Both ceramic and laminate flooring are essentially imitations of nature. Ceramic is basically man-made stone, created by firing clay and other materials at high temperatures. Laminate flooring is particleboard topped with hardwood laminate to make it look like solid hardwood. Laminate flooring generally has a 20-year lifespan, while ceramic can last almost indefinitely. On the other hand, the installation process for ceramic flooring can feel like it lasts forever, while installing laminate flooring is almost as simple as rolling out a throw rug.
Characteristics and Applications
Ceramic is the harder of the two materials. It feels like slick stone. Laminate is softer than wood because of its foam underlayment.
Ceramic is also moisture-resistant; laminate isn't. Thus, ceramic is preferred in high-moisture areas like bathrooms and kitchens.
Ceramic in a bedroom, on the other hand, might not be the best way to greet your feet in the morning, while laminate wood is almost as coddling as carpet. Similarly, if you're considering tile or laminate in a living room, laminate is usually a cozier choice.
Flooring Installation Process
Ceramic is by far the more complicated material to install; only a very capable do-it-yourselfer should attempt it. It requires a solid cement board underlayment, then mortar to hold in the tile, which requires a special tile cutter or wet saw for cuts. Then it has to be grouted and sealed. The whole process takes several days.
Laminate flooring can be installed by almost anyone in an afternoon with a standard miter saw. It snaps together like a puzzle, sits on a layer of hard foam and isn't attached to the house in any way. It's just pinned under the floor trim.
Tile vs. Laminate Cost
The cost of ceramic varies widely based on which tile you choose, but it's not as affordable as laminate in most cases. Laminate flooring typically costs between $0.79 and $3 per square foot plus $0.29 to $0.79 per square foot for the underlayment. If you have it installed, expect to pay between $3.80 and $4.80 per square foot.
Good ceramic floor tile will cost around $4 to $8 per square foot, and the other materials, such as cement board, mortar, grout, saw rental, can more than double that cost. If you use professional installers, you're talking a few hours' work for laminate, versus days for tile. Professional tile installation typically costs about $5 per square foot on top of the material cost.
Maintenance of Flooring
Comparing tile vs. laminate maintenance can help you decide. Laminate flooring is marketed for its ease of maintenance. There's no regular sealing, waxing or other requirements, and it's cleaned with mild cleansers and very little water.
Ceramic tiles are highly stain-resistant and easy to clean, but the grout between the tiles isn't. It requires scrubbing, bleaching, occasional resealing and sometimes removal and regrouting.
Options for Repair
When considering laminate or tile flooring, the potential damage and repair process is also a consideration. Ceramic is less likely to suffer damage than laminate flooring, and it's easier to repair if it does. If something is dropped on ceramic and cracks it, the damaged tiles can be cut out with a grout saw and chisel and replaced without affecting the rest of the floor.
If part of your laminate floor is damaged by trauma or moisture, there's no practical way to patch it or do a partial replacement. That's because the floor system is all locked together by tongue-and-groove connectors that have to be installed from one end of the room to the other.
Kevin McDermott is a professional newspaper journalist and landlord. He was born in Chicago and graduated Eastern Illinois University with a degree in journalism. He currently covers regional politics for a Midwestern newspaper. McDermott writes about home improvement for various websites.