VINYL PLANK vs SOLID TIMBER vs ENGINEERED WOOD – A COMPARISON
We sometimes see some confusion around the pros and cons of different flooring, and especially vinyl plank vs solid timber overlay, and engineered wood. So here’s a guide on the differences. And we’re not here to say one is worse than another, although we do have preferences due to our experience and observations.
Let’s just quickly define the three products to start with.
Vinyl plank is a man made (synthetic) product made mostly from PVC with a heap of other sundry stuff mixed in. As a rule of thumb it’s about 3 – 6mm thick (depending on the brand, application, etc) and ranges from about 50mm to 200mm wide, and up to 1800mm long. These sizes are only a guide as there are a variety of manufacturers out there, but one thing that’s fairly consistent is the thickness is substantially more than the old linoleum sheet that many will remember from many years ago.
It’s laid plank by plank, using a non-drying adhesive – it stays tacky like a sticky note. And it’s laid after the fitout of the home is complete. So the skirtings and architraves are installed, doors hung, and painting finished. Then the vinyl plank is laid, carefully cutting it up against the edge of the skirting boards.
Solid timber is real wood, cut from a tree, and ripped to size and then planed to a smooth finish and accurate shape. So instead of talking about colours, the industry refers to a species – ie, Spotted Gum, Blackbutt and even Bamboo. Once again, there are various sizes, but the 2 common thicknesses are 18mm and 14mm (used for overlay situations). Lengths vary all over the place, and widths are commonly 90, 120, 140 and even 180mm.
And this is generally screwed and glued to the joists or substrate material, using a tongue and groove to help align and provide stability. It’s then sanded back and coated or ‘polished’. This is done before the skirting boards are installed, although the skirting boards are often ‘dry fitted’ (cut to the correct size and temporarily fitted) and then removed for the installation of the boards and then properly fitted after polishing is complete.
Engineered wood is sometimes considered a cross between the previous two, but in reality it can cover a few different things. This blog won’t cover the full range of products like laminate flooring, and the varying ranges of engineered wood, but in principle it’s a thick layer of basic wood such as chipboard, MDF or similar and then a think layer of real wood on top, or a really thin layer of laminate of even vinyl. In the case of a real wood layer, it’s often prefinished to a specific colour, texture and sheen. And of course, there’s a wide range of sizes as you would expect.
There’s different methods of installation, but one thing they have in common is that they’re installed before the skirting boards are fitted. Some are laid over a soft think layer of foam – an underlay. Some others are direct stick (permanently glued) and even others are floating straight onto the substrate. Engineered wood is man-made but sometimes using a natural product on the top.
Now for the comments on the disadvantages and advantages. And we have to reiterate that a lot of this is based on opinion. And of course, as you know, opinion isn’t fact. Having said that, opinions are formed as a result of facts.
Let’s start with the opinion that real natural timber has a warmth and charm to it that you just can’t beat. It’s undisputable – there’s just something about a piece of wood that’s grown on a tree that you can’t quite replicate in a man-made product. But then because it’s natural it has a mind of its own and can move, warp, twist and buckle, not to mentioned the expansion and contraction during the change of seasons. And this can really cause problems at times. So a solid timber floor requires ongoing maintenance, sometimes involving a complete resand and polish every few years.
Which is very different to vinyl plank – it really needs no maintenance apart from the regular mop to keep it clean. It can move a little bit with the change of seasons, but it’s only very minor and doesn’t materially affect the product. But at the end of the day, it’s only plastic and to some people that really bothers them. We’ve heard it called fake wood, and even cheap wood. Even though it may not be real wood, we’ve come to respect the vinyl plank for its hardiness – it lasts a long time – a far cry from the 1960’s lino that cracked and curled. And if a board gets damaged, then you peek it up and slot a new one in. Simple as that.
And that’s one of the key differences with engineered wood. If it gets damaged you’re pretty well sunk. With solid timber you can sand it out and repolish, and as we’ve just mentioned with vinyl plank you can replace it. But because the engineered wood is lapped with tongue and groove, and is installed before the skirting boards, then it’s a major task if something goes wrong – especially if the product is prefinished. Of course, it’s quick to lay and you get that finished product ready to roll straight away.
So there you have it. The beauty and charm of natural timber vs the ease of maintenance of the vinyl and the quick outcome of the engineered wood. Admittedly it’s the potential of not being able to fix problems with the engineered wood that turns us off the most (we no longer offer this product in our range) and the value for money vinyl plank that keeps getting better and better that turns us on the most.
For us it’s a hard choice between real timber and vinyl plank as to which is the better, but we reckon that vinyl plank will eventually win in the long run.
But at the end of the day it mostly comes down to personal choice.
Disclaimer. This blog is our opinion only. The information provided in our blogs is accurate and true to the best of our knowledge, but there may be omissions, errors or mistakes. The information presented in our blogs is for informational purposes only and we are not professionals, so the content we provide shouldn’t be taken as legal advice. We strongly recommend consulting with a professional before taking any sort of action. We reserve the right to change how we manage our blog and we may change the focus or content at any time.
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