The Pros and Cons of Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is DIY-friendly, durable and versatile, but is it right for you?

By: John Riha
Entryway and Kitchen With Wood Laminate Flooring

Entryway and Kitchen With Wood Laminate Flooring

This home's entryway features the same rustic-looking wood laminate as the kitchen, making the space feel fluid and cohesive. Dark kitchen cabinets contrast with the flooring, giving the space a more contemporary feel.

From: Brother Vs. Brother
and Brother Vs. Brother

Laminate flooring does one thing really well above all else: it imitates wood flooring.

Developed decades ago as an inexpensive alternative to real wood, today’s laminate flooring manufacturers have upped their game with better quality and dozens of types of wood species. You’ll find everything from American icons like oak, hickory and heartwood pine to exotics such as tigerwood and prado.

There are rustic and antiqued versions, too, in case you want your floor to look as if it’s been there for centuries. Plus, many manufacturers throw in an increasingly varied portfolio of stone, tile and metal look-alikes.

All this variety is due to the photographic process used to create the design layer of laminate flooring — a high-resolution image of actual wood that’s vividly realistic. The image is printed and glued to a core of fiberboard backed by a bottom layer that’s treated to prevent moisture damage. It’s all covered by a tough, clear top wear layer that resists scratches and dings.

With this vast array of choices before you, here’s the pros and cons you need to know:

The Good News

  • Laminate flooring comes as planks or tiles. The edges and ends are designed to snap together so there’s no nailing, making installation a good DIY project.
  • The laminate construction gives the pieces stability and prevents seams from opening up during changes in humidity.
  • Lightweight, snap-together laminate flooring is installed over a thin foam cushion underlayment. That makes it a good candidate for installations over most existing flooring — with the exception of carpet — eliminating the need for tear-out.
  • Snap-together laminate flooring eliminates the need for VOC-releasing glues.
  • No old-growth or exotic trees are used to produce laminate flooring.
  • The wear layer of laminate floor is extremely tough, which makes cleanup and maintenance easy. Occasional sweeping keeps the surface free from abrasive grit.

The Not-So-Good News

  • Even the best laminate flooring is susceptible to moisture damage and shouldn’t be installed laundry rooms and rooms with sump pumps or floor drains. Installations on basement floors and slabs should include a moisture barrier. Laminate flooring in the kitchen is okay as long as you’re diligent about cleaning up spills and splashes. Laminate flooring in the bathroom isn’t recommended unless all edges are glued during installation and the perimeter is sealed with silicone caulk.
  • Laminate flooring can’t be refinished the way real wood can, so once it’s worn out, it’ll have to be replaced. Check the warranty of the flooring you’re thinking of buying; products with higher warranties mean better quality and longer life. Avoid cheap laminate flooring.
  • It may look real, but it’s still a synthetic that feels unnaturally hard and can be harsh-sounding when walked on.
  • The wear layer of laminate floor contains plastic that doesn’t degrade in landfills. Some laminate materials may be made with formaldehyde and other chemicals that environmental experts say can release toxic VOCs, although stricter EPA guidelines have helped reduce VOC content in laminate flooring.

A Bit More Good News

If you have your heart set on real wood but are attracted to the benefits of laminates, then wood laminate flooring may be the answer. It’s a laminated flooring product with real wood veneer instead of image and wear layers. It’ll take an occasional refinishing, depending on the thickness of the veneer.

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