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vinyl vs hardwood flooring

Selecting flooring for a room or home can be daunting as there are so many choices! Much depends on the room use, personal preference, budget, DIY friendliness, and the desired look. If you’re looking for flooring that ticks all those boxes, the choice often comes down to vinyl vs hardwood flooring.

Vinyl flooring can mimic most hardwoods, ceramics, or stone, and is waterproof, long-lasting, high wearing, and easy to maintain. Hardwood flooring is more expensive, and harder to maintain, but will last longer and improve resale values. Although susceptible to moisture damage and scratches, wooden floors can usually be repaired to look like new.

In this article, we’ll explain what vinyl flooring and hardwood flooring are, look at the pros and cons of each, and look at the different types of hardwood and vinyl flooring available. We’ll look at their differences and compare the flooring based on key points. In addition, we’ll also compare vinyl, hardwood, and laminate flooring, and discuss if luxury vinyl can look like real wood. We’ll round off with which flooring is better, hardwood or vinyl, so you’re better able to make the best flooring selection for your project.

Vinyl vs Hardwood Flooring: Key Points

Making an informed decision often comes down to comparing different items based on common key factors or points. To help you out, we compare vinyl vs hardwood flooring in the table below based on thirteen important decision-making points.

What Is Vinyl Flooring?

Vinyl flooring is a manmade synthetic material made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride). It is typically made up of four different layers. A transparent top protective wear layer, the decorative layer with the printed image, a thick vinyl foam core for cushioning and comfort, and a felt paper backing or base.

The vinyl and felt layers pass through an oven to gel the PVC and help bond the middle and base layers together. The design is then pressed and printed directly onto the softened PVC layer. A protective top layer is applied over the printed PVC, and then it goes back through the oven to fuse the protective layer and image to the PVC. Texturing or embossing is done next through a chemical process after this process.

Different compounds such as fiberglass are added to give the flooring more strength. Fungicide inhibitors and UV stabilizers are commonly added to protect the flooring from mold, mildew, and fading, and a blowing agent is used to inflate the PVC foam. A plasticizer is also used for flexibility, and different dyes or pigments are added for color to produce a durable, inexpensive flooring that is long-lasting and easy to install.

Vinyl Flooring Pros and Cons

When looking at vinyl flooring there are a lot of factors to consider – the room size, its purpose or use, budget, personal taste, lifestyle, color pallet so it blends, etc. There are other factors inherent in vinyl flooring itself to consider too, such as benefits, drawbacks, and other features. Here are some pros and cons to consider when making your choice:

Pros

  • Hard-wearing and durable
  • Very versatile with a massive color pallet and design options – it can look like tile, wood plank, parquet, marble, etc.
  • Can be installed anywhere – kitchens, baths, halls, entries, basements, bedrooms, living rooms, etc.
  • Waterproof
  • UV resistant so won’t fade
  • Softer for standing or walking on, and also more sound absorbent
  • Low-maintenance and easy to clean
  • Inexpensive and affordable
  • DIYer friendly – easier to install and requires fewer tools

Cons

  • Difficult to impossible to repair
  • Some off-gas VOCs
  • Not a home selling highlight
  • Shorter life span than some
  • Not eco-friendly
  • Can be scratched and dented

Types of Vinyl Flooring

Choices! Choices! Choices! Vinyl flooring probably comes in the greatest variety of looks, colors, and styles. They come in rolls, tiles, and planks, can be glued down with an adhesive, be self-adhering peel-and-stick, or click-lock. Regardless of style, they all fall into three main categories or types of flooring – luxury vinyl flooring, rigid-core vinyl flooring, and wood-plastic composite vinyl flooring.

Luxury vinyl flooring comes in a plethora of designs, styles, textures, and colors, is durable, easy to maintain, and cushiony. The flooring comes in luxury vinyl tiles (LVT) that replicate natural wood, stone, marble, and tile. It’s available as luxury vinyl planks (LVP), that look and feel like hardwood planks. Luxury vinyl also comes in large continuous sheets (LVS) for a more seamless finish.

Rigid-core vinyl flooring or engineered vinyl flooring as it is also known was created to be more durable, harder, and longer-lasting than the softer more flexible versions. It is also more waterproof too. The rigid-core flooring typically comes in click-lock tiles or planks for easier handling and installation. Unfortunately, being harder it often is recommended that a cork or foam underlay be used to minimize sound movement.

Wood-plastic composite vinyl flooring is made using wood pulp and plastic composites instead of PVC, making it thicker than PVC flooring and more like laminate flooring. It still has the wear layer, topcoat, and decorative or photo-image layer like the other types, but is completely waterproof. Available in click-lock tiles and planks, it is easy to install and maintain.

What Is Hardwood Flooring?

Hardwood flooring has been in common use since the 1600s but was also used prior to that by the rich and powerful for upper floors. Often used over beams or rough joists, the rough-cut planks were usually unfinished but may have been smoothed and polished for the elite. The advent of sawmills and open forests of the colonies made uniform hardwood more accessible and affordable, and thus more common.

The flooring was commonly pit-sawn into 2 to 4-inch-thick planks of varying widths and lengths cut from oak, maple, cherry, elm, beech, butternut, and other native hardwoods. The planks were laid side by side, nailed or pegged into place, and only became burnished or polished with time and use. The planks were subject to expansion and contraction with humidity, so the space between the planks was subject to a seasonal movement that often led to a gap through to the floor below.

Over the past centuries, milling has progressed from hand-powered pitsaws to water, steam, and finally electrical or gas-powered circular or band saws. The improvements have helped hardwood flooring evolve from thick, long wide rough planks with squared corners to our modern planed, sanded, and prefinished tongue and groove planks of uniform width and thickness. Modern hardwood flooring is durable and long-lasting, can be refinished, and offers a decorative finish to any room.

Hardwood Flooring Pros and Cons

Hardwood flooring comes in a variety of widths, lengths, wood species, finishes, and even colors. Hardwood flooring has also come to include softwood species. A wood floor adds warmth and a unique charm to any room, but as with everything, there are pros and cons to consider.

Pros

  • Long-lasting
  • Durable and hard-wearing
  • Can be refinished and repaired
  • Improves resale value
  • Warm, solid, attractive appearance
  • Most species are a renewable resource
  • Aesthetically appealing
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Don’t absorb odors
  • Easy to clean

Cons

  • Easily scratched
  • Poor traction for pets and humans
  • Not ideal for basements, bathrooms, and other high humidity locations
  • High maintenance
  • Moisture can stain or damage the flooring
  • Susceptible to UV fading
  • Expensive
  • Cold in winter
  • Noisy and echoey

Types of Hardwood Flooring

There are many species and thicknesses of hardwood flooring, but there are only two types to choose from, solid and engineered. There is a third type which is 300% stronger than natural hardwood and is known as acrylic-infused or acrylic impregnated. It is actually an engineered hardwood with a 1/10” thick acrylic-infused hardwood wear layer.

Solid hardwood flooring comes in a variety of wood species, finishes, colors, tints, thicknesses, widths, lengths, and edge fastening profiles. Engineered wood also comes in similar choices, but usually only in 3’ to 4’ long plank or 12” to 18” square tile options. So, while there are arguably three types of hardwood flooring, there are only three styles of flooring – plank, parquet, and strip.

Modern plank flooring typically comes in thickness of 5/8” to 1”, widths of 3” to 6”, and lengths of 2’, 4’, 6’, and 8’. Reclaimed or traditional plank flooring ranges from 1” to 2” thick, 12” to 24” or more, and lengths of 8 to 24 feet or longer. Strip flooring commonly comes in 1-1/2” and 2-1/2” widths, 5/8” thicknesses, and lengths varying from 1’ to 8’. Many homes built prior to the 1970s had strip flooring as narrow as 1” and 3/4” thick and much longer lengths.

Today, parquet flooring typically comes in 12”x12” squares fashioned into different geometric patterns. The ‘tiles’ are the same thickness as modern planks and strips, allowing them to be used for borders or decorative accents. They are usually more expensive and fancier than strip or plank options.

What Is the Difference Between Vinyl and Hardwood Flooring?

Selecting flooring can be a challenge. What we envision vs what we see in the box stores or online don’t always mesh, plus there are so many choices. Sometimes it’s easier to make a choice between vinyl and hardwood by looking at the differences between the types of flooring based on comparable factors.

Material

Vinyl flooring is a manmade synthetic polyvinyl chloride material that isn’t environmentally friendly. The PVC can produce VOCs, which can cause health concerns, although some products are less of an issue. Plus, while long-lasting, it isn’t recyclable.

Hardwood flooring is milled or manufactured from trees or reclaimed wood, making it more environmentally friendly than vinyl. The Forest Stewardship Council identifies and certifies different species and products based on their sustainability and environmental impact. Hardwood can be repaired, sanded, and refinished for a longer lifespan, removed and used elsewhere, or recycled.

Appearance & Style

Vinyl flooring’s different tones, colors, and textures give it the appearance of many different materials, so it can look and feel like real tile or wood flooring. When installed professionally, it can mimic different stone or ceramic tiles, or hardwood species so well that only close inspection will reveal the differences. Additionally, vinyl flooring’s foam layer makes it softer and more sound absorbent than the natural products it mimics.

Hardwood flooring is considered more attractive in appearance than vinyl since it is made of natural wood. The different species, tones, grain patterns, and color range produce a harmony that printed and textured vinyl cannot. Wood is also an insulator, making rooms not only look warmer but actually feel warmer. One unfortunate drawback, however, is that wood is noisy to walk on.

Durability

Vinyl flooring is more durable for day-to-day use but is susceptible to scratches and cuts. Vinyl can be used in bathrooms, kitchens, basements, and every other room in the house since it is impervious to water and moisture damage. However, once the protective layer is worn and the dyed layer exposed, it’s time to replace the flooring.

Hardwood flooring can be damaged by pet claws, high heels, dirt, sand particles, and moisture. It is also susceptible to humidity which can cause it to seasonally expand and contract. Depending on the thickness of the hardwood, scratched or discolored hardwood can be repaired, sanded, and the wood stained, or refinished. In most cases, hardwood can last generations, giving it greater long-term durability.

Lifespan

Use and location often dictate the lifespan of vinyl or hardwood flooring. Once damaged, vinyl can’t be repaired, only replaced. With regular maintenance and care, vinyl flooring will last between 5 and 35 years or more.

Hardwood flooring has greater wear potential than vinyl, plus it can be repaired, sanded, and refinished. The thickness of the wood material determines the number of times the wood can be refinished. However, with proper maintenance and care, hardwood flooring can easily last 50-plus years.

Moisture Resistance

Vinyl flooring is 100% waterproof. Water typically beads or pools, making it easy to wipe or mop off. It isn’t affected by humidity and doesn’t need to acclimatize to the location prior to installation. So, it can be brought home and installed with no wait time. Plus, it can be used in bathrooms, basements, and kitchens where moisture may be a problem.

Hardwood is susceptible to moisture damage and staining, so it isn’t moisture resistant. Some finishes offer greater protection than others, so do your research. Engineered hardwood planks typically are moisture resistant, but water must be wiped up to prevent swelling, staining, and separation.

Available Options

Vinyl flooring is available in sheets or rolls, luxury tiles, and luxury planks. The sheets come in a variety of patterns, colors, and styles. Tiles typically resemble ceramic, stone, or parquet in both coloring and texture while planks mimic a multitude of natural wood. Planks and tiles often are click-lock-edged.

Hardwood or engineered hardwood is commonly available in narrow strips, planks, and parquet. There are numerous species to choose from, plus a variety of thicknesses, widths, colors, and finishes. The flooring can even be of reclaimed wood. Hardwood commonly has an interlocking edge such as a T&G edge, or a click-and-lock edge.

Scratch Resistance

Hardwood flooring can be scratched by pet claws, furniture, and shoe, especially high heels. The nice thing about scratches in wood is that they can be sanded out and the wood refinished. Engineered hardwood is typically harder than natural wood and will resist scratches better.

Vinyl flooring has a soft foam layer which can be damaged if something is dragged across it. The hard protective top layer protects well against pet claws and shoes, while heavier weight and edges can actually tear sheet vinyl. Vinyl planks and tiles tend to be harder and resist scratches similar to engineered hardwood. Care should always be taken when moving items across any flooring.

Maintenance

Vinyl flooring is low maintenance and usually only needs to be swept or vacuumed, and occasionally mopped with dish soap in water or a recommended cleaner. Runners or rugs can be used to protect high wear areas or to hide damaged vinyl. It is nearly impossible to repair damaged vinyl, so replacing it is usually the only option.

Hardwood flooring should be dusted, dry-mopped, swept with a soft-bristled broom or vacuumed with an attachment that is hardwood friendly. Dirt particles or grit can scratch the protective coating and wood, so cleaning is the best preventative maintenance. There are numerous cleaners and compounds designed to protect, restore, and brighten wood flooring, and protect it from UV fading and moisture damage. Every 8 to 10 years, depending on exposure and damage, hardwood floors typically need to be repaired, sanded, and refinished.

Installation

Installation of vinyl and hardwood can be done by a DIYer with some basic tools and skills, or by a professional. Vinyl is easier to install than hardwood and can be laid onto concrete, wood, or other smooth floorings. Whether peel and stick or adhesive, the floor surface must be clean and smooth for the vinyl to adhere properly and to prevent the transfer of bumps through the vinyl. The glue can make vinyl difficult to remove if damaged or if a change is desired in the future.

Hardwood is commonly laid over a flat wood subfloor or a dry cement floor with a vapor barrier separator. Hardwood is less flexible and forgiving than vinyl, so the use of a self-leveling agent is recommended for installation over uneven floors. Additionally, hardwood can expand and contract due to humidity, making it necessary to leave an expansion crack around the perimeter to prevent buckling.

Home Resale Value

The quality and condition of any flooring can impact a home’s resale value. Inexpensive or worn vinyl flooring typically has little impact on the resale value as most buyers view its replacement as a way to personalize and improve their purchase. Some, however, will view it negatively since it will entail more work or investment for them.

Alternatively, many home buyers will see the value in worn or tired-looking hardwood knowing that it can be made to look like new with a little hard work or investment. Plus, hardwood is seen as more expensive and thus more desirable, so it usually has a positive effect on a home’s resale value.

DIY Friendly

The quality, amount of the flooring, and having it professionally installed greatly impact the price of any flooring. A proficient DIYer in possession of the necessary tools can save hundreds or thousands of dollars by doing the installation. Vinyl flooring is considered easier to install than hardwood, requires fewer tools or investment in tools, and can be purchased and installed the same day.

Hardwood flooring typically requires more floor prep, time, and skill to install than vinyl but is DIY doable. Preparing a smooth level surface on which to lay the hardwood can take time and involve the use of leveling agents. Accuracy and patience are important with all wood projects, especially when they will be on full display, as in the case of flooring. It should be noted too, that hardwood flooring should acclimatize to the humidity levels of the room prior to installation, a step many forget.

Applications

Vinyl flooring can be used in any room of a home. It is ideal for rooms where moisture can be an issue, such as bathrooms, basements, and the kitchen. High traffic areas such as entry areas and hallways also often are floored in vinyl for easy cleanup and quieter movement as vinyl absorbs noise.

Hardwood, being more expensive and considered showier, is commonly reserved for principal rooms, such as living and dining rooms. Wooden flooring can also be used in most rooms and passageways of a house. However, since moisture can damage wood, it isn’t recommended for damp areas such as bathrooms and basements.

Cost

The type of flooring and its quality are the main determining factors to price, and whether it is professionally installed or a DIY job. Vinyl flooring ranges from $0.50 to $10 to purchase, making it less expensive than many flooring options. Sheet or rolled vinyl runs between $0.50 and $3 a square foot while tiles and planks range from $2 to $10 a square foot. Professional installation typically ranges between $2.50 and $5.00 per square foot, so the actual installed cost ranges from $0.50 to $15.00 per square foot.

Hardwood flooring prices vary with type, style, wood species, grade, width, thickness, length, and finish, as well as quality. Poplar, pine, or bamboo will run $3 to $6 a square foot, oak and maple between $5 and $10, while cherry, walnut, mahogany, and teak will demand $8 to $15 or more a square foot. Reclaimed flooring will cost even more, between $15 and $25 a square foot. Expect to pay more for wider and thicker planks, and for solid wood versus engineered planks or squares. Professional installation typically adds another $4 to $8 a square foot to the cost as well.

Vinyl vs Hardwood vs Laminate Flooring

Vinyl is an inexpensive, long-lasting, waterproof synthetic flooring that is soft to walk on and easy to install. It can also mimic almost any natural flooring material in both look and texture. Vinyl flooring won’t be damaged by spills, splashes, and humidity either.

Hardwood flooring is the most expensive and longest-lasting option and is made of solid wood. It gives a look, feel, and warmth that other flooring can only imitate. Wood flooring can be scratched or damaged by moisture, but can usually be refinished to look like new. Another bonus is that wood floors also improve the resale value of most homes.

Laminate flooring typically has a wood fiber base covered with an image layer which is protected by a hard transparent layer. So, it blends components of both vinyl flooring and hardwood. It is susceptible to moisture damage which can ruin it, so it shouldn’t be used in bathrooms or other areas where moisture is an issue. Laminate is more scratch-resistant than the other flooring options and handles high foot traffic well. It is more expensive than vinyl but less than hardwood.

Does Luxury Vinyl Look Like Real Wood?

Luxury vinyl is high-quality flooring with picture-perfect imagery that gives it the look and feel of real wood. Engineered vinyl planks look even more like real wood since they are installed in a similar manner with seams that make them even more realistic. The quality of the installation is often the telling tale, properly installed, it is difficult to tell luxury vinyl from real wood.

Which Is Better Hardwood or Vinyl Flooring?

Which flooring is better, vinyl or hardwood is a classic argument with an even more classic answer…it depends. It depends on budget, desired look, use, location, and who is doing the installation. If the budget is tight, vinyl can give the look of wood at a fraction of the cost. Aesthetically, wood will always be more desirable than a copy. Vinyl is the better option for high traffic areas and entries as it is quieter and waterproof. Vinyl wins out for bathrooms or other rooms where moisture damage could be a concern. For the DIYer, vinyl is easier to install than hardwood. So, it depends.

The quality and styles of vinyl flooring allow it to mimic most hardwoods, ceramics, or stone at a fraction of the cost. It is long-lasting, waterproof, high-wearing, and easy to install and maintain, so it can be used in any room of the house. Hardwood is more expensive but improves resale values, is longer-lasting, can be refinished, and has the warmth of natural wood nothing else can imitate. Hopefully, we’ve provided you with the information to make the best choice of flooring for your project.