Laminate vs Vinyl Flooring: Which One is Better for Your Home?

CHRISTINA STEVENSON

There are areas in your home that would be more practical, functional, and attractive if they were finished with the appropriate flooring, particularly high traffic areas like kitchens, playrooms, mudrooms, and laundry rooms.

Laminate and vinyl flooring are both economical, versatile, and durable options, compared to the luxury of natural hardwood or stone floors. They’re man-made, and come in a huge range of colors, patterns, thicknesses, and finishes. And they each have pros and cons to help you decide which is best for your home.

Laminate flooring

According to EmpireToday.com, wood laminate flooring is a hard surface composed of numerous layers pressed together to simulate the look and foot-feel of hardwood. Laminate floors feature an underlayer and four main sections that each serve a practical purpose:

The underlayment is a composition of filaments and fibers that protect the four layers of the laminate flooring from moisture, mold, and mildew. The enemy of wood and its derivatives is moisture, so the flooring needs this protective membrane, which you’ll also find in siding and roofing.

The bottom layer is also called the backing layer which provides balance and stability to the floor. Made of sturdy plastic, paper or melamine, the backing layer serves as the foundation for the flooring and also aids in water resistance.

The core layer is made of high-density fiberboard (HDF), which is a durable engineered wood  composed of cellulose fibers bound together with resin under high pressure and heat to create a strong product that resists wear and tear, moisture, and heavy loads. Unlike non-engineered wood, HDF resists warping, chipping and splitting due to humidity and temperature changes.

The visual layer is composed of images of natural wood that you see when you go to choose your flooring. According to HowStuffWorks, this decorative/pattern layer employs high-resolution photography to duplicate the look of natural wood. “Realistic colors and pearl-sheen ink” provide depth and realism. When the laminate flooring is cut into planks, the wood grain pattern repeats, giving the floor an authentic hardwood appearance.

The topcoat layer is also called the wear layer because that’s where feet and furniture come into contact. Composed of aluminum oxide clear coat, the topcoat can come in low to high gloss that also helps prevent moisture penetration. The more layers of topcoat, the more durable the flooring.

Laminate planks are available in 6-, 8-, 10- and 12-millimeter thicknesses, with improved durability accordingly. The thickness of the laminate floor, the grade of the materials and the manufacturer all determine the quality and strength of the flooring.

While the advantages of laminate flooring are affordability and durability, their susceptibility to moisture can be a drawback in spite of all the moisture-resistance measures for each layer, so make sure you shop for water-resistant or waterproof planks. Laminate floors can scratch easily, swell with excessive moisture, and fade with too much sunlight exposure, giving them a lifespan of approximately 10 to 20 years. They can’t be put on uneven subfloors, and they can’t be sanded and refinished like damaged hardwood floors.

As you browse the internet for styles and prices, be sure to check the AC rating, or “abrasion coefficient” category to the right of the product images. AC ratings of one to three are best used in low traffic areas like bedrooms, and those of four to six are preferable for living areas.

Vinyl flooring

Like laminate flooring, vinyl flooring is also composed of layers and embellished by 3D printing technology to mimic the more expensive look of wood and stone materials. Manufactured in a continuous sheet, it can be designed to convincingly replicate the look of tile, right down to the grout lines.

Before vinyl, there was linoleum, a composite of linseed oil, resin, pigments and ground cork, wood and limestone. It was a mainstay of kitchens, baths and basements from the 19th century to the mid-1960s, before it lost popularity to vinyl floors. Vinyl doesn’t need to be waxed periodically to avoid becoming brittle like linoleum.

Competitive improvements are never-ending, and vinyl has also moved into the luxury category.

Incorporating layers similar to laminate, vinyl can be manufactured as plank flooring, with a backing layer for stability, comfort, and moisture/mold resistance, the image layer for authentic replications of woods, stone and tile, and a wear layer that protects against scratching, staining, scuffing, and fading. The degree of protection varies based on the thickness option you select.

Vinyl was once considered cheap plastic in price and appearance, but today the formulas are more complex and hardier. While it’s easy to tear a cheap vinyl floor by moving a refrigerator or scraping a metal chair on its surface, today’s manufacturing formulas are far less vulnerable.

Typical vinyl flooring has a base layer of waterproof fiberglass, for stability and impermeability, and then a vinyl sheet is layered on top. For the core layer, you can choose a flexible or rigid core type, according to the subfloor you already have. Flexible cores or PVC types work best with smooth subfloors like polished concrete, but it’s cheaper, thinner, and more lightweight for a softer foot-feel. Rigid core vinyl flooring is best for uneven subfloors; they’re stronger and better for high traffic areas.

Then, a wear protection layer is added to help prevent color fading. This clear protective coating is also scratch-resistant. As with laminate flooring, the thicker the wear layer, the longer it will remain durable. Vinyl flooring can be water resistant, which means it can withstand spills for up to 24 hours. Waterproof vinyl can withstand standing water for as long as 72 hours.

The best vinyl flooring is made of polyvinyl chloride resins, also known as PVC, which are “melted and mixed with fungicides and stabilizers to add resilience, protection, and durability.” It may also include calcium carbonate, plasticizers, and UV stabilizers which are heated and then pressed into layers. The wear layer is made with a wear-resistant polyurethane that helps protect against stains and scratches, and will help your floor last for years.

To get an idea of the best thickness for your home, choose by the amount of traffic you think the floor will handle: wear layers under 12 millimeters are best for bedrooms, while those above are best for kitchens. In fact, the average life of a good vinyl floor is approximately 25 years. The downside to vinyl flooring is that some materials, such as polyvinyl chloride, can be toxic when exposed to heat sources such as a radiator or fireplace, but this danger can be easily avoided with placement.

So, which is best—laminate or vinyl flooring? Well, that depends. They’re both made in similar ways, so it may come down to aesthetics and costs, but because it’s waterproof and can be sold in planks, vinyl may outshine laminate as the most practical and attractive choice. 

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