Vinyl vs. Laminate: What Are The Differences?

The first thing to consider is what each is made of: laminate 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 anything you can photograph including hand-scraped wood that looks hundreds of years old or the shiny silver of a steel building.  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 mostly comes in planks that contractors will install as a floating floor. The planks can range from 4’ in width to 8” in width but can also come in tiles.

Vinyl, on the other hand, is made of PVC chips that are bonded together with heat and compression. The vinyl which is imprinted with 3D technology much like laminate is then attached to a gel foam.  Then a clear top layer is applied that helps to minimize wear and tear.  Vinyl can come in sheets, tiles, and planks while giving the illusion of wood, natural stone or even a 1950’s retro checkerboard. Depending on the type of vinyl you choose, installers will float or glue the flooring.

Cost Of Vinyl Vs. Laminate

Both vinyl and laminate have a lot of options that can meet any budget.  They allow you to have the look and feel of hardwoods or tile without the higher cost of materials and labor.  The laminate and vinyl, like their aesthetic options, can run the gamut in price.  Using a cost estimator can help you to determine if laminate or vinyl flooring is at the right price point for your remodel.  On average, laminate flooring costs anywhere from $2-$8 per square foot installed.  Vinyl also has a similar price point with the installation. Use an estimator to give you a heads-up on cost. A good baseline is $1.50-$7 per square foot installed. 

Installing Vinyl Vs. Laminate Flooring

In the world of home repairs and floor installation, putting in vinyl or laminate flooring are both fairly simple and straightforward installations. With that said, your flooring is hopefully going to last the lifetime of your stay in your home, so getting it right is a big deal.  And, although neither is as labor-intensive as tile or hardwoods, you still want to make sure that you vet and do your homework on potential contractors. The installation has to be done correctly in order to avoid uneven surfaces, warping and popping.  Some laminate flooring requires gluing while a majority of it is a click-lock system. With vinyl, you can find glue down, tongue and groove, and click-lock technology installation. 

In preparing your space, professional advice is also recommended. Often times, the sub-floor needs to be replaced to ensure even surfacing.  With laminate being a material that has organic materials in its structure, it will shrink and expand due to changing moisture levels; therefore, the installation also requires advanced planning for those changes.  Vinyl can be simpler to install, but again requires some expertise in order to avoid hollow spots underneath

Many of the big box stores provide installation services. Be sure to check the reviews because those contractors are not all alike. 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.

Durability Of Flooring

The great news is these floorings are very durable.  When it comes to pets and children, laminate may win out because it is a harder service that isn’t as likely to be damaged with claws and roller skates. 

Neither flooring option has the lifespan of hardwoods, but neither do they have the cost or maintenance. Vinyl flooring has a lifespan of anywhere from 30-40 years and laminate flooring is also long-lasting with a 20-30 year lifetime, and with great care, it might even last longer.  Homeowners can use an abrasion class rating for determining which type of laminate flooring is better for different spaces. In a high traffic area, you want a laminate that has an AC3 rating.  If it is 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.

Vinyl flooring doesn’t have the same rating system, but it can be rated by the thickness of its top layer also known as the wear layer which can range from .10 mm-.05 mm.  It also comes in a few different finishes that are better than others for high traffic. If there are areas where you don’t have a lot of traffic, then vinyl with no wax finish is fine.  Whereas, you can select a urethane or advanced urethane for those normal and high traffic areas.  Most vinyl with a good solid finish will stay polished and looking good for years to come and is extremely resistant to any stains.  Vinyl also resists moisture which makes it great for areas like bathrooms, mudrooms, laundry rooms, and even kitchens.  On the other hand, it can be susceptible to scratching and denting because of the softer, more pliable material.

Maintainance

Neither type of flooring requires much maintenance or special cleaning products to keep them looking good.  A basic clean cloth or damp steam will take care of most cleaning issues with vinyl. While you will want to keep cleaning as dry as possible when making your laminate flooring shine.

Back in the day, when vinyl and laminate came out, they were cool; then their fame, like most fame was fleeting, they went back to their third and fourth place status. But today, vinyl and laminate have so many amazing options that they can actually improve the overall aesthetic of a home.  While neither improves the resale cost because of their diminished lifespan in comparison to tile and hardwoods, they do offer homeowners with a modest budget the opportunity to make their home uniquely theirs.