Decades ago, laminate flooring became a popular choice for residential spaces due to its ease of installation, appealing appearance, and durability compared to solid hardwood flooring. Over time, its technology has improved, featuring sharper high-definition imaging, deeper embossing, better seaming mechanisms, and various innovations.
However, like any flooring option, laminate has its pros and cons when it comes to factors like installation, cleaning, and durability. There are also similar products in the market, such as luxury vinyl flooring and engineered wood flooring, making it essential to consider various aspects before making a decision.
What is Laminate Flooring?
Laminate flooring is a multi-layered floor covering with a top layer that replicates the appearance of wood or stone. It is installed on a subfloor, often with an underlayment between them. The layers include:
- Wear layer: A tough, transparent layer that allows the underlying image to show through.
- Design or image layer: A high-resolution image of the texture, like wood or stone.
- Core layer: The thickest section, made of a durable, high-density pressed board.
- Underlayment: In some cases, a thin, waterproof, and soft layer fused to the bottom of the board.
Manufacturers have made enhancements, such as micro bevels, deeper texturing, and improved graphics reproduction, to make laminate flooring more closely resemble engineered wood or luxury vinyl flooring.
Despite these improvements, laminate flooring is still considered a budget-friendly option in terms of performance, appearance, and reputation. Quality varies among products, affecting the life expectancy, with some lasting over 25 years in lightly used rooms and others needing replacement in heavy-traffic areas after around 10 years.
Laminate Flooring Cost
The cost of plastic laminate flooring typically ranges from $1 to $3 per square foot at major home improvement stores. However, designer options can go up to $10 or $12 per square foot. Many quality laminates fall within the affordable $2 to $3 range.
Variations in pricing are tied to the wear layer thickness and print layer quality. Despite being budget-friendly, it’s advisable to invest in the best laminate flooring within your budget.
Because laminate is easy to install, professional installation may not always be necessary. On a national scale, the average cost for laminate flooring installation, including materials and labour, is around $5 per square foot. This makes laminate one of the most cost-effective flooring options, comparable to mid-level carpet. In contrast, hardwood flooring installation can easily cost $15 to $20 per square foot.
Maintenance and Repair
Cleaning laminate floors is straightforward with a vacuum, dry mop, or soft broom. Stains can be wiped with a slightly damp mop or laminate floor cleaner; no floor waxing is needed.
Excessive water during mopping should be avoided, as it may cause swelling between boards. Laminate can’t withstand standing water, making impervious surfaces like vinyl or porcelain tile suitable for moisture-heavy areas.
Laminate’s wear layer provides resistance to scratches, dents, and stains, with some manufacturers offering long warranties on the wear layer. While stains are usually easy to clean, the inability to sand and refinish is a downside. Heavily worn laminate must be replaced, unlike solid hardwood.
Laminate flooring convincingly mimics the look of wood, stone, and other natural materials from a distance. Unlike real hardwood, laminate lacks defects, ensuring consistent quality and appearance across all boards. Deep embossing enhances the wood grain illusion.
However, up close, the resemblance to real wood or stone diminishes due to pattern repetition. Most brands produce five to 10 differently patterned boards, while cheaper options may only have three. Careful installation is essential to avoid placing identical boards next to each other.
While laminate is a quick and affordable way to upgrade a worn floor, it doesn’t contribute long-term real estate value to your home. For higher resale value, hardwood and engineered wood flooring are better choices.
Laminate Flooring Installation
Installing laminate flooring is quick and easy, even for those with limited flooring experience. DIY enthusiasts can complete the installation in a small room within a day or two.
While older laminate types required glue for assembly, today’s laminate utilises a modified tongue-and-groove system, often called click-and-lock or fold-lock. This system involves planks interlocking edge-to-edge and end-to-end, creating a solid mat without the need for glueing. The planks, typically featuring a particleboard core, can be easily cut to fit using mitre saws.
Laminate flooring is commonly installed as a floating floor, with interlocking planks lying on the underlayment without the need for adhesive. The installation process involves placing a foam underlayment and joining rows of planks edge-to-edge.
Comfort and Convenience
While laminate can feel firm underfoot, most installations include a resilient foam underlayment that provides a slightly springy sensation. This underlayment also eliminates the hollow sound associated with some laminate floors.
Historically, laminate floors were slippery, but recent advancements have led to the development of textured, slip-resistant wear layers. Laminate flooring may generate static electricity, but regular cleaning can help reduce this issue.
Laminate flooring is a suitable choice for allergy sufferers, as it doesn’t trap dust and allergens like carpeting. However, individuals sensitive to chemicals may experience reactions to the resins and glues used in the flooring.
Laminate Flooring vs. Luxury Vinyl Flooring
Laminate flooring is a quick and DIY-friendly option for upgrading floors without concern for long-term real estate value or a luxurious appearance. For those considering DIY projects, it’s an excellent choice. However, if water resistance is a priority, luxury vinyl flooring (LVF), or vinyl plank flooring, is worth considering.
Luxury vinyl shares many advantages with laminate, including easy installation and good performance, but it excels in water resistance. Unlike laminate, which can be damaged by water seeping through seams, luxury vinyl is entirely waterproof, making it highly resistant to water damage. Additionally, its resilient nature makes it quieter and softer underfoot compared to laminate.
Although luxury vinyl is slightly more expensive, ranging from $2 to $7 per square foot, its numerous benefits make it a compelling option for those seeking higher-quality flooring.
Is Laminate Flooring the Right Choice for You?
Laminate flooring could be the perfect fit if you’re working with a tight budget and looking to cut costs by taking on the installation yourself. Few flooring options are as cost-effective or as straightforward to install as laminate flooring.
Although laminate flooring is practical and visually appealing, it doesn’t come with the prestige and increased property value that genuine hardwood or stone tile flooring offers.