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Everything You Should Know About Laminate Flooring

Costs for Simulated Wood, Tile, Stone or Marble

If you’re craving the beauty of hardwood, tile, stone or marble but you’re on a tight budget, laminate flooring is a great alternative. Laminate has come a long way since its early days, when it was flimsy and cheap-looking. Today’s mid-grade and high-end laminate products are sturdy, long-lasting and attractive.

Laminate can mimic almost any type of wood flooring, including cherry, oak, maple, walnut, mahogany and pine. Choosing laminate over natural wood isn’t always about the price: Laminates are more durable than some of the softer woods, so they last much longer while providing a very similar look.

Laminate wood flooring is sold in planks, but laminate tiles are also available to mimic the look of ceramic tile, natural stone or marble. These are popular options for kitchens, bathrooms and entryways. They’re sold in a wide variety of styles, colors and patterns, and most people find them more attractive than comparably-priced vinyl flooring.

How Laminate Flooring Is Made

Laminate is man-made in a factory. Its design comes from photographic images, not natural materials. There are four layers to laminate flooring:

  • The backing layer, made of paper, plastic or melamine, provides support and stability. In many cases, it also resists moisture.
  • The core or substrate layer provides more strength and stability. It is made of high-density fiberboard (HDF) or medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which are made by compressing wood fibers and resin.
  • The decorative layer gives the laminate its look. A printed image resembling the natural material is applied with resin.
  • The top layer, called the wear layer, is designed for protection. This clear layer absorbs impact from foot traffic, seals out moisture, and resists scratches and stains.

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The thickness of the core layer has a lot to do with the durability of the laminate. The thicker the core, the more durable (and more expensive) the laminate will be. Common thicknesses for the core layer include 6, 8, 10 and 12 millimeters.

Cost of Laminate Flooring

The cost of laminate flooring depends on the quality of the laminate, its thickness and local labor rates. Laminate that mimics rare or exotic materials (zebrawood or pear tree wood, for example) usually costs more than laminate imitating common materials (like maple, cherry or pine).

Generally, laminate flooring ranges in price from about $1.50 to $6 per square foot (materials only), depending on quality and thickness. Installation usually runs another $2 to $4.50 per square foot, depending on your geographic location and the subfloor preparation needs.

The various types of laminate - wood, tile, stone and marble - are not necessarily more or less expensive than one another. With each type, the price fluctuates greatly based on quality, thickness and pattern.

Keep in mind that prices vary widely from one manufacturer to the next, one installer to the next and one region of the country to the next. The best way to get an accurate estimate is to shop around and request quotes from several local installers.

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Installation

Laminate floors are relatively quick and easy to install. They are called floating floors because they are not fastened to the subfloor below but held in place by a raised molding that is installed around the edge of the room. In most cases, floating floors can be installed right over the existing plywood, vinyl or tile flooring.

All laminate flooring - planks or tiles - has a tongue-and-groove assembly. Most laminate flooring is glueless, which makes it easier to assemble. But glued flooring is a good idea in areas that might see a lot of moisture or spills because it creates a seal.

With all laminate flooring, an underlayment made of foam, cork or rubber is required to create a sound barrier. Some laminates are sold with this layer already attached, which makes for even faster and easier installation. If the underlayment is separate, it must be applied to the concrete or old flooring below before the floating floor is laid.

Pros and Cons

As we’ve mentioned, laminate flooring is durable and easy to install. High-quality laminates can fairly convincingly emulate the look of natural wood, tile or stone, and laminates are easy to maintain. Of course, it’s hard to beat the price, particularly when compared to natural materials.

On the downside, laminate can swell over time if it’s exposed to moisture. This is particularly a problem with bargain brands. Installing laminate in moisture-prone areas such as bathrooms can be problematic. Even in areas such as the kitchen or living room, spills need to be cleaned up promptly to avoid moisture damage.

Keep in mind that there are wide variations in quality when it comes to laminate. The high-quality brands can last (and look good) for decades, while cheaper brands might fade, wear down and show signs of moisture damage in a few years. Pay particular attention to quality when you’re shopping for any laminate flooring.

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