Engineered Hardwood vs. Laminate Flooring: A Comparison

While the look of wood flooring is rising in popularity throughout North America, there are a dizzying array of options to choose from. From genuine hardwood flooring to laminate to engineered hardwood to bamboo to vinyl, the options are almost limitless. Add in the wide range of styles and finishes and it can make it almost impossible to decide on the right flooring option for you. While comparing all of the types of flooring options available might require a novel, here is a basic breakdown of the differences between engineered hardwood and laminate flooring.

Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwood flooring is the closest to solid hardwood flooring and in some ways may be superior to solid hardwood. Solid wood flooring is milled from a single 3/4" thick piece of a hard wood such as maple, oak or cherry. Engineered wood flooring is created by compressing anywhere from 3 - 12 layers of different types of wood together, which are held together by adhesive and covered by a layer or hard wood veneer. Because the top layer is hardwood, just like solid wood floors, engineered wood floors are indistinguishable from solid wood flooring. There is also very little if any difference in the value that either solid or engineered wood floors add to your home.

One of the drawbacks of solid wood flooring is that it expands and contracts with changes in your home's relative humidity. Normally, installers compensate for the expansion and contraction by leaving a gap near the edge of the floor between the floor and the wall, then hide this additional gap with base molding. The other drawback of solid wood flooring is that it requires regular polishing every 3-4 years, it is easily scratched and damaged and can be completely ruined by floods or standing water.

In areas of high humidity, boards can also buckle and warp over time, causing gaps between the boards, uneven floor surfaces, squeaking and a number of other problems. While the core of engineered wood is generally a hard wood of some kind, it is still generally less resistant to the expanding and contracting that solid wood is prone to and stands up slightly better to flooding or standing water. It is also less resistant to warping over time.

The expenses of engineered wood is also sometimes dependent on how thick the top veneer is. Some engineered wood has a top veneer thick enough that it can be sanded down and refinished when it becomes nicked or scratched over time. Other brands have a thinner wear layer that can only be recoated, not sanded down and refinished. Floors that can only be recoated have an average life span of between 20-30 years, depending on traffic. Floors that can be sanded down and refinished can last significantly longer than wood floors with a thinner veneer.

The other advantage to engineered wood floors is newer click loc systems that employ a special tongue and groove system that allow them to click together seamlessly. Click loc flooring can also be installed right over other vinyl, tile, concrete or older wood flooring without having to remove the old floor. If you have solid wood floors that are buckled and warped, you can give your floors a fresh new look by having engineered floors installed right over the top of them

For those concerned with environmental factors, there are also environmental advantages to engineered wood versus solid wood. Engineered wood veneers are sliced rather than sawed, which cuts down on waste. When wood is sawed, a significant portion of it ends up as sawdust. Slicing wood creates little to no sawdust, which utilizes every fiber of precious wood. Hard woods also grow very slowly, sometimes requiring 100 years or more to reach full maturity. Engineered woods use significantly less wood to cover the same space, which also cuts down significantly on waste of precious resources.

Laminate Flooring


Like engineered hardwood, laminate flooring is compiled of a series of layers held together with adhesive. The bottom layer of laminate - called the "backing" - is designed specifically to resist the moisture that causes solid and engineered wood boards to buckle and warp. The core of laminate is made from high-density fiberboard and reinforced with a special resin that further enhances moisture resistance and increases durability. Since the top layer of laminate is a design layer that is for all intents and purposes just a picture, laminate flooring can actually mimic the look of wood, stone, tile or even metal. It also comes in a vast array of styles, colors and textures ranging from natural stone to distressed metal to reclaimed wood.

When laminate was first introduced in the late 1970's, it was avoided in high end homes because it lacked the quality and beauty of natural materials. Today's printing techniques have become so sophisticated, however, that it can often fool even experts. As a result, laminate flooring is finding it's way into even the highest end homes, in textures like marble and stone without the high maintenance or high price tag of the actual natural materials.

Laminate also enjoys many of the same benefits as engineered wood, including the unique tongue and groove click loc system which allows laminate flooring installation to be a quick, convenient process. Like engineered wood, it can also be installed right over outdated flooring. Laminates come in a wide range of options, which can affect the price considerably. Some of the best laminate flooring can actually run about the same price as engineered wood.

The price of laminate is often depending on a wide variety of factors. Higher end laminate uses a non-repeating pattern, which looks more natural. Lower end laminate uses the same pattern from board to board, creating a repeating pattern that tends to stand out. High end laminate will also generally have a UV coating, which protects the surface image from direct sunlight. Without this coating, cheaper laminate will begin to fade over time and will have a much shorter lifespan. The type of core materials used will also affect price as will the machining. Low end laminate will often buckle and not lay smooth and flat.

The newest differentiation in price has to do with how the laminate is processed. Today's laminates are "pressed together" using either direct pressure or high pressure lamination. Direct-pressure lamination uses both lower pressures and temperatures to produce flooring than high-pressure lamination systems do, leading to the cheapest and least durable type of flooring. For commercial or high-traffic areas, high-pressure laminates are recommended, while direct-pressure laminates are often used in rental units, low grade housing or in lower traffic areas like bedrooms.

There has probably never been a time when homeowners have had a greater selection of flooring options available at such a wide range of prices. Today's flooring options are also more durable and easy to care for than ever. Laminate flooring Toronto offers a wide range of flooring options with a broad selection of styles, designs, grades and materials. Whatever type of flooring you decide is right for you, we can help you find exactly the style and design that will add the most beauty and value to your home.