A type of composite flooring, laminate can mimic the appearance of hardwood, stone, and other materials.
Due to technological advances, today’s laminate is high-quality and versatile.
Its main benefits are durability, affordability, and easy maintenance.
Laminate offers simpler DIY installation and repair than counterparts.
Laminate floor is chameleon-like, able to replicate the look of other types of flooring in material that is far more durable and significantly less expensive than its counterparts. While the first generation of laminates that appeared on the market in the early 1980s earned a reputation for looking artificial, more advanced contemporary laminate flooring is widely regarded as an attractive solution for well-used spaces in which hardwood or stone would be quickly damaged—and as an affordable alternative for those on tight budgets.
What Is Laminate Flooring?
Introduced in 1977 by the Swedish company Perstorp, laminate is a composite flooring material made up of multiple layers.
The bottom, or base layer, consists of a high-density wood-chip composite, such as fiberboard or plywood, that provides stability and makes up the bulk of a laminate floorboard.
Above that is an image layer that gives the material its look—a high-quality image reproduction resembling a material such as stone, metal, or, most frequently wood (which is why the product is sometimes erroneously referred to as “laminate wood”).
On top, the wear layer offers a transparent shield against damage, in the form of a melamine-based synthetic coating.
Some laminate flooring manufacturers also include an additional layer beneath the base to enhance its resistance to moisture and sound. The layers are fused together in a single high-pressure, high-temperature press operation, resulting in planks that are typically between 7 to 12 millimeters thick.
Laminate is easy to clean and stands up to spills, scratches, and stains, making it particularly popular in commercial applications—and among homeowners with children and pets.
Where to Install Laminate Flooring
Prized above all for its resistance to common types of damage, laminate flooring is particularly well-suited to high-traffic areas of the house, such as entryways, dens, and dining and living rooms—as well as spaces used by children that must stand up to spills and inevitable roughhousing, like playrooms and finished basements.
Highly versatile, laminate flooring can also serve a variety of other applications. You can install it anywhere you might use hardwood, such as bedrooms and dining areas.
While all laminate offers some level of water resistance, and there are pricier, more thoroughly waterproof products that can be installed in kitchens, the material isn’t a good fit for rooms that routinely accumulate high levels of moisture, like bathrooms and laundry rooms.
How to Install Laminate Flooring
Compared to many other kinds of flooring, laminate is remarkably easy to install. Laminate provides what is called a floating floor, meaning that the planks are attached to each other but not the subfloor below. Rather than being nailed in, most laminate boards click into place through a tongue-and-groove system—though some laminate products are joined with glue. This also means that laminate can be installed directly on top of other kinds of flooring (besides carpeting) without having to remove it.
To avoid leaving unsightly gaps between planks, your subfloor must be level—or, if not, outfitted with a thin layer of plywood on top. The material also requires the addition of a foam or felt underlayment between the subfloor and the laminate.
Installing or repairing laminate flooring is a simple, straightforward DIY job compared to other materials. Nevertheless, installing it from scratch is time-consuming and physically demanding, so you may still want to hire a local laminate flooring installation pro. A flooring contractor near you may also help you save money on materials since they are trained to use the product in the most efficient manner.
How Much Does Laminate Flooring Cost?
One of the main benefits of laminate flooring is its relatively low price—with average costs between $1,400 and $4,300, depending on the size of the floor and the type of laminate product.
Depending on the type of finish you choose, laminate planks cost between $0.70 and $2 per square foot. The lowest-priced options mimic wood styles like maple, walnut, and oak, while those resembling hickory, cherry, and beech are on the pricier end.
For professional laminate flooring installation, labor costs typically fall between $2 and $8 per square foot. These prices typically also cover the underlay and adhesive materials required for installation.
Pros and Cons of Laminate Flooring
Today’s high-quality laminate flooring can be a perfect solution for homeowners with particular needs, but like any type of flooring, it has its own drawbacks.
Durability: Laminate’s ability to resist scratching, fading, and spills provides its primary appeal to consumers, especially parents and pet owners.
Variety: Designed to mimic the appearance of other types of flooring, there are laminate products that suit any kind of room and every different sensibility.
Inexpensive: Installing laminate costs less than any other type of flooring besides vinyl, linoleum, or polished concrete.
Low maintenance: Resistant to many types of damage, and easier to clean than many counterparts, laminate provides flooring with minimal hassle.
Comfort: A laminate plank’s wood-chip composite core, and the underlayment beneath the flooring, make for cushioned, low-impact footfalls.
Easy installation and repair: A floating floor made up of click-together boards makes for relatively simple installation and repair that can be safely performed as a DIY job. Since it can be installed on top of many other kinds of flooring, it’s often a lower-cost replacement even with professional installation.
Short lifespan: Laminate flooring cannot be refinished; once the wear layer has been damaged or chipped, the planks must be replaced. Depending on the location and frequency of maintenance, a laminate floor will last between 10–30 years.
Variable quality: While today’s best laminate products are far superior to those that became popular in the 1980s, you must be discerning while shopping to avoid the cheap, plastic-looking laminates still on the market.
Noise: Like all types of floating floors, laminate can make more noise underfoot than flooring that’s nailed to the subfloor.
Chipping: While laminate wood stands up very well to most types of wear and tear, it can chip fairly easily.
Water damage: Most laminate flooring is water-resistance but not waterproof: it won’t be harmed by small spills that are cleaned up quickly, but if your home floods or accumulates any standing water, the base layer can absorb moisture and begin to swell and rot. Since laminate planks can’t be repaired, you’ll have to replace at least parts of the floor. There are, however, more expensive laminate products with higher waterproof capacities.
Slipperiness: The durable top layer of laminate can be a little slick, especially if you’re wearing socks—representing a potential hazard in households with kids or older people facing mobility issues.