlayment to add a soft feeling when you walk on top of it.

Resale Value

Laminate flooring is a budget-friendly choice and many potential buyers can easily spot the difference between this material and real hardwood or engineered hardwood. High-quality laminate does look better than lower-cost options, but it’s still not considered to be a high-quality floor in comparison to some other options. In fact, low-quality laminate can hurt your home’s resale value, even if it’s new. Engineered hardwood looks and feels closer to real wood, which means it’s a better choice if you’re planning to sell your home and need a decent return on your investment. A long lifespan and the use of real wood makes engineered hardwood a smart choice if you’re getting ready to sell your home.


The Verdict

As you think about choosing laminate vs engineered hardwood, it may come down to the cost, how it looks, or its lifespan. Choose engineered wood if you are planning to sell your home or if you want flooring that will last for decades into the future. If you’re updating your home on a budget or want to install new floors yourself, laminate can still be a great choice. Weigh the pros and cons, ease of care, and price to help you decide which option is right for you.

Related: Vinyl vs Laminate Flooring

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