Vinyl vs. Laminate Flooring – A Complete Guide

Description of product

Laminate floors are made by compressing numerous layers of melamine resin and fiberboard; using heat at over 150°C and direct-pressure laminate (DPL) construction. DPL is the most common fusing method to manufacture laminate flooring.

The layers of laminate flooring:

 

1. The surface wear layer – the top layer of the laminate flooring and consists of melamine plastic to make it scratch-proof and protect the layers underneath.

2. The print layer – is an image that gives the laminate its appearance and can imitate wood or stone.

3. The core – is the thickest part of the flooring and can either be made from High-density fiber (HDF) or Medium-density fiber (MDF). The core supports the flooring by bearing the weight from traffic.

4. Backing – like the surface layer, the backing is made from melamine. However, it is much thicker and opaque.

5. Underlay – this layer is not always present on the bottom and would have to be installed if not there. It is a cushion layer that provides insulation and levels out the imperfections in the subfloor.

The materials are combined, to make the large boards of laminate. These are cut down into smaller, individual planks.

Vinyl contains two or three layers of materials. The top wear layer is urethane, which is to protects it from scratches and stains. The next layer is what gives it the design and can look like any material. It's made from flexible polyvinyl chloride, a synthetic plastic polymer, which is resistant to moisture and abrasion and gives vinyl its long-lasting longevity. Domestic vinyl contains a cushioned bottom layer while commercial vinyl doesn't.

Vinyl is much more water-resistant compared to laminate. It is more commonly used as a waterproof bathroom flooring or kitchen flooring as laminate itself is a more appropriate flooring for hallway and individual rooms.

Colours/ Design

Both laminate and vinyl contain a print layer that gives the flooring its image. This print layer can be made to look like wood and stone and is what makes laminate and vinyl a cheaper alternative to hard-wooden floors. It still gives the same appearance but remains cost-effective and easier to maintain.

When printing a design, it is printed in multiple different colors. It means there are higher chances of finding prints for specific aesthetics. The print doesn't have to be a design but can be anything.

Subfloor preparation

Both laminate and vinyl require adequate subfloor underneath to be able to support the structure on top. If the subfloor isn't level or smooth, it will affect both the laminate and the vinyl. The vinyl would mold against the ridges and crevices, whereas the laminate would be wobbly. To have a smooth and level foundation the subfloor underneath would have to be repaired. If the subfloor is wooden, plywood would have to be nailed down, whereas if it were a concrete subfloor it would have to be smoothed using a self-leveling compound such as screed.

Laminate requires to underlay to provide insulation from underneath while vinyl doesn't require underlay at all as long as the subfloor is level and smooth.

Installation

Both laminate and vinyl are cost-effective but the installation process is different for both. Both laminate and vinyl are not difficult to install but laminate is more time-consuming due to the individual planks needing to be placed and the planks being cut to fit around radiator pipes and door frames.

Vinyl is manufactured in long rolls and not as planks like laminate and so can be spread over the entire sub-floor. It can be glued down to the subfloor using adhesives such as double-sided backing tape or sprays. The amount of adhesive needed depends on the type of vinyl as some require it all to be bonded to the sub-floor while others only require the perimeter to be bonded. This sticks the vinyl in place and prevents it from moving around. Later, silicone is added to the edges of the room to stop any water from seeping in.

Laminate, however, requires underlay before the planks are placed on top. The underlay helps the planks be evenly distributed and level, across the room. The planks need to be locked into each other for them to be connected. Laminate flooring is known to expand as the temperature and humidity increase and so there have to be 10mm gaps left at the sides to allow the expansion. The expansion gaps would then have to be covered up using beading as it covers the gap but still allows the laminate to expand.

Cleaning

As most laminates have a fiber wood core, it is advised to not wet mop them as the water can seep through the cracks and damage the layers underneath. With laminate, the better option is to dry mop and spot clean any spillages and marks. Treat the laminate as if it were a surface, rather than flooring as you would use certain materials such as sprays and wipes over wet cleaning.

Vinyl doesn't have the same issue as it is a water-resistant floor. Mops and steams are used to clean vinyl. Light cleaning can be done with brooms and vacuums while deep cleaning can be done using steam-powered mops. However, it is advised that high-power, industrial mops are not used, on domestic products, as this can weaken the adhesive underneath and cause the vinyl to bubble and ripple. Bubbling and rippling cannot be repaired and the only option is to replace them.

Longevity

The longevity of the flooring depends on its quality and the quality of the subfloor. Cheap vinyl flooring on a great floor may last five to seven years whereas great quality vinyl may last near fifteen. Cheap laminate floors can last just under ten years while good quality laminate can last twenty to twenty-five years. Vinyl is more for practically, due to the water resistance, and is better off in areas with water usage such as the bathrooms and kitchens.

Advantages

Laminate flooring is durable due to being coated by a tough melamine resin layer. It makes it more resistant to scratches, pressure, and traffic. It means that laminate flooring will not have to be replaced for decades and can save a lot of money on potential replacements.

Laminate is a cheaper alternative to genuine wood flooring but still gives the same appearance due to the print layer. As mentioned before, the print layer can use any image, allowing a wide range and variety to the styles that laminate is available.

Laminate flooring also has an easy installation as all that is required is to make sure the individual planks lock and click into each other at the tongue and grooves. However, the planks may have to be cut to fit around door frames and radiator pipes which would have to be cut perfectly for the planks to still lock into each other.

Vinyl flooring is much more water-resistant than laminate, as it is a single sheet, spread over the subfloor. It allows itself to be a better flooring for kitchen and bathrooms as it won't absorb any water from spillages or moisture in the air. Cleaning vinyl is as simple as getting your mop out!

Vinyl is also easy to install and is not time-consuming. Unlike laminate, individual planks are not needed to be placed down and so the entire floor can be covered in one go. As long as good adhesive and silicone are used, there won't be able a problem with the vinyl lifting or moving around.

Disadvantages

Laminate cannot be re-finished. If you have damaged or ruined planks, the planks cannot have new coatings applied or be sanded down. The planks laid out in the row would have to be removed to replace the planks that are damaged. It can be tedious and time-consuming as laminate installation takes a longer time than vinyl.

The sun has a bleaching effect on most materials - laminate is no exception. Laminate can lighten and fade with direct sunlight. No matter how little sunlight it is exposed to, the laminate's color and appearance will fade over time. Most boards are now treated with a UV-resistance layer, but depending on the quality of the laminate, the effects of slowing down the UV rays can vary.

Uneven subfloors have to be repaired before vinyl installation. While they do have to be repaired for laminate, it doesn't ruin the appearance and only the feel when walking over it. As the vinyl sets in, it can mould against the ridges and crevices on the subfloor below and ruin its appearance. For vinyl, the subfloor has to be level and smooth which means it can cost more to install plywood or screed into the subfloor.

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