Laminate Floor Buying Guide

buying-guideLaminate flooring is attractive and durable. Introduced in 1977, it quickly gained popularity as a lower-cost alternative to wood.  It now simulates wood flooring, natural stone flooring and more.
This laminate floor buying guide provides an overview of this attractive flooring material. See our other laminate flooring guides for information on pricing, installation and care & maintenance.

Laminate is a synthetic material with 4 basic layers. Starting at the top, they are:

  • Wear Layer: This is a thin layer of clear, tough melamine resin. It stands up to foot traffic very well and can protect the floor from scrapes, dents and gouges too.
  • Pattern Layer: This is printed paper, much like a photograph. The image is usually real wood or stone.
  • Core Layer: Made from dense fiberboard saturated with resin to produce hardness and strength, it is also water-resistant. The core layer is the thickest of the layers.
  • Balancing Layer: This layer stabilizes the plank and also acts as a vapor barrier.

Some laminate products come with attached underlay for a fifth layer. They are a good choice if no suitable underlay is in place.

High-pressure up to 600 lbs per square inch and 400F heat is used to press the layers together. The result is a laminate (layered) product that rarely comes apart.

Large sheets of laminated flooring are made and are later milled into planks with varying widths and lengths. The planks are given tongue and groove edges for locking them together.

Wear and Durability

The melamine wear layer on most laminate floors is very tough, though some cheaper laminate products are not as durable. You get what you pay for. Leading brands like Pergo can be expected to look good for 20-35 years and possibly longer. More affordable laminate will last 10-20 years.

Of course the more you look after your floors the longer they will last, so take care and use the right laminate floor cleaner wherever possible.

Materials, Lengths and Patterns

Similar to solid wood flooring, you’ll find laminate in hundreds of width and finish combination. Finishes replicate all species of wood in various shades, many types of natural stone flooring and more.

The length of the material ranges from 8’ to 12’. All planks in a single box will be the same length. When installing it, you stagger the pieces to offset the butt edges.

The thicker the laminate flooring is, the better. The cheapest laminate flooring can be as little as 3mm thick; better laminates have a thickness of at least 8mm to 10mm. The best quality standard thickness you can buyer is 12mm.

Leading Brands and Current Trends

Pergo is the company that invented laminate flooring and it continues to be the industry leader. Other brands to consider include Bruce, Armstrong, Dream Home, Ispiri, Kensington Manor, Alloc, Tarkett, Shaw, Mohawk, Columbia Laminate, Max Windsor, Lamette, Mannington and Quick Step.

Choose a laminate based on the thickness of the wear layer and the warranty. This will give you an idea of the quality. Then, choose the pattern and style you desire.

In terms of trends, laminate floors tend to follow and keep abreast with solid hardwood flooring trends. So right now vintage style laminates are in, wide planks, distressed looking wood, anything in fact that looks ‘old world’. Laminate floors that mimic ceramic tile, slate and granite flooring are also very popular right now.

Laminate Flooring FAQs
Q: Is laminate flooring suitable for a kitchen or bathroom?
A: See our article on laminate in the kitchen for a full discussion.

Q: Is laminate flooring easy to care for?
A: Yes. Laminate is very easy to maintain. Sweeping and light mopping is often all that is required. See the guide Maintenance, Care and Cleaning of laminate Flooring for all the details.

Q: Can laminate flooring be refinished?
A: No. When the wear layer is worn, the flooring will need to be replaced. Some add a coat of polyurethane over the melamine, but the results are varied.

Q: What is harder to install, a solid wood floor or laminate flooring?
A: Genuine wood flooring. Laminate is very easy to install. For most applications, the planks are not nailed together or to the subfloor. The piece interlock to keep them in place. They may or may not be glued. See our Installation Guide for Laminate Flooring for complete details.

If you want to spend less money and get the look of real wood or stone, laminate flooring may be the right option. This is especially true if you don’t know if you’ll be living in your home long-term. You’ll spend 33% to 60% less for laminate wood, though you won’t get the durability of solid wood. If you’re not familiar with laminate flooring, browse your options. You might really like what you see.

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