Laminate and engineered wood are floors that are often confused for each other. One thing is clear: neither are "real wood," in the sense of being 100% sawn wood like solid hardwood flooring. Past that point, the distinction gets murky. What's the difference between the two, and which one is better for your own needs?
Engineered Wood Floor: Real Wood and Plywood
Of the two, engineered wood is most closely aligned to solid hardwood.
Its price point, too, resembles that of solid hardwood and it does incorporate a thin layer of natural wood on top of dimensionally stable plywood. Resale value is high; home buyers love it. Its perceived value--as well as monetary value--has gained in the last two decades as more builders, designers, and homeowners have adopted it.
Laminate Floor: The Appearance of Real Wood
Laminate flooring can look good from a distance but does not hold up well to close examination. An image of wood is fused to a fiberboard core. Resale is low to moderate; if the house is high-end, mediocre quality laminate will almost always drag down the home's value. The good news is that laminate flooring manufacturers have responded to the competition from engineered wood, and have stepped up their game. Newer iterations of laminate not only look like wood but feel like it, due to deeper embossing of wood grain textures.
Thicker premium 12mm laminates, too, have convinced higher end buyers to try the product.
|Engineered Wood Flooring||Laminate Flooring|
|It Is:||Engineered wood flooring is made of plywood with a veneer of fine hardwood on top.||Laminate flooring is made of thin, pressed wood board with an image of wood on top covered by a clear "wear layer" to protect the image.|
|Real Wood or Not||Debatable. Certainly, the thin veneer skin on top is real wood. Yet the base layers are high-quality plywood, which is no more "natural wood" than laminate flooring's pressed wood base.||No. Even though laminate flooring is composed of a majority of wood fibers, none of this wood is in its natural state. One thing to note: there is a common misconception that laminate is made of plastic. This is not true. There is some resin in the form of the thin top wear layer, and perhaps an attached underlayment, but it is mostly made of wood.|
|Cost||Moderate to High. Expect to pay nearly as much for engineered wood as for solid hardwood.||Very Low to Moderate. Laminate flooring ranges from very cheap (about $0.50 for 6mm oak-look laminate) to moderately pricey (about $3.00 for long-plank 12mm oak-look boards).|
|Thickness||The top veneer layer ranges from .083" to .25".||The entire thickness of laminate flooring ranges from 6mm to 12mm (about .24" to .47").|
|Refinishing and Repair||Moderate. Because of its thin veneer, engineered wood floor can be lightly refinished a few times before the veneer begins to wear down to the base plywood layers.||Poor. Laminate flooring cannot be refinished in any way. However, because laminate is installed as a floating floor (unattached to the sub-floor or underlayment), boards can be replaced with relative ease.|
|Resale Value||Excellent. In the last few years, engineered wood flooring's stature has greatly increased, though still not considered on par with that of solid hardwood.||Fair. Though more and more homes are installing premium laminate in the thicker 12mm category, this product is still considered less valuable than engineered or solid woods.|
|Moisture Resistance||Moderate to well. Due to its dimensionally stable base layers, engineered wood flooring actually stands up to moisture better than solid hardwood.||Laminate is moderately water-resistant. If installed well so that no seams are exposed, it presents a waterproof shield. But when water infiltrates to the lower layers, it can swell up. Once swollen, the only recourse is to rip it out and install new laminate.|
|Ease of Installation||Moderate Difficulty. Engineered wood is just like solid hardwood in that it needs to be stapled or glued to sub-floor. However, it is possible to buy floating engineered flooring which rides independently of the subfloor.|
Very Easy. Laminate flooring installation is often compared to that of vinyl floor tile installation. But this is not an apt comparison as laminate flooring is even easier to install because no adhesive is involved. Laminate boards "fold and lock" into each other. You will be able to install one room's worth of laminate in one day.
|Installation Areas||Any room of the house, except highly moisture-prone rooms such as bathrooms.||Any room of the house, except highly moisture-prone rooms such as bathrooms.|
|Comfort||Moderate. In that it is made of wood, it does not conduct cold well. Thus, the surface will feel relatively warm.||Moderate. Because laminate is thicker than vinyl and incorporates wood content, it is easier to walk on and warmer to the touch than vinyl. Introducing foam underlayment makes laminate slightly softer to walk on.|
|Best Point||The veneer of real wood--with its unique patterns and deep appearance--cannot be matched by vinyl or laminate's artificial images.||Laminate's top wear layer is extremely strong. It holds up well against sharp scratches like those obtained by sliding chairs or tables.|
|Worst Point||Engineered wood can receive only a limited number of sandings before the veneer layer wears through. Also, while often touted as a more moisture-friendly alternative to solid hardwood, it still is wood--an organic product--which makes it a less favorable product to use in wet areas than tile or vinyl.|
Laminate cannot be refinished. You can fill in deep scratches on a spot-by-spot basis. But should the entire surface become dull or scratched, you will need to re-install the entire floor. If middle sections need replacement it's a more difficult job, as laminate boards cannot be excised in the same way you might do with a broken ceramic tile, for example.