Laminate is tough flooring for tough times
Laminate flooring exceeds the performance of wood products. Photo courtesy of Michele J. Zelman
One of the toughest, most appealing, functional and simple-to-install floors just happens to be one of the least costly. Laminate flooring has come a long way since its invention in the 1970s and deserves serious consideration by anyone contemplating a new floor, particularly during tough economic times.
Gone are the days when laminates were easy to spot. Laminate flooring's composition (a high-resolution image bonded to a composite core that is sealed under a clear, resin-based wear layer) lets it match the look of any surface. Natural and strikingly realistic designs from hardwood, bamboo, granite, marble, as well as tile and carpet, are all available in laminate.
Along with its impressive looks, laminate flooring's popularity has skyrocketed because of price and performance. Compared to wood, laminate's toughness shines. Its resistance to scratches and dents, and its capacity to stand up to daily wear, all exceed the performance of wood products. The surface withstands wear and tear from small children and pets. The first layer of laminate flooring is an abrasion resistant finish of aluminum oxide. The only material that is harder is diamond.
Laminate does not require waxing, oiling or staining, but should be kept clean, as dust, dirt and sand particles can scratch its surface.
Laminate flooring's chief vulnerability is high moisture that can harm the composite core. If you're planning on it for a kitchen or bath, make sure your laminate is approved for high-moisture areas. These laminates are designed to minimize the risk of moisture damage. Laminate provides better stain resistance compared with hardwood and bamboo because the first layer is stain resistant.
Another plus is easy maintenance — all you need is cleaner and a rag. You can even remove a broken plank and replace it in case of damage.
Do-it-yourselfers appreciate its ease of installation. Laminate is known as a "floating floor system." Think of each plank of wood being nailed to the sub-floor, one after the other. By comparison, once assembled, laminate rests on top of an existing floor. There is no nailing, screwing or gluing. With click-together laminate, you don't glue planks together. Installing the floor is as simple as laying down underlayment, cutting planks to the right lengths, and snapping them together.
Perhaps the biggest attraction of laminate, however, is price. Economy lines are sold for less than $1 per square foot. For a little more money, high-end laminates offer a tougher, more appealing look. Installing laminate is a low-cost solution to a high-cost project.