Both of these products are very popular. Laminate flooring has been a hugely popular option for over 25 years in North America. In BC, laminate flooring has been very common since the end 1990’s. I remember seeing a huge growth in glue down laminate flooring in Vancouver and Richmond back in about 1990, but then the early 90's in Greater Vancouver a large amount of click lock laminate flooring emerged. I also remember Big Box retail sores selling it as hardwood flooring, which added to the confusion. Anyways, fast forward to today and Laminate is about a $1.5 Billion dollar annual market in North America and Vinyl is approximately double that.
Is Vinyl Flooring Better Than Laminate?
Vinyl, and when I say vinyl for this comparison, I mean the type of rigid core click lock, floating floor type vinyl. This has been around for a long time as well. Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) became popular about 15 years ago, WPC (Wood Plastic Composite) Vinyl about a decade ago and SPC (Stone Plastic Composite or Solid Polymer Core)
vinyl about 5 years ago, these categories have exploded in popularity.
Don’t hold me to these dates, they are approximate. But I have been involved with selling hundreds of millions of dollars in flooring over the past 20 years, so these are close the dates that I personally experienced.
For this comparison, I am using the current top Vinyl product, SPC Vinyl (6.5mm total thickness, click lock flooring floor) and comparing to 12mm laminate. These are the two most popular options in BC based on my experience. It isn’t important to use exactly these specs, but for ease of reading and when I reference price points… directionally these are the thicknesses of vinyl and laminate I am comparing.
Country for origin on both are from China. Import duties into Canada are approx. the same at ~6.5% each
Is Vinyl Flooring Better than Laminate Flooring? I used 8 comparison attributes to compare and find the winner:
Easy to Care for
Popularity… resell value?
Ease of installation
Easy to care for
On the score of easy to care for, both laminate and vinyl score high. They are easy to keep clean. The only benefit that I’d give to vinyl over cleaning laminate flooring is the water issue… a damp cleaning product can be used on vinyl with no concern… but using water or a wet cleaning product on laminate is dangerous. It can be done (ie: a wet swifter) but don’t use a lot of moisture and never use a mop and bucket of water on laminate. All hard surface floors are similar to clean… avoid lots of water, no matter if its hardwood, engineered hardwood, laminate or vinyl. Water wants to go somewhere… and it finds it way under your flooring you will have a mold issue. Do ever use a lot of water on any type of floating floor. Yes, many vinyl products are 100% waterproof… but that doesn’t mean that water can’t get trapped underneath the floating floor, and if it does, that is never good. I suggest owning both a wet and dry Swifter. Enough moisture to clean the surface but not enough to puddle water on your beautiful flooring.
Winner – Laminate. Vinyl is durable, heck, it’s really, really durable. And Vinyl has attractive scratch resistant characteristics. But, if scratching is really a concern, find yourself an AC4 or AC5 laminate and purchase that. I have a friend with an 80lb dog, and the vinyl did not scratch… but our experience over the years and listening to what a lot of industry feedback has given us, laminate is the winner when it comes to scratch resistance.
Over the years, both of these categories have improved dramatically in visual looks. I have seen numerous installations of both that people have entered the home and thought the flooring was real hardwood. The expansion into wider and longer planks really helped. Laminate has more width options than vinyl. Both have huge colour ranges available. But for me, the visual look of vinyl is superior. The way that laminate gloss levels usually make the flooring look ‘less real’. And the touch of the surface of vinyl can feel so real. I think both categories have done incredible things over the years to look more and more realistic… but head to head, vinyl is the winner of visual look. Winner - SPC Vinyl
Popularity… resell value?
Vinyl is by far the most popular type of flooring in North America. I would say that we have lots of people in Vancouver ask about laminate because it is traditionally the lowest priced floor. But by far, our most popular flooring is vinyl. For reseller or your property, the public will see higher value in Vinyl flooring over laminate. Winner – Vinyl flooring
Ease of installation
SPC vinyl is heavy. SPC Vinyl is very stable… but it is firm and if handled aggressively on installation, it can break small pieces of the tongue off. Laminate is very easy to work with and although you can ‘crush’ the corners if handled poorly, I will give laminate the slight edge for ease of install. The thickness of 12mm laminate, in my opinion, is a bit easier to install then the thinner 6.5mm SPC vinyl. Both are ideal for DIY customers. The installation of planks of click lock vinyl and laminate are both on the easy realm of flooring installations. Watch Youtube videos to learn how to install, it still takes some DIY skill, but as fair as flooring tyoes go, these two are 'easy' to install. Winner – its a Tie
Yes, both styles have the same matched moulding options. Stairnosing, t-molds, reducers, end moulding, matching quarter rounds. Both are usually accessible. Winner – It’s a tie
A 12mm laminate, AC3 top, is usually $1.29 to $1.99 in cost. Plus $0.40 for underlayment. So total cost is $1.69 to $2.39 sqft. The cost for SPC Vinyl (which is 5mm core with 1.5mm underpad attached) is $1.99 to $2.69 per sq ft. So total cost for these two types of floors in this spec is essentially the same. It is possible to find clearance of laminate flooring more readily than Vinyl. Because Vinyl is so popular and laminate has levelled off and is slightly declining market share... I will say that the slight winner, slightly cheaper, is laminate. Winner is Laminate.
This is going to get a little confusing… when we talk laminate, it is not waterproof. That said, you can pay extra and find special laminate flooring now that IS waterproof. But that is less than 5% of the market… and the cost is higher. We have some waterproof laminate available… but the cost is higher than our SPC Vinyl and the colour selection is limited. It is an option… but for the purpose of this article, the comparison answer is NO, most laminate floors are not waterproof.
SPC Vinyl floors are waterproof. This is a key buying decision and one of the main reasons that Vinyl flooring is so popular in Canada. Not all vinyl is completely waterproof… some are water resistant… but in general, you can expect that vinyl is good to use in your kitchen and that you can expect your vinyl flooring to do well in moist environments. Vinyl is the clear winner in this category.
Not a category I am using to assess in this blog post, but worth noting... it is about subfloor. Both Vinyl and Laminate can be installed on top of both concrete and plywood subfloors. Both can be installed below grade as well. But worth noting... a weakness of some vinyl product types is that they can have a transfer or telegraph issue. This means that any deficiency (like a nail head) in the subfloor will telegraph through and you can see it in the flooring. This article is comparing SPC 6.5mm vinyl to 12mm Laminate ... and the SPC core is rigid and robust (strong) so it doesn't telegraph... but it is important to note, if you use some of the other type of vinyl flooring types (not rigid core like SPC, but a pure vinyl product like a peel and stick, or a loose lay vinyl or regular LVT)... these products must have a smooth subfloor. So it is a positive for laminate ... if you have a rough subfloor and wish to hide deficiency, then laminate is a great option.
Final Decision | Is Vinyl Flooring Better than Laminate Flooring?
I like both these floors. They both serve their purpose. I have both vinyl and laminate floors in my own home. But the verdict to the question ‘is Vinyl flooring better than laminate’… in my opinion, the answer is yes. The investment in both these floor types is great value, but I’d be willing to pay a fair bit more for SPC Vinyl flooring as an option. I think the waterproof characteristic is too hard to ignore. And based on the surface treatment that can be done on Vinyl, the extra durability, the visual look, and its overall popularity in the market… I think the investment in Vinyl flooring makes the purchase more valuable to go with vinyl flooring.
Good luck with your decision!