Wood flooring is highly desirable for its aesthetics, but if you’ve ever tried to check to see how much it will cost you, you’ll know that it isn’t cheap. Plus, there’s the high maintenance factor that many don’t want to deal with. Fortunately, there are two viable alternatives to solid hardwood: vinyl plank and engineered hardwood, but which one is better for your needs?
Engineered hardwood uses real wood, which makes it the real deal when it comes to solid hardwood alternatives, but it isn’t a good fit for rooms with high moisture. Vinyl plank is entirely manmade but is resistant to moisture, making it great for bathrooms and kitchens.
We will be going over the differences as well as the pros and cons of vinyl plank and engineered hardwood. If you would like to learn more, we encourage you to read on!
Why Don’t People Just Use Solid Hardwood Over Engineered?
Wood flooring provides great decor for many homes, and it is one of the most highly desirable materials. Furthermore, it will increase the value of a home, making it attractive for people who are planning for the future.
Solid hardwood is as natural as it gets, and any well-kept flooring of this material will be gorgeous, but unfortunately, it comes with drawbacks that aren’t to be overlooked.
Prices of Solid Hardwood and Engineered Hardwood
First and foremost, solid hardwood is on the expensive side of the flooring spectrum. But why is this?
For one, there isn’t an infinite supply of trees, society is taking the number of trees being cut down seriously, and it’s just a matter of fact that hardwood trees are diminishing, creating a higher cost for hardwood as time goes on.
Secondly, lumber, in general, isn’t cheap due to the labor required to acquire it.
Third, it is labor-intensive to both install and finish. You need folks who really know what they are doing in order for the final results to be satisfactory.
Maintenance of Solid Hardwood and Engineered Hardwood
Even if you can easily afford solid hardwood, it is a high maintenance material, and not everyone is going to enjoy this aspect.
Wood is all-natural, and when you are working with the material, you have to keep in mind that it will react to both moisture and temperature. Hardwood will expand and contract, which makes knowing whether it is a good idea to install in a particular climate pretty important.
Furthermore, neglected hardwood can start to rot if it is constantly getting wet or in an area with very high moisture content.
However, it’s not all bad! If taken care of, a solid hardwood floor can last over 100 years, which is much longer than the cheaper wood-like alternatives you’ll find on the market. Plus, as we previously stated, it increases the value of a home, making it a decent long-term investment if you don’t mind the upfront price and high maintenance.
But for a lot of people, price and maintenance are a turnoff, which leads to looking into alternatives that can provide a wood aesthetic for their homes.
Two Great Alternatives to Solid Hardwood Flooring: Engineered Hardwood and Vinyl Planks
Some of the best alternatives to solid hardwood flooring are engineered hardwood and vinyl plank. They give you the aesthetics of hardwood but without the high price and the demand for high maintenance, and the best part is that most guests won’t be able to tell the difference.
You are giving up pros such as better home value and a floor that can potentially last a lifetime (or two), but these two points aren’t going to matter too much for a lot of people. Both engineered hardwood and vinyl plank are excellent in their own ways, but which one is the best for your needs?
We will be diving into what each flooring solution brings to the table and, in the end, directly compare them to each other.
What You Need to Know About Engineered Hardwood
We will start with engineered hardwood because it is going to be the closest to the “real” thing and is one that is generally recommended as a direct alternative to solid hardwood, and there are people who even prefer it to solid hardwood.
This article is about vinyl plank vs. engineered hardwood, but it is difficult to talk about engineered hardwood without bringing up solid hardwood, and so we will be going over how it differs from solid hardwood as we discuss this flooring type.
What Is Engineered Hardwood?
So, what is engineered hardwood? As the name implies, real wood is used in the creation of the flooring planks but what separates engineered hardwood from solid hardwood is the fact that engineered hardwood is layered.
These layers consist of the top layer (wear layer), which, again, is real wood and is visually the same as solid hardwood when comparing the same wood type, cut, and finish.
The layers below the wear layer also consist of wood, but they serve a functional purpose rather than an aesthetic one. This layering enables engineered hardwood to be “tight,” resulting in better resistance to moisture/humidity than solid hardwood.
Key points vs. solid hardwood are as follows
- Less expensive
- Doesn’t last as long
- Relatively easy to install
- Better resistance to moisture and humidity
As far as aesthetics goes, they are pretty similar, but the key differences are that solid hardwood has tighter seams and more options regarding wood species, which makes choosing the right look for your home more flexible.
When it comes to taking care of engineered hardwood, you’ll be pleased to learn that regularly maintaining your floor involves sweeping, vacuuming, and damp-mopping with a flathead mop such as this O-Cedar ProMist MAX.
One rule to always keep in mind is that you shouldn’t use water to clean engineered hardwood. Even though it is relatively resistant to moisture when compared to solid hardwood, it can still start to warp if it ends up getting very wet all the time.
Instead, you’ll want to use a wood flooring cleaner such as Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner to remove dust and debris.
You might be wondering if it is a good idea to have engineered hardwood in a kitchen, considering the tricky situation with wood and moisture. It’s doable if you are careful, but it won’t be the best choice. Ultimately, it is your choice, and it will come down to if you feel you can prevent any moisture-related damage.
If you are a DIY installer, engineered hardwood is relatively easy to install. It can be installed on top of existing flooring as a floating floor, and you can even buy click-lock planks to make the installation process easier.
You will have to be mindful of a few things before installing however
- Letting the planks rest a few days to acclimate to the climate
- Ensuring there is no moisture before you begin installing the flooring
- Leaving some space between the walls and planks to give room for the expanding wood
But other than that, the DIY process isn’t too hard as long as you have the proper tools and do your research/read the manufacturer manual.
If you want a video demonstration on how to install a floating floor, this video is very helpful.
Engineered hardwood is pretty affordable, with prices varying based on the type of wood and the quality of the planks in general.
It is preferable to have planks with a larger wear layer since it will make the overall structure more durable. The cheaper end of the engineered hardwood spectrum usually will have a very thin wear layer, which is generally ok, but it is worth noting that the potential lifespan of cheaper engineered hardwood flooring won’t be as long.
Generally, you can expect to pay anywhere between $3 to $10 per square foot, which isn’t bad, and the higher-end of the spectrum will both look and feel just as good as solid hardwood while saving a few bucks.
Engineered hardwood is a fantastic alternative to solid hardwood, and it cements itself as one of the best flooring types without breaking the bank. It looks great, feels great, and gives you the benefits of wood while removing a lot of the drawbacks.
We recommend starting off with mid-tier engineered hardwood if you can spring for it. As we previously stated, it will potentially last longer, and it will look and feel great. Having new flooring installed is an investment and considering you will be walking over your floor every single day, we think it is worth looking into something you’ll be truly happy with.
But before making a final decision, we still have another flooring type to talk about: Vinyl Plank.
How does vinyl plank stack up in comparison to engineered hardwood, and who should decide to go with it?
What You Need to Know About Vinyl Plank
Vinyl plank is another popular flooring type, and it is easily comparable to engineered hardwood due to the similar price range they share and the fact that it can be shaped and colored to look like wood.
Just like we did for engineered hardwood, we will be diving into the ins and outs of vinyl plank and determining how it stacks up in comparison and who should consider it over-engineered hardwood.
What Is Vinyl Plank?
Unlike engineered hardwood, vinyl plank is a manmade flooring type that is created from polyvinyl chloride resins or PVC. This is then melted down and combined with various fungicides and stabilizers to create the material.
Vinyl Plank is incredibly versatile because it can either be shaped to look like wood or other materials such as stone or even concrete, plus it can come in a wide variety of colors, making it easy to find the look you want to go for. Want a lighter color? You got it! Dark? Also doable.
It’s also great for any room in your house due to the fact you won’t have to worry about it expanding and contracting based on humidity and moisture; more on that later.
If Engineered Hardwood Is Affordable, Why Use “Fake Wood”?
As we went over in the engineered hardwood section, real wood has its pros and cons. It can potentially last quite a long time, depending on how it is being maintained (if at all) and the overall quality/thickness of the wood.
However, wood is a natural material that reacts to the climate around it, and it doesn’t play well with water, which makes it questionable for a kitchen and pretty much a no-go for a bathroom (shower steam will almost certainly ruin wood flooring over time).
Simply put, there are many people who want the aesthetics of wood without any of the drawbacks. For some people, it is important to know that they have the real thing, while for others, it doesn’t matter to them. This is why artificial wood floorings such as vinyl plank are so appealing to people.
Maintaining vinyl plank is as easy, if not even easier, than engineered hardwood. Like we mentioned above, you won’t have to be as mindful when it comes to getting it wet, which takes one thing off your mind.
However, we still recommend cleaning it in a similar fashion to engineered hardwood. You can use Rejuvenate High-Performance Luxury Vinyl Floor Cleaner to clean up dust and debris and make your floor look like new again!
You can also use a hard floor vacuum if there is a lot of dust and debris build-up. You can either buy one or check to see if your carpet vacuum includes a hard floor mode. If you would like to have a clean floor without lifting a finger, you can also consider purchasing a Roomba.
As far as the longevity of this flooring type, it is accepted that vinyl plank can last up to 10-20 years, depending on the quality and how well it is being taken care of.
Vinyl plank, like engineered hardwood, is also relatively easy to install. It can be installed above existing flooring, and they can come in click locking planks.
You might be surprised to find out that, like with wood, you also have to let vinyl plank acclimate to the environment around it. While the vinyl plank is resistant to moisture to the point, it is considered one of, if not the best flooring for bathrooms, and it still acts like wood when it comes to expanding and contracting.
You also have to ensure that the installation site is completely void of any dust and debris because the vinyl plank will warp around, even a tiny pebble, causing a small bump.
Vinyl plank is incredibly affordable; it generally starts at $2 per square foot and can go up to $7. This puts the material as one of the most cost-effective flooring types, and it is a clear advantage over any type of real wood flooring.
We recommend looking at options that cost at least $4 and up for quality flooring. The difference between the cheapest vinyl plank vs. more expensive ones will come down to looks, feel, and longevity, and it is generally worth it to start with the middle-of-the-road option, as we stated previously.
Vinyl is generally cheaper than wood because the materials used to make it aren’t as expensive. When we were talking about solid hardwood, we mentioned that wood’s price comes from the fact lumber itself isn’t cheap, and the limited amount of hardwood trees causes prices to fluctuate.
With the vinyl plank, how much you pay will be based on how well it is shaped and finished as well as the overall thickness.
Vinyl plank is a great floor type overall; it is affordable, built well, and can be whatever you want it to be. You won’t have to deal with the cons that wood flooring brings; thus, it makes for a great floor to have in kitchens and bathrooms.
Below we will directly compare engineered hardwood to vinyl plank to determine which one is best for you!
Engineered Hardwood vs. Vinyl Plank
After discussing each floor type, it becomes clear that each is great in their own way, but which one comes out on top overall?
Maintenance and Durability
Both are easy to maintain with some differences to be aware of; when taking care of your floor, it is important to use the proper cleaning solution and tools to get the job done, and both vinyl plank and engineered hardwood are similar in this fashion.
Your regular maintenance will consist of using a flathead mop with a microfiber cloth and cleaning solution made specifically for hardwood floors. It is also a good idea to have a vacuum that is safe for hardwood floors to pick up larger debris.
When/if it comes time to clean up a moderate or major spill, you have to avoid using a lot of water or cleaning solutions containing vinegar, soap, and wax.
Instead, try to get as much of the spill up with a paper towel as you can, lightly wet a mop pad and spray down the hardwood floor cleaning solution and work on the area where the spill is.
Traditional wet mopping on any type of hardwood flooring is a bad idea as the water can get between the seams and cause warping and damage over time. This, of course, can make cleaning truly major messes more of a hassle, which is another reason why hardwood and kitchen can be a bit sketchy.
As far as general durability is concerned, when it comes to scratches, engineered hardwood can vary in durability depending on the finish, thickness, and wood type. It is generally accepted that engineered hardwood is decently durable, but it can still scratch if you are moving furniture around or if you have a pet that needs their nails trimmed.
Overall, if you are wanting to keep your floor looking brand new, you will need to regularly clean it as well as taking the proper precautions to avoid scratches.
First thing’s first, vinyl plank is moisture resistant, which earns it a point over-engineered hardwood. This not only allows it to be great for kitchens and bathrooms, but it also makes it easier to clean up major spills. You can whip out the traditional mop and bucket if you want to take care of daunting messes, which is something that is not a good idea to do with wood floors.
Regular maintenance is similar to engineered hardwood, except you will be using a different solution made for vinyl plank. A flathead mop and microfiber cloth is the best way to keep vinyl plank looking new on a weekly basis with the occasional vacuuming.
Furthermore, vinyl plank generally holds up better against scratches than engineered hardwood, and pets scratching up vinyl plank is relatively rare in comparison to wood floors. However, it isn’t completely immune and so stressing it too much will cause damage, namely sliding around furniture without placing furniture sliders underneath the legs.
Winner: Vinyl Plank
Due to the water resistance and less susceptibility to scratching, the vinyl plank is both easier to clean and keep from being damaged.
Installing these two floors are very similar. Both can be placed on top of existing flooring as a floating floor and can be installed via click locking planks, which means less tool usage and steps.
The main differences will come down to the preparation before installation more than anything, and so we will focus on that aspect. It’s worth noting there is more than one way to install these floors, including glue installation and nailing the planks down.
With engineered hardwood, you keep multiple things in mind before actually beginning the installation process. The main one being letting the planks acclimate. Other complications include ensuring the subfloor is dry, which can be difficult in certain climates.
The consequences of installing engineered hardwood over a damp floor and/or not allowing the planks to acclimate will cause warping, unwanted gaps, and other things that you don’t want to happen after you have done all the hard work.
Most of the time, it isn’t too hard to prep before installation, but it’s just worth noting that it can be difficult in certain situations to get the conditions just right.
Like with hardwood, vinyl plank needs to acclimate before installation, and the subfloor must be dry to prevent mold from developing underneath the vinyl flooring.
You will also have to do a very good/sweep vacuum to ensure that you won’t find any unwanted bumps after installation is completed.
Prepping and installing vinyl plank is very similar to engineered hardwood, and the steps are going to be practically identical when choosing the same installation type. The difficulty when it comes to installing your floor will come down to your chosen method and whether or not your subfloor has “sweating” problems.
The overall cost of a floor is going to be a major deciding factor for many people since the cost per square foot is going to add up very quickly. Even a couple of dollars difference is going to change the overall price drastically.
Keep in mind that if you are hiring someone else to install flooring, then that is likely going to cost you more than the floor itself. This is going to be specifically about the cost of the planks themselves.
The cost of engineered hardwood is very reasonable, especially compared to some other materials. It may not be the cheapest, but it is certainly doable for plenty of folks who want real wood.
As we went over above, you can expect to pay anywhere from $3 – $10 per square foot for engineered hardwood, which is reasonable for real wood. Do be mindful of the cheapest possible options; however, the lower in the price you go, the more you are sacrificing quality and overall longevity.
The affordability factor of the vinyl plank is very appealing at $2-$7 per square foot, with quality vinyl plank generally starting at $4.
The prices of vinyl plank and engineered hardwood can be equal depending on your specific budget, but generally, it is going to cost you less for decent build quality.
Winner: Vinyl Plank
Pros and Cons of Engineered Hardwood and Vinyl Planks
To conclude this comparison, we thought including the pros and cons that were and weren’t covered will paint a better idea of which one will work best for your needs.
Engineered Hardwood Pros
- Real wood
- Quality planks can last a long time
- Easy to install
- Increases the value of your home due to the desirability of wood floors
- Quality engineered hardwood looks, and it feels like solid hardwood
- Easy to maintain
Engineered Hardwood Cons
- More expensive than many fake wood options
- Not ideal for bathrooms due to potential water-related damage
- Susceptible to scratching
- It fades after a while
- Quality engineered hardwood isn’t cheap
- Cleaning big messes via mopping takes longer due to potential water-related damage.
Vinyl Plank Pros
- Quality vinyl plank is cheaper than quality engineered hardwood
- Immune to moisture
- Comes in many different colors and styles
- Easy to install
- Scratch resistant
- Easy to clean
- Easy to maintain
Vinyl Plank Cons
- Vinyl plank can be gorgeous, but the fact it is “fake wood” can turn some homebuyers off
- Will lower your home’s value compared to hardwood flooring
- Cheap vinyl dents easily
- Less eco-friendly compared to hardwood
- Can fade in direct sunlight
- Expensive vinyl plank costs as much as quality hardwood
Both engineered hardwood and vinyl plank are excellent flooring options with their own set of benefits. We hope we were able to help you decide on which one is right for you and your home. If you need more time to decide, don’t be afraid to ask homeowners which one they went with and why!