There was a time when, for fans of quality flooring, only natural materials would do. Not any longer. Such are the advances in looks and performance in synthetic flooring materials that many are eschewing natural products in favor of materials such as vinyl plank and laminate. Both these products outperform natural materials in many ways, including durability and waterproofing, so it’s no surprise they’re gaining such popularity.
However, which is the better choice? In the big vinyl plank vs. laminate battle, which comes out fists aloft, and which one is left flat on the floor (but not in a good way)? We’ll take you through what goes into each material before lining them up head to head-over several challenges. The referee will announce the overall champ, and we’ll then list which does what best. We’ll finish by answering some frequently asked questions.
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- Vinyl Plank vs. Laminate – Comparison Table
- The Main Difference Between Vinyl Plank & Laminate Flooring
- Comfort & Acoustics
- Water and Scratch Resistance
- Cleaning & Repair
- House Value
- Final Verdict
- Our Advice
- Looking For A Professional Installer?
Vinyl Plank vs. Laminate – Comparison Table
The Main Difference Between Vinyl Plank & Laminate Flooring
Laminate and vinyl plank are very similar in aspects such as affordability and installation. However, let’s first discuss the main structural differences below.
Vinyl Plank Structure
Let’s start with vinyl plank. The days when vinyl meant cheap and cheerful are long gone. Vinyl plank is one of the types of material known as luxury vinyl. It looks and lasts better than the old vinyl sheet and is made in a multi-layer construction. You’re usually looking at four or five layers, incorporating some or all of the following.
At the top, we have the wear layer (often covered by a transparent urethane sheet), which is usually made from seriously heavy-duty aluminum oxide. This is arguably the most important part of luxury vinyl, as the thickness of the wear layer will determine how well the structure copes with the stresses and strains a floor has to undergo.
Beneath the wear layer is the design layer, which is basically a representation of whatever material the vinyl is meant to resemble. Under this is the solid core, which makes up the main body of the structure. At the very bottom is the backing layer, often made from PVC, which serves to lend stability to the product. All these layers add up to an overall thickness, usually around ⅕” to ⅓”.
Laminate’s structure is not entirely dissimilar. There’s a wear layer (more often than not made from aluminum oxide) with a design layer underneath. Sometimes there’s a resin-saturated kraft paper layer under this. Then we have the core, which can be made from high-density fiber and soaked in resin. Then we have the backing layer, often made from melamine or similar. The overall thickness for laminate is in the neighborhood of 5/16″ to ½”.
So, they have quite similar structures. The main difference is in the construction of the core. Luxury vinyl features cores made from a polymer of vinyl with stone or wood. Laminate has a core made from high-density fiber or wood industry by-products. Why does this matter? We’ll see.
Luxury vinyl in plank form (LVP) is usually intended to resemble wood. Whether it does so successfully is debatable. It certainly does the trick as far as simulating grain patterns is concerned, but it can sometimes appear slightly dull. You can also buy luxury vinyl that has been made in the image of stone or ceramic, but this is invariably in the stubbier tile format (LVT).
While it’s possible to get stone- or ceramic-look laminate, the overwhelming majority of laminate is meant to give the appearance of solid hardwood. Does it do this successfully? Yes, to an extent. Although an up-close inspection will always succeed in winkling out the wannabes, laminate has a really good go at tackling the timber. Wood patterns are often nicely copied, and it’s fair to say that laminate gives a bright and attractive finish.
Our Choice On Looks: Laminate
While there’s not much in it, laminate scores by virtue of its lively appearance. Vinyl can sometimes look a little underwhelming, and although you don’t necessarily want your floor to light up like in the Billie Jean video, you do at least want it to command a little bit of attention. As for range, which has the greater number of varieties depends on what you read, so we reckon it’s about even on that score.
LVP is often thought of as an expensive option, but the truth is a little more complex than that. Yes, you can spend a lot on it if you’re determined to, but if you’re prepared to shop around and do a little research, you’re unlikely to find yourself paying more than $3-4 SFT.
This is usually perceived as a relatively inexpensive flooring choice, and there’s a degree of accuracy here. Even at the upper end of the spectrum, you’ll not be spending an enormous amount. For instance, Pergo Outlast+ is available for around $3.50 SFT. You’ll probably be in the region of $2-$4 SFT.
Our Choice On Price: Laminate
There’s not much in it – both luxury vinyl and laminate offer decent budget ranges. However, luxury vinyl has more top-end ranges, such as TruCor and Coretec, which can sometimes hover close to the $10 SFT mark. This has the effect of raising the average price of LVP a little above that of laminate, so laminate edges the decision.
Comfort & Acoustics
There’s an artificial sound when walking on vinyl. It’s one of the big giveaways that tells you it’s not wood. Vinyl has a resilience that is somewhat unlike that of wood, so it feels a lot firmer when walked upon. This artificiality is not to everyone’s taste.
First of all, laminate can sound terrible. There can be a hollow sound or even a squelching noise when trodden on, but this is often down to improper laying. When laid with due care, laminate can sound better than vinyl. Certainly not as loud. The feel can be a little more like that of wood, with an element of give built-in because of the more natural core construction.
Our Choice On Comfort & Acoustics: Laminate
Most people want a little cushioning in their floor, somewhere between the feel of solid rock and a mattress. Laminate achieves a softness sweet spot, not unlike wood, and can deliver a good acoustic performance too. Vinyl’s not exactly hard as nails – it does have a certain amount of cushioning, but it’s definitely a harder surface than laminate. So, a better choice if you don’t like the people living below you.
If you’ve got luxury vinyl with a wear layer of 20 mil or higher, you’ve got a flooring surface that will stand up to most punishments you can find in a residential or light commercial environment. Vinyl can fade and even warp in sustained sunlight, however, so do be careful here. Vinyl flooring is also a little prone to denting, so heavy objects shouldn’t be allowed to remain on it for any length of time (unless you like the dimpled look). Overall though, vinyl’s a tough customer and can see off sustained traffic with little or no wear evident.
Helpfully, laminate flooring is subject to a scoring regime known as Abrasion Class or Abrasion Criteria (or AC). The position on the AC scale tells you how tough that flooring is, from the most durable (AC6 – something like vibranium) to the least durable (AC1 – more like a soft cake). Most of the laminate floors householders tend to look at are in the AC3-AC5 range. AC4, for instance, will give you a solid performance in a residential setting and a degree of resilience in a light commercial milieu. In general, laminate stands up to UV pretty well, so it won’t fade as readily as vinyl.
Our Choice On Durability: Tie
Both vinyl plank and laminate have tremendous durability and easily outperform a material like solid wood, for instance. They have specific vulnerabilities, but these kind of balance each other out, so this one’s too close to call.
Water and Scratch Resistance
Vinyl’s all about waterproofing. It’s its thing. You can leave water standing over luxury vinyl as long as you like, and you won’t get any ingress. This is because the core is synthetic and made to be impermeable. Scratchproofing is good too, although some sources cite a vulnerability to tearing when moving heavy objects over it.
Waterproofing is not good with laminate. Any sustained contact with water can lead to swelling because the core will readily absorb moisture. The best you can hope for is splash proofing. In other words, the floor will stand up to short periods of contact with water while you go get a mop. Laminate’s good against scratches, however, and will stand up well to most of the threats to its wellbeing a house can offer.
Our Choice On Water & Scratch Resistance: Vinyl Plank
You can’t argue with vinyl plank’s waterproofing credentials. It simply won’t give way to any watery menace. This is why, when considering luxury vinyl plank vs laminate, vinyl should always be favored when it comes to flooring an area likely to see a fair amount of water being splashed about, such as bathrooms and basements. Scratchproofing’s not so cut and dried, with accounts differing over which is the better performer, sometimes depending on who’s telling you and what they’re trying to sell.
You can install vinyl plank with the floating method, doing the click and lock routine, with no need for glue. Alternatively, if you would rather have the assuredness of gluing down, you can use this approach instead. The big plus with vinyl is that you can cut it to fit any irregular spaces with nothing more than a sharp knife. However, you do need to do some fine precision cutting, so don’t rush it.
Best to stick to floating with laminate. Sure, you can glue if you like, but it’s not recommended and may, in some cases, invalidate your warranty. The thing with laminate is that it’s happiest when it can expand and shrink a little with temperature fluctuations. Deny this, and you may compromise its performance. And when it comes to cutting down lengths of laminate, you’ll need a saw, which can result in some slightly jagged handiwork.
Our Choice On Installation: Vinyl Plank
Because vinyl gives you the choice of floating or glue-down, and because it’s easier to trim to fit, LVP gets our vote in the installation stakes. It’s worth noting here that no attempt at installation should be made unless you’re reasonably practically-minded and have the tools and sufficient time for the job.
Cleaning & Repair
Luxury vinyl’s generally easy to keep clean. It usually features some stain and bacteria resistance technology built into the surface, so you’re unlikely to come up against the kind of mark that needs serious mop action. But if a stain does rear its ugly head, you can use a wet mop on the vinyl plank with no problem due to its waterproofing. Vinyl is commonly held to be tricky to repair, so much so that impaired sections often need to be replaced.
Again, stain resistance can be built into the laminate, but it’s not often as effective as that featured in LVP. Moreover, when it comes to tackling stubborn stains, you have to be careful not to apply too much water, as laminate will not be happy with a proper dunking. As with vinyl, profoundly damaged sections of laminate will need to be replaced, as it’s not possible to refinish it.
Our Choice On Cleaning & Repair: Vinyl Plank
Not only is LVP a little more resistant to stain and often bacteria-resistant, but the fact that you can go to town with a wet mop on it will also make all the difference when it comes to serious staining. Repair-wise, it’s worth noting that you can purchase scratch repair kits for use on both LVP and laminate. While they’re unlikely to take your floor all the way from cracked to cracking, they may well help you to stay on top of shallow scratches and surface nicks.
Luxury vinyl can last you a decent amount of time if installed correctly. Lifespans of between 10 and 20 years are not uncommon, and it will keep its looks throughout this period. The best LVP should see you through your remaining time in that house.
Laminate can last a long time too, with some of it seeing out the 20-year mark. One potential drawback with some laminate, however, is that, over time and with sustained traffic, it’s possible for there to be patches of delamination visible. This can happen when the bond between the layers becomes a little worn.
Our Choice for Lifespan: Vinyl Plank
Both forms of flooring are terrific when it comes to giving long service, and you probably shouldn’t need to replace either (depending on how long you’re going to stay in your home before moving). However, LVP pips laminate due to its slight edge in longevity and solidity.
If you pick a vinyl plank flooring product with a wear layer of 20 mil or more, you’re more than likely to see a lifetime residential warranty come with it. You’ll also probably get at least a 10-year light commercial guarantee too. Obviously, there are limits to these warranties, so worth checking the fine print.
An AC4 or higher rating will usually mean at least a 20-25 year residential warranty. Lifetime residential warranties do exist, for example, Mohawk’s laminates, but they’re not quite as commonplace as with LVP. Light commercial warranties of 10 years are widely available.
Our Choice for Warranty: Vinyl Plank
It’s another very tight one, but vinyl plank gets the nod, if only because lifetime residential warranties are slightly more commonly found with LVP than they are for laminate.
A well-chosen bit of LVP in, say, an area that’s likely to see some splashing is going to result in some improvement to your house value. Its ability to stay pretty new-looking is also going to sit well with any prospective house buyers on their mosey around your dwelling.
As we’ve mentioned, laminate tends to be more of an attention-hog than its more reticent vinyl counterpart. When it comes to selling a house, looks are of paramount importance, and laminate will give you this boost.
Our Choice for House Value: Laminate
You don’t get long to give a potential housebuyer a nudge in the right direction, and the laminate’s bright and striking appearance will certainly assist matters. So, despite the very good reasons for installing LVP, you may find that it lets itself down a little with its relatively dowdy look. In general, laminate does seem to be associated with a higher resale value. House value is very often about feel, and laminate gives that feel.
This was very tight, with both materials scoring impressively throughout. The final choice in the big vinyl plank flooring vs. laminate bout is vinyl plank. In terms of economics, laminate would seem to have it all tied up. It’s cheaper, and it results in better house value. But of course, a floor is about more than dollars and cents. You want a floor that’s going to perform and stand up to the worst that your family and friends can throw at it. And, in this light, luxury vinyl’s the winner.
Laminate’s certainly no slouch and can be a good choice for some, but LVP has the edge, if only in terms of its suitability for use anywhere in the house and its slightly superior ability to stay the course.
Although in considering laminate vs vinyl plank, we’ve gone for vinyl plank in the end, so tight was the outcome that there have to be nuances here. There will be some for whom the look and feel of laminate just seals the deal, and that’s fair enough. You want your home to look as good as it possibly can, and, in addition, you want it to feature a comfortable floor.
So, if such things are of paramount importance to you, you should really consider laminate. Your house value will benefit too, so that’s all good. In addition, another factor that we haven’t mentioned is that laminate tends to be slightly less damaging to the environment than luxury vinyl, featuring more natural materials.
If, however, your priorities are such that you want to have more confidence in the lifespan of your floor and you would like to have the peace of mind that great waterproofing will give you, then you’ll probably end up doing as we did, and plumping for LVP.
Which looks better, vinyl plank or laminate?
Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, but it’s commonly felt that LVP is a little dull compared with the more eye-catching look of laminate. If you want a floor that is low-key, consider LVP. If you want people to notice where you’ve spent your money, pick laminate.
Which lasts better, vinyl plank or laminate?
Vinyl plank gives a better long-term performance, being able to retain its looks and structural integrity for a longer period. Warranties are, resultingly, a little better for vinyl than for laminate.
Which is more waterproof, vinyl plank or laminate?
Vinyl plank is more waterproof, hands down.
Which is easier to install, vinyl plank or laminate?
Vinyl plank is a little easier to install, partly because it can be cut rather than sawn to size. It can also be floated or glued. Laminate is best floated.
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