As far as hard surface flooring for residential homes go, there are primarily three product categories to consider: vinyl, laminate, and tile. Generally, tile falls in a more expensive tier than the other two choices, so for this article we are going to focus on the differences between vinyl and laminate. Both products perform excellently and offer aesthetic options certain to satisfy anyone’s taste, but price and application can still dictate which product is the better way to go.
Before we dive in too deep, understanding the basic distinctions between products is crucial.
What Is Laminate Flooring?
Laminate is a click together floating floor composed of a highly compressed wood fiber core, and then topped with a durable, hard finish.
What Is Vinyl Flooring?
The vinyl category has expanded in recent years, now offering three different applications. There is the tried and true sheet vinyl, glue down luxury vinyl tile/plank (LVT/LVP), and rigid click together vinyl. All vinyl floors are essentially made of plastic, but the size and core are what separate the options. Sheet vinyl is one single sheet of vinyl, typically 12’ wide, that is glued down. Luxury vinyl plank is similar to sheet vinyl, but slightly more rigid and manufactures as a tile or plank, and still glued down. Lastly, the rigid core vinyl is a fully rigid product that installs via a click together floating method; however, the core is typically hardened plastic.
Things To Consider When Comparing Vinyl And Laminate
It is difficult to provide a blanket statement as to the pricing hierarchy of these products, since so many manufacturers offer the products at various price points, although I will do my best to simplify it. As a rule, sheet vinyl is the most affordable option. The material itself is highly cost effective, and it installs for less as well. Following sheet vinyl, glue down vinyl plank would most often come next. Depending on the level of realism in the product itself, the price can vary quite widely. Lastly, laminate and rigid core vinyl are comparable in price and on the more expensive end of the spectrum. They are not necessarily more expensive due to the product itself, but with a floating floor application transitions must be used, which adds an additional cost. Just to reiterate, there are many factors affecting pricing not mentioned, such as adhesive, underlayment, SF/box, and other factors; so, take this section with a grain of salt.
Durability and Water Resistance
There is a lot of technical jargon in the industry where manufactures like to tout their proprietary surface treatments, PSI rating, and whatnot, but the quick and dirty of the matter comes down two factors: durability and waterproofness. Laminate is the harder, more durable product on the surface. If you enjoy breeding Huskies on the side and intend to have a pack of heavyweight furballs gallivanting around your floors, laminate would be a wise choice. Although, be cautious of their water bowl on the floor. While laminate is a highly durable product, if water penetrates the plank the compressed wood’s core is susceptible to expansion. Also, the corners of laminate occasionally succumb to chipping in heavily trafficked areas.
Vinyl products are still quite durable, but have a softer surface making them slightly less scratch resistant. Where vinyl shines though is in water exposed areas, such as a laundry room, mud room, or bathroom. Any significant amount of water left standing on a floor has the potential to ruin a product, but vinyl has the largest resistance to that. Water drops from toweling off, splashes while doing the dishes, and snow melting off boots are not a threat to vinyl, unlike laminate. One concern with sheet vinyl, though, is its ability to tear. Sheet vinyl is the least rigid of all the products, and because of that can tear when an object is dragged across it. All products have their attributes and shortcomings, it is just a matter of what is most important in your household.
Ease of Installation
We just discussed that moisture prone areas are not a good fit for laminate, but what other application and installation factors should be considered?
All glue down vinyl floors require a wood underlayment when being installed over a wood subfloor. These are thin plywood sheets that are butted tight then sanded, to provide the smoothest possible surface to glue the vinyl to. When installed over concrete, such as in a basement, the concrete is patched and smoothed as best as possible, then the flooring is glued directly to it. Glue down vinyl creates simpler and often cleaner transitions since an expansions joint does not have to be left, such as with a floating floor. For the DIYer a glue down vinyl plank is feasible, however I would strongly recommend against installing sheet vinyl yourself. Vinyl planks offer much more forgiveness than sheet vinyl, which is typically a one shot install.
Laminate and rigid vinyl plank install almost identically. Laminate requires a thin foam underlayment to be rolled out beneath it, as does rigid vinyl plank when it doesn’t have an attached pad from the factory. From there it is a click together system that is fairly simple to work with; just make sure to leave an expansion joint at the entire perimeter. Since the flooring itself is rigid it does not require an underlayment, because subfloor imperfections don’t transpose. This installation attribute also makes it possible to go over existing flooring, sometimes avoiding the nuisance of state required asbestos test.
The difficulty in floating floor installation is knowing where and what transitions are required. As previously mentioned, a floating floor needs room for expansion at the entire perimeter. This means at cabinets, exterior doorways, other flooring surfaces need space for expansion. The remedy for this is a T-cap, end cap, reducer, quarter round, etc. There is a lot to consider in this area, so even if you intend on installing the flooring yourself you should consult with a professional to ensure everything is being installed correctly.
To conclude, there are many factors to consider when deciding what application would be the best method, so you will have to decide what obstacles exist in your home. If water is a concern, stay away from laminate. If your floor meets several other surfaces and objects, maybe steer clear of a floating system and go with a glue down product, and if your existing floor is a 50 year old congealed vinyl that has become one with your home perhaps leave it be and go over it with a floating floor.
Vinyl and laminate floors have come so far in the last decade that you would be hard pressed to know what type of flooring the product is once it is installed. The plank floor options resemble real wood so closely it is uncanny. The higher-end product offerings even have micro bevels, realistic embossing, and variable widths. Sheet vinyl offers a remarkable breadth of designs, to include wood look, mosaic style, and modern, geometric patterns. The unique design characteristic of glue down vinyl tile is that you can choose an aesthetic of tile without having to deal with grout joints that so many people dislike. All of this to say that between laminate and vinyl basically any desired style is out there.
There is much more to consider than most realize when deciding which product category to go with, but hopefully this article cleared a few things up. If you are still confused after reading this, please give us a call. We offer free in-home estimates and are happy to talk through any questions and concerns over the phone as well. We guarantee we can help you find the perfect floor for your home.