If you’re in the market for a more economical and cost-friendly flooring option, then laminate and vinyl flooring are sure to be on your radar. While the two bear many similarities, they are decidedly different types of flooring, with different installation requirements and tolerances to stress and debris. Here, we’ve outlined all the relevant differences for you to make an informed decision for your upcoming flooring installation.
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What is Laminate Flooring?
Laminate flooring is another type of synthetic flooring that homeowners love due to its more realistic feel and appearance. It is primarily made to imitate the appearance of real wood. The tongue-in-groove planking has a fiberboard base layer overlaid with a wood-printed film and covered with a melamine wear layer. The planking is typically around 1/4 inch thick, which gives it a far more realistic appearance.
That said, this kind of synthetic flooring doesn’t quite have the moisture resistance of vinyl and will visibly show damage over time. This material is also more difficult to install, which makes it a less likely candidate for DIY flooring modifications.
What is Vinyl Flooring?
Vinyl flooring — sometimes referred to as luxury vinyl flooring — is a synthetic alternative to wood. Its durability and ease of installation make it a popular budget-friendly alternative to hardwood flooring. Vinyl is highly water-resistant and comprises several layers, making it far more durable when exposed to moisture or dirt and debris.
Some varieties of this synthetic material include vinyl plank flooring, sheet vinyl, luxury vinyl plank, and luxury vinyl paneling. All are made of a base layer, topped with a printed pattern (to mimic wood or cement flooring), and a wear layer.
|Flooring Type||Best Uses||Material Cost per Square Foot||Labor Cost per Square Foot||Lifespan|
|Vinyl||Kitchens, bathrooms, basements, mudrooms,and laundry rooms||$2 to $8||$1 to $4||Up to 20 years|
|Laminate||Hallways, dining rooms, bedrooms, and living rooms||$1 to $4||$1 to $2||10 to 20 years|
Pros and Cons of Laminate & Vinyl Flooring
While both laminate and vinyl can mimic the appearance of natural wood flooring products, each comes with its own unique positives and drawbacks. We’ve broken those down simply here:
Laminate Flooring Pros & Cons
- More realistic appearance than vinyl
- Thicker and more scratch-resistant than other synthetic floorings
- Easy to clean
- Cannot be sanded or have a finish added like traditional wood flooring
- Not as water-resistant as vinyl
Vinyl Flooring Pros & Cons
- DIY installation is relatively easy
- Can mimic the appearance of wood, stone, cement, and almost any other flooring type
- Adhesive underlayment can make removal difficult
- Thinner and less durable than laminate
The Differences Between Laminate & Vinyl Flooring
Before deciding on your new flooring type, you’ll want to consider every potential aspect of your flooring installation. This will include cost per square foot, durability, intended use, and aesthetics. Read here to learn more about each core element that should factor into your decision.
Appearance and Recommended Use
Both vinyl and laminate flooring can look fairly similar from a distance. However, the differences become more apparent as you walk on each and experience the different underfoot feel that they offer. Each of these floating floor types sits on top of the subflooring layer with little or no adhesion to it but has distinct differences.
Laminate Flooring Appearance and Use
Laminate flooring is far thicker than any type of vinyl that you’ll be able to find. Due to this key difference, laminate planks appear much closer to natural hardwood. The varnish or clear coating that forms the top layer gives it a sheen that mimics finished hardwood. Laminate planks range between 6 and 12 mm in thickness, with most flooring professionals recommending a thickness of at least 8 mm.
Laminate flooring is recommended for high-traffic areas that aren’t subject to moisture regularly. Such areas include:
- Living rooms
- Dining rooms
Vinyl Flooring Appearance and Use
Vinyl flooring is also meant to mimic the appearance of solid hardwood, although the differences between this and the real thing are more apparent at close range. Vinyl tiles and planks utilize a photo layer underneath a clear wear layer.
Vinyl flooring is typically thinner, and due to its water resistance, it has a slightly wider range of uses than more high-quality laminate floors. These include:
- Laundry rooms
Setting a budget is a key step in any remodeling or home renovation. Despite their different constructions, vinyl and laminate flooring can have somewhat similar price points. However, costs per square foot will vary depending on the exact quality and model you end up with.
Laminate Flooring Cost
Laminate floors will cost anywhere from $2 to $8 per square foot. The thickness of the high-density fiberboard base layer will largely set the total pricing figure. Aside from that, labor costs usually run between $1 to $4 per square foot. Professional installation is often a necessity for this type of flooring.
Vinyl Flooring Cost
Vinyl planks and tiles will cost $1 to $4 per square foot for materials alone. Due to its higher relative quality, vinyl plank flooring will cost $3 to $4. Professional installation costs between $1 and $2 per square foot but is not always needed, depending on the homeowner’s know-how and ability.
Water & Heat Resistance
Despite its overall lower cost, vinyl flooring is more durable in the face of foot traffic, water, heat, and debris. This is evidenced by the respective lifespans of the two.
Laminate Flooring Water & Heat Resistance
Laminate flooring — which includes engineered wood — usually contains some kind of natural or wood byproducts. While brief exposure to water won’t damage this type of flooring, prolonged exposure could allow for droplets to seep in between the gaps in the tongue-in-groove joints between planks. This could lead to water damage once the moisture reaches the particle board mid-layer.
Laminate floors typically hold up well when exposed to temperatures of up to 82 degrees. Under normal circumstances, water absorption will begin after four hours. However, high temperatures will speed this process up.
Vinyl Flooring Water & Heat Resistance
PVC or vinyl flooring is totally synthetic, which allows for it to be far more low-maintenance than natural materials. Even with lengthier exposure times to water, it won’t warp, bend or shrink. Most vinyl flooring demonstrates resistance expansion and shrinkage due to heat up to temperatures of 158 degrees Fahrenheit.
Care & Maintenance
Regular floor cleaning is needed to maximize its lifespan and minimize wear and tear. For each, standard cleaning products will suffice.
Laminate Flooring Care & Maintenance
Laminate flooring’s lower tolerance for moisture means that using a wet mop for cleaning isn’t the best idea. Regular sweeping and dry mopping is the best way to ensure that your floors stay free of dirt.
Vinyl Flooring Care & Maintenance
Vinyl flooring’s resistance to moisture makes wet mopping a fully viable option. While leaving standing water on any kind of flooring is ill-advised, vinyl will be able to handle a wide variety of cleaning and maintenance techniques.
With optimal care and cleaning, both flooring types could last multiple decades in your home. Depending on the exact grade of vinyl or laminate flooring you choose to install, your upgrade will have varying shelf lives.
Laminate Flooring Lifespan
Laminate flooring, when properly cared for, could last for up to 25 years. That said, higher-traffic or moisture-prone areas or rooms could wear out in 10 to 15 years.
Vinyl Flooring Lifespan
Vinyl flooring has an average lifespan of 20 years. Thinner conventional vinyl flooring could experience greater surface wear than luxury vinyl planking would but it should still last a couple of decades.
The type of flooring you select will influence your installation method, as well as whether or not you opt for a DIY installation. Labor costs for each will range between $1 and $4 per square foot, with vinyl being on the cheaper side.
Laminate Flooring Installation
Laminate flooring will often have to be professionally installed. Flooring panels or tiles can be easily cut by scoring them with a utility knife, but the thicker construction of most laminates will make hiring a contractor necessary.
These are installed on your existing floors, with the planks and panels sliding into each other via tongue-and-groove edges. When properly installed, this can make for an almost seamless new floor.
Vinyl Flooring Installation
Vinyl flooring installation is usually classified as DIY work for the average homeowner. Some thinner varieties of vinyl flooring will have an adhesive backing, and thicker vinyl panels can be installed as a floating floor with no adhesive.
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Any home renovation will have an impact on its future value. Both flooring options we’ve discussed here have long been seen as poor holders of resale value. However, more realistic vinyl and laminate options have somewhat changed in recent years. While you’ll still see a greater return on your investment if you install hardwood flooring, laminate and some thicker vinyl options can still add to your home’s overall value.
Which Is Best: Laminate or Vinyl Flooring?
This all depends on your intended application for your new floors and your budget going into the project. If you want a more realistic appearance, with no other factors taken into account, then laminate flooring is the way to go. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly covering for a highly trafficked area, then vinyl is the choice for you.
Above all else, you should consider the functionality of your future floors. Any area that has higher exposure to the elements will be better covered by vinyl or luxury vinyl planks. Mudrooms, bathrooms, finished basements, mudrooms, and laundry rooms are the most common applications for this. Laminate is best suited for living rooms, dining rooms, and similar living spaces within your home. No matter which way you’re leaning, we recommend getting quotes from flooring contractors near you before proceeding.
FAQs About Laminate and Vinyl Flooring
When is vinyl flooring a better option?
Vinyl flooring is a great option for any high-traffic areas or stretches of flooring that will be exposed to the elements. Certain varieties, such as luxury vinyl tile or planking, can be installed over your existing floor in any room. This cuts down on installation time and potential labor costs.
When is laminate flooring the right choice?
Laminate is the best flooring choice for homeowners who want a more realistic approximation of hardwood floors without the inflated price tag. Low to intermediate-foot traffic areas or living areas where aesthetics are a bit more important.
What is embossing?
Embossing refers to texturing on vinyl plank or tile flooring. This gives the individual planks the feel of hardwood without compromising its water resistance.
What are the most durable types of vinyl flooring?
Luxury vinyl flooring are at least triple the thickness (5 – 12 mm) of conventional vinyl flooring, which makes them far sturdier. This may also require professional assistance for installation.