Flooring solutions for businesses, homes, and multi-family housing facilities are so abundant that purchasing this large-ticket item can seem like an insurmountable task. Each property has its unique challenges, so it’s important to know what products will be the best solution for you. If you’re looking for a cost-effective flooring option you might be looking at laminate or luxury vinyl floors. While laminate and luxury vinyl are similar at a glance, there are some key differences that you may want to consider before making a commitment.
Construction & Composition
Laminate floors are made up of several different layers, each designed with a specific function in mind. The first layer of laminate flooring is the clear overlay. This layer protects against the wear and tear of everyday life, keeping the decorative layer beneath safe. At its core, you will find a rigid fiber board made from wood byproducts and held together by melamine resin. Melamine and its function are what gives laminate flooring its name, it is a laminated coating commonly found in flooring and dishware. The third and final layer of this flooring lays a structurally stable and water-resistant barrier. All three layers of laminate are bound together by resin, pressure, and heat.
Luxury Vinyl flooring is constructed in a similar fashion as to laminate. While laminate is made of both wood products and plastic, luxury vinyl is 100% plastic. The top layer of luxury vinyl flooring contains an overlay designed for superior scratch and scuff resistance as well as UV Ray protection. Under the overlay you can see the digitally printed decorative layer. Below this handy decorative layer is the PVC composite core. This core is waterproof and prevents subfloor imperfections from telegraphing, meaning you won’t see any of your subfloors seems or depressions when the floor is installed. In many luxury vinyl floors this layer will also contain fiberglass which adds stability to the plank. Finally, luxury vinyl is backed with a watertight layer. In some luxury vinyl floors, you will even find an attached pad for sounds reduction.
Laminate used to be a clear winner in this department, but that was before luxury vinyl flooring changed the game. Now, thanks to advancements in digital printing, both laminate and luxury vinyl can mimic the appearance of natural flooring. 3D texturizing, or embossing, give both flooring options the fell of natural flooring as well. As technology is improved, manufacturers believe that luxury vinyl will overtake laminate in terms of appearance. Even now, digitally printed luxury vinyl floors have an added advantage over laminate. The digitally printed layer ensures that you will get an exact color match in every carton of flooring; it doesn’t matter if you buy a carton for a replacement plank the day after installation or 10 years later, you can always count on luxury vinyl looking as good as new. In come cases laminate is not digitally printed, but dyed. Dye lots can have small changes over time, meaning you may not get an exact match if you need to replace a single piece somewhere down the line.
There is no doubt about it, when it comes to resistance to moisture and water damage luxury vinyl is a clear winner. Laminate contains a wooden fiber board core that is inherently incompatible with moisture. While laminate flooring is designed to resist the effects of water damage it is still not perfectly waterproof. When moisture is introduced to the floor and reaches its core swells. This swelling can be dramatic as it threatens the composition of the laminate. What you are left with then, is a floor where some pieces are visibly thicker than others. Luxury vinyl planks and tile are made with only plastic which will not be damaged by spills, it’s core will not swell and your floor will be visually the same as the first day you put it down.
Comfort & Green Thinking
Laminate and luxury vinyl floors are both very cost effective and easy to install, making them a great choice for anyone looking for a DIY project. Installation can be over in no time, so you don’t lose your weekend when trying to get a new look for your space. The final product will, without a doubt, look amazing regardless of if it is laminate or luxury vinyl, but you will be able to feel a difference.
Many people living with laminate flooring describe it as warmer than vinyl but say it has a hollow feeling underfoot. Laminate is also known to transmit noise more than natural wood flooring. If you select a laminate floor, we recommend a foam underlayment to reduce sound and noise transmission.
Vinyl flooring has been described as cold and hard under foot, but luxury vinyl puts these issues to rest. Luxury vinyl is soft underfoot and stays warmer than other natural flooring such as ceramic. Many natural flooring options are very good conductors of heat, meaning they pull heat from other sources. One of these heat sources, is your feet. Luxury vinyl, on the other hand, is not a good conductor of heat; so, you can keep your warmth to yourself.
If you are looking for a sustainable option for flooring, you should consider the properties of both flooring options. Laminate flooring is mostly made of wood, and 85% of its contents can be recycled, many have even earned the LEED MR4 stamp of approval because that are made with recycled materials. That being said, the melamine resin used to bind the laminate floor is not recyclable and can off-gas chemicals. To keep air quality in your space high, it is important to make sure you selected floor is FloorScore Certified. FloorScore certification lets you know that the product has been tested for any harmful or volatile compounds being released from the floor.
Luxury vinyl has historically been viewed as a product that is not sustainable but advancements in technology are changing perspectives. Luxury vinyl flooring does not off-gas any harmful chemicals when certified by FloorScore, many have even earned LEED certification for low-emissions. These floors however will not decompose in landfills and can be toxic when burned, but they can be recycled at facilities that accept plastic type #3.
Laminate and luxury vinyl floors often come with impressive warranties, so you know you won’t have to worry about replacing your floors for years to come. That being said, luxury vinyl has a clear upper hand when it comes to usable life because it is easy to care for and repair. You can extend the life of your luxury vinyl floor simply by sweeping regularly and cleaning up spills and accidents in a timely manner. You can even apply layers of urethane to reinforce wear layers upon installation to keep your floor looking new for longer. Laminate floors have the benefit of being more cost effective, but might be ready for replacement after just 10 years.