Laminate flooring has been around for decades but has taken a backseat to newer styles over the years. Luxury vinyl flooring and engineered hardwood have surpassed laminate in terms of sales, but new types of laminate flooring perform considerably better than the planks you’ll find in older homes.
If you’re looking for something affordable and sturdy that resembles wood, laminate should be on your radar. Before you start browsing shades and styles, it’s a good idea to know what laminate flooring is and understand how it’s made.
Laminate Flooring Explained
Fused flooring is nothing new in the flooring world. By using high heat and intense pressure, manufacturers can make a wide range of flooring, and that’s the general process behind laminate planks as well. It’s a multilayered product, but contrary to popular belief, it’s not made from plastic. There are a lot of misconceptions with laminate flooring, and knowing how it’s made can clear up confusion quickly.
Also referred to as a balancing layer or back layer, it’s found on the bottom of each plank and helps protect your floorboards from moisture. It adds dimensional stability, and depending on the material used; it can also help dampen noise.
The middle of each laminate plank has a core, and it’s the thickest part of the board. High-density and medium-density fiberboard are usually combined with resin for the core layer. This layer provides durability and additional moisture protection. There are also “waterproof” cores made from synthetic material.
This is another layer that goes by many names, so it could be called an image or design layer depending on the manufacturer. It’s a printed design that gives laminate the look of wood or stone, and the higher quality the print, the more realistic your flooring will be. Finishing techniques and our next section can play a part in that as well, however.
Whereas the backing layer protects your plank from subfloor issues, the wear layer provides protection from daily abuse. From UV rays, to scuffs and scratches, a good wear layer can be the difference in how long your floors retain their “new” look. Aluminum oxide is the most popular option with manufacturers, and something you’ll find on other types of flooring as well.
With any quality product, you will be able to find specifications for the wear layer. Thicker wear layers are ideal, but it can increase the price. You should also be able to obtain information on the backing layer and core, two areas we advise you to look into before settling on a brand. This will give you a rough idea of how laminate is produced.
How is Laminate Flooring Installed?
Laminate is one of the easier styles of flooring to install, but that wasn’t always the case. Older types of flooring often used glue, and we’ve seen plenty of boards tacked into place by uninformed installers that ran into a tricky spot at the end of a run.
In our experience, over 80% of modern laminate flooring is installed through a click-lock system. How it actually works will vary from one manufacturer to the next, but it makes installation incredibly easy. That said, a bead of glue can go a long way to securing boards in place, and is required by some brands.
Tools needed for laminate flooring installation are minimal, and you can read more about those in our guide. The important thing to remember is laminate is thick and tough, not like plastic-based flooring that you can score and snap with a knife, so you’ll need powered saw and should be comfortable using one.
Laminate Flooring Pros and Cons
One of the big advantages with laminate flooring is the fact it can give you the look of wood in your home at a fraction of the cost. That’s not the only perk of laminate flooring, especially the new varieties, which include water-resistant planks. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at the pros and cons of laminate flooring.
Laminate Flooring Pros
Laminate Flooring Cons
Q: Do I need underlayment for laminate flooring?
A: Yes, and it’s highly recommended as it can help with minor imperfections in subfloors and fight moisture. Some laminate will come with underlayment pre-attached.
Q: Is laminate safe in bathrooms?
A: We do not recommend installing laminate in any room with moisture, which includes bathrooms. Even if the manufacturer says it’s okay, proceed with caution.
Q: Are VOCs a problem with laminate flooring?
A: They used to be, but the industry has clamped down on VOCs. Any reputable brand should have certified flooring available that meets the standards for indoor air quality.
Q: Can I wet mop a laminate floor?
A: Spray mops are okay, but pouring liquid directly on your floor is a bad idea. For tips on cleaning laminate, refer to the product’s manual or check out our cleaning guide.