Laminate Flooring vs Engineered Hardwood: Differences + Pros and Cons

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Laminate flooring or engineered hardwood? This blog seeks to explore the differences between the two.

Laminate flooring vs engineered hardwood flooring – Differences

It’s not uncommon to find homeowners using the terms ‘laminate flooring’ and ‘engineered hardwood flooring’ interchangeably, as the two flooring products are quite similar in terms of visual appearance. Apart from that- though- they couldn’t be any more different from each other. The table below highlights the differences between laminate and engineered hardwood flooring:

Laminate FlooringEngineered Hardwood Flooring
The top layer is the wear layer that coats a printed design layer.The top layer of is made of natural wood.
Laminate floor planks are thinner Engineered hardwood floor planks are thicker
Usually designed in four layers, including the bottom layer, the inner core layer, the design print layer, and the top wear layer.May comprise anywhere between 3-12 layers as part of its bottom and core layers, with a thin veneer as the top layer.

1. Top layer Material

The most significant differentiating factor between these two flooring products is the type of material used on the top layer. For laminate floorboards, the top layer is the wear layer that coats a printed design layer. Meanwhile, the top layer of engineered hardwood is made of natural wood.

2. Thickness

The second difference is that engineered hardwood floor planks are significantly thicker than laminate floorboards, with the latter usually being no more than 12-millimeters thick.

3. Design

Laminate floorboards are usually designed in four layers for a rigid structure. These layers include the bottom layer called the backing, the inner core layer, the design print layer, and the top wear layer. Engineered hardwood- on the other hand- may comprise anywhere between 3-12 layers as part of its bottom and core. These layers serve to enhance the structural strength of the planks. Meanwhile, the natural wood top layer is usually a thin veneer.

Laminate flooring pros and cons

Flooring experts revere laminate flooring for its ease of installation, durability, and visual aesthetics. Modern laminate flooring products even boasts enhanced features like HD print designs and deep embossing. However, there are downsides to installing laminate flooring including increased chances of moisture damage. The table below highlights some of the pros and cons of laminate flooring.

Laminate Flooring ProsLaminate Flooring Cons
Is affordable, with the average cost being $5 per square footSusceptible to moisture damage that can lead to structural problems and mold infestation
Has little maintenance requirements as the wear layer provides dent and scratch resistance.Can’t be sanded or refinished, hence a more expensive flooring option in the long run.
Available in numerous colors and design patterns that are usually embedded into the print layerContains synthetic material and toxic chemicals, hence not an eco-friendly flooring option.
Can be installed fast and easy- as the click-lock system negates the need for fastening using nails and screws.Its ‘fake’ appearance gives it an aura of cheapness/ lack of authenticity

The Pros of Laminate Flooring Pros

  1. Affordable

Laminate flooring is a relatively inexpensive flooring option- a factor that comes in handy if you’re working on a budget for your floor remodeling project. You can purchase laminate floorboards from as low as one-dollar per square foot, with the prices increasing in accordance with the size of the wear layer and the design quality of the print layer. The average price per square foot for laminate flooring is just five-dollars.

  • Low maintenance Requirements

Laminate flooring is somewhat maintenance free- as the wear layer protects the flooring from scratches and dents. What’s more, to get rid of dirt and debris, all you need to do to restore the surface to its shiny appearance is to clean it up using a damp mop, a broom, or a vacuum cleaner.

  • Design Versatility

Laminate flooring is usually available in numerous design patterns and buyers are usually spoilt for choice. Whether you’re going for a natural wood or natural stone look, there’s likely to be something out there for you. What’s more, modern laminate floorboards are usually deep-embossed to mimic the wood grain appearance of natural wood. Remember, however, that laminate floorboards with more intricate designs in the print layer tend to cost more.

  • Easy to Install

Laminate floorboards can be installed very fast and easily, as they don’t have to be fastened or glued down to the subfloor beneath, hence the name ‘floating floor’. Instead, the planks boast a tongue-and-groove design system that facilitates interlocking amongst them for a unified structural unit. The best thing about flooring that can be installed so conveniently is that you can do this as a DIY project, as opposed to hiring a floor contractor. This allows you to save on overall project costs.

The Cons of Laminate Flooring

  1. Susceptible to Water Damage

Laminate floorboards will swell and cause structural problems if you allow water to settle on the surface for too long. As such, you should avoid installing them in areas where there’s too much water- such as in the bathrooms and kitchens. What’s more, you’ll want to install a moisture barrier between your subfloor and laminate planks.

  • Can’t be Refinished

Unlike solid hardwood or engineered hardwood flooring that can be sanded and refinished once it starts showing signs of wear, you can’t do the same for laminate floorboards. The best option you have once your laminate flooring starts to wear out is to buy new replacement pieces.

  • Not an Eco-Friendly Flooring Material

Laminate floorboards are not an eco-friendly flooring option, as the inner core layer comprises synthetic materials and toxic chemicals that can cause health problems when burnt. What’s more, such synthetic elements are non-biodegradable and won’t decompose once the laminate planks have been disposed of due to years of wear and tear.

  • Has a ‘fake’ Aura to It

Since laminate flooring is a synthetic imitation of natural hardwood- some say it looks and feels like a cheap/fake knockoff version of solid hardwood flooring. This factor can be detrimental to your home’s resale value if the potential buyer is of this opinion.

Engineered hardwood pros and cons

Comprising an outermost layer made of hardwood veneer and several inner layers, engineered hardwood is a structurally superior, man-made alternative to solid hardwood. The table below highlights some of the merits and demerits of this type of flooring:

Engineered Hardwood Flooring ProsEngineered Hardwood Flooring Cons
Less costly compared to traditional, natural hardwood flooringHas high maintenance requirements, including regular cleaning.
Looks and feels just like traditional, natural hardwood flooringPossibility of structural stability issues due to some brands using low quality layering materials.
Highly resistant to changes in temperatureSusceptible to fading upon prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays.

The Pros of Engineered Hardwood Flooring

  1. Affordable

In comparison to solid hardwood flooring that features 100% real wood, engineered hardwood flooring is less expensive. However, it’ll still cost you more to install this type of flooring when compared to vinyl and laminate flooring.

  • Aesthetics

Though not made of 100% real wood, engineered hardwood flooring is as close as it gets to traditional wood flooring. Whereas expensive laminate flooring will look like real wood flooring but won’t feel the same; engineered wood boasts a similar appearance and texture to that of natural wood. What’s more, when purchasing engineered hardwood, you’ll be availed with a range of finishes to choose from.

  • Enhanced Resistance to Changes in Temperature

Traditional wood tends to shrink and expand in accordance with changes in temperature, a factor that can significantly compromise the structural integrity of your floor frame. By comparison, engineered hardwood is designed to not swell or contract as much whenever temperatures shift. This makes it ideal for use in homes with underfloor heating systems.

The Cons of Engineered Hardwood Flooring

  • High Maintenance Requirements

Unfortunately, if you wish to maintain the glossy appearance of your engineered hardwood flooring, you’ll have to stick to a regular maintenance schedule.

  • Increased Chances of Structural Weaknesses

With different manufacturers of engineered hardwood using different materials within the core layers, there are bound to be some who attempt to cut on production cot by using cheap and poor-quality materials. This can lead to loss of structural integrity down the line, as weak flooring tends to bow or sink in.

  • Susceptible to Fading

You may want to avoid installing engineered hardwood flooring planks in outdoor spaces that are exposed to direct sunlight. This is because this material is highly intolerant towards UV rays and will fade upon prolonged exposure to the same.

Which is more durable laminate or engineered hardwood?

While laminate flooring may be more durable due to an outermost layer that provides wear protection, it doesn’t mean that a laminate floor ill last longer than an engineered hardwood floor installed at the same time. This is because laminate floorboards can’t be sanded and refinished, and have to be discarded once they wear out. While engineered hardwood may wear down faster, it can be sanded up to three times, giving it a significantly longer lifespan.

Which one is better?

The better choice between these two flooring options depends on the homeowners’ preferences. For instance, if you need flooring with better wear resistance and is affordable, then go for laminate flooring. However, if you need flooring that looks as close as possible to natural hardwood, then invest in engineered hardwood flooring.

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Joe McGuinty
I’ve been working with floors for over 12 years. I started as a flooring contractor, primarily in materials selection. Then, I switched careers into accounting, so my wife and I began buying, renovating, and re-selling homes on the side. You’d be surprised how much value you can add to a home simply by adding new floors.

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