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What is the difference between laminate flooring and vinyl?

There seems to be a lot of confusion between laminate flooring and vinyl flooring.

 

Laminate flooring in Westchester CountyHere in Westchester NY, many customers get these terms mixed up…they say vinyl when they mean laminate or laminate when they mean vinyl.  So, part of my job is to help clarify which type of flooring they mean as well as which type of flooring makes the most sense for them.

Please note that this article may contain affiliate links.  You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.

What is laminate flooring?

Laminate flooring is a hard surface that usually looks like hardwood (occasionally looks like tile) and is made with recycled hardwood.  It has a picture of hardwood floors (it isn’t real), but some of the more upscale versions do look very real. On top, it has a melamine wear layer which give it strong scratch protection, and underneath, there is a high density core board.  Laminate flooring is usually around 3/8 of an inch and can often be placed on top of existing flooring – whether it’s concrete, tile or even hardwood (assuming the floor underneath is stable and even).


Laminate and pergo flooring installation westchester countyLaminate flooring is a floating floor (read more about What is a floating floor?) that clicks together into place.  Because it is made of recycled hardwood, it is NOT waterproof (read more about Is laminate flooring waterproof).  It is generally not a good idea to install laminate flooring in any place where you tend to get a lot of water or that is humid (or that has high fluctuations in humidity level throughout the seasons) – this would mean that it is generally not good for most basements or bathrooms.

 

Laminate flooring Westchester countyBecause laminate is a hard (and inflexible) surface, it is important that the floor or subfloor underneath is level and relatively smooth.  If it isn’t, the laminate flooring will move a lot when you walk on it and if it is too bumpy or too sloped underneath, it can even crack and break.

 

Like hardwood flooring, laminate floors should acclimate in the home before it’s installed.  It should be in there for at least 24 hrs, but ideally 48 or more hours.  This allows it to properly expand/contract for the conditions in that room.  During this time, the room should be set to normal temperature/humidity conditions for that time of year (so if you are moving into a new home and don’t live there yet, it’s important to put the heat or AC on (pending time of year) during the acclimation and installation process.



What is vinyl flooring?

Black and white vinyl flooring westchester NY sheet vinylVinyl flooring is synthetic material that looks like tile or hardwood.  Most vinyls are glued down directly to the floor underneath.  Vinyl comes in many forms – there is sheet vinyl (usually 12 feet in width), luxury vinyl tile and plank (which is upscale and looks very real), there is vinyl composite tile (VCT – usually for commercial applications – these are 12 x 12 tiles that you often see in schools and take out restaurants) and there is cheap peel & stick tile that you can often find in Home Depot.

 

Unlike laminate flooring, most vinyl is waterproof or water resistant (this depends on the exact type of vinyl).  While the cheaper types of vinyl can easily withstand spills and strong cleaning, they will usually not survive major floods – most of these use cheap adhesives that will not hold up to standing water and some are applied directly onto plywood and if the water has soaked through, the subfloor may warp. Cheaper types of vinyl have a tendency to fade if exposed to sunlight for extended periods of time.   

 

Luxury vinyl plank westchester county New YorkWhereas laminates are hard and inflexible, most vinyls are soft and flexible.  So, vinyl flooring can tolerate floors that are sloped or have humps in it.  The vinyl will just go right on top of it.  Because vinyl is flexible, it is critical that the floor underneath is smooth (not level, but smooth), so you often need to do a couple of layers of skim coats to smooth out the floor underneath.  (Otherwise, the imperfections of the floor below (or vinyl) will telegraph through and that would not look good.

 

UPDATE:  Since the writing of this article, there is a new and very popular vinyl in the marketplace, and it’s been rapidly growing over the last 3-4 years.  It’s call Coretec Plus.  This product looks like hardwood.  In fact, you won’t believe how real it looks and feels.  It’s a clickable floating floor and it’s waterproof.  It also has an attached cork underlayment for a bit of cushioning, sound absorbption and insulation.  You can check out my review here:  Coretec Plus Review

 

And, for those of you who are handy do-it-yourselfers, this is a great option.  If you read the above article, you’ll find a video on how you install this product.


Which is less expensive – laminate flooring or vinyl?

Well often this depends most on the condition of the sub-floor.  More often than not, the floor is relatively level, when I compare laminate to a nice looking vinyl, the laminate will be USUALLY be less expensive BECAUSE USUALLY the floor prep needed for the vinyl significantly increases the cost.  But, this is not always the case.  And, in come cases, if the floor is very uneven, laminate flooring is either not practical, or if we need to level it out with self leveling mix, then the laminate flooring can become more expensive.  And, as I mentioned above, if there is a concern about water or humidity, laminate flooring is not a good option at all.  It is best to involve a flooring professional to help give you an expert opinion on which option is best for your needs and your floor.  They should be able to price out both options for you so that you can easily compare.

Update:

I originally wrote this article years ago (in 2012) and since then there has been a major new innovation, and that is Coretec Plus Luxury Vinyl.  This product breaks the mold as it looks like hardwood, is installed as a floating floor (like laminate) and it’s waterproof. It also has a cork underlayment for some added cushioning, warmth and sound absorption.

 

This product can be installed on top of concrete, tile, vinyl or other hard surfaces and does not require the same floor prep (i.e. smoothing) that a glue down vinyl does.  This product costs more than laminate because it’s a much better product (it looks and feels more real, and it’s waterproof).  Because it’s clickable, it’s a good do-it-yourself job if you’re handy.  You can read more about it here:  Coretec Plus Luxury Vinyl

 

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What is the difference between laminate flooring and vinyl flooring?

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34 thoughts on “What is the difference between laminate flooring and vinyl?”

  1. I like that last paragraph about the costs. IT certainly would be beneficial to have someone check it out before agreeing to one or the other especially if you are trying to save money.

  2. great explanation. thanks! this helps my husband and me with figuring out which route we will take for our new floor in the living and dining room. it’s a very clear explanation, and very informative, too. thanks again!

    1. Vinyl is definitely better for that vs. vinyl. Laminate is not waterproof, and it will swell and most most likely separate. Vinyl holds up to water well. Luxury Vinyl tends to hold up even better as the material and adhesive is better than just regular vinyl.

  3. Thanks so much for such a detailed explanation. My family just bought a home and everything is just so overwhelming and new to us. This comparison helped us a lot.

  4. Thank you for the information. We are at the beginning stages of deciding what to do about our flooring. Currently we have an early Pergo that has lasted a long. We have been very pleased with that decision. In the last 2 days I have googled questions and both days I have turned to your blog. I need to bookmark it.

    1. I prefer coretec plus by US Floors. There is a new item from Armstrong called FasTak with Rigid core that is coming out this month. And, I like Karndean for glue down luxury vinyl.

    2. I prefer coretec plus by US Floors. There is a new item from Armstrong called FasTak with Rigid core that is coming out this month. And, I like Karndean for glue down luxury vinyl.

  5. We are getting ready to do our three bedrooms. We were told that laminate is about $1000 more than the luxury vinyl plank. Would you recommend the luxury vinyl plank for bedrooms? We were also told that the LVP is very popular now that they have a hard time keeping it in stock. We are in Fl. The rooms were having done total about 600 SF and have been quoted roughly $2200 for LVP for all 3 rooms. Is that a good deal?

    1. Hi Brian. There are a few things in this comment/question that puzzle me. Let me start by saying that I’m surprised that laminate is costing more than LVP. Usually, it’s the opposite. But, I suppose with everything, it depends which laminate and which vinyl you are comparing.

      Second, let me say that for Florida and areas that have high humidity, luxury vinyl is a MUCH better option vs. laminate. The laminate will probably buckle.

      Now, let me recommend that US Floors Coretec Plus is a great product that I’d recommend, and I would search that out.

      Lastly, let me say, your cost of $3.66/sf sounds very low. I don’t know the labor rates in Florida (although I’m pretty sure they are less expensive than NY. So something sounds wrong here. It sounds like you have very cheap material here. Look into Coretec Plus…it will cost more, but it’s worth it. It is installed just like laminate.

      Good luck.

  6. Hi we are building our home in a metal building. We have concrete floor. We are seniors and worry the concrete to be too hard on Our backs etc.
    We are trying to decide what we should do though. Dont want carpet. Never gets clean,allergies etc. What is your suggestions? Dont really want to glue in case we want to change later. Budget is a factor also.

  7. I’m
    I’m buying a 50m2 light steel prefabricated house consisting of 2 bedrooms a kitchen a sitting room & 1 bathroom.The floor will for the time being be of concrete. I’m from the Seychelles. Can you advise about vinyl flooring: one color for the whole floor?? How do you fix it?? and any other details Thank you in anticipation.
    PS
    I’m from a hot country (The Seychelles)

    1. Hi Wilson. I’m not sure if you live in The Seychelles, or if you are from there and moving here.

      If you currently live in a warm climate, I would probably recommend either porcelain tile (to keep the place cooler) or else a product like Coretec Plus . Both are waterproof. I would avoid laminate as it’s not waterproof and doesn’t hold up well to humidity or temperature fluctuations (and you’ll have more of those if you have concrete subfloor.

      The color is up to you, but since your place sounds a bit small and you are in a warmer climate, I would probably do something on the lighter side as it will make your space look larger and will be easier to maintain. (could do light wood, white wash or light gray) You can buy some extra so that you if you have issues, you can replace them. (With tile, you won’t be able to replace).

  8. Can you suggest any help? I live in upstate NY. Am building a 3 season room for a hot tub without heat. And need flooring ideas that will stand up to kids, dogs and the weather differences. Will coretec plus work?

    1. If it’s outdoor and/or the area goes below 50 degrees, then I don’t think Coretec Plus is approved for that. In fact, you will probably have issues with virtually all types of flooring, if that’s the case…except maybe porcelain tile.

  9. I can’t seem to figure out what my existing kitchen flooring is made from. This article has been helpful, and I think it’s vinyl, but I’m just not sure. Can I send you a picture of it for additional help? Thank you!

    1. Susan – You are much better off having a local professional take a look. It’s much easier to tell in person vs looking at a picture. That way someone can see it better, but also feel it. It’s also possible that you have linoleum.

    2. Susan – Hi. I just saw this. It’s getting more and more difficult to tell the difference between laminate and vinyl with pictures. I’d recommend having a local professional look at in person. Or, you can take he pictures into a local store and if they can tell you great; if not arrange for a free estimate with that store.

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