For those that want a look resembling solid hardwood but with better performance, there are now several very good alternatives available. Two of the very best are vinyl plank and engineered hardwood. They both deliver features that solid hardwood simply won’t be able to, and as a result, are both gaining in popularity. However, in the vinyl plank vs. engineered hardwood bout, which comes out on top? It’s not a simple question, so the answer will take some sorting out.
Vinyl plank and engineered hardwood both have their own particular strengths, and we’ll assess them over several key areas, such as durability and price, before giving our overall verdict. We’ll then sum up the features in a handy table at the bottom. But we’ve got a long way to go before we get there. Let’s begin by looking at the differences between these two flooring materials.
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Vinyl Plank vs. Engineered Hardwood – Comparison Chart
The Main Difference Between Vinyl Plank & Engineered Hardwood Flooring
Starting with vinyl plank, this is a type of what’s known as luxury vinyl flooring, which can come in plank form (LVP) or tile form (LVT). This is just a difference in shape – the structure is the same in both cases. Talking of structure, luxury vinyl is multi-layer material that incorporates the following build. The top layer is known as the wear layer (this is invariably made from ultra-tough aluminum oxide, covered with a transparent sheet). This is the most crucial ingredient in luxury vinyl, the thickness of which will determine whether the LVP is good for high-traffic areas or not.
Next comes the design layer, where a photo-realistic wood (or stone or ceramic tile) effect is given. Then comes the solid core, which forms the main body of the flooring. Finally, there’s the backing layer, usually made from PVC, which stabilizes the whole structure. Overall thickness for LVP is usually in the region of ⅕ – ⅓”.
Engineered hardwood is a very different beast. While LVP is PVC-based, engineered hardwood is wood-based. There are several different varieties. One consists of waste wood from sawmills, which is mixed with adhesives and then heat- and chemical-treated in order to produce a solid plank structure. Another, very commonly used in flooring, is a structure involving layers of hardwood and other wood (finishing with a hardwood layer on top, naturally), with the grain running in different directions with each layer. Thickness for engineered wood is usually around ⅜ – ¾”.
There’s a massive range of different wood looks available in luxury vinyl, so there’ll be a variety for any decor. Being plank-shaped and bearing an image of wood, the appearance of LVP is a lot better than, say, traditional vinyl. However, manufacturers still haven’t managed to make the perfect copy: wood has a look all its own, and when you get up close, you can see that luxury vinyl doesn’t quite hit the target.
Although subjected to a whole raft of processes, engineered hardwood looks just like normal wood. That’s because that’s what it is. Well, that’s what the visible bit is. So, regardless of the wizardry that went into its construction, all you’ll see is natural, beautiful hardwood.
Our Choice On Looks: Engineered Hardwood
The best vinyl plank products have fairly decent looks, and they’re improving all the time. The latest ranges actually might fool a casual onlooker. The problem is that all the photo-realism and texturing in the world won’t deliver an exact copy of the real thing. This is why, in the vinyl plank vs. hardwood looks battle, engineered hardwood wins.
Engineered hardwood puts its best foot forward by having the best-looking part of it uppermost. This way, nobody’s any the wiser about what’s going on underneath. We’ll come to that part in a bit.
LVP has a reputation for expense, but that’s not strictly fair. There’s quite a range of LVP available at the budget end; for instance, Shaw does a range that costs as little as $0.99 SFT.
(one paragraph). However, if you want something with better build quality, you’ll probably need to pay in the region of $3-4 SFT. The top end can be anything north of $6 SFT.
OK, this one’s a bit pricier. Starting at around $2-$3 (e.g., Alston Birch at $2.49 SFT), it’s not long before you’re in the neighborhood of $10+. The more unusual woods tend to cost more, such as those found in Bellfloor’s Exotics Collection ($11.49 SFT).
Our Choice On Price: Vinyl Plank
Our winner here is vinyl plank flooring. Not only does its pricing start a lot cheaper, but you can also buy top-end gear without breaking the bank. That is not the case with engineered hardwood, which can certainly add up to a pretty stiff bill. There are those who will argue that you get what you pay for and engineered hardwood is more expensive for a good reason. This is something we’ll now turn to.
Comfort & Acoustics
Because of its PVC construction, luxury vinyl is a very comfortable surface on which to walk. LVP has cushioning so that your steps are never jarring while at the same time being a stable floor. In addition to this, luxury vinyl has an innate warmth, so ideal for those areas where you don’t want a shock to the foot first thing in the morning, like the bathroom or kitchen. Acoustically, while not as quiet as carpet, luxury vinyl is a lot quieter than most flooring, not setting off the sound bombs that laminate does, for example. (See this YouTube clip for proof). With the addition of underlay, vinyl can give you all the acoustic profiles of a particularly nimble ninja.
Wood can be somewhat unyielding, and engineered hardwood is just the same. While not as hard a surface on which to put your foot as ceramic tile, engineered hardwood doesn’t have the cushioning that LVP does. It does have the natural warmth of wood, however. As for sound quality, engineered hardwood is similar to wood, although you might get the added hollow sound that a floating floor can give you. Again, an underlay can help.
Our Choice On Comfort & Acoustics: Vinyl Plank
The cushioning of luxury vinyl takes some beating. There’s just the right balance of solidity and yield, so your legs feel the benefit of cushioning without it feeling like you’re walking on a bouncy castle. Acoustically, there’s less in it, but overall comfort means that vinyl plank wins this one.
LVP with a wear layer of 20 mil or more will give excellent durability, standing up well to everything that a domestic setting can throw at it (and, often, is good for light commercial settings too). Where it will struggle is if heavy objects such as sofas and fridges are placed on it for any length of time – there will be denting, so care’s needed here. Another vulnerability is to light – it will fade if left in strong sunlight for an extended period.
This has a certain amount of durability, greatly dependent on the exact structure used (the cheaper plywood-based structures are prone to warping) and the variety of hardwood used for the top layer. The very best woods for the job are the close grain species such as oak, maple, cherry, and hickory. The final determinant of durability is the quality of the finish. This also determines whether you can refinish the surface should it become damaged. Overall though, engineered hardwood has pretty much the same durability as solid hardwood; in other words, not completely impervious to wear and tear but has the advantage of gaining in personality the more lived on its looks.
Our Choice On Durability: Vinyl Plank
Engineered hardwood vs. vinyl plank durability is a tight contest, but LVP just has the edge. Yes, engineered hardwood weathers damage well, but LVP goes one step better by pretty much shrugging most damage off its weightlifter-like shoulders. As long as you bear in mind its vulnerability to certain things like sustained pressure, you’ll get a good durable performance out of LVP.
Water & Scratch Resistance
This is an area in which LVP can really show off. Waterproofing’s what it excels at due to its solid core construction. You can immerse LVP in water indefinitely, and you won’t see a deterioration in its construction, thanks to PVC’s impermeable nature. Scratch-wise, most LVP comes with anti-scratch technology built into its wear layer, so with a good wear layer, you’ll be looking at a robust performance against scratching.
While certainly being better against moisture than solid hardwood, engineered hardwood will not cope with water left standing on it for any length of time. This is because wood is naturally porous and will actively seek to absorb any liquid left on it, with visible results. The best finishes will give a degree of water resistance, so you often see engineered hardwood advertised as waterproof (e.g., Bruce Hydropel, which will give 36 hours of protection). But in most cases, you still need to get busy with the mop in relatively short order. And because it’s real wood, it’s not great against scratches either. Care’s needed, or you’ll end up with a skating rink appearance.
Our Choice on Water & Scratch Resistance: Vinyl Plank
When it comes to water & scratch resistance in the debate of vinyl plank vs. engineered hardwood, it’s another win for LVP, and by quite a margin this time. This just happens to be LVP’s wheelhouse, and engineered hardwood will always struggle to compete, regardless of its build quality. Things may change in time as new developments hit the market, but for now, LVP’s a clear winner here.
Usually installed via the floating method, LVP is quick and easy to lay down. Although manufacturers will often advise that you should get the professionals in, most LVP installations can be performed by the householder as long as they have a modicum of practical ability. LVP benefits from an underlayment, so it’s a good idea to factor this into the task. Note that LVP can usually be glued down, too, should this be desired. Doing this often gets you a stronger result, and it can sound better too.
Most engineered hardwood can be laid both with the floating and the glue-down approach. This means that, just like with LVP, you can choose between the speed and ease of the former and the greater stability and better acoustics of the latter. Again, this should be within the competence of most practical sorts.
Our Choice On Installation: Tie
In both of these cases, you can use either floating or glue-down as the means by which you install your flooring. In terms of vinyl plank vs. engineered hardwood on installation, there’s nothing to choose between them.
Cleaning & Repair
It’s relatively easy to keep vinyl plank flooring looking good. Most LVPs will benefit from a simple brush and mop regime. For stubborn stains, you can use specific products to get your LVP back to its best. However, repair’s not so easy with vinyl. If you end up with an impaired portion of the floor that no amount of cleaning will touch, then you’re going to have to replace all the planks affected. This is because refinishing is not a possibility with LVP.
Again, sweeping and mopping will take care of engineered hardwood nicely – but do make sure that the mop’s not too wet (remember – you don’t want to be leaving water on the floor for any length of time). And, once more, similar to LVP, there are products you can use that are appropriate to a hardwood surface. An added benefit of engineered hardwood is that, depending on the nature of the initial finish, you can have your floor refinished, so any damaged sections can be repaired rather than having to be replaced.
Our Choice On Cleaning & Repair: Engineered Hardwood
Not much in this one, but engineered hardwood just gets its nose in front. This is because, when damage is done, you can usually get it seen off with a bit of refinishing rather than having to go to the bother of prising it up and replacing it.
Most decent LVP will give you long service. One very sturdy option is Mannington Adura, which delivers a lifetime residential guarantee, as does the slightly cheaper Malibu range. You’ll get ten years of commercial cover with these too.
Most warranties for engineered hardwood give lifetime residential cover, together with 10-15 years of light commercial assurance. Home Depot’s LifeProof engineered hardwood range is a typical example of this.
Our Choice on Lifespan: Tie
With pretty much identical warranties, it’s hard to separate luxury vinyl and engineered hardwood. If we were being nitpicky, we could say that engineered hardwood has a de factor better lifespan as wood can carry blemishes better than vinyl can, so it is less likely to want to replace as time goes by. But then again, vinyl is less likely to suffer blemishes in the first place.
If you’re selling your house to somebody who knows about flooring, then LVP will do a lot of the selling for you. The floor aficionado will already know how practical and hardwearing it is, so LVP can certainly seal the deal. However, to the average person, having the information in front of them that the lounge benefits from luxury vinyl flooring will not excite them much. Consequently, LVP will not add much to the house value, if anything.
Put the words ‘hardwood flooring’ in your house resume, and you can expect to see a boost in the selling price. Even if it’s not actually a solid hardwood floor, you’ve still got the magic ‘H’ word in there. That’s what brings in the big bucks. And the fact that it’s engineered means you’ve got added practicality built in. Bingo.
Our Choice On House Value: Engineered Hardwood
There’s simply no arguing with the visual impact a hardwood surface has. In fact, the National Association of Realtors found in their 2022 Remodeling Impact Report that wooden flooring installations realize 118% of their cost when it comes to selling the house. Admittedly, they were talking about solid hardwood rather than engineering, but both versions of a wooden floor will look equally good to a buyer.
This one was quite tight in the end, but our final vote in the vinyl plank vs. engineered hardwood debate goes for vinyl plank. While nobody can discount the visual impact and value boost delivered by a wooden surface, LVP brings such durability and practicality to the table that it’s difficult to argue against it. The fact that it’s also cheaper certainly helps its case.
However, it’s not a categorical defeat for engineered hardwood. We noted how much water resistance improvements had made it suited for a wider range of applications than solid hardwood. And with further developments, such as the Engineered Vinyl Plank (which combines a vinyl core with a real wood surface), things can change all the time. But for now, vinyl plank is our choice to give the best performance across the categories.
In the battle of luxury vinyl vs. hardwood, your choice will very much depend on how much you rate practicality (including waterproofing and scratch-resistance) over looks and resale value. Where you’re installing could be significant too. Although engineered wood can be used all over the house, from the basement to the bathroom, you might prefer some really hard-wearing LVP in high-traffic areas. Alternatively, you may prefer engineered hardwood, where you have large swathes of statement floor space.
One final factor to think about: if we were to consider sustainability, things might look very different. The PVC in vinyl is only suitable for recycling into more vinyl. However, not only is wood a natural substance but engineered is more sustainable than solid. For instance, Mohawk Ultrawood ekes out the hardwood so that you get 10x the flooring material that you would with 100% solid hardwood. So, if you’re keen on being green, check out the engineered hardwood scene.
What lasts longer, vinyl plank or engineered hardwood?
There’s not much to choose between them. Both will usually give lifetime residential warranties. LVP will probably stand up better to general wear and tear, so it will carry on looking like new, better than engineered hardwood. On the other hand, engineered hardwood will continue to look great even with the odd mark.
What’s more expensive, vinyl plank or engineered hardwood?
With a range of $2 up to $15 SFT and beyond, engineered hardwood is the more expensive option. But it will be recouped when and if you choose to sell your house. The same can’t necessarily be said for LVP.
What feels better underfoot, vinyl plank, or engineered flooring?
That’s down to the individual. Vinyl has a warmth and a cushioned feel that some people love. Engineered hardwood feels like what it is: wood. This means it’s a good deal harder, which might put some people off, but on the other hand, some find the feel of wood a major plus.