Deciding Between Engineered Hardwood and Laminate Flooring

Deciding Between Engineered Hardwood and Laminate Flooring

If cost and care were no object, most of us would choose ¾-inch solid hardwood or reclaimed hardwood flooring. However, with installed costs quickly exceeding $10/foot (and well over $20 for some floors), this is not a wise financial decision for most homes. Although beautiful, you’ll rarely get back the steep investment of hardwoods when flooring a portion of your home. Two popular alternatives to solid hardwood flooring are laminate flooring and “engineered hardwood” flooring (which sure sounds like an oxymoron).

What is Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is a series of layered materials that are bonded together to form a rigid flooring material. The backing is a water-resistant material, the core is usually high density fiberboard (HDF) that is strengthened with resin, the design layer is a photographic image printed on a plastic/melamine layer and the wear-layer is a clear top-coating, usually of aluminum oxide, that protects the finish.

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What is Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Engineered hardwood flooring is a floor made with a veneer of natural wood and a backing material that are bonded together to form a solid plank. The core typically consists of plywood, fiberboard, or an unfinished wood. Atop the core is a thin slice of natural wood that is sealed with a protective finish.

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My Budget is My Top Priority

Laminate flooring is considerably less costly than engineered hardwood. You’ll need to be careful, though. Not all laminate floors are great. Find one with top features like a waxed and painted v-beveled edge, a woodgrain or synchronized embossed surface texture, an AC4 wear-rating, UniClick locking technology and CARB2 compliance.

What about Installation?

Laminate is typically much easier to install. So, whether you’re paying someone else to install the flooring or doing it yourself, it will typically take less money, time and resources to install a laminate floor than engineered hardwood. Some engineered flooring options use a floating installation method. This makes it easier to tackle for a DIY homeowner than traditional hardwood installation. With modern floating laminate floors that use the patented UniClick locking technology, many homeowners are finding it very simple to install their own floors. All of the flooring options at come standard with UniClick. Whether paying someone else, or doing it yourself, you’ll get a terrific fit with a UniClick floor.

What Looks/Feels Better Laminate or Engineered Hardwood?

They are both made to look like wood. But engineered hardwood flooring is actually made of wood, so it will typically have a better visual. However, the visuals of laminate flooring have become increasingly impressive simulations of real wood with high-definition imagery. Interestingly, it seems engineered hardwood flooring brands work hard to eliminate imperfections in their floors, while laminate floors are being made with what looks like natural imperfections deliberately placed into the design. The result is that laminate flooring can look more realistic than the engineered product or even actual hardwood!

For example: In this photo, the smaller sample is Glenview, a 12 mm laminate floor available at The larger sample is an engineered hardwood floor available at a national retailer. The woodgrain, texture and variation of the laminate creates a surface that looks far more like natural wood than the smooth, consistent surface of the engineered hardwood option. Still, if done right, the engineered hardwood flooring will typically have a very natural hardwood look, feel and sheen; something that laminate just can’t recreate.

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Which is More Durable and Easier to Maintain?

The quick answer is laminate flooring. They are both wood-based products, so much care should be taken to keep them dry. The top layer of laminate is plastic, so it is less likely to dent, scratch, or be damaged by quick water interaction. The seams of good laminates are typically waxed for further water-resistance. For more information on water-resistant and waterproof flooring see our discussion on that here:

A high-quality engineered wood floor can be refinished (see your specific flooring for details on this). Once the wear-layer is gone on laminate, it cannot be repaired or refinished. So, a quality engineered hardwood that is consistently refinished through the years will outlast the lifespan of a laminate floor even though the laminate surface is tougher to begin with. Of course, the added cost of purchasing, installing and refinishing engineered flooring is a trade-off.

Is Laminate Flooring Easier to Install than Engineered Hardwood?

Typically laminate flooring provides a simpler installation. Modern locking technology on HDF planks make it a pretty simple project for most DIY homeowners. Some engineered hardwood floors use a floating installation, but many still use traditional hardwood flooring installation techniques; which takes more skill and experience. Laminate is more DIY friendly.

The Value Winner is Laminate Flooring!

Laminate flooring got a bad reputation from a time when the visuals were not very impressive, the surface textures were plasticky, the water-resistance was poor and manufacturers raced to make them as cheap and junky as they could in order to hit a price point. But modern, high-quality laminate floors have made a comeback to the point where they’re no longer relegated to rental and flip homes. We are seeing top-quality laminate flooring going into big, beautiful new homes and renovations all over the United States. Good laminate flooring is highly durable, the visuals are impressive, the water resistance is strong, the locking technology is terrific and the prices are still compellingly low. The floor you see in the top photo of this article is called Milltown by Turtle Bay Floors and it expertly simulates a circle-sawn rustic hardwood floor.

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