What Is Engineered Hardwood Flooring?

It’s fair to wonder what exactly engineered hardwoods and laminates are and how they differ from solid hardwoods.  Engineered hardwood is a unique blend of plywood and hardwoods. While the material is composed completely of wood, it isn’t composed of the same plank of wood as solid floors.  There is often a base of plywood or other layers with a top layer of the actual hardwood. The hardwood layer on top comes in thicknesses from .5 millimeters to 6 millimeters. Engineered hardwoods range from 3/8’ to ¾’ in thickness and are topped with a strong, protective veneer. They come in planks very similar to solid hardwoods, but one of the many pros is that they can come in more variety (6, 7, and even 11-inch planks) than you will find with solid hardwoods.

What Is Laminate Flooring?

Laminate, on the other hand, is created with high-resolution photography. As you can imagine, just like you can take a picture of almost anything, you can have a floor that takes on the look and feel of most any wood available, including hand-scraped wood.  The photograph is printed and glued onto fiberboard. Fiberboard, like its name, is made up of organic material like wood. Finally, the top is treated with a clear coat for protection against water, moisture, stains, and scratches. Laminate also comes in planks. The planks can range from 4” in width to 8” in width but can also come in tiles.

Maintenance For Engineered Hardwood Vs. Laminate

Engineered hardwoods are durable and stable, making them a great option for any home. The protective veneer makes them more resistant to the daily use and conditions found in most homes. We are talking a 60-80 year lifespan for the average engineered hardwood floor (solid hardwoods are 80-100). You don’t have to be overly gently with these floors to keep them in good condition, so they make for a great kid-friendly and pet-friendly surface. Maintenance should be a damp, soft cloth with very little (if any) cleaner needed. Spills need to be cleaned up in a timely manner to minimize water and moisture damage including warping. Engineered hardwood floors are also very stable. With their dual layers, they are actually stronger than solid hardwood floors. The best part is, depending on the thickness of the top layer, engineered hardwoods can be refinished 1-6 times in their lifetime which adds considerably to their attractiveness to buyers.                                                                           

On the other hand, laminate flooring only has a 20-30 year average lifetime. With great care, it might last longer, but there is no option for refinishing and extending the life of the floor. Homeowners can use an abrasion class rating for determining which type of laminate flooring is more durable and stable for different spaces. In a high traffic area, you want a laminate that has an AC3 rating.  If it is in an area that rarely gets used, you will be fine with an AC1 rating, and for the in-between areas go for an AC2.  Commercial usage would need an AC4-AC5 rating to hold up to the wear and tear.  One edge both of these floorings have over solid hardwoods, is they both have protective coatings that make them much more water-resistant! Of course, it doesn’t mean they will hold up in a flood, but those little spills that happen weekly will be just fine.

Cost Comparison

If you are looking for budget-friendly, laminate flooring wins the contest hands down.  Laminate flooring can cost anywhere from $2 - $5 per square foot whereas the engineered hardwoods are anywhere from $3-$13 per sq.ft. on average (which can end up costing more than solid wood).  Costs for both depend on a few variables, including the A/C rating, the thickness of the wood veneer on top, the quality of the veneer, topcoat, and core.  The lower the AC rating the less expensive the flooring. Likewise, the texture (embossed versus hand-scraped) and its lifespan will add to cost.  Using the ImproveNet.com cost estimator can help you plan and budget for these additional costs.

Laminate Flooring Vs. Engineered Hardwood Installation

Both types of flooring can be stapled, glued, or nailed to a subfloor.  They both can also be installed as floating floors and can be used on top of concrete or other existing floorings which can make them a great flooring option for basements and other areas where removal of the current floor (like asbestos tiles) aren’t an option. 

While both types of flooring are more logistically simple to install than many types of floorings (especially with their ability to be laid over most subfloor materials), it is equally important to utilize professionals that have a lot of experience with the type of flooring that you select.  And in preparing your space, professional advice is also recommended.  With laminate and engineered hardwoods both being a material that is organic, they will shrink and expand minimally due to changing moisture levels; therefore, installation of both requires advanced planning for those changes. 

Costs for installing engineered hardwoods ranges anywhere from $2.75-14.00 per sq.ft. based on the complexity of the layout and where you live. In direct contrast, installation for laminate flooring costs on average between $1.50-$8.00 per sq.ft., again depending on the layout and location of installation. And, although neither is as labor and logistically intensive as tile or hardwoods, you still want to make sure that you vet and do your homework on potential contractors

Many of the big box stores provide installation services.  Be sure to check the reviews and get recommendations if possible.  Entertaining two or three different contractors and interviewing and receiving bids from them will help you to make an informed decision and will increase the likelihood that your floor is everything you dreamed it to be.

These two types of flooring, as with all flooring, have their pros and cons.  But in the laminate flooring vs. engineered hardwoods, there is a clear winner if you want something that stands the test of time.  And probably, engineered floorings biggest asset would be that is has a much higher return on investment than its laminate competitor, but it can also be as expensive as just going forward with solid hardwoods. So, depending on whether you are looking to increase the value of your home or just have something installed that can be inexpensive but that looks great for the short term, will greatly influence your decision to choose laminate or hardwood.