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 are the pros and cons you need to know:
Most laminate flooring is made of three layers: the one that’s walked on, followed by a layer with the pattern printed on it (usually a wood-grain look) and finally, the core layer, which is made from particle board. It’s durable and resists scratching. But although wood-look planks are the most common laminate style, be careful placing laminate “wood” against real wood. If the laminate will be used in an area where it borders hardwood or parquet floors, the effect will be unattractive.
You can install a floating laminate floor in just about any room, with a few exceptions. The inner core of the material is made with wood or fiberboard that’s susceptible to moisture damage, so avoid installations in any room with a floor drain or sump pump. It’s not a great choice for bathrooms and laundry rooms, either.
You can put it in kitchens, but you’ll need to be obsessive about wiping up any spills immediately.
Laminate flooring can go directly over most other flooring materials with the exception of indoor/outdoor carpeting and others with short naps. That means you don’t have to tear out old surfaces before you begin. However, your new flooring will raise the level of your floor slightly — about 3/8 inch — so you need to be mindful of transitions to other rooms. Most flooring manufacturers have transition thresholds that take into account varying floor heights