Often designed to mimic wood or stone, laminate flooring is a budget option designed to replicate more expensive flooring choices. At only $4 to $8 per square foot, laminate is more affordable and even more durable than many of the flooring types it mimics. Wood laminate flooring is generally 3/8" thick, about half the thickness of standard hardwood floors, while plastic laminates are slightly thicker, at 1/2". And while it does not generally increase the value of a home, laminate does not decrease the value either unless it is poorly laid.
There are two basic types of laminate flooring: wood laminate and plastic laminate. Wood laminate flooring has a plywood base with a thin wood veneer or a photo of wood and a plastic veneer on top. It is generally three-ply (made of three layers) and slightly less than half an inch thick. Wood laminate may not allow for refinishing. While it does not look exactly like wood, it does mimic the look, but with enhanced durability and resistance to scratches, dents and wear. Wood laminates are generally more expensive than plastic laminates.
Wood laminate differs from engineered wood mainly in the thickness of the wood veneer layer and the use of a plywood base. Engineered wood uses three to five layers of wood, each with equal thickness, applied in a crisscross style for strength. Both types of flooring use a wood veneer top, but wood laminate flooring has a very thin veneer or even a simple photograph of wood, while engineered wood has a real wood veneer that is thick enough to be sanded and refinished one to three times. Engineered wood is generally more expensive, more like real wood, and more aesthetically pleasing than wood laminate flooring.
Plastic laminates are generally slightly thicker than wood laminates, measuring about ½" thick for most options. Plastic laminates have a fiberboard core with top and bottom layers of laminate, with no actual wood involved. Although they cannot be refinished, plastic laminates resist stains, wear and fading better than wood. They are fairly inexpensive and provide good value and durability.
Both types of laminate flooring are virtually stain-proof and resist fading with exposure to UV light. They are often designed to mimic wood, but can also mimic stone, tile or other flooring materials. Additionally, laminate can be installed over nearly any subfloor, including other flooring types, using a floating installation method. Laminate flooring comes pre-finished, is wear resistant and can even be used in kitchens and bathrooms. Laminate is generally easy to clean and will hold up to heavy foot traffic.
While it can look very nice and has easy care requirements, laminate generally cannot be refinished and must be replaced when damaged. Because it has a wood or fiberboard core, large spills and excessive moisture can damage a laminate floor. Thinner versions are less expensive but do not resist wear as well and will degrade in a matter of years. Poorly installed laminate flooring can diminish the value of a home.
Laminate flooring is quick and easy to install and can be a do-it-yourself project. It comes in long planks that snap together or fit together in a tongue-and-groove manner. Laminate works over nearly any subfloor, including other flooring types, and because it is installed using a floating method, there are no specific tools required and no adhesives involved. Major manufacturers of laminate flooring include Armstrong, Pergo, Kronotex, Wilsonart, Mannington and TrafficMaster.
In many cases, laminate is an ideal flooring choice. It fits into a fairly tight budget and is suitable for most rooms of the house. Laminate floors are durable, wear well and do not have the susceptibility to dents and scratches that is common to wood floors. And while laminate never looks as good as real wood or stone, it produces an aesthetically pleasing effect that can be quickly and easily installed without professional assistance.