Laminate Flooring vs. Engineered Wood Flooring

Prefinished Engineered Wood Brazilian Cherry Flooring
Prefinished Engineered Wood Brazilian Cherry Flooring.

Laminate flooring and engineered wood flooring are two obvious choices if you want the look of wood flooring in your home. Both floor coverings have been developed in the last few decades as economical and sometimes more versatile alternatives to that mainstay of homes for centuries: solid hardwood flooring. Yet how do the two compare and contrast, and which one is the best choice for your home?

Compare and Contrast: Laminate Flooring vs. Engineered Wood

Comparison

In nearly all aspects, laminate flooring and engineered wood flooring have little basis of comparison. Laminate flooring more closely compares to luxury vinyl plank as an often lower-cost, do-it-yourself floor covering. Engineered wood flooring's nearest companion is solid hardwood flooring. Both laminate and engineered wood compare in that neither qualify as natural wood in the sense of being 100-percent milled wood like solid hardwood flooring.

Contrast

Laminate flooring and engineered wood flooring contrast against a host of factors. Only one, laminate flooring, is a true, do-it-yourself flooring, as planks fit together without nails or staples and, in most cases, even without glue. While some floating engineered flooring is produced, most versions must be stapled down just like solid hardwood flooring.

Laminate flooring's top layer only looks like wood; engineered wood flooring truly is wood. One is an image of wood; the other, wood veneer. Laminate's core is a type of wood fiberboard that swells upon contact with water and is unable to regain its original dimensions. Engineered wood flooring's core is dimensionally stable high-grade plywood.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is a high-quality image of wood fused to a fiberboard core and topped with a highly durable transparent wear layer. Laminate flooring manufacturers have responded to the competition from engineered wood and have stepped up their game with newer iterations that not only look even more like wood but feel like it. Richer, deeper embossing of wood grain textures modeled on actual wood gives higher quality laminate flooring its realistic feel. Thicker premium 12 mm laminates, too, have convinced many buyers to experiment with the product in higher-end homes.

Engineered Wood Flooring

Engineered wood flooring is more closely aligned to solid hardwood than laminate because it incorporates a thin veneer of natural wood on top of a high-quality plywood base. Because the plywood's layers run perpendicular to each other, the plywood is more dimensionally stable than solid wood.

Engineered wood floor's higher price point, too, resembles that of solid hardwood. Yet the upside to this high price is that its resale value is commensurately high. Its perceived value, as well as its monetary value, has only gained over the last few decades as more builders, designers, and homeowners have adopted engineered wood flooring.

Which Floor Is Best for You?

You may want to purchase laminate flooring or engineered wood flooring based on any or all of these conditions. None of these conditions are absolute, and you may find that several conditions overlap for your situation.

Laminate Flooring

  • Controlling costs is important
  • You want to self-install the flooring
  • Perfect wood-look verisimilitude is not important
  • You anticipate re-flooring in a few years
  • You need to keep overall height lower
  • Speed of installation is important

Engineered Wood Flooring

  • You want exact wood-look flooring
  • You have a moderate to high budget
  • You anticipate being in your home for many years
  • Or you wish to resell the home and want maximum resale value
  • You need to match existing wood flooring
Engineered Wood Flooring vs. Laminate Flooring
  Engineered Wood Flooring Laminate Flooring
Composition Engineered wood flooring is made of high-quality plywood with a veneer of pre-finished 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. Below is an attached or separate foam underlayment.
Amount of Natural Wood in the Product The thin veneer skin on top is 100-percent wood. The base layers are high-quality plywood. Based on average thicknesses, base and veneer combined, engineered wood flooring can be as much as 25-percent natural wood. Even though laminate flooring is composed of a majority of wood fibers, none of this wood is in its natural state. There is a common conception that laminate is made of plastic; this is false. While the topmost wear layer is a type of plastic and the underlayment is made of closed-cell foam, laminate is mostly made of a variation of wood. Laminate flooring contains no natural wood.
Cost Expect to pay nearly as much for engineered wood flooring as for solid hardwood. The majority of engineered wood flooring will be more expensive than most laminate flooring. Laminate flooring ranges from extremely cheap for 6 mm standard oak-look laminate to moderately expensive for long-plank 12 mm boards.
Thickness An average veneer thickness is 3/16-inch. Total product thickness, including all layers, averages at 3/4-inch. All layers combined, the entire thickness of laminate flooring ranges from about 1/4-inch to about 1/2-inch.
Refinishing and Repair Because of its thin veneer, an engineered wood floor can be lightly refinished only a few times before the veneer begins to wear down to the base plywood layers. Laminate flooring cannot be refinished in any traditional wood repair sense, though color-matching wood putty can be applied to small holes. Because laminate is installed as a floating floor (unattached to the sub-floor or underlayment), boards can be replaced on a piecemeal basis with relative ease.
Resale Value Engineered wood flooring's stature has greatly increased and it is considered to be on par with solid hardwood. Though more homes are installing premium laminate in the thicker 12 mm category, laminate flooring overall is still considered less valuable than engineered or solid wood flooring.
Moisture Resistance Due to its dimensionally stable base layers, engineered wood flooring actually stands up to moisture better than solid hardwood. Laminate is moderately water-resistant, not though waterproof. When water infiltrates from the surface to the lower layers, it can swell up. Once swollen, laminate will not shrink back down. The only recourse is to rip it out and install new laminate.
Ease of Installation Engineered wood is just like solid hardwood in that it usually needs to be stapled or glued to the subfloor. However, it is possible to buy floating engineered flooring which rides independently of the subfloor.

Laminate flooring installation is often compared to luxury vinyl plank installation because the laminate boards fold and lock into each other, similar to tongue and groove joinery. It is possible to install one room's worth of laminate in one day.

Installation Areas You can install engineered wood flooring in any room of the house, except highly moisture-prone rooms such as bathrooms. Laminate flooring can be installed in any room of the house, except highly moisture-prone rooms such as bathrooms. Take special precautions when laying laminate flooring in basements, as water vapor can secrete from the concrete floor. A subfloor system such as DRIcore can elevate the laminate and protect against moisture.
Comfort Wood is a poor thermal conductor, so the surface of engineered wood flooring will feel relatively warm. Because laminate is thinner than engineered wood flooring, cold can pass through easier. Introducing foam underlayment makes laminate flooring slightly softer to walk on.
Pros Engineered floor's real wood veneer, with its unique patterns and deep appearance, cannot be matched by laminate flooring's artificial images. Laminate flooring's top wear layer is extremely strong. It holds up well against sharp scratches like those caused by sliding chairs or tables.
Cons Engineered wood can receive only a limited number of sandings before the veneer layer wears through. Also, while often advertised as a more moisture-friendly alternative to solid hardwood, it still is 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 is a more difficult job, as laminate boards cannot be excised in the same way you might do with a broken ceramic tile, for example.