Laminate flooring is taking the flooring industry by storm because of its durability and affordability. Originally making its debut in Europe, laminate floors can look like the exact twin to wood, ceramic tile, and stone floors. But what looks like wood or stone is actually a photograph under a strong plastic laminate, all supported by strong wood composite.
Customers can find laminate in plank flooring for wood appearances, or tiles for the stone or ceramic tile look. A wide variety of styles, colors, textures and prices can accommodate every taste and budget. Installation is based on joining sections together, which creates a strong, solid surface. A foam mat, or underlayment, cushions a laminate floor from beneath, giving it the nickname of the floating floor.
Laminate floors are great choices for high traffic and busy structures, because its tough to scratch or dent a laminate floor, and fading is not a threat, making its wear less noticeable than hardwood.
Laminate flooring is relatively new to the North American flooring industry, having made an impact for only the past decade. But since the product made its way from Europe, it has provided millions of residential and commercial consumers with an affordable and care-free alternative to hardwood or stone flooring without giving up much in appearance. Laminates are available in either plank-style, like hardwood materials, or tiles, like ceramic, stone and brick products.
Laminate flooring is ideal for high traffic areas because of its tough construction and ability to be easily maintained. In essence, the seemingly limitless choices in color and textured appearance are actually photographs of the real thing that are sealed to engineered wood and covered with a chemical surface that is nearly impossible to penetrate. That coating adds years to a laminate floors life, because stains, burn marks, scuff marks and the like remain on the surface and can be cleaned with over-the-counter remedies.
To achieve its tough yet attractive appearance, laminate manufacturers use a three-step process. The foundation of the board or tile is its core fiberboard, which is usually made of high-density wood. Beneath the core is either a paper or plastic layer designed to stop water from penetrating into the core. The surface, which carries the appearance of the product, consists of the photographic image and a clear surface made usually of aluminum oxide.
Unlike hardwood flooring, which cant be installed over concrete, laminate can be placed over almost any existing surface, including concrete, wood, or vinyl and resilient. The key to its versatility for installation is underlayment, or material that sits between the existing floor and the laminate product. When you purchase your laminate flooring, youll hear the term floating floor from your sales rep and probably the installer.
The term floating floors means that the laminate and existing floors or subfloor never actually meet. The laminate rests, or floats on a plastic, foam or cork sheet of material, which helps the following:
- Reduces noise from shoes hitting the laminate
- Allows for a softer feel to the floor when walking on it
- Gives the sound of the floor a more fuller tone, instead of a hollow tapping
- Allows the floor to expand and contract with environmental conditions
Choosing a style thats right for you
Picking a laminate floor has a lot to do with subjectivity and not so much with objectivity. By choosing to go with a laminate floor, youve probably gotten the objective decisions out of the way by understanding that laminate is a good choice for high traffic areas. Now the fun part picking the color, style, and type of floor!
- If you want to emulate hardwood flooring, youll be able to chose from a variety of wood laminate planks that feature grains, dark or light wood tones, domestic or exotic species and even some etchings to give an even more realistic appearance.
- Ceramic and stone patterns vary almost as widely as the wood patterns. Sold in square tiles of varying sizes, laminate tiles can mimic nearly any desired stone or ceramic pattern from brick to slate.
What to look for in the product
Once you choose the look of your floor, take a moment to consider the style of installation that makes sense for your project. Laminates can be placed with or without glue, depending on the style and brand. Some floors also offer an underlayment thats already attached to the plank or tile, while some already have the a waterproof glue pre-applied to the tongue-and-groove edges.
As the flooring industry evolves, laminates are emerging from the manufacturer as a self-locking system which needs no glue. These click systems have an aluminum lock built into the center of the plank or tile.
Where and how to place your laminate
Feel free to choose laminate flooring for almost any room in the house. The almost applies to bathrooms, where moisture is likely to hit the floor on a regular basis. While the floor itself is waterproof, water running along the edges may eventually cause damage.
Because of their advanced pre-glued and locking systems, laminates are tempting for homeowners to install on their own. Think twice.
- Precise measuring is required to give the floor enough (but not too much) room to float
- Planks usually need to be cut and splinter easily if not done right
- Improper amount of glue translate into problems later
Because the material is meant to last, dont skimp on the installation. Have a professional who is experienced and certified to install laminate flooring do your installation.
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