Engineered vs. Laminate Flooring: What’s the Difference?
Hardwood is a classic flooring material renowned for its timeless natural beauty. But if you’re looking for a more affordable alternative for your next home renovation, you may find that the strongest contenders are engineered hardwood and laminate flooring. Both of these options offer the appearance of solid hardwood combined with better durability, cost and ease of installation. So what’s the difference between them?
Both engineered hardwood and laminate are composites, but they are made of different materials. Engineered hardwood is topped with a layer of genuine hardwood, while laminate merely simulates the appearance of hardwood with a photographic print.
Due to the differences in their composition, engineered hardwood and laminate have various advantages and disadvantages when it comes to factors such as cost, durability, environmental impact and resale value. Read on to learn how these two hardwood alternatives stack up on key issues and decide which is right for your home.
- Appearance and Design
- Cleaning and Maintenance
- Water Resistance
- Durability and Longevity
- Ease of Installation
- Environmental Impact
- Resale Value
- Which Is Best for Your Home?
Main Differences Between Engineered Hardwood and Laminate
The primary difference between engineered hardwood and laminate is their makeup. Engineered hardwood contains real wood while laminate is a fully man-made imitation.
|Authentic hardwood veneer
|Photograph simulates real wood
|Cleaning and Maintenance
|Traps more dust; requires sweeping/dry mopping
|Easy to sweep and wipe clean
|Moisture-resistant but not waterproof
|Less moisture-resistant than engineered hardwood
|Life span of 30+ years when refinished
|Life span of 10-20 years
|Generally more expensive than laminate ($2-$10+/sq. ft.)
|Most affordable hardwood alternative ($1-$6+/sq. ft.)
|Ease of Installation
|Multiple installation methods of varying difficulty
|Floating click-and-lock method (DIY-friendly)
|More susceptible to scratches
|Scratch- and stain-resistant
Engineered hardwood is most similar to traditional hardwood flooring since its top layer is a veneer of genuine wood. This natural wood layer adheres to a sturdy core composed of layers of latticed plywood or high-density fiberboard (HDF). Engineered hardwood planks are stained and coated with sealants that increase water resistance.
Laminate is a synthetic material that does not contain natural wood. Rather, it is composed of a photographic image laid over a fiberboard core. The image layer gives the appearance of natural hardwood and is covered with a transparent wear layer offering protection from scratches, stains and spills. A backing layer provides additional stability and water resistance, and the composite is typically bound together with resin.
Appearance and Design
Engineered hardwood and laminate flooring both offer the look of hardwood floors and come in a wide variety of styles and colors to match any trend. However, engineered hardwood offers a more authentic look due to its genuine wood veneer.
Engineered hardwood gives you the realism of hardwood because of its genuine hardwood veneer. The veneer can be almost any species of wood you want, from popular varieties like oak or maple to more exotic species. In addition, engineered hardwood is available in a variety of styles including distressed, hand-scraped, wire-brushed or smooth. The authentic grain and texture of the wood is present in engineered hardwood, making each plank unique.
Laminate flooring mimics the appearance of hardwood using a photographic print, and it can simulate almost any species of wood as well as other materials like stone. Innovations in laminate flooring have resulted in more realistic products, with higher quality images and embossed textures. Laminate flooring can offer a good imitation of wood, especially in premium varieties, but if appearance is a critical factor in your decision-making process, keep in mind it just can’t compete with the real thing.
Winner: Engineered hardwood
Cleaning and Maintenance
Maintenance is fairly simple for both engineered hardwood and laminate flooring, which have similar requirements. Both flooring materials can be easily swept clean, and excessive moisture should be avoided when cleaning.
Engineered hardwood can collect dust and dirt more easily than laminate thanks to its textured surface, so it should be cleaned regularly with a broom, dust mop or hardwood vacuum. Wet mops, steam mops and harsh cleaning products such as ammonia cleaners should never be used on engineered hardwood as they can damage the floors. Wipe up spills promptly to avoid staining. When necessary, use cleaners approved by the manufacturer.
Laminate flooring is generally easy to clean. Thanks to its smooth surface it does not trap dust as easily as engineered hardwood, making it allergy-friendly. However, dirt can still act as an abrasive for this surface, so laminate flooring should be regularly swept, dust mopped or vacuumed.
Like engineered hardwood, you should avoid using wet mops, steam mops or harsh cleaning products on laminate flooring, and it should not be waxed or polished. Manufacturer-recommended cleaners can be used for spot cleaning.
Both engineered hardwood and laminate flooring are more effective than solid hardwood at resisting moisture, but they are still susceptible to water damage. If you are looking for the best flooring for a high-moisture location such as a bathroom, you may want to consider waterproof alternatives like tile or vinyl.
Engineered hardwood is more resistant to water damage than solid hardwood. The tightly compressed layers and surface sealant help block moisture, but the plywood and veneer can still swell, rot or potentially grow mold if they get wet. It’s best to clean up spills promptly or lay down a rug in an area prone to spills such as under the sink.
The plastic surface of laminate flooring protects it against spills, but this flooring material is more susceptible to water damage if water reaches the fiberboard core, which is less water-resistant than plywood. Since laminate flooring is generally installed as a “floating floor,” moisture can cause damage by seeping into the space between the laminate and the subfloor, as well as leaking through the exposed seams.
Winner: Engineered hardwood
Durability and Longevity
Engineered hardwood and laminate both have pros and cons when it comes to durability. Engineered hardwood is more susceptible to scratches than laminate, but it can be refinished to extend its life span, while laminate cannot.
Engineered hardwood’s latticed plywood core gives it dimensional stability that actually makes it a stronger material than solid hardwood. While its wood veneer is susceptible to scratches, engineered hardwood can be refinished a few times as long as the veneer is thick enough. With proper care and maintenance, engineered hardwood can last well over 30 years.
With its protective plastic wear layer, laminate flooring is more resistant to scratches and dents than engineered hardwood, and it performs well in high-traffic areas. It also doesn’t stain or fade in sunlight as easily as engineered hardwood. The downside is that laminate flooring cannot be refinished. If a plank chips or sustains damage, it must be replaced. Laminate flooring generally has a life span of 10-20 years.
Winner: Engineered hardwood
Both engineered hardwood and laminate are generally more affordable than solid hardwood, although laminate has the advantage. When evaluating your budget, keep in mind that professional installation will increase the cost per square foot for each flooring material.
Prices for engineered hardwood range from $2-$10 per square foot, extending up to $15 per square foot for more exotic species. The cost will vary depending on the type of wood you choose and may be comparable to the price of cheaper varieties of solid hardwood, although you’ll get a better value on more expensive species. Engineered hardwood is also more likely to require the added cost of professional installation.
The primary advantage of laminate flooring is its low cost. Laminate flooring can generally be purchased for $1-$6 per square foot, although premium styles can be more expensive. Laminate flooring is also easier to install without professional help.
Ease of Installation
Installation is a factor that can affect the cost of flooring materials. While it is possible to DIY both engineered hardwood and laminate flooring, you may want to consider professional installation to ensure the highest quality result.
Engineered hardwood can be installed with a variety of methods. Like solid hardwood, this flooring material can be nailed, glued or stapled to the subfloor. More DIY-friendly varieties can be installed “floating” over the subfloor, with the planks fastening together in a click-and-lock system. Generally, however, it’s a good idea to employ professional installation for engineered hardwood, especially if your DIY experience is limited.
Laminate flooring is DIY-friendly and easy to install. The edges of the planks fasten together in a click-and-lock system that allows it to float over the subfloor — no nails or glue required. Laminate flooring can be installed directly over old flooring (generally with a foam underlayment in between) and can usually be installed in a single day.
If you are a pet owner, it’s important to take into consideration the best flooring for pets. Fortunately, both engineered hardwood and laminate flooring are viable options for pet owners, but each have their own pros and cons.
For households with active pets, engineered hardwood is more susceptible to scratches and wear from claws, although it can be refinished if damaged. Engineered hardwood can withstand spills if cleaned promptly, but the natural wood is more likely to retain stains and scents from a pet’s accident.
Laminate’s scratch-resistant surface makes it an excellent choice for pet owners. While the smooth finish may offer less traction for pets, it also makes it easy to wipe up accidents without leaving stains. But since laminate is more susceptible to water damage, make sure to clean up spills immediately.
If you’re looking for eco-friendly flooring options, engineered hardwood and laminate are both sustainable solutions since they use less slow-growing hardwood. Keep in mind that since both are composites, they can emit toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the adhesives involved, so be sure to look for nontoxic or low-VOC options.
Engineered hardwood is more sustainable than solid hardwood flooring since its core is made from fast-growing plywood, and slow-growing hardwood is only used for the veneer. In addition, the veneer is sliced rather than sawed, which produces less sawdust and ensures that wood is not wasted. The core and backing of engineered hardwood can also be made of recycled plywood or fiberboard, and it contains a higher percentage of natural materials than laminate flooring.
Laminate flooring can also be an environmentally friendly option. Laminate’s base is typically made of recycled wood byproducts, and 85% of its mass is recyclable. Laminate can also be LEED certified. The biggest drawback is that laminate flooring has been notorious for VOC outgassing issues, but you can find low-VOC options that are safe for your home.
Winner: Engineered hardwood
When installing flooring in your home, it’s important to consider how your choice of flooring material will affect the resale value of your home. Neither engineered hardwood nor laminate flooring will add as much value to your home as solid hardwood, but they can still make an impact on your resale value.
Engineered hardwood is an excellent investment as it can increase your property value almost as much as solid hardwood flooring. Engineered hardwood offers the same timeless appeal as solid hardwood and has a longer life span than laminate.
Installing high-quality laminate flooring may increase the value of your home slightly, but not nearly as much as genuine wood. On the other hand, poor-quality laminate can actually decrease the value of your property.
Winner: Engineered hardwood
Engineered vs. Laminate Flooring: Which Is Best for Your Home?
With all these considerations in mind, how do you decide which flooring material is the right choice for your home? It depends on which factors carry the most weight in your decision.
If cost is the deciding factor for you, then laminate definitely has the advantage. And thanks to its easy installation, you can save even more money by installing it yourself.
Although engineered hardwood might cost more initially, it can certainly be a better long-term investment. Since it can be refinished, engineered hardwood has a longer lifespan than laminate, and it also has an edge in water resistance. Finally, if an authentic hardwood appearance is a must-have, engineered hardwood is the obvious choice.
Whichever option you choose, rest assured that both engineered hardwood and laminate are excellent wood alternatives that are durable and easy to maintain. For more information on how to choose the best flooring material for your home, our flooring experts are available to answer your questions and offer personalized recommendations to suit your needs.