Laminate flooring is an increasingly popular option, with more than 10% of the flooring market in Europe and many parts of North America. Laminate flooring is a cheap option compared to solid hardwood, bamboo, engineered flooring or… recycled wood.
Laminate looks, feels and sounds like hardwood flooring
Instead of solid wood planks, the core of laminate flooring is made from wood fibers, agricultural sub-products and resins cured under pressure and heat. And its surface and backing layers are literally a special decorative paper, embedded in resins and pigments, copying the wood grain patterns (see image below, from EPLF).
Laminate flooring is around since the 80's, but new laminate is a result of recent technological improvements that make it not only look but also feel and sound like solid wood.
Contrary to laminate flooring, engineered flooring involves a top layer of true hardwood (red oak, white oak, maple, ash, etc.). That's a thin layer - about, but a real one. Anyway, the core of engineered flooring is rather similar to that of laminate flooring and plywood: thin sheets and pieces of wood glued together.
wood vs. laminate flooring quality
But be aware. Like with wood flooring, not all laminate is manufactured equal. As mentioned above, laminated is manufactured by using wood fibers and agricultural wastes, but the technologies vary, and there two main types of laminate: the High-Pressure Laminate (HPL) and the Direct-Pressure Laminate (DPL).
The HPL laminate is slightly more expensive and involves – as its name suggests – extremely high pressures and temperatures during its manufacturing, which makes it more wear-resistant than DPL laminate.
Also select a laminate with a high-density core and with pre-glued edges. And, finally, do not forget the NALFA seal of quality (in North America) or other equivalent rating. Laminate flooring can be an excellent choice, but be aware of low-quality laminate.
Laminate flooring vs Hardwood. Which is best?
Quality laminate flooring is a strong and durable product, very cost-effective.
It costs a small fraction (say, 1/3-1/4) of engineered and solid hardwood flooring, besides being very resistant to fading and staining, and - like engineered wood - slightly more resistant to water and moisture than hardwood flooring.
Good quality laminate flooring can be more durable and a lot more inexpensive than common hardwood.Laminate and hardwood flooring Pros: Environmental considerations
Laminate includes a large percentage of agricultural wastes and wood fiber subproducts, and many are formaldehyde-free and with low VOC emission levels. Prefer also environmentally-friendly sealers. For an environmental-friendly solid hardwood flooring choose products with the FSE seal, made from wood coming from sustainable forests.
Laminate can be installed on top of existing floors and its tongue-and-groove system (glue-free) turns the installation particularly easy (a job for skillful DIY'ers, contrary to the installation of hardwood flooring and some types of engineered wood). That's another pro of laminate flooring.
In North America, to choose a qualified laminate flooring installers (or hardwood installery), ou can look in their association directory: NALFA Installers Locator.
Other advantages of laminate over hardwood flooring
The best hardwoods can be scratch-resistant. But also can be high-quality laminates. On average, high pressure laminates (HPL) are better for high-traffic rooms, and homes with dogs and other pets.
Just like hardwood flooring with factory-applied finishes, laminate is also a relatively low-maintenance product; laminate flooring requires much less maintenance than traditional wood flooring.
Disadvantages of laminate flooring vs. Hardwood
While it may look like hardwood flooring, laminate is not real hardwood—which is an issue for some people. In this sense it doesn't add much to a building’s resale value. Hardwood flooring and tiles can add value to the house, compared to laminate.
Unlike hardwood, laminate flooring cannot be refineshed or sanded. A damaged laminate floor needs to be removed, to restore the appearance of the floor. A laminate floor may need to be replaced after 20 or 30 years, or so; solid hardwood and and engineered hardwood floors can last a lot more if properly maintained - the flor can be sanded and refinished a number of times. Most solid hardwood floors can be sanded up to 6-7 times, while quality engineered hardwood floors – up to 4 times.
Laminate vs. Harwood (and engineered) flooring Prices
Laminate flooring is the cheapest "wood" option. Expect prices between $1 and $6 per square feet, and relatively low installation costs. That's a lot less than engineered and solid wood flooring ($5 to $15, depending on the type of wood and finishes).
Different types of laminate flooring
The Europeans have a rating system for laminate flooring, now also common in North America and a little everywhere. This rating comprises 3 types of laminate flooring: low-use (bedrooms…), average use (living rooms, dining rooms) and heavy-traffic rooms and areas.