The Biggest Differences Between Engineered Wood Flooring and Laminate

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Updated January 11, 2022
light wood engineered hardwood floor with books, potted plants, and stool
Etienne Jeanneret/Moment via Getty Images

Whether you’re moving into a new place or simply want a stronger flooring option, we’ll prepare you to choose between engineered wood and laminate

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Hardwood floors are super popular, but they’re not right for everyone. Luckily, there are two wonderful flooring options to consider if you’re worried about the downsides associated with hardwood: engineered wood and laminate. Use this guide to determine which flooring material is best for your home.

What’s the Difference Between Engineered Wood and Laminate?

Engineered wood, in short, has real wood in it (it serves as the top layer for aesthetics and strength), while laminate is a mixture of materials. There are differences in benefits and costs to consider with both, so you’ll need to weigh a few factors to make the best decision for your space.

Engineered Wood

Engineered wood refers to a variety of building products, all made by binding together bits of wood, including scrap wood, sawdust, real wood, and shredded wood fibers, typically using heat and pressure. These pieces are then layered with a piece of real wood veneer. Plywood and particleboard are two common types of engineered wood.

Experts test this material for strength and resistance to moisture, which is one reason why it can be a popular choice for flooring.

Pros

  • Very strong

  • Eco-friendly; reuse of wood scraps minimizes waste

  • Water-resistant

Cons

  • Can be expensive

  • Requires regular maintenance

Cost: $3–$10 per square foot

Laminate

Laminate wood flooring consists of a particle wood base that has been covered in a decorative top layer. Manufacturers can design this top layer to mimic a variety of materials, including hardwood, stone, or ceramic tile. The decorative layer is also covered with a plastic wear layer, giving added protection from wear and tear from chairs, kids, and pets.

Laminate floors are never connected to the subfloor and are considered floating floors with a foam or felt underlayer between them and the subfloor. They are one of the easiest flooring options to install.

Pros

  • Inexpensive

  • Scratch-resistant

  • Easy to clean

  • Great DIY option

Cons

  • Not fully water-resistant

  • Need to be replaced after serious damage

Cost: $1–$7 per square foot

Engineered Wood vs. Laminate: Which is Better?

Each option has its own advantages. Try ranking which features are must-haves for you and your family and consider the room you’ll be installing the flooring in when making your decision.

Appearance and Color

Engineered wood, with its layer of real wood, appears more natural to the eye both at a distance and up close. While laminate has come a long way, and there are higher-end options available that look pretty natural, it can sometimes look artificial.

Most Aesthetically Appealing: Engineered Wood

Cost

Considering the initial cost of materials alone, laminate is the winner here, as the average price is $1 to $7 per square foot. You can also install this yourself very easily, which can save you quite a bit of cash. 

That said, you can refinish engineered wood many times, whereas laminate will need to be replaced if it ever gets damaged, upping the long-term investment.

Cheapest Upfront Costs: Laminate

Best for Long-Term Savings: Engineered Wood

Installation/DIY

Laminate can float over existing floors, making it simple to install. Many people do so on their own very successfully, which can cut down overall costs. However, if you are laying laminate over concrete slabs, note that you might need an underlayment and vapor barrier, and might want to look into working with a local laminate floor installer.

Engineered wood is also relatively easy to place, with some brands able to be installed using click-lock joinery, but many need to be attached to the subfloor with glue or nails.

Simplest install: Laminate

Care

Both engineered wood and laminate are relatively simple to clean flooring options. However, engineered wood has a much greater resistance to moisture and water; you can tackle those big spills with a steam mop without fear of damaging the floor. 

The top, protective layer of laminate, on the other hand, while very scratch-resistant, can warp with excess moisture.

Easiest Maintenance: Engineered Wood

Radiant Heating

If you live in a cold place, radiant heating can be a blessing, warming your floor to a comfortable temperature year-round. Engineered wood is the best choice if you have radiant heating installed; it can withstand temperature changes and conducts heat more efficiently than laminate. 

That said, it’s always best to check with the manufacturer before making a flooring choice if you have radiant heat in your home.

Best for Radiant Heating: Engineered Wood

Durability

As engineered wood is specially tested for its strength (and water resistance), it can withstand a lot of wear and tear. Its excellent durability can save you money down the road since it can be refinished multiple times without needing to be replaced and can last 20 or more years. 

Laminate does offer better protection against damage from pets, kids, and heavy furniture with its protective top layer.

Stronger Material: Engineered Wood

Resale Value

Given its long lifespan of 20 or more years, engineered wood can only enhance your home’s resale value. Laminate, while offering lower upfront costs, needs to be replaced more regularly than engineered wood, which can be less attractive to buyers. In addition, it can look less natural than engineered wood.

Better Resale Value: Engineered Wood

worker installing grayish tan slabs of laminate flooring
Miljan Živković/iStock/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Engineered Wood vs. Laminate: Which is the Best Choice for Your Home?

We highlighted the top considerations so you can make a quick, but informed, decision.

If You’re Going to Sell Soon: Engineered Wood

Engineered wood has a better resale value and lasts much longer than laminate.

If You Need to Keep Upfront Costs Low: Laminate

Laminate is one of the most affordable flooring options around.

If You Have Radiant Heating: Engineered Wood

Engineered wood handles shifting temperatures better, and laminate is prone to gapping when exposed to heat.

If You Have Pets: A Tie, but Laminate Is More Scratch-Resistant

Engineered wood can be loud when rowdy pets run on it, plus laminate is very scratch-resistant.

If You Want It to Look Like Hardwood: Engineered Wood

Engineered wood truly looks like hardwood because it actually has hardwood in it, whereas laminate is an imitation.

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