top of page

Vinyl, Laminate and Hardwood Flooring: What's the Difference?

So you're re-designing your home and want to replace your flooring... but which do you choose: vinyl , laminate, or hardwood?

Deciding on the right flooring is an important step in any home renovation project. Let us walk you through everything you need to know to choose the right flooring for your home.

Pergo laminate flooring, photo by Designed Simple

There are so many flooring options to choose from when designing a home. It can be both exciting and stressful trying to determine which options best fit the needs of you and your family. Sure there are some commonly accepted standards, like tiled surfaces in wet rooms and on backsplashes, but what about for the primary living space? Even if you're already set on a wood-look flooring, choosing the right kind can be a challenge.

This guide will give you all the info you need to make an informed decision, and even has a few of our favorite flooring recommendations. So, let's get started!

Table of Contents


Hardwood Flooring

"Hardwood flooring dates back to the early 1600's French Baroque area. At the time, only wealthy people and French nobility would have adapted this style due to cost and timeliness of the installation. Hardwood flooring was originally made by hand, where each plank would be scraped, sanded and polished."

When it comes to wood-look flooring, most manufacturers are trying to recreate a time-tested favorite, the hand-scraped hardwood floor. This flooring material is made from natural wood, usually a wood species that is readily available and very dense (or hard, as the name implies). The hardness of these wood species help the flooring resist damage from wear and tear. A solid hardwood floor, with proper installation and maintenance, can last upwards of 30 years before needing any significant work done.

Because hardwood floors are manufactured from solid lumber, they can often be sanded and refinished many years later to give a fresh look to an original installation. If you already have hardwood floors in your home, ask your contractor if refinishing would be a more cost effective option than replacement.

Although its pricing tends to be more expensive than the alternatives, hardwood flooring has many advantages. Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of this flooring option.


Solid hardwood flooring has long been sought after for its quality appearance, texture and feel. Since it is manufactured from solid wood, this material tends to be stronger than a laminate or vinyl flooring. Hardwood flooring comes in different species, such as white oak, red oak, bamboo, ash and more. Maple, with it's light grain, is a popular choice for those seeking a more modern look. White oak has been growing in popularity over the last few years, and is our personal favorite species.

Hardwoods can be finished with different stains, providing you one more way to personalize your home. Hardwood finishes also come in different sheen options. Choose a gloss finish for a more traditional look, or a satin finish for a more homier feel that also hides wear and tear better.

Hardwood species are also graded, from the clearest grade to the most rustic. The higher the grade, the more uniform the wood will be. The lower the grade, the more color variation you'll see, as well as more knots.

Finally, hardwood floors come in a variety of different plank widths and lengths. A plank width of 7+ inches is commonly referred to as wide plank flooring, and is a popular choice among custom home builders today.

Water Performance

Hardwood flooring can be water-resistant or waterproof. Water-resistant materials can withstand occasional spills without accumulating water damage and stains, making it a good choice for kitchens and laundry rooms. Waterproof hardwood floors have a surface that's impermeable, preventing swelling and rot. If you plan to place hardwood floors in your bathroom, basement, or even an entryway that sees lots of foot traffic in heavy weather, you'll want to make sure it's water proof.


Hardwood floors come in a variety of thickness options. Since this material is manufactured from a solid piece of lumber, it has the benefit of being able to be sanded and refinished at a later date, meaning you likely won't need to replace your floors next time you choose to remodel. Hardwoods with a thickness of 3/4" or greater are best in heavily trafficked areas, or if being applied over an unfinished subfloor.


The cost of real hardwood floors is often much greater than a laminate or vinyl floor covering. If it's in your budget, hardwood floors can be a great way to add value and charm to your home, while providing you a quality product that will last as long as the house itself.

Engineered Hardwoods

Engineered hardwoods are meant to replicate solid hardwood floors, but are manufactured from layers of both plywood and solid wood. Typically, this product has a solid wood base, sometimes with a pre-attached vapor barrier or pad, a plywood core, and a solid layer of hardwood on top. Engineered hardwoods come in different thicknesses. Choosing a material with a thicker top layer prevents against premature wear. Depending on the thickness of the top layer, an engineered wood floor might also be able to be refinished, though this is usually limited to one or two times.

Stuga's Ingrid wide-plank, white oak engineered hardwood. Photo by

Our Favorite Engineered Hardwood:

We love this Ingrid wide plank white oak flooring by the brand Stuga. We first saw this flooring from the blog over at Chris Loves Julia.

What we love about it: 7 ⅜" wide planks, matt finish, and a realistic hardwood appearance. This white oak variant also works very well in a french-country or farmhouse styled home.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring first began appearing in American homes around the mid-1970s. Originally designed as an inexpensive flooring option, laminate floors have evolved to become one of the most popular choices for new home construction. This product is designed to imitate the appearance of real wood floors. Improved manufacturing techniques and printing methods allow laminate floors to look more realistic than ever before, perform better against water and wear, and feel better underfoot.

A laminate floor consists of a thin, pressed wood board with a repeating printed image fused onto a fiberboard core. Laminate flooring often comes with pre-attached pads or vapor barriers, and is typically installed as a floating floor using a "click-lock" installation method. Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of laminate flooring.


Although the price range can vary greatly depending on the quality of product selected, this material is often one of the more cost effective options on the market. While prices can be found as low as $0.60/sf, most quality options start around $2.80/sf.

Water Performance

Constructed mostly of moisture-sensitive particleboard, not all laminate flooring is waterproof, or even water resistant. There are however quality laminate products that are waterproof, but only if installed according to manufacturers instructions, with all seams perfectly jointed, and edges trimmed with waterproof baseboards.

Overall, laminate products are not suited for any place where moisture is prevalent, such as a bathroom. Budget laminates can tend to buckle and warp at the first signs of water exposure. Some manufactures claim that their products are water resistant, but in reality don't hold up to even the moisture levels found in a standard kitchen. It's important to choose a manufacture with great reviews to make sure you get a product that will last a long time.

Texture & Feel

While made to replicate hardwood floors, many products can fall short of achieving the same sturdy feel of a true hardwood. Traditional laminate flooring products have a surface that is completely smooth, lacking the character of a hardwood floor. Some higher end products are pressed to mimic the valleys and troughs found in natural wood products. Still, due to the nature of it's particleboard construction, which is softer than hardwoods, a laminate product can feel as though it is softer underfoot, even lacking in some of the same audible response found among hardwood floors. Some however may find this quieter response more appealing.


Laminate flooring comes in different thicknesses to support different areas of your home and ground surfaces. Place laminate floors with a thickness of 5 mm or less in low-traffic areas like your bedroom or your home office or in spots that have a smooth, even ground layer (like polished concrete). Place laminate flooring with a thickness of 6 mm –12 mm in high-traffic spots like the kitchen, living room, or dining room. The extra thickness helps absorb weight without putting strain on the floor boards, preventing cracks. Thicker laminate flooring also works best when covering over unfinished concrete, brick, or wood sheets as it levels uneven spots.


Laminate flooring is typically installed using a click-lock method, making it very quick and easy to install. A professional installer can often lay an entire home in just one day. Since laminate flooring is installed as a floating floor, it allows for expansion and contraction without damaging the material, and can even handle slight shifting of a foundation. This flooring product is very DIY friendly, most people can learn to install it without much hassle.

Pergo Outlast+ shown in Golden Briar Oak

Our Favorite Laminate:

Our top pick for laminate flooring has to be the Pergo Outlast+. We install this product on our homes quite often. Why we love it: it's very water resistant (we've accidentally flood-tested it once or twice, it really holds up well), has great color selections - especially for white oak lovers, and comes at a great price point.

Vinyl Flooring

Much like our first several options, vinyl plank flooring, also known as luxury vinyl plank or LVP flooring, is made to mimic the look of natural hardwoods. LVP has many of the same advantages of laminate flooring, including easy installation and good performance.

Water Performance

Vinyl flooring usually has a base layer composed of fiberglass - known for its stability and impermeability - making it naturally waterproof. The top layer of vinyl further helps to waterproof the product. This makes it a great option for water-prone areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms.

Texture & Feel

Due to it's fiberglass mat, LVP is often known to have a rubbery feeling when walked on. This makes for a much quieter home, dampening sound more than the other options we've discussed. However, some people find this to be less authentic compared to a traditional hardwood.

Wear Layer

All vinyl flooring comes with a wear layer that consists of a clear protective coating. It is scratch resistant and not as easily damaged, making it a favorite amongst landlords and pet owners. The thicker the wear layer, the longer the floor's durability.


Luxury vinyl is now available in nearly as many styles and colors as laminate—including convincing reproductions of wood grains and natural stone. Luxury vinyl is slightly more expensive than laminate at $2 to $7 per square foot, but its many virtues make it a viable choice if you are looking for a slightly better quality floor.


LVP can be installed as a loose-lay, click-lock, or glue-down flooring. Depending on your subfloor, moisture content, and foundation, a contractor may recommend one method over the other. Like laminate, click-lock LVP is known for it's ease of install. It's easier to cut than laminate flooring. The back can be scored with a knife, then snapped across the cut line. This eliminates the need for power saws, making it a very DIY friendly installation.

Primavara 7 in. W Bayou Click-Lock LVP flooring by Shaw

Our Favorite Vinyl Plank Flooring:

Shaw is well known for making high quality flooring products, and this LVP option stands out amongst their lineup. Why we love it: realistic imaging, waterproof, 7in wide planks, and click-lock seams that install with ease.

Which is best for you?

Still not sure which product is best for your next home renovation? Let's do a quick review of the options discussed in this article.

Hardwood & Engineered Hardwood

A time tested, high quality flooring option that's perfect for any new construction or luxury remodel. Hardwoods are durable, long lasting, and stylish. This is the preferred option for most designers, as long as the budget allows.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring most closely resembles hardwood flooring, at a considerable cost savings. It comes in water-resistant and waterproof options, has a vast variety of colors and patterns to choose from, and can really transform any home remodel. It's easy to install and can be performed by most DIY'ers.

Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring

LVP flooring is a favorite among most real estate investors and landlords today. It is naturally waterproof, scratch and damage resistant, sound deadening, and comes in a wide variety of colors. LVP can be installed by DIY'ers and professional contractors alike. Opting for a click-lock LVP allows for a quick and easy repair should any of the material ever get damaged.

We hope you've found this article informative! Keep us in mind should you find yourself in need of a contractor to help with your next renovation project, and don't forget to share and comment below!

Happy Renovating!



bottom of page