Low price, easy installation, and an even easier maintenance and a long life – these are just some of the characteristics of laminate flooring.
It was created all the way back in 1977 in Sweden by the Perstorp company, but it wasn’t until the mid-eighties that they started selling their “Pergo” line in Europe. Nowadays, due to its incredible popularity, the name “Pergo” is almost synonymous with laminate flooring in the US.
Laminate gets its name from lamination – a process used to create the planks. The planks are made by heating, pressuring and then gluing together several layers of different materials.
Laminate planks usually consist of five main layers, with each one being a fusion of different materials such as sawdust, wood chips, cork or foam. But what makes it so appealing to buyers is the fact that its top layer can be printed to resemble the color and texture of almost any natural material.
However, a popular flooring solution doesn’t always equal a good one. It’s important to know its strengths and weaknesses in order to see if it would be a good fit for your home.
Note: check our our new, in-depth guide for an even more comprehensive review of laminate’s pros & cons over other types of flooring.
Laminate Flooring Pros
- Easy to install
- Can go anywhere
- Anti-allergen & anti-bacterial potential
- Resistant & durable
- Easy to maintain
- Won’t crack or stretch
Laminate flooring has a separate decorative layer just underneath the transparent top wear layer. A pattern or an image can be printed onto a paper-like material, which gets embossed in resin to ensure it stays intact.
It’s a relatively simple technology that can be used to emulate almost any type of natural texture or color – wood, stone, ceramic tiles, and even brick.
While most hardwood floors come in 8 or 10 feet long planks, laminate flooring is usually never longer than 4 feet.
Although it might not sound like that big of a deal, easily packable and transportable flooring really does make a big difference when it comes to home renovation.
That means you can transport it on your own, as two rooms worth of flooring could easily fit into an average sedan. It’s a seemingly insignificant thing that can significantly reduce the overall cost of your renovation project.
3. Easy to install
All laminate flooring comes pre-finished with an easy to install click
Most mid to high-range planks can be interlocked so tight that they don’t need any adhesive at all. The only thing they need is a thin sheet of underlayment material and almost anyone can install them on their own.
The simple mechanism means that even the least experienced DIY enthusiast can tackle a large room in about a day’s worth of work.
4. Can go anywhere
Laminate is one of the rare types of flooring that can be installed over almost any surface. Apart from some vinyl planks, and of course carpeting, it’s a pretty rare trait in the flooring industry.
Laminate planks have a moisture and water-proof bottom layer that add to their stability and sturdiness, making them a great choice for almost any room of the house.
You just need to make sure that the underlayment is smooth and wrinkle-free, and nobody will even notice that there’s an old, damaged floor underneath.
5. Anti-allergen & anti-bacterial potential
Laminate planks are uniform and compact, making them resistant to mold and bacteria.
Laminate flooring can give a warm and natural feeling to any room, without all the drawbacks of natural material.
Planks can also be treated with an anti-allergen and anti-bacterial coatings that make them a great choice for people suffering from allergies.
6. Resistant and durable
Unlike most other flooring materials, laminate is much more resistant to damage caused by the elements.
The top wear layer of laminate planks is stain and dirt resistant, which makes it suitable for high-traffic areas such as entryways and hallways.
Another great advantage of laminate flooring is it’s resistance to UV-inflicted damage. Other types of flooring such as hardwood and stone can get easily discolored if exposed to direct sunlight.
Laminate flooring doesn’t fade, so it’s a very popular flooring solution for sunrooms.
7. Easy to maintain
Laminate planks don’t contain any natural materials in their first couple of layers, which makes them easy to clean and maintain.
Their top coat is stain and dirt resistant and can be cleaned with just a damp cloth or a mop.
Other than regular vacuuming and mopping, this type of flooring requires no additional care. There’s also no need to use any specialized cleaning products, as just a mild detergent will do the trick.
8. Won’t crack or stretch
Laminate flooring is installed without adhering to the subfloor, and it’s kept in place by interlocking individual planks or tiles.
Our homes experience drastic changes in temperature and humidity thanks to the heating and cooling systems we use. Every type of flooring will expand and compress when the temperature changes.
If it’s adhered to the subfloor, it can bend or crack as it moves. Laminate flooring isn’t as rigid as hardwood floors are, and there’s very little danger of cracking or stretching.
Laminate Flooring Cons
1. Can’t be refinished
Laminate flooring has a single top wear layer that can’t be refinished.
So, if your laminate flooring gets damaged in any way, individual pieces will have to be replaced.
Eventually, the top layer will wear out completely, and the entire floor will have to be replaced. In the long run, this often makes laminate more expensive than many hardwoods, which have a much longer lifespan and can be refinished multiple times.
2. Pretty loud
If you’ve ever walked on a laminate floor, then you’re probably familiar with the loud, hollow sound it produces.
There’s very little you can actually do to prevent this, and even installing a sheet of cork or foam underneath it won’t make that big of a difference.
If the sound doesn’t bother you, then go for it. However, if you live in a place with weak sound insulation, we suggest choosing another type of flooring if you want to stay on good terms with your neighbors.
3. Lacks natural feeling
Good quality laminate flooring will easily fool your eyes, but it can’t fool your sense of touch.
Laminate planks do a great job of looking like natural materials such as hardwood, brick, and even tiles, and some are even embossed with natural feeling textures.
Nevertheless, the look and general feel of the material will quickly fade when you actually touch it, and it will seem quite cold and unnatural.
As laminate is an entirely man-made material, it lacks certain properties that we take for granted in natural materials such as hardwood.
Although pretty thin, laminate planks are hard and inflexible. Obviously, you don’t want your floor to be too yielding, but too hard of a surface can cause a myriad of other problems.
Walking on a hard surface for too long will leave your feet and back aching, and it’s not suitable for walking toddlers or small children either.
5. Causes health problems?
Not a very environmentally friendly material in the first place, laminate is sometimes made with compounds derived from formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde is a volatile organic chemical that has a very low boiling point, and can easily start emitting potentially toxic molecules into the air.
VOC emissions are a major concern to environmental experts, who claim a prolonged exposure to them can cause skin and eye infections even in healthy people.
How to Find a High-Quality Laminate Floor
When it comes to buying flooring, what you pay is usually what you get. The same goes with laminate.
You can find laminate flooring on both ends of the price spectrum – there’s budget laminate that goes for as low as $2 per square foot, as well as luxurious $12 planks.
The best way to ensure you’re getting the best quality laminate is to look at its warranty. Well-known and reputable manufacturers have at least a 20-year warranty on their floors, which is a great indicator of its quality.
But beware – some manufacturers give out extended warranties only on the center layer of the planks, and it doesn’t cover its top wear layer. A quality top layer is what makes laminate last, and even a 30-year warranty won’t do you any good if the top layer fades out after five.
If you’re not on a budget, I suggest going for premium laminate. Premium quality planks are about 12mm thick, which is significantly thicker than mid-range laminate that averages at around 8mm.
So, to sum up, there are just a couple of things you should keep in mind when choosing laminate flooring – warranty and thickness.
As it is with any home improvement project, getting a realistic estimate of how much laminate will cost you can prove to be quite tricky.
There are a lot of factors to consider, as each one of them can have a huge impact on the overall price of your project:
Although the price of the planks is more or less the same, the price of transport and installation can vary drastically depending on where you live.
The size of the project
The more material yo have the cheaper the installation process will be. There’s much less cutting and trimming involved in big rooms and contractors often give discounts if that’s case.
Quick and easy installation means less work hours to be pain but expect about a $20-$25 hourly fee for reliable contractors. The cost of labor will add $2-$3 to the overall cost of the material per square foot.
Make sure you check whether or not the laminate you’ve bought has to be installed over a specific subfloor. Some higher-end planks come with a cushioned bottom layer, and the surface they’re installed on doesn’t need any prep work.
However, if there has to be a special subflooring installed, such as foam or cork, expect to add up to $1.5 to the price per square foot, plus the cost of materials.
The type of laminate you choose
Many large home improvement chains offer laminate flooring for as little as $1 per sqft. As we’ve stated before, price really does determine the quality when it comes to laminate, so we suggest you stay away from low-end cheap planks.
Instead of going over to Lumber Liquidators, we suggest you buy laminate directly from the manufacturer. There are many well-known reputable companies that have been on the market for years, and you really can’t go wrong with them.
You can send an inquiry to manufacturers such as Mannington, Shaw, Armstrong, Pergo, Mohawk and Quick-Step to find out the prices of specific products, but most of their higher-end laminate averages around $4.
Laminate has acquired quite a bad reputation when it comes to its durability.
However, stories of people replacing laminate flooring after less than three years really only apply to the dirt cheap, dollar planks.
If you take good care of it, laminate flooring from a reputable manufacturer will last you anywhere from 20 to 30 years. The more expensive the planks are, the better they’ll withstand the test of time.
Laminate Flooring Reviews
Probably the most dominant manufacturer of laminate flooring across the US, Mohawk’s huge selection of lines is bound to have something that will fit your taste.
They have over 130 lines of laminate flooring, with 58 different oak designs. Most of their lines feature a very neutral, classic finish, but they also offer a range of high-gloss and distressed planks in a variety of colors.
Buying from an established, well-known company such as Mohawk is a great choice, as almost all contractors are familiar with the installation process of their specific flooring.
They’ve recently patented their GenuEdge technology, which rolls the photographic design over the edges of the plank. This gives the floor a much more natural look and feel than regular flat printing.
Pergo is a true pioneer when it comes to laminate flooring – they’re the first ever company that started mass producing and introducing it to the US market.
Originally founded in Sweden, Pergo is now a part of the Mohawk Conglomerate. Their products are available all across the US and fall into the mid to high-range price category.
Their planks are pretty unique as they often feature stenciled designs on a toned down wood texture. They’ve also recently introduced their Zoo line aimed at children, that have small animal stencils all over them.
Their website is a gold mine when it comes to installation and maintenance instructions, so make sure you check it out if you’re planning a DIY project.
QuickStep was a brand founded by the Unilin company back in the 1960s, and is now also a part of the Mohawk Conglomerate.
QuickStep proved to be a major game changer when it comes to laminate flooring, as it introduced the award-winning click-lock system called Uniclick™. Almost all laminate floors today use that very interlocking system.
Their laminate is as closest to real hardwood as it can get, and a closer look at any one of their planks reveals an astonishing attention to detail.
QuickStep offers planks as long as “54, which is great if you’re looking to recreate the warm and natural feel of rustic hardwood floors.
The Mannington company is famous for its high-end LVTs, but their laminate flooring doesn’t fall that far behind.
They have a wide selection of lines to choose from, many of which feature premium 12mm thick laminate planks. They’re also one of the few companies that offers laminate tiles with stone and brick finishes.
Their newest Restoration laminate collection features wide planks with light, somewhat distressed finishes that give any room a cozy, rustic look. Most of their newer lines come with a wax-effect finish, which give a more realistic, weathered feel to them.
Shaw Industries has been around for almost 70 years, and in all that time they managed to stay on the top of the flooring game. Most recognized for its commercial flooring and carpeting, they’ve opened their first laminate flooring facility back in 2002.
They were the first to manufacture high-gloss laminate in the US, and are famous for their ability to create incredibly texture and photorealistic laminate planks.
However, as good as their hardwood reproduction is, they’re not the best when it comes to stone finishes. But we believe that having more than 190 different hardwood finished to choose from kind of evens that out.