Laminate floor is a floor covering made of pressed wood.  The top only looks like wood (sometimes stone, though) because it is a photograph covered in a clear “wear layer.” While routinely confused with vinyl flooring, laminate is not vinyl flooring because it is made of completely different materials.

  1. It Is a Floating Floor
  • Laminate is always installed as a floating floor. This means it does not have the difficult nail-down installation issues of hardwood or engineered wood.
  • With the floating floor method, you first roll out inexpensive foam underlayment, tape the underlayment together, and then lay out the laminate planks.
  •   Because the planks are joined piece-to-piece and form a seriously heavy single unit, it cannot slide around.
  1. Laminate Is Wood Composite, Not Natural Wood
  • Do you consider pressboard made of wood chip to be real wood?
  • Even when viewed close-up laminate flooring can look realistic.  This is due to laminate’s photographic-quality image of real wood.

Put your face right up to laminate flooring–looks like real wood, doesn’t it? Use a magnifying glass. Amazing! That’s because laminate flooring is a surface layer of two thin sheets of paper impregnated with melamine. This surface layer is a photograph of wood grain, not real wood, and is usually covered by a hard transparent layer impervious to dogs, chairs, high heels, you name it.

  1. A Photo Makes It Look Like Wood
  • Under the wood-grain photograph is about a half-inch of wood-chip composite. So, sure–it’s wood. In theory. And herein lie both the strong and weak points of laminate flooring.
  • The strong point is that you can replicate practically anything on this Earth through a photograph, even the most costly Italian marble. The weak point is that it is fake. Fake $500 per square foot marble is still fake.
  1. Available In Snap-On or Glue-On Options
  • Laminate flooring planks, depending on the type you buy, are either snapped together or glued together. The “snap-together” kind is easier to install but not as structurally sound as the “glue-together” type. Also, the “glue-together” type resists moisture better.

Pros and Cons That Help You Decide

You are here because you waver on your choice of laminate flooring. You know that it has not been considered the classiest of all floor coverings. You think it tends to look homogeneous and manufactured.

On the other hand, its easy installation and low cost look awfully tempting.

Installation

Pro

Con

Laminate installs fast and easy. Fast: you can install 300 square feet in one weekend. Older types of laminate flooring required you to glue pieces to each other. Today’s types of laminate flooring have a click/lock or fold/lock design that allows planks to fit together like puzzle pieces. Easy: since the planks are constructed of soft particleboard, they can be cut with a hand saw or even a utility knife. While designed to be easy, the click/lock or fold/lock design often does not work as well as it should. Sides of the boards can be especially difficult to join with adjoining sides. Also, if you force boards into place, you risk curling up the top wear layer, compromising the floor’s ability to resist moisture.

 

Cleaning

Pro

Con

Easy to clean. Just use a vacuum or broom. Mop with a slightly damp mop or better yet, laminate floor cleaner. No floor waxing is ever necessary. Excessive water can seep into the seams between boards, causing swelling. Thus, you need to use special laminate floor cleaner.

 

Moisture

Pro

Con

Laminate flooring can be installed in semi-moist areas like powder rooms, kitchens, and other places where you encounter “topical moisture,”. As long as the boards are tight against each other, leaving no avenue for moisture, laminate can resist some water. However, laminate will not tolerate standing pools of water–a condition that describes kitchens and bathrooms when there are water leaks. For heavy moisture, you need a very impervious surface like vinyl or porcelain tile.

 

Durability and Maintenance

Pro

Con

Unlike wood, which can dent, laminate flooring is almost impervious to dents and scratches. Laminate flooring has a “wear layer” that protects the photographic layer underneath. Laminate flooring’s tough surface resists stains. And if you do get a stain, it is easy to clean off. The inability to sand and refinish is one of the biggest disadvantages of laminate flooring. If laminate is heavily worn, deep scratched, or grooved, it cannot be sanded or refinished like solid hardwood: it must be replaced.

Functionality

Pro

Con

While laminate can feel hard under foot without an underlayment, most installations do include underlayment. This gives the flooring a slightly springy feeling, making it easier to stand on for long periods, such as when standing at a stove or sink. Traditionally, laminate flooring has been very slippery. More currently, though, manufacturers have been developing slip-resistant wear layers. Also, laminate flooring has a tendency to create static electricity, though this can be prevented by keeping the floor clean.

Appearance

Pro

Con

Laminate flooring faithfully reproduces the look of wood, stone, and other natural materials. Unlike real hardwood, which comes with many imperfect pieces that need to be discarded or re-engineered, there are no defects in laminate flooring. Every board is of consistent quality and appearance. This faithfully reproduced appearance disappears when you get too close to the flooring. More at issue is pattern repetition. Only five to ten differently patterned boards will be produced. If installation is not done correctly, you can end up with two of the same boards next to each other.

Resale Value

Pro

Con

Laminate flooring manufacturers have been working hard at improving the product. Micro bevels, deeper texturing, and better graphic reproduction are three ways this product has improved, bringing it closer to the cachet enjoyed by solid hardwood and engineered wood flooring. Laminate flooring has classically been the “death knell” for commanding higher resale value when selling your home. Hardwood and engineered wood give you better value when reselling if you want to get top dollar for your home.