Flooring manufacturers have made vast improvements in the past 20-30 years in the way flooring is produced. New techniques have given life to older styles of flooring like laminate as well including durable water-resistant versions. While laminate has seen a resurgence, it’s still a good idea to weigh the pros and cons while comparing it against other types of flooring.
Laminate Flooring Explained
There are several styles of flooring surfaces available to homeowners today, although most fall into two categories. There are “solid” products like hardwood flooring and ceramic or porcelain tile along with layered flooring. Engineered hardwood is layered along with laminate flooring.
In most cases, laminate flooring comprised four layers. The wear layer is on top and there to deal with daily abuse and light scratches. The thicker the wear layer, the more protection the design layer has. This is where the wood-like pattern comes from as companies use high definition images to replicate the look of wood or stone.
Beneath this pattern lies the heart of laminate flooring which is known as the core. It’s the thickest part of laminate flooring, and followed by the backing layer. The composite layer provides protection from the subfloor, and some type of laminate flooring will have pre-attached underlayment on the bottom as well.
Comparing Laminate against other Hard Flooring Options
Before we get into the pros and cons of laminate flooring, you may want to see how it stacks up against its closest competitors. While it’s not comparable to a flooring surface like carpet or tile, it’s often used as a substitute for hardwood, luxury vinyl flooring and linoleum.
Laminate Flooring vs. Hardwood
Considering laminate is designed to look like natural hardwood flooring, it’s considered the closest competitor by many homeowners today. The biggest difference between these two materials is the price, as you’ll pay considerably more per square foot for solid hardwood flooring than you will for premium laminate.
Hardwood is also more sustainable than laminate flooring. Thick hardwood flooring can be refinished several times whereas laminate flooring is essentially ruined once the wear layer is gone. Laminate flooring is easier to install, however, especially for homeowners that want to do it themselves. Other advantages include its pet-friendly nature and the wider array of styles.
Laminate Flooring vs. Engineered Hardwood
The next step down for many homeowners that can’t afford solid hardwood is engineered flooring, which is closer in construction to laminate than other alternatives. As with laminate, you can find engineered flooring in hundreds of colors and styles including stone. Aside from both being easy to install, that’s where the similarities end.
Both engineered and laminate are easy to clean, but laminate tends to handle pets better. While you can find engineered hardwood and laminate with very similar designs, laminate is typically $1.00 - $1.50 cheaper per square foot than any style of engineered flooring.
Laminate Flooring vs. Luxury Vinyl Flooring
Luxury vinyl flooring has become one of the top sellers throughout the United States, and a great alternative to hardwood or tile. It’s a step up from laminate when it comes to quality and construction as well, considering you can find these boards with stone composite cores and virgin vinyl cores.
Luxury Vinyl or LVP is constructed in a similar fashion to laminate flooring, but can be several times the price. It’s more resistant to moisture and light spills than wood-based flooring, although new techniques have allowed laminate to be water-resistant to a degree as well.
Water-Resistant and Waterproof Laminate Flooring
Companies rely on a variety of techniques to modernize laminate flooring. While “water resistance” used to be one of the biggest drawbacks to laminate flooring; it’s a con that’s notably absent from our comparisons. That’s because companies now produce laminate flooring that is rated as water-resistant and waterproof.
One of the best examples comes from Pergo, one of the companies responsible for the resurgence of laminate flooring in the United States. The company’s waterproof WetProtect technology is found on several of their collections while Shaw Repel is water-resistant laminate flooring. Other lines in this class include RevWood from Mohawk and the budget-friendly AquaGuard line from Floor & Décor.
The thing to remember when choosing laminate rated as waterproof or water-resistance is placement and the warranty. They may require a professional installation if you want to take full advantage of the company's guarantee. Just because laminate flooring is waterproof doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for damp areas either, as you’ll need to consider things like traction and humidity as well.
Laminate Flooring Pros and Cons
When you understand how laminate flooring is made and how it stacks up against similar styles of hard flooring, it’s time to weigh the pros and cons. While these can vary to a degree based on a homeowner's needs, you’ll find that some things are common regardless of the budget or where the flooring is installed.
The biggest perk of laminate flooring for many homeowners is the price. It’s significantly cheaper than solid hardwood, luxury vinyl flooring or engineered hardwood. This allows homeowners to cover larger rooms for a fraction the price, and most can even install it themselves. That’s due in part to the way it’s made along with the influx of click-lock systems.
Having the ability to lay down large runs of floor in minutes without the use of glue is a huge advantage, as you’ll only need a handful of tools and a helper to install these floors. You can find a wide range of styles as well. Want flooring that resembles antique cherry or weathered oak? That’s an option along with beveled edges which add a sense of realism.
In our experience, laminate floors are also extremely easy to clean and maintain. They withstand stains better than hardwood and other natural flooring, but can still be swept, vacuumed or cleaned with a spray mop. Waterproof and water-resistant laminate can be wet mopped in most cases, although standing water is never a good idea.
As for the cons, there are only three with realism, durability and the green factor. Even the most eco-friendly laminate can’t compare to hardwood. There are still adhesives or binders used in these products, which can potentially keep them out of recycling centers. That’s tied directly to durability considering you can’t repair or refinish laminate flooring.
When the wear layer is gone, the flooring isn’t far behind so you can only expect these floors to hold up for 10-25 years in most cases. It’s also impossible to replicate the look and feel of traditional hardwood or stone with laminate. Regardless of the techniques or technologies used, you won’t mistake it for solid hardwood or high-quality engineered flooring.
Laminate Flooring Pros
- Range of Styles – The amount of styles, colors and finishing techniques used on laminate flooring is staggering. Homeowners can choose natural tones along with wilder hues from dozens of species, including laminate that resembles other materials.
- DIY Friendly Flooring – The cost to install flooring can be expensive, and some types are not easy for homeowners to tackle themselves. Laminate is an exception; however, as we feel it’s one of the easier styles to install next to luxury vinyl and engineered hardwood.
- Maintenance - Nobody wants to waste hours trying to keep their floors tidy or trying to remove stubborn stains. Well, you won’t have to if you choose laminate with a thick high-quality wear layer. Laminate is easy to maintain and can exceed its shelf life by decades when properly cared for.
- Price – Installing solid hardwood or even engineered flooring in a 1,400 square foot home can get quite expensive, and LVP is not far behind if you want thick, scratch-resistant floors. Laminate flooring is the cheapest comparable style at every tier, including waterproof and water-resistant laminate.
Laminate Flooring Cons
- The Look– A common complaint with laminate is that it looks fake, and it’s one that’s hard to argue against. Even with the inclusion of HD printers and new finishing techniques, the best laminate will pale in comparison to engineered hardwood or even LVP.
- Sustainability – Are you looking for green flooring that leaves a minimal carbon footprint behind? While laminate has come a long way in that regard, and you can find it with low VOCs, there are far better sustainable options to choose from.
- Durability – Hardwood flooring can be refinished if it becomes damaged, and you can do the same with thick premium engineered hardwood as well. The wear layer is the only line of protection against damage, and is impossible to repair. Boards themselves can be challenging to replace as there is no flex like you’ll find with LVP.
Laminate Flooring Installation and Cost
If you’ve decided the pros outweigh the cons with laminate flooring, the next step is to consider pricing, brands and the installation process itself. While we touched on some of the best brands and ones to avoid in this guide, pricing is something that can fluctuate somewhat throughout the year.
Price per sq. ft.
5.4” x 50.7”
11.5” x 46.5”
7” x 40”
5.2” x 47.2”
11.8” x 35.4”
7.4” x 47”
4.9” x 47.7”
Traditional laminate flooring costs between $1.99 to $3.00 per square foot on average, whether you buy it online or purchase it locally. Water-resistant and waterproof variants carry a slightly higher price tag, but laminate as a whole is cheaper than luxury vinyl flooring or engineered hardwood.
The cost to install laminate flooring will vary by region with a range between $2.00 to $3.00 per square foot in most locations. You may get a discount if you purchase the flooring and installation in a package, although it won’t cost you a penny if you can install laminate flooring yourself. The biggest issue is usually time and the tools required to complete the job successfully.
As you can see, laminate flooring isn’t the right choice for everyone, but provides homeowners with a budget-friendly alternative to hardwood or LVP. The price and ease of installation are the main advantages so you just need to keep location in mind if you need to install flooring in a damp location in your home.