Carpeting is still one of the most popular flooring materials in the U.S. because of the available types, styles, and how it feels underfoot. But people with allergies (or just allergic to vacuuming) and others who want easier maintenance are turning to other materials in droves. If you’re one of those people, you may be wondering: what is better: laminate floors vs. engineered hardwood?
Unless you’re lucky to have an older home with beautiful hardwood floors under your carpet, laminate floors or engineered hardwoods may be an attractive option. At first glance, they may seem very similar, mimicking the look of real hardwood floors. Depending on how much flooring you’ll need, you will want to take a closer look.
If you’re replacing some vinyl flooring in a laundry room, you’ll want something that will stand up to potential water issues. If you’re replacing every square inch of your home, you’ll want something that looks good and feels good underfoot. And the cost will always be a consideration as well, both with materials and installation costs.
Laminate Floors vs. Engineered Hardwood
Looking to get rid of your dirty, dingy, and just downright old carpeting? Let’s take a look at the differences between laminate floors and engineered hardwood flooring options:
Laminate floors are made of multiple layers of synthetic material, each with a different purpose. The top layer is a clear, protective wear layer. The next layer is a decorative layer that is printed with a wood grain or tile pattern to simulate those materials. The core layer is made of high-density fiberboard and melamine resin.
Engineered hardwood floors are made of a thick veneer of real wood with several layers of plywood underneath. Engineered wood flooring comes in a few different plies, which reference how many layers of plywood are under the real wood. More plies mean thicker and more durable pieces.
For comparison, solid hardwood flooring is just one piece of wood cut into slats. They can be bought with a variety of different colors or stains and finishes for specific areas of your home. Because it’s a single piece of wood, it may not be as flexible as the other materials.
Both engineered hardwood and laminate flooring are constructed the same way for the most part. Layers of material are stacked up and held together by glue or some other adhesive. The thicker the materials, the more rigid they become.
In most cases, one section of the layers is offset to create a tongue and groove system of fitting together. These are known as floating floors because they are held in place by virtue of being connected to each other and not by nails or staples. But we’ll get into that more in the following installation section.
Laminate Floors vs. Engineered Hardwood: Installation
The installation process for laminate and engineered hardwood flooring is generally the same, although there may be some differences. As we mentioned earlier, floating floors refer to flooring that has been engineered to snap together and stay in place. Some tongue and groove flooring may act as a floating floor.
In other cases, glue or nails are needed to keep the flooring in place, even with tongue and groove products. As you put down one row of flooring, you can nail or staple it in place. Make sure not to hurt the tongue or groove, which will affect how easily the next row is installed.
No matter the material used, you’ll always want to put down underlayment on the flooring. This will act as a protective layer on top of the subflooring as well as add a little bit of softness to the floor. To prevent creaky spots, put flooring-specific glue on the back of the flooring to keep it in place, even when installing natural wood floors.
Appearance differences Laminate Floors vs. Engineered Hardwood
Here is where the pros and cons of the two different flooring products start becoming more apparent. As we mentioned before, laminated flooring uses images to project hardwood and other styles (tile in some cases). So on closer inspection, you would probably be able to see the granularity of the image as well as the repeated pattern used.
Engineered hardwood flooring on the hand uses a real wood veneer so it mimics an all-natural product perfectly. There are a variety of hues and finishes you can have for your engineered wood, so almost any color is possible. And no two pieces will be the same because it is natural wood after all.
When considering appearance, you may also be thinking about the feel of the floors. Underlayment can help a little bit in this case, giving the flooring a little “give” as you walk on it. But for the most part, the two different products will feel relatively the same underfoot.
When it comes to the durability of any flooring product, foot traffic plays a big part in how well the materials will stand up. Look at your carpet and you can see where it’s been matted down by constant use. Then look in a closet and the carpet will look as good as it did when it was first installed.
All things being equal, laminate flooring is actually pretty resilient to the day-to-day traffic it will see in high-traffic areas. In most cases, the top layer is made from melamine resins and aluminum oxide that have been affixed under high heat and lots of pressure.
In fact, higher-quality laminate is actually more durable than wood. Because of its makeup, it also has higher water resistance than either engineered or natural hardwood. So that’s good! But there are some disadvantages to the product when compared to engineered hardwood flooring.
Because it is natural wood, little dents and scratches may appear over time because the material is softer. These imperfections can be addressed, however, by refinishing the wood veneer. In some cases, the dents or grooves can add to the patina of the floor, too.
If laminated flooring is damaged in any way, there is no way to address just the damaged area–the entire plank needs to be replaced. This involves taking up the piece without disrupting the floor and then installing a new piece. If you do it yourself, you could be making a bigger headache for yourself.
As far as cleanup of spills, pet accidents, dirt, debris, and whatever else your family drags in from the outside, maintenance is pretty easy with both products. You should still pick up these messes as you see them, of course. But it won’t have to be as frantic as if it were carpet, where unattended messes can be ground into the fibers.
You can clean them with a damp mop or a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment. You should avoid using excessive water or cleaning chemicals, as they can damage the flooring. If you have any stubborn dirt or stains on your laminate floors, you can use a mild detergent or household cleaner.
Be sure to test the cleaner in a small, inconspicuous area of the floor to make sure it does not damage the finish. For engineered hardwoods, you can also sand out minor scratches and stains. If the floor is heavily damaged, you may need to have it refinished by a professional.
While we’ve given you plenty of things to think about when it comes to laminate floors vs. engineered hardwoods, the cost of each material will be a consideration. Generally speaking, laminate flooring will cost less than engineered hardwood floors, sometimes as much as a third of high-quality engineered hardwood (including installation).
If you’re feeling especially handy, you can offset some costs by installing the different types of flooring yourself. Just be warned that an improperly installed floor may void any warranties, may “bounce” more than you want, and develop gaps.
Laminate Floors vs. Engineered Hardwood: What is Better?
So there you have it, the pros and cons and similarities between laminate floors and engineered hardwoods. This is your home, so you’ll want to weigh the overall costs of the product along with its appearance and durability. Once you’ve decided what’s most important for you, the decision is easy.
And when it comes time to give those floors a good, deep cleaning, Heaven’s Best is here for you. We can clean those tough stains, even in the tiny grooves that make up the appearance of hardwood floors or veneers. Our process also makes sure little to no water is left behind to seep into the tiny spaces between the boards.
We wish you luck in finding the flooring you want for you and your family. And when it’s time to bring that flooring back to life, reach out to Heaven’s Best!