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Engineered Hardwood vs. Laminate: Side-by-Side Comparison

March 10, 2021

What’s the difference between engineered hardwood vs. laminate? And more importantly, which one is better for your home? 

If you’ve decided that you love the look of wood but aren’t sold on traditional solid hardwood, engineered wood and laminate both offer an amazing alternative. 

But we know: with so many types of wood flooring around (and types of faux wood flooring too), it’s hard to know how things compare! 

That’s why below, we’re going to stack up all the pros and cons of engineered hardwood vs. laminate. We’ll show you what each material is made of, explain their differences, and discuss their best uses, pricing, and pros and cons. 

Then, we’ll compare the two side-by-side so you can decide which one is right for you. And we’ll even compare them with some other flooring types for good measure!

So: ready to compare engineered hardwood vs. laminate flooring? Good—let’s jump in!

Table of Contents

What is Engineered Hardwood?

Before any comparisons, we have to answer the question: what is engineered hardwood

Well, along with solid hardwood, engineered hardwood is one of the 2 main wood flooring types—and it’s composed of 2 main layers:

  1. A durable, strong, and most importantly stable core—often made of high-quality plywood, but sometimes made of OSB (oriented strand board).
  2. A thin veneer of solid hardwood, available in pretty much any species your heart desires. 

The most common misconception about engineered hardwood is that it’s fake wood flooring. Nothing could be further from the truth! Engineered hardwood is 100% real, honest-to-goodness wood. In fact, many of the best hardwood flooring brands also make engineered wood—and some only make engineered wood!

The Makeup of Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood 

The main differences between engineered hardwood and solid hardwood lie in their construction and their makeup.

Solid Wood vs. Engineered Wood Cross Section

Solid hardwood is a single piece of hardwood cut into a plank. That’s it. No other materials and no layering it with any other pieces.

Engineered hardwood is made of 2 layers joined together.

Which is More Durable: Engineered Hardwood or Solid Hardwood?

When you’re buying hardwood floors, durability is obviously a top concern. Whether you’re looking for the best wood flooring for dogs or just for your own two feet, nobody wants to spend that much cash on something that may not hold up well. 

And when it comes to the most durable wood flooring, engineered often takes the cake. That’s not to say that all engineered wood is more durable (because it very much isn’t), but engineered wood has a fantastic ability to withstand fluctuations in temperature and humidity. 

Solid hardwood can’t do that; it warps when confronted with big swings in moisture and temperature—which can damage the planks (and destroy your floor). 

But remember: even the best engineered wood flooring can be scratched and dented. A strong veneer can do wonders in reducing that, but things happen! In that way, laminate might have the edge (but we’re getting ahead of ourselves!)

The Advantages of Engineered Hardwood

Engineered Hardwood is Environmentally Friendly

Did you know that engineered hardwood is a top eco-friendly flooring choice? It’s true! Because its core layers are constructed from fast-growing plywood, slow-growing hardwood trees (like oak and hickory) are used more sparingly. 

Compare this to all the trees that go into creating solid hardwood flooring, and the consequences are pretty undeniable for our ecosystem. Engineered hardwood is the more sustainable wood flooring choice. This is also true when it comes to laminate, but we’ll get into the environmental impacts of engineered hardwood vs. laminate a little further down.

And It Can Go Where Solid Wood Can’t

Unlike solid hardwood, engineered hardwood can stand up to big changes in temperature and humidity. That means you can put it over concrete subflooring, in below-grade rooms, and even in kitchens and half baths. Oh, and if you’re wondering “what is subflooring”, it’s just the surface below your finished floor.

Plus, Engineered Hardwood is Easier to Install than Solid Wood

Ease of installation is one of the greatest perks with engineered hardwood. That’s not so for solid hardwood.

One of the main reasons for this is that you can install many of the best engineered wood floors as floating floors. These just click together into place over the subfloor below them. They’re quicker, cheaper, and less messy to install. 

Plus, super-tough hardwoods can be tough to cut and shape in order to fit those little nooks and crannies. That’s actually one of the disadvantages of hickory flooring, for instance. Engineered planks are easier in this regard, since they have less of that super-hard wood—so they’re easier to cut and shape.

Engineered Hardwood Comes in Wide Planks Sizes

It used to be that if you wanted wide-plank wood flooring, you had to get a softwood floor like Douglas fir flooring or pine flooring. That’s because softwoods don’t warp with changes in temperature and humidity like hardwoods do. 

Now, you can get super wide plank sizes in all types of wood—courtesy of almost all the best engineered wood flooring brands.

And It Can Cost Less than Solid Wood

If you’re in the market for a common domestic hardwood like oak or ash flooring, you’re probably going to be spending around the same price for engineered and solid wood options.

However: when it comes to more expensive domestic woods like hickory or exotic woods like ebony flooring, engineered products are going to be more affordable—because they use less of that precious, expensive wood than solid planks do! And side note: as beautiful as it looks, most ebony flooring you see isn’t actual ebony. 

The Disadvantages of Engineered Hardwood 

Engineered wood is clearly fantastic, but it does have some downsides. In order to give a fair analysis, let’s go over some of the biggest engineered wood disadvantages.

Engineered Wood is Not Waterproof

Engineered wood flooring does well with moisture and humidity, but it isn’t waterproof. Even the most water-resistant wood flooring isn’t truly waterproof. 

Translation: you do not want to use engineered wood as mudroom flooring. For that, we’d look into the tile vs. wood flooring debate. Most types of tile have the edge here since they are waterproof, and you can even buy wood-look tile that resembles hardwood. 

And You Can’t Refinish it Indefinitely

Solid hardwood can be sanded down and refinished an unlimited number of times. Engineered hardwood is limited by the thickness of its veneer layer. Most engineered hardwood can only be refinished a small handful of times, if at all. 

The same is true for wood alternatives like bamboo and hemp flooring. You can refinish bamboo flooring and hemp flooring, but only if they’re in a solid plank—or have a thick enough veneer layer. Read up on some engineered bamboo pros and cons for more info on that.  

What is Laminate Flooring?

Ok! Now that we’ve talked all about engineered hardwood, what is laminate flooring? Well, even though many people think there’s not much difference between laminate vs. hardwood floors—or even bamboo flooring vs. laminate, for that matter—there’s actually a huge difference.

Simply put, they’re two entirely different types of flooring. They share very little in common outside of appearance. Comparing engineered hardwood vs. laminate is like comparing apples and oranges.

What is Laminate Flooring Made Of?

Unlike engineered hardwood, laminate is not actual wood. It’s a type of multi-layer composite flooring, with no actual hardwood found anywhere in its makeup. It’s usually sold in planks that look like prefinished hardwood flooring, but that’s where the similarities end.

Fun fact: laminate was the world’s first wood-imitation composite flooring (this is well before PVC flooring was around). It was created back in the 1970s by Pergo, who still makes it. Check out some Pergo reviews if you’re interested—but beware, most of the good ones are reserved for the company’s vinyl plank products. 

What are the Layers of Laminate Flooring?

Laminate generally consists of 3 layers:

  1. A plywood or fiberboard base layer (fiberboard is more common here) 
  2. A photo-realistic image layer that usually mimics hardwood 
  3. A super-durable transparent wear layer.
Cross section of laminate flooring

And when we say durable, we mean durable. When it comes to scratch-resistance, laminate easily beats even the best bamboo flooring (which is one of the hardest floors around).

Laminate Flooring vs. Vinyl Flooring: Are They the Same?

So… since laminate isn’t real wood, is it the same as vinyl? No! 

Vinyl plank (also known as LVT, LVP, and EVP flooring) is manufactured entirely out of plastic

The best types of vinyl flooring are super durable and can mimic the look and feel of real hardwood, but they are not the same type of flooring as laminate. Again: similar look, entirely different material.

The Advantages of Laminate Flooring

Laminate is Super Affordable

When we compare engineered hardwood vs. laminate side-by-side below, you’ll see what we mean—but for now, suffice to say that laminate flooring can be super affordable.

In general, laminate can go for around 50% under the cost of solid hardwood (but prices vary depending on quality, of course). So if you’re adding up the cost to replace carpet with hardwood, don’t forget that laminate might be a great alternative.

And it’s Incredibly Durable

Laminate is seriously tough to scratch or dent thanks to its super-tough wear layer.

If you look at the differences between linoleum vs. laminate vs. vinyl—three of the most popular resilient floors—you’ll see what we mean.

Just remember: if you’re planning on using laminate as your sunroom flooring, make sure to get a product that sports a UV-resistant coating!

Laminate is Easy to Install

When we compare the installation methods of engineered hardwood vs. laminate, we see some similarities. 

For example, both products can be glued, nailed, or stapled to the subfloor. Additionally, both products can be used as floating floors. We talked about this a little before, but what is a floating floor, exactly? It’s a surface that snaps together using click-together flooring planks and “floats” on the subfloor without being attached to it. 

Aside from magnetic flooring or peel-and-stick carpet tiles, it doesn’t get much easier.

Just remember: one of the disadvantages of floating floors is that, if not installed properly, they can allow water to seep underneath. That’s a huge issue for laminate for reasons we’ll get to in a moment.

Laminate is Easy to Maintain

A little wipe here, a little sweep there and ta-da! Your floor is clean! There isn’t much else that’s required for keeping your floor cared for. There’s no waxing or tough scrubbing that’s needed. The wear layer of the laminate planks makes cleaning a breeze.

The Disadvantages of Laminate Flooring

Laminate Can’t Handle Water

Like engineered wood, laminate resists changes in humidity and temperature. But like engineered wood, it also can’t handle water.

And while there are some waterproof laminate options out—Mohawk’s RevWood, most notably—they are few and far between. That’s why water getting underneath your laminate can be such an issue.

With that in mind, you even suspect water might be a problem, change your approach. Consider the merits of tile vs. laminate for your project. Or, go with a waterproof vinyl flooring option. All the best vinyl plank flooring brands are totally waterproof.

Laminate Can’t be Repaired or Refinished

And here’s when the differences in the engineered hardwood vs. laminate debate start to come out. While you can refinish engineered hardwood (you can even bleach wooden floors if you like), you can’t refinish laminate. 

If any planks become damaged you may be able to replace them, but finding a pattern that matches well is extremely difficult—especially if you have any type of parquet flooring. And removing the damaged plank without damaging the rest is difficult too. 

And it May Contain Toxins

Composite materials can sometimes emit VOCs—volatile organic compounds—when they’re installed in a home.

There are plenty of low-VOC flooring choices these days, but they may require some research. To ensure the safety of you and your family, do a search for non-toxic laminate flooring before you commit to any particular product. There are options out there, and your health will thank you.

Engineered Hardwood vs. Laminate Side-By-Side Comparison

Now that we’ve covered the basics for both these floors, let’s get into the main event and compare engineered hardwood vs. laminate side-by-side.

Which is More Expensive: Engineered Hardwood or Laminate? Definitely Engineered Hardwood.

Pricing is where laminate holds its greatest edge vs. engineered hardwood. Wood flooring costs can be rather significant. If you’re looking for the less expensive route, laminate is the way to go. It’s notably less pricey than engineered hardwood.

You’ll notice the largest difference when you compare prices on high-end products. The best engineered hardwood flooring can range all the way up to $13/sq. ft. or more. Laminate, on the other hand, averages around $5/sq. ft.

So: if you’re debating between carpet or hardwood in the bedroom, but turned off by the pricing, laminate may be the more cost-effective way to go.

Engineered Hardwood Looks More Authentic than Laminate

Laminate is only a replica of wood, doing its best to imitate real wood floor patterns. High-quality laminate has gotten quite adept at mimicking actual wood, but it still doesn’t compare to the real deal.

Engineered hardwood is real wood. It doesn’t need to mimic anything! It is true wood, so of course, it has nothing to prove in this contest. The wood floor designs you make with engineered products are from nature.

And it goes without saying that you get what you pay for—higher-end laminates will look better than lower-end laminates. 

Laminate is More Scratch-Resistant than Engineered Hardwood

The engineered hardwood vs. laminate debate gets a little complex when it comes to durability. That’s because both options are very durable in different ways.

When it comes to scratch-resistant flooring, though, laminate’s high-strength wear layer gives it the edge. You have to try really hard to scratch or chip this stuff. However, laminate that’s made from poor-quality material won’t have as long a lifespan as many other floors.

Which is More Durable: Engineered Hardwood or Laminate? Probably Engineered Hardwood

Because engineered hardwood is generally made with a plywood base, it’s usually more stable than laminate—which often has a base made from wood by-products. Again, this isn’t a firm-and-true statement for all products. But if you compare the longevity of engineered hardwood vs. laminate, you’ll see the former is generally longer-lasting.

Engineered Wood Usually Lasts Longer

Engineered hardwood has the advantage when it comes to lifespan. When laminate’s wear layer is worn through, it’s done. Engineered wood, on the other hand, can often be refinished—which can add decades to its lifespan.

Just remember: even the best engineered wood flooring brands can only be refinished a couple of times at most. So while engineered wood is generally longer-lasting than laminate, it’s not as long-lasting as solid hardwood.

And Engineered Hardwood is More Water-Resistant

We would never claim that hardwood is a good waterproof flooring option. Even the best hardwood floors are water-resistant at very best. 

And unless you go with a super-specialized hardwood species that’s known for its water-resistant properties—teak flooring, for example—even “water-resistant” is pushing it.

That said: when it comes to the engineered hardwood vs. laminate vs. water question, engineered hardwood still takes the trophy. Both engineered wood and laminate have organic materials in their base layers. But engineered wood often uses plywood for this—which is much more water-resistant than the fiberboard or OSB often found in laminate.

At the end of the day, though, neither of these materials should be used in super-wet areas or as outdoor flooring options. There are numerous hardwood floor alternatives that are much better suited to that task, from SPC flooring to concrete flooring that looks like wood.

Though Laminate is (Usually) Easier to Install

Laminate has a reputation as being a great do-it-yourself flooring option for a couple of reasons. First: it can be installed as a floating floor—or glued, nailed, and even stapled to a subfloor. The second: its lower price tag makes it more beginner-friendly. The third: it’s physically thinner and lighter than hardwood, which makes it easier to cut and shape. All in all, it’s some of the easiest flooring to install.

Does that mean engineered wood is difficult to install? Not necessarily—you can usually install it in most (if not all) of the same ways as laminate. But the cost to install engineered hardwood floors is generally a bit higher.

And Laminate is Easier to Maintain than Engineered Wood

Who doesn’t love a floor that only requires a quick wipe from time to time? We hate mopping, which goes well with laminate since mopping or steaming will only destroy the planks. After sweeping the floor clear, some spot cleaning with a laminate-specific cleaning product is all the upkeep this floor needs.

Engineered hardwood is cared for in the same way as solid hardwood. It isn’t much more difficult to clean than laminate—a damp mop with a special hardwood cleaner. But there’s a little more maintenance involved with real wood to keep it scratch-free, such as floor wax and using furniture pads.

But Laminate Can Not Be Refinished

We’ve said this before, but we’re going to say it again: you can not refinish laminate flooring. Once its wear layer is worn through, it’s done. 

Here’s the big issue, though: depending on who does the refinishing—or your laminate materials of choice—the cost to refinish hardwood flooring (engineered or solid) can be either higher or lower than the cost to install all-new laminate. 

So really, the pricing here comes down to your preferences.

However, Laminate is (Often) More Pet-Friendly

Dogs are similar to children: they fill our hearts and home with love but destroy everything they come into contact with. Just as laminate can stand the test of your active kiddos, so can it withstand your doggos. 

Laminate is among the sturdiest, top hardwood flooring alternatives. So while your fur babies are pacing back and forth eagerly waiting for you to come back to them, your floor will be none the worse for wear.

That said, we’re only accounting for wear issues here. If your issues are more, shall we say, “accident”-related, hardwood may be the better choice. Or just a waterproof laminate.

And of Course, Engineered Hardwood Has Higher Resale Value Than Laminate

Homebuyers know that laminate isn’t worth a heck of a lot of money, especially if it is not on the high end of the laminate scale. Engineered wood, on the other hand, will raise a home’s resale value. So if you’re thinking of selling your house soon, make sure to factor that in!

Is Engineered Hardwood Flooring Better than Laminate Flooring?

That all depends on how you define “better”. This is a good time to consider what you are looking for in your flooring. If you’re looking for genuine wood that can last nearly a lifetime with some proper maintenance, then yes, engineered hardwood flooring is better.

But: does your definition of “better” include less cost, hard to damage, and easy to clean? Then you’ve decided that laminate is better.

Engineered Hardwood and Laminate vs. Vinyl Flooring

Oh, did you think we were done here? Just when you thought you might have made your decision, we thought we’d add in one more option. Just for funsies!

We briefly discussed vinyl above, but how does it stack up against engineered hardwood and laminate? 

Well, if you compare the makeup of vinyl plank vs. laminate, you’ll find a lot of similarities. Both are high-quality composite wood floor alternatives. But: vinyl is 100% synthetic—which means it’s more durable and entirely waterproof. 

Additionally, the cost to install vinyl plank flooring is on par with the cost to install laminate. You could end up paying more for the best vinyl plank flooring than the best laminate flooring, but again: it depends on the product. 

Still, there are some disadvantages of vinyl plank flooring that engineered hardwood and laminate don’t share. It isn’t an environmentally-friendly flooring choice, for one, since not many vinyl plank brands sell recyclable products. 

It can also be higher in VOCs than laminate is, so you will definitely want to look into brands that sell low-VOC vinyl flooring—like Proximity Mills, Mohawk, and Mannington. 

Engineered Hardwood vs. Laminate: Which is the Right Choice for You?

Now that you know everything there is to know about the engineered hardwood vs. laminate question, ask yourself: which one is the right choice for you?

If you absolutely can’t get past wanting real wood on your floor, then you can embrace engineered wood. Is money the most important factor when shopping for your new floor? No shame there! Go with the choice you are comfortable paying for.

The point is, there is no one correct answer for everyone. 

Still in doubt? It’s time to contact the experts. Find a top-rated flooring store near you to get some really great help. Flooring retailers know everything there is to know about surfaces, and they can definitely point you in the right direction. And whatever choice you end up making, we hope this guide was helpful! 

Good luck making your decision and, for more info on all things floors, check out:

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About The Author

Courtney Daily

Courtney is a freelance writer who wears many other hats: kindergarten teacher by day, Broadway diva in the shower. She is a transplant Hoosier who originated in New England. When she isn't writing in her spare time, you will find her reading history books, arguing with her latest knitting project, or being beaten by her kids at most games.

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