laminate vs engineered hardwood

Laminates vs Engineered Hardwood Flooring

If you are remodeling your home flooring or starting off from scratch, the look and feel of either laminate or engineered hardwood floors may be at the top of your list.

I don’t know about you, but when I first hear of laminate, I had an idea of what it was but was unsure of how it performed. Engineered hardwood was new to me. But turns out it can be a great flooring option.

So which will be the best fit for your home?

Depends on how your home is used, your budget, and many other factors. But will dive into all the differences by category below.

Let’s start on the same page: what are engineered hardwood and laminate?

Laminate floors are made out of a moisture-resistant foundation, a fiberboard core, and a “picture” of wood or stone protected by a clear laminate veneer. They vary in appearance and price based on quality but have come a long way from the earliest designs of the 1970s.

Engineered hardwood is a man-made substitute for real wood floors. Like laminate, it is built with multiple layers: 3-12 layers of plywood, fiberboard, or unfinished hardwood. These layers are covered by a “veneer” or thin layer of real hardwood. Engineered hardwood is the floor manufacturer’s answer to common problems with wood floors such as warping and a sensitivity to moisture.

It’s the “base” layers of laminate and engineered hardwood that give the floors their performance qualities, and the top layer—a photo layer in the case of laminate and real hardwood in the case of engineered hardwood—that gives the visual qualities.

Durability

The durability of any floor will vary depending on the manufacturer, type of wood used, and how much wear and tear it undergoes. However, there are a few general rules that stand out when comparing laminate and engineered hardwood.

Laminate floors are made out of a pressurized composite surface. The result is a floor that can last 5-15 years depending on how well it is made. It can’t be sanded and refinished like hardwood, so you get what you get. If your floor is looking old or beat down, you have to replace it.

But with engineered hardwood, the top layer is truly hardwood, so it can be sanded and refinished. How often will vary, depending on the thickness of the veneer. Then, engineered hardwood goes a step further to make its non-hardwood materials more resistant to moisture, one of natural hardwoods weaknesses.

In a comparison of engineered hardwoods versus laminate, this one is a toss-up between a harder surface that cannot be refinished (laminate), and a softer surface that can be (engineered hardwood).

The winner? Engineered hardwood

Cost

Another big factor homeowners will need to consider is the bite it takes out of your pocketbook. Here, there is a clear winner.

Low-end laminate will run about a dollar per square foot, compared to 3-5 dollars for low-end engineered hardwood. On the high end, you are looking at 5 dollars for laminate and 8-13 dollars for engineered hardwood.

The winner? Laminate.

Appearance

While both hardwood and laminate flooring are available in a variety of colors, styles, and even textures to choose from, there are clear visual differences between the two. A laminate floor takes a picture of wood or stone and covers it with a clear laminate veneer. An engineered hardwood floor takes a thin strip of natural wood and covers a thick base of manufactured woods. The visual differences are obvious.

But I’m not ready to give all the appearance trophies to engineered hardwood. One advantage of laminate appearance is that you can have a lot of control over the color of flooring that is placed in your home. Since the images are made in the manufacturing process, what you see in the store the first time is going to be very close to what you install in your home.

With engineered hardwood, the major advantage is that by taking only a thin strip of natural wood you can have the look and feel of expensive and exotic wood flooring at a lower price tag than buying that beautiful bamboo or rich mahogany flooring you were eyeing the other day. The look is 100%, the feel may be a little different to a hardwood connoisseur since technically you’re not walking on a true piece of hardwood.

The winner? Engineered hardwood.


Captain’s warning! The natural wood veneer of engineered wood can become dull, just like natural wood flooring. Make sure to invest in the right floor care products and pay attention to professional maintenance tips

Maintenance

Speaking of maintenance, there are also key differences between the two floor types when it comes to keeping them looking at their best.

Wood-look laminate flooring is ideal for sunny places and high traffic areas of your home. Its manufactured design is UV-resistant and will not fade or tarnish when exposed to intense sunlight. You will have to resist the urge to use detergent-based cleaners or large amounts of water, which are its greatest weakness. A simple broom and laminate cleaner will be all you need.

The smooth surface atop most laminate floors easily repels dirt, dust, and other particles. The top layer is usually scratch-resistant, but shouldn’t be exposed to standing water and abrasive cleaning can break it down to the point where it no longer protects the layers underneath.

Engineered hardwood has been designed to withstand two of the flaws in natural wood: warping and moisture damage. High humidity can cause some natural wood floors to warp and need to be replaced, but by combining the more resistant types of wood with a natural wood veneer, these give the look and feel of natural wood without those risks.

Like laminate, they are usually smooth enough not to trap dust and other allergens. You can keep them clean using a damp mop and specific wood floor cleaners, but long-term care is just like you’d have with any hardwood. Occasional refinishing will take care of potential scratches and stains, and periodic waxing will keep them in top condition.

Depending on the wood type, some engineered hardwoods may have added whorls, knots, and textures that make them more likely to be scratched or dirty. Each manufacturer will also use different finishes, which means you may have to contact them for the best solutions to dirty or dull floors.

The winner? Laminate.

Longevity

Some of the factors that go into longevity include how well the floor is maintained, how much wear and tear it experiences on a daily basis, and how well it was installed.

Laminate floors are not expected to last more than 15-20 years. Once the top layer has been worn away, the floors need to be replaced.

Hardwoods, including engineered hardwoods, can last a lifetime. Forty years from now, the floor can still be looking beautiful. Top-quality engineered hardwoods can be sanded down and refinished up to four times, and the average length between refinishing is 10-20 years. So with the right care, the floor will be seen and loved by your children and grandchildren.

The winner? Engineered hardwood

Eco-Friendliness

All hardwood floors are organic, and regulations in the USA and Europe prohibit hardwood floor manufacturers from using harmful VOC emissions and glues containing formaldehyde.

Similar restrictions exist in these countries for laminate flooring, but some low-quality laminate floors are made cheaply with more toxic glues. You should always research your manufacturer and country of origin before purchasing laminate floors. The floor’s Floorscore will tell you if it has harmful VOC emissions and other chemicals.

Both laminates and engineered hardwoods incorporate recycling into the product. The foundation layer of engineered hardwood takes in scraps of other finished pieces, which already recycles pieces that would otherwise go to a scrap yard. Likewise, the base of a laminate floor is often made of recyclable materials, up to 85 percent in some cases.

If you are concerned about sustainability, engineered hardwoods do not rely upon a single tree species, and require fewer trees for the same square footage.

The winner? Engineered hardwood

Resale Value

While laminate flooring might be the most economical choice on your budget, if you plan on selling the home it will have a lower resale value than engineered hardwood. Even higher end laminates are understood to be the more “economical” option, so they won’t be very impressive to appraisers. Due to quality issues, many of the lower cost laminates can actually hurt your home’s value.

Engineered hardwood, on the other hand, has a long lifespan, known durability and an aesthetic value equal to natural hardwood, so it is likely to raise a home’s value.

The winner? Engineered hardwood.

DIY Installation

Do you love installation? Should you install hardwood or laminate?

Laminates are designed with a tongue and groove system that locks planks together with a snap. If you can connect a jigsaw puzzle, you can install laminate floors. Okay… a little more difficult than that, but it’s probably second to luxury vinyl in easiest floors to install.

Hardwood flooring isn’t easy to install. Since engineered hardwood is constructed of traditional wood flooring, it’s also not easy to install. You need precise cuts, and since it’s nailed and glued down, a mistake early in the process can be a big headache later. This can be challenging for a first timer so you should hire a professional or team up with a friend who’s been there done that.

Some manufacturers will use interlocking click and snap connections, so keep an eye out for those if you want to DIY your install.

The winner? Laminate.

Captain’s parting words!

So which is going to be the best choice for your home? In a competition between engineered hardwoods and laminate, it will all depend on what you are looking for out of your flooring.

If you care the most about looks and a long-term investment, then you will want to go with engineered hardwood. They match the beauty of natural wood and add in an engineered durability and toughness not found in softer wood materials.

If you would rather have a floor that is easy to install and maintain and doesn’t break the budget, then laminates are your best choice. These floors are constantly being redesigned in new and more exciting ways, so you are sure to find some that catch your eye and will look amazing beneath your feet.

Leave a Reply