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Wood vs. vinyl vs. laminate flooring

Compare popular flooring options on cost, durability and care

Profile picture of Jessica Render
by Jessica Render ConsumerAffairs Research Team
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If you watch house-hunting shows, you’ve probably seen prospective buyers light up at the sight of hardwood. If you watch renovation shows, though, you’ll also see how expensive it can actually be to install a brand-new hardwood floor.

In recent years, vinyl and laminate flooring have evolved with many options that mimic the look of hardwood but at a more palatable price. Before you jump on either of these three flooring options, it’s important to understand the differences and benefits of both.

Flooring TypeVinylLaminateWood
Cost$1 to $5 per square foot$1 to $11 per square foot$3 to $13 per square foot
Install cost$1.50 to $2.75 per square foot$1 to $3 per square foot$4 to $8 per square foot
Lifespan5 to 25 years, depending on quality, installation and maintenance15 to 25 years, depending on quality, installation and maintenance50 to 100+ years depending on material, quality, installation and maintenance
MaintenanceWipe up spills quickly to prevent stains; vacuum, sweep or dry mop weekly; mop weekly with a vinyl cleaning solutionWipe up spills to prevent staining; clean with a damp mop every two months; use only cleaning products labeled for laminate; sweep, dry mop or vacuum weeklyClean spills immediately to avoid moisture damage; sweep or dust daily; vacuum weekly; use a wood flooring cleaner monthly; refinish every 3 to 5 years
Recommended forAnywhereDining room, living room, bedrooms, home officeDining room, living room, bedrooms, home office

Vinyl flooring

Many homeowners love the look of hardwood but balk at the price and the cost of installation. In turn, many are opting to use vinyl flooring instead. This synthetic, petroleum-based material can easily be printed with designs, leading to the creation of a wide selection of vinyl flooring that can very closely mimic the look of hardwood — but at a lower cost.

With a variety of options from vinyl tile to vinyl plank, there’s probably a vinyl flooring that could work in any room of your home. The waterproof nature of vinyl means it can work even in bathrooms and kitchens, and even luxury vinyl is affordable and accessible to most homeowners.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Easy to install and maintain
  • Great in any room

Cons

  • Can be scratched or dented
  • Not environmentally friendly
  • Hard on feet

Durability

As with traditional wood flooring, vinyl flooring is not immune to damages. While it does include a wear layer that helps it stay fairly resilient under normal traffic, it can still get scratched up and dinged. However, the ease with which you can replace a board means you can repair your flooring in a weekend if needed.

Another great part about this flooring option is that it typically includes a warranty. Depending on the manufacturer, you could have anywhere from a 5- to 20-year warranty — or longer.

The best part about vinyl flooring is that the pieces themselves are completely waterproof. No matter which room you’re flooring, there’s likely a vinyl option that will work to meet your design needs.

Cleaning and maintenance

One reason many homeowners choose vinyl flooring is that it provides easy cleaning and minimal maintenance. With simple chores like vacuuming or sweeping and mopping, you can keep your floors looking great. If there’s a spill, all you have to do is wipe it up. It’s the perfect option for families with children or pets.

Installation

Generally speaking, the process to install vinyl flooring is pretty straightforward. With the exception of sheet vinyl, vinyl is pretty easy to install for the average homeowner. Most of the options come as tiles and planks with a peel-and-stick or snap-together design. By installing your vinyl flooring yourself, you’ll save some money on the total cost of your flooring.

Cost

When it comes to the cost of vinyl flooring, it’s undeniably one of the most affordable options out there. Quality vinyl flooring tends to fall in a range of $2 to $5 per square foot. However, for bargain vinyl, you can find prices as low as $1 per square foot.

As well as the lower cost of materials, professional installation is affordable with vinyl flooring. Because it’s so simple to install, many homeowners choose to do it themselves, saving even more money without sacrificing on the look of their flooring.

Laminate flooring

Known for the ease with which it can be installed, laminate flooring continues to provide a more durable option for homeowners when compared to hardwood. Although it first rose to popularity decades ago, it continues to be a viable option, thanks to the advancements in manufacturing in recent years.

As far as long-lasting flooring options are concerned, affordable laminate flooring should be one of the first options you consider. Depending on the type of laminate flooring — laminate plank, for example — you can enjoy your laminate flooring for decades.

Although there are benefits to choosing laminate flooring, like enjoying the look of hardwood on a budget, it does come with limitations. Because nearly all laminate flooring is made from a wood-based, fiberboard core, you have to be careful which rooms you install it in. A bathroom or kitchen won’t be the right choice.

That said, laminate flooring is a low-maintenance, durable option that many homeowners fall in love with, especially when it’s properly installed on the underlayment. Friendly on your wallet and your eyes, today’s laminate flooring options are worth a look.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Easy to install
  • Low-maintenance

Cons

  • Not water-resistant
  • Can be scratched
  • If top layer is damaged, the plank must be replaced

Durability

While it’s a generally durable option, laminate flooring is made of layers that can begin to wear down with time or if it’s exposed to water for too long. And once the top layer is scratched, repairing it isn’t an option — the piece will need to be replaced.

As for stains, the top layer of aluminum oxide covers several layers of pressure-laminated material, so in general, vinyl has excellent stain resistance. If you’re worried about younger family members drawing on the floors, laminate is a great option.

Because the core of laminate flooring is wood, it doesn’t hold up well to moisture. As such, it’s not a great option for the kitchen, bathroom or any room with frequent moisture.

Cleaning and maintenance

Something to keep in mind about laminate flooring is that the core is fiberboard. This wood-based core can easily be damaged by too much moisture. To clean a laminate floor, start with dry methods first and only use damp — not wet — mops.

As for maintenance, laminate flooring is fairly easy to take care of. With basic cleaning habits, you can keep your laminate flooring looking great for years. However, when the top layer becomes scratched, it can’t be repaired. It’s a good idea to keep a couple of boxes of your laminate flooring on hand in the event that you need to replace a plank in the future.

Installation

For the DIY homeowner, laminate is an easy-to-install option that can be done fairly quickly. It has a click-and-lock installation method that even the most novice homeowner can do with ease. You can also have your laminate flooring professionally installed so it can be ready quickly.

Cost

The cost of laminate is comparable to vinyl. At about $1 to $11 per square foot, it’s pretty affordable, and there are tons of options to choose from in an array of styles. You can find the look you want at just about any price point.

To save on your new laminate flooring, you can do the installation by yourself fairly easily. However, if you’d like to outsource the work, you can expect to pay between $1 and $3 per square foot. That puts your overall cost between $2 and $14 per square foot, which isn’t bad for flooring that can last 10 to 25 years.

Engineered wood flooring

A step away from solid hardwood flooring, engineered wood flooring, also known as engineered hardwood, is a more affordable wood flooring option. If you really love the feel and look of wood but you have concerns about the installation and cost of a solid hardwood floor, you might wind up with an engineered wood floor.

It’s important to note that engineered wood flooring is in fact real hardwood. It’s made of a thin layer of wood veneer on top of layers of lower-grade wood. With the veneer glued to the top, you can have the look of your favorite hardwood for a lower price.

Pros

  • Less expensive than solid hardwood
  • Easy to clean
  • Option for DIY installation

Cons

  • Doesn’t last as long as solid hardwood flooring
  • Not moisture-resistant
  • Easily scratched or gouged

Durability

Because it’s made from real wood, engineered wood flooring is pretty durable, as far as day-to-day use goes. It can be scratched and gouged, however, and moisture should be avoided.

An important difference in the durability of engineered wood flooring comes from how many times it can be resanded and refinished. Because the top veneer is so thin, you can only have this revitalization project done once or twice. This means your engineered wood floor won’t last as long as a solid wood floor, but you can plan on enjoying it for about 20 to 30 years.

If you have pets or rambunctious kids, you might consider one of the other flooring options. Long pet nails or a careless child could scratch up your engineered wood floor, and once you’re out of refinishing chances, the marks are permanent.

Cleaning and maintenance

Cleaning an engineered wood floor is fairly simple. Regular sweeping, dusting and vacuuming will be the majority of your maintenance and cleaning work. Every couple of months, at least, mop your engineered wood floor with a damp mop. Keep in mind that too much moisture will damage the flooring.

As with solid hardwood flooring, you’ll need to plan to renew the varnish of your engineered wood flooring every few years. If there are deeper scratches in the floor, have it resanded and refinished if you can.

Installation

You can install an engineered wood floor with a nail-down method. However, there’s another option that many homeowners, especially those looking for a DIY project, prefer — some engineered wood flooring comes with a click-lock edge system, allowing a savvy homeowner to install the boards fairly easily. Not only will this save you money, but it also means that you can install this flooring as a “floating floor” on top of a concrete subfloor.

Cost

A huge benefit of engineered wood flooring is the cost in comparison to solid hardwood. For materials, you’ll wind up spending between $2.50 and $10 per square foot, depending on the quality and thickness of the veneer.

One way to save on your engineered wood floor is to get a click-lock option so you can do the installation by yourself. If you decide to have a professional install it, expect to pay the national average of $2.64 to $3.47 per square foot.

Solid hardwood flooring

The ultimate in luxury flooring: solid hardwood. The difference between engineered wood flooring and solid hardwood flooring is in the composition of the boards. With solid hardwood flooring, it’s hardwood all the way through rather than a hardwood veneer, even if it’s prefinished.

Today, not all solid wood flooring is made of hardwood. Softwoods like bamboo are quickly rivaling the old classics like oak in popularity. Regardless of the type of wood you choose, a solid wood floor is a great way to boost your home’s value and add some natural warmth to your aesthetic.

Pros

  • Long-lasting
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Easy to clean

Cons

  • Not water-resistant
  • Easily scratched or gouged
  • Requires revarnishing and refinishing every few years

Durability

A concern for many homeowners considering solid wood flooring is the fact that wood is a soft material and therefore can easily be scratched or damaged. It’s also not a water-resistant option, making it a poor choice for rooms in which water is an inevitability, like the kitchen or bathroom.

With that being said, one of the biggest draws for homeowners choosing between solid wood flooring and engineered wood flooring is the longevity of solid wood. A solid wood floor can be resanded and refinished several times in its lifetime, while engineered wood flooring can accommodate this only once or twice.

Cleaning and maintenance

To clean a solid wood floor, you simply need to sweep, vacuum or dust it regularly. Some say daily sweeping or dusting are important when you want to maintain a pristine solid wood floor. At a minimum, you should perform these tasks at least once per week.

Because wood floors do not tolerate moisture, only mop the floors with a damp mop while using a wood cleaner. Every few years, plan to renew the varnish. Expect to resand and refinish your solid wood floor at least a few times in the next 30 to 100 years.

Installation

If you choose solid wood, you’ll likely need your flooring installed by a professional, whether it’s unfinished hardwood or not. The process of installing a solid wood floor requires skill, experience and technique — having some DIY experience usually isn’t enough.

Solid wood floors are installed using a tongue-and-groove system in which the boards are blind-nailed through the tongues into the floor. Because of this system of installation, solid wood floors aren’t recommended for use over concrete subfloors.

Cost

Because of the acclaim and prestige of solid wood flooring, you will have to pay a higher price for it. For materials, the average is between $3 and $13 per square foot  — the range is wide due to the variety of wood options available. For installation, you should budget about $4 to $8 per square foot.

Another thing to consider is how long this flooring will last. Rather than having to pay for a new floor in 10 to 20 years, this could be the last floor you install in your home. A solid wood floor is more likely a one-time cost, though you have to take revarnishing and refinishing into consideration, as well.

Bottom line: What type of flooring is best for you?

There’s just something about the aesthetic of a wood floor — or something that looks like a wood floor. It exudes warmth, character and charm. Having a solid hardwood floor is something many homeowners dream of. It also adds to the resale value of your home. The cost of materials and the high price for installation, however, make a solid hardwood floor inaccessible for many homeowners. Luckily, other options are available that can provide the same feel at a lower price.

If you want the look of hardwood but are on a tight budget or are concerned about potential damages to your flooring from kids or pets, vinyl flooring might be the way to go. It will also hold up better against spills and is easier to repair. Laminate is also affordable and easy to install, so most homeowners can do it on their own.

Ultimately, your flooring is the foundation for the look and feel of your home. Whether it’s for where your children learn to walk or your favorite place to stretch out and exercise, vinyl, laminate and other wood flooring options can make your flooring dreams a reality.

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Profile picture of Jessica Render
by Jessica Render ConsumerAffairs Research Team

As a member of the ConsumerAffairs research team, Jessica Render is dedicated to providing well-researched, valuable content designed to help consumers make informed purchase decisions they can feel confident making. She holds a degree in journalism from Oral Roberts University.