When you are on a budget and looking for an affordable option for hardwood flooring, chances are you will consider both vinyl and laminate. Two decades ago, vinyl and laminate were generally considered to be the same thing. But in the past few years, some major distinctions between the two have emerged, especially after the introduction of premium vinyl plank flooring.

Manufacturers promote both options as affordable, durable, budget-friendly, DIY products that are much easier to maintain than hardwood. But what are the pros and cons of each one?

What Is Laminate?

worker installing new vinyl tile floor

Laminate is an option that simulates wood. It is also known as composite flooring, Pergo (a specific brand of laminate), or floating wood tile. You can glue laminate to subfloor, or you can snap and click it over an existing floor. It is one of the cheapest alternatives to hardwood flooring on the market.

It gets its durability from four layers being fused together. First, there is a backing layer that serves as a moisture barrier to protect the material from warping. The stability in laminate comes from an inner core of high-density fiberboard made from wood fibers, which provides another layer of moisture resistance. There is also a design layer that gives laminate flooring its wood-like look and a clear finish layer that protects the flooring from stains and fading.

What Is Vinyl?

pergo floors

Luxury vinyl plank flooring is very different from the traditional sheet vinyl that you see in older homes. This newer innovation is constructed with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and like laminate, it is also composed of layers. A backing material serves as the base layer, providing strength and durability, and the design layer features a photographic image that mimics natural wood. The top layer is a clear urethane wear textured with 3D printing to add depth and give the floor a protective finish that will resist scuffs, scratches, and general wear.

Luxury vinyl comes in two different forms, plank (LVP) and tile (LVT). You can purchase smooth or textured luxury vinyl to approximate the look of any kind of material. The long planks look like traditional hardwood, and they can float, snap together, or be glued down.

Luxury vinyl tiles come in different lengths and widths and can resemble materials like stone, granite, or concrete. They can also be made into wood-like tiles and rectangles that you can float, peel and stick, snap together, or glue down for easy installation.

Laminate Vs. Vinyl

Cost

man installing new laminated wooden floor

The cost of laminate ranges from $0.50 per square foot for thinner planks to $5 per square foot for thicker luxury laminate. Premium vinyl costs $1 to $5 per square foot. The price of each type of flooring depends on the size, color, and quality of the tiles or planks that you choose.

Laminate is regarded as superior to vinyl when it comes to a home's resale value.

Material

vinyl floor on parquet floor

Vinyl is 100 percent plastic, completely waterproof, and is about five millimeters thick. It is perfect for bathrooms, kitchens, or other damp areas. Laminate is 99 percent wood byproduct; it has a more natural look and is more comfortable to walk on thanks to its thickness (six to 12 millimeters) and warmth. But because it is a wood product, it will soften and swell if it is exposed to water.

Laminate floors do tend to transmit noise, but you can reduce it with a foam underlayment beneath the flooring. While vinyl floors can be cold and hard on your feet, especially if you install them over existing ceramic tile or concrete floors, they are a bit quieter than laminate floors.

Visual Appeal

different colors of manufactured planks

There isn't a huge difference between vinyl and laminate when it comes to design integrity. Both vinyl and laminate can replicate the look of various natural materials, and both are a fraction of the cost of real wood or stone floors. There are no limits when it comes to custom designs; both vinyl and laminate have options that will work for any interior design project.

Before luxury vinyl, it was pretty easy to tell the difference between vinyl and laminate. Vinyl came in sheets and printed patterns that tried to look like ceramic tiles, while laminate planks looked like wood but had a plastic feel.

But now, both laminate and vinyl can look remarkably similar to wood, stone, ceramic, or any other material you can think of. Neither looks cheap, but both are much more affordable than the real materials.

Both laminate and vinyl are available in a variety of wood styles, including mahogany, cherry, and oak, and they are each available in various colors and sizes.

Durability And Stability

dog playing on manufactured floor

When it comes to durability and stability, premium vinyl beats out laminate, according to Parterre Flooring Systems. Premium vinyl has multifaceted, cross-purpose functionality that makes it a better fit for commercial use, while laminate is susceptible to damage as a result of high moisture or humidity because it is not waterproof.

Durability refers to the hardness of the flooring, while stability refers to the thickness and the quality of the material. Laminate is hard but hollow, and the subfloor underneath needs to be smooth and even. It does tend to scratch over time, and it can chip on the corners.

Vinyl has the ability to expand and contract, making it perfect for high-traffic areas, but heavy furniture can cause denting, and vinyl floors can tear when you drag heavy objects over them.

Both vinyl and laminate are very easy to clean. You can use a wet mop to clean vinyl, and a steam mop works perfectly on laminate.

Functionality

woman sitting on a vinyl floor

If you are looking for flooring for your bathroom, vinyl would be the right choice, since it is waterproof. However, if you are looking for flooring for your kitchen or laundry room, you could go with vinyl or moisture-resistant laminate. If you go with the laminate, be sure to quickly clean up spills or puddles.

If you don't have real hardwood in your living room and bedrooms, go with laminate, since homebuyers tend to prefer laminate over vinyl in these areas.

DIY-Friendliness

man installing timber laminate flooring with tools

Vinyl was once a challenge for DIYers, but luxury vinyl planks have changed that with their interlocking system. This is one reason for vinyl's growing popularity. Laminate flooring also has an easy click-and-lock installation method, which is why it became such an attractive alternative to hardwood in the first place.

As for the maintenance of each material, you should never use wax or polish on vinyl. Clean it with a broom, dry mop, or vacuum, and then mop with a mixture of one cup of apple cider vinegar and one gallon of hot water. For laminate, there are laminate-specific products on the market to repair the floor and restore its shine.

Environmental Impact

wooden texture patterned vinyl floor background texture

If being eco-friendly is important to you, then laminate is probably a better option than vinyl because of its natural wood content. Some manufacturers even offer laminates that qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) MR4 status, which means that the flooring contains recycled materials, reducing the impact of the extracting and processing of virgin materials.

However, laminate does have a plastic surface layer, and the melamine resin in the core layer is not a green material.

As for vinyl, it is completely synthetic and produces toxic chemicals when burned. It does not decompose, and you can't recycle it.

Neither vinyl or laminate is as environmentally friendly as natural materials, but with its high wood content, laminate does have an advantage over vinyl.

Ultimately, both laminate and vinyl are good-looking, budget-friendly alternatives to real wood or stone floors. In moisture-heavy areas like the bathroom, kitchen, and basement, vinyl is probably the better choice. Homebuyers prefer laminate in the living rooms and bedrooms. Technology has brought both materials a long way, and they are both DIY-friendly flooring options that are durable and sustainable.

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