By: Ezra Plank
Last updated: October 6th, 2014
Laminate flooring was first introduced in the United States in 1994 by Pergo. They made a deal with Home Depot, and a concerted advertising effort then made it extremely successful. Other manufacturers began producing their own versions of laminate flooring, so that nowadays the choice is quite confusing. This article will help you to make a decision.
It's always nice to have a floor that looks both beautiful and expensive. And laminate flooring is also both durable and easy to maintain, in most cases only requiring a light mopping. It is also mostly impervious to moisture, and doesn't stain if the spill is cleaned up promptly.
What is laminate flooring?
As its name implies, the flooring is composed of different layers, or laminae. The top, or wear layer, is usually composed of aluminum oxide, which provides a protective layer against abrasion and stains. Next comes a thin design layer which displays the look of the flooring. It may be a thin stip of real wood, or more likely a photographic image of wood, stone, or whatever the floor is supposed to mimic. The inner core is high density fiber or wood-chip board impregnated with a plastic resin for strength and moisture resistance. And finally, there is a backing layer made of resin-saturated paper for a moisture barrier to prevent warping.
How is laminate flooring installed?
Almost all laminate flooring today is installed by the free floating method - so called because the flooring is not actually connected to the sub-floor. First of all, a layer of plastic sheeting is put down over the sub-floor, which provides a moisture barrier and makes it easier for the floor to expand and contract with fluctuations in temperature. Then a layer of foam, which is not only sound-absorbing, but helps to even out an irregularities in the sub-floor. And last of all, the laminate boards are fitted together by tongue-and-groove, and may be glued as well ( but only to each other, not the sub-flooring ).
What choices do I have for my laminate flooring?
The fact is, laminate floors provide such a variety of different styles, shapes, and colors that you will certainly have difficulty in making a decision. Laminates can simulate hardwood flooring of just about any species you might want, from maple to exotic hard woods. And it can also be made to look like stone or ceramic tile. The boards come with square or beveled edges, and have a variety of surface treatments and finishes. And you can choose a color to complement your room furnishings.
In addition to the different looks, laminate flooring comes in different qualities. You should choose flooring that is rated for heavy residential to moderate commercial use. Anything more durable is probably a waste of money for home installation. Also try to get at least a 15-year warranty against wear, stains, and fading. Better yet, some warranties also cover accidental moisture damage, just in case your refrigerator springs a leak. 10-year warranties are usually only given for "low-end" materials, which will usually also be less resistant to scratching -- one thing that is not covered.
Where should I buy my laminate flooring?
It is probably wise to stick to one of the larger manufacturers. You can be sure that they will stand behind their product if you have any problems. For more information about a company, use the internet to look them up. They should have lots of pictures of their flooring in use.
Be sure to check out customer feedback, which is very useful in giving you an insight into what other homeowners have experienced. Be aware that manufacturers usually don't sell their products on the internet. You will need to go to one of their distributing stores or websites for that.
Ezra says: To make it easier for you, here are links that these merchants provide to webpages that show all of the cheap laminate flooring they have available.
- Lumber Liquidators has 22 selections for under $1 / sq ft, the cheapest being Donar Oak for $0.29 per sq ft. Most of the flooring on this page does not have its brand name, probably because the manufacturer will not let it be shown at such a low price. Be careful when buying flooring that's on sale - if you need to replace a damaged section later on, it may not be available.
- At Wayfair, there is no flooring under $1. But they have 318 selections under $4 / sq ft, the cheapest being Lamton Caramelized Teak on sale for $1.45.
- FastFloors, as usual, has an extensive inventory of laminate flooring: 336 selections under $2 / sq ft. Many of their items do not carry a price tag, as some manufacturers do not allow wholesale prices to be advertised. Just call their 800 number to get the best deal available on the flooring you like.
Here are some room views for three varieties of laminate flooring. Hover your cursor over a thumbnail for a larger picture.
Hickory Hill Autumn
Armstrong Park Avenue
Armstrong Cumberland II